Wednesday, November 17, 2010

News of Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival took place last week, Nov. 10-14. I was fortunate enough to arrive in Harlingen on Wednesday morning and remain until Sunday morning. Having missed the 2009 festival, it felt especially delightful to return to the valley.

Even when birders can't attend birding events and festivals, we can keep tabs of the goings-on and the bird sightings. It seems as if more newspapers recognize the potential human-interest stories -- plus it doesn't hurt them to highlight the influx of out-of-town visitors who bring their disposable income to the festivals' locations.

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During this year's Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, the two local newspapers -- The Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star -- shared coverage of the event's field trips and other attractions. The first article, Birders see 151 species in eight hours, focused on the friendly-competitive nature of birding when four teams fanned out and tried to identify the most species. Among the folks highlighted in the article are Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis of West Cape May, N.J. -- known by many as birding tour leaders, artists and authors.
O’Brien, of Cape May, N.J., and his wife, Louise Zemaitis, led one of the teams on Wednesday.

Zemaitis walked ahead or behind the group to spot for desirable birds and then O’Brien would bring the other seven birders to see what she had found.

O’Brien listened carefully to the bird calls before pointing out a species that might be new to the visitors.

“That kingbird, by the way, just called and gave its twittering call, which is a really diagnostic way to tell them apart,” he said.

Another thought about keeping tabs on online coverage of birding events: We might counter stereotypes and other negative comments. Did you see the comment at the end of the article? "They forgot two birds. They gray tufted geezer and the blue haired bitty." We can kindly put the kibosh on those comments if we monitor newspapers' websites.

The next day's article, Dream comes true for birding festival participant, highlighted a common reason for attending a festival: the probability of seeing a regional specialty.
For about 20 years, Patricia Wing has been on the trail of the green jay.

“Two of the things I want to do in my life is go to Australia and see a green jay,” Wing, a retired editor who lives near Santa Fe, N.M., said Thursday morning. “Some people want to have a convertible. I want to see a green jay.”

At the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Wing’s dream came true.

Green Jay courtesy of

Friday's article, Birders see raptor action, highlighted one of the specialized field trips, led by author and researcher Bill Clark. If you are a raptor aficionado, you likely know about his contributions to the Peterson field guide about North American hawks and a photographic guide of the same species.
Swooping, circling raptor action is what birders signed up to see with Bill Clark’s “Valley Raptors Field Trip.” And that’s what they got.

A busload of participants from the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival on Friday completed a big circle through Willacy County and eastern Cameron County, taking advantage of dozens of chances to observe and photograph many species of raptors, including American kestrels, aplomado falcons and Cooper’s hawks.

Bonus sightings included sandhill cranes and longhorn cattle.
Friday's coverage, Birding 101 introduces newbies to a popular hobby, focused on a reporter's introduction to this pastime/sport/lifestyle. I like the article's last graf.
The words “Parrots! Parrots!” were the first exclamation I heard just before 8 a.m. Saturday as a woman pointed excitedly to a group of nearby palm trees.

The words left no doubt in my mind as to what the focus of the day would be, as I sat waiting to play my part in the Birding 101 Field Trip of the 17th annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.

In the van outside Municipal Auditorium in Harlingen, this true blue birding newbie did not know what adventures awaited her in the world of bird watching, save the silly exaggerations of it she had seen in pop culture.

But, those exaggerations were challenged as a group of about 20 or so people of different ages, 20s through 80s at least, set off to explore the Rio Hondo area and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
If you worry that birding festivals offer a very narrow agenda of only birds-birds-birds, then you needn't feel concerned about this particular event. It touches on other wildlife, too, as Saturday's article, Butterfly viewing joins RGV Birding Festival tradition, points out.
“Green-backed ruby-eye! Oh, that’s a good one!” exclaimed Derek Muschalek as he ran towards a row of low-lying bushes at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission on a cool and grey Saturday afternoon.

Muschalek, a naturalist who has served as a birding guide for 13 years, explained how important such a sighting was. “In the fall, to find Mexicans (butterflies) like this, it’s one of the things we hope to see,” he said.

The 1-inch long insect with mottled brown wings and large ruddy red eyes is only spotted about three times a year in the United States, and then only in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s this chance to see rare species that brings the guide to the Valley from Yorktown, Texas, during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival every year.
Green-backed Ruby-eye courtesy of NABA/B. Bouton & K. Davis

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Blogger Radd Icenoggle said...

Now I know that I am missing the year I am so there.

November 18, 2010 10:45 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Radd, I bet you won't be disappointed.

November 18, 2010 11:54 AM  

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