Checking the sights: Birders take a ride on the Rio Grande

MISSION — Mary Nichols was at the front of the pontoon boat looking at a Baltimore oriole through her binoculars.

She wasn’t the only one excited to see the bird perched at the top of a tree on the banks of the Rio Grande about 30 yards away from the boat.

Nichols and her friends from Austin traveled three hours south to participate in the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival to get a close look at all the birds along the river and the Valley that can’t be found anywhere else in the U.S.

“I get excited to see everyone else seeing these birds we see every day,” Joel Brotzman-Gonzalez, a Harlingen resident, said yesterday. “It’s also exciting that we get people from around the world coming to see the birds.”

He said even though Valley residents pass by these birds every day, the bird watchers get a thrill from seeing them and listing them on their lifetime list of seen birds.

“The birders really get excited about seeing the birds in the Valley,” Gonzales said.

He attended the tour to Anzalduas Park, the pontoon boat ride and other birding tours over the past few days.

Hundreds of bird watchers flew into the Valley from all over the state, country and the world to take part in the 23rd annual festival.

The five-day birding festival has long been renowned for its 50 field trips around the South Texas region and its quality of expert bird watchers who lead the tours.

The morning group of 25 bird watchers finished their trip to Anzalduas Park looking at ducks, the Vermillion Flycatcher, Gray White Hawk and a Tropical Kingbird swooping through the park’s trees hunting for insects.

They were led by Kevin Karlson and his wife Dale Rosselet.

From both ends of the pontoon and during the walk through the park the two of them rattled off the different kinds of birds that were perched on the banks of the river and flying up in the sky.

And they shared their telescopes to get up close and personal views of the red Vermillion Flycatcher sitting on a wooden pole in the park.

Overall the group was able to identify 69 different kinds of birds during their morning adventure.

They took a two-hour tour coasting up and down the Rio Grande stretching a total of 10 miles.

There were Green Jays flying, Long Billed Thrashers, Black Phoebe, Blue Heron, Raptors, Coopers Hawks and Kingfishers along the river.

At one point while on the boat, Terrance Watson signaled the group there were chachalacas in the trees along the edge of the river.

Karlson called it a good spotting on Watson’s part.

The day was cool and breezy with a temperature in the high 80s.

“We wanted to see the grey hawk, and the birds on the river were great,” said Bob Hirt, a San Jose, California, resident. “We had a good success even though a lot of the northern birds are not here yet.”

He said the specialty birds of the Valley are birds you can’t see anywhere else in the country.

Hirt said he has attended the Birding Festival for five consecutive years and has come 10 times total over the years.

“That is what people come to the festival to see,” Hirt said. “The green jay is a fancy blue and black head — incredible bird.”

All the birders were at the ready with a camera around the shoulder and binoculars around their neck to make sure to get a sharp view of the birds along the river.

“Not a lot of birds on the river, but its relaxing on the boat trip,” Karlson said.

23rd Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

WHERE: Harlingen Municipal Auditorium Complex, 1204 Fair Park Blvd.

Calendar of Free Events


– Family Bird Walk, 9 a.m.

– Why birds depend on the New Generation, 10:30 to 10:45 a.m.

– Raptor show in Auditorium, 11 a.m. to noon

– Kiskadee Korner (Children’s Activities”), Noon to 4 p.m.

– Trade Show, Noon to 6 p.m.

– Flocklorico Dancing, 6:15 p.m.


– Kiskadee Korner (Children’s Activities”), Noon to 4 p.m.

– Trade Show, Noon to 4 p.m.

– Raptor show in Auditorium, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

– Student Art & Writing Awards, 1:30 p.m.