Friday, November 19, 2010

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival: Wednesday

Did you catch the two previous posts about the festival? If not, go here and here.

With much anticipation, I boarded a 12:30 a.m. flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. This journey to southern Texas marked my fifth year as an attendee at Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and I knew that incredible birds, wonderful people and tasty vittles awaited me in Harlingen and other nearby cities.

After landing in Houston, I followed the earlier advice of online friends and found Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen in Terminal E. The vanilla latte tasted delicious.

While walking toward the boarding area for the 9:30 a.m. flight to Harlingen, I spied two familiar faces: Jim and Cindy Beckman. We'd traveled to Costa Rica after Cindy received the 2007 Birder of the Year award from WildBird's readers. It felt great to catch up with them.

Before walking through the boarding gate, I heard "Hoooop. Hoooop" very quietly, and there was Jen Brumfield, an enthusiastic character with incredible skills. What a treat to see her before finding our seats on the commuter plane -- which happened to contain even more birders on their way to the festival.

While Jen and Julian Hough immediately set off to find Sprague's Pipits, I had other quarry in mind: food, specifically from Alicia's Mexican Restaurant on North Commerce Street in Harlingen. That authentic food proved to be perfect fuel for a red-eyed sleep-deprived traveler. If you crave filling and inexpensive meals for breakfast and lunch, keep that spot in mind.

Feeling more functional, I drove a couple blocks and then walked into Harlingen's municipal auditorium on Fair Park Boulevard, also known as festival headquarters. Vendors were beginning to arrive and set up their booths within the Birders Bazaar area, and the entire facility seemed abuzz with activity. It felt wonderful to see familiar faces and then buy a pink festival hat (having left mine at home).

The sunshine lured me across the street to the park, where I found a shady spot to listen to and watch birds. The sliced half of an orange on a signpost lured a Northern Mockingbird and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker into sight, but the woodpecker proved to be very skittish.

Great-tailed Grackles seemed to be everywhere, and that suited me just fine. Their odd calls amuse me, and when they gather to roost in the evenings -- seemingly coating entire trees and telephone lines -- they amuse me even more. Listen to the recording of their "typical voice" at the link above; aren't they wild?

That evening, a friend and I joined the festival's opening reception at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum. Local culinary students provided a smorgasbord of appetizers and beverages for the festival attendees, speakers and field trip leaders.

One of the great pleasures of birding festivals is the opportunity to gab with so many wonderful people who live around the country. I had so much fun catching up with friends and colleagues that I forgot to play paparazzi and don't have any photos to share now. The reception ended too soon, and I looked forward to revelling in the festival's activities for three more days.

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