HARLINGEN — The sun rose as John and Meg Harris arrived by bus to Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco yesterday.
With their binoculars in hand, they were eager to add more birds to their lengthy life list.
The Maryland couple was not alone on the birding adventure, hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival based in Harlingen.
Minutes later, the tourists stepped off the bus at 7:30 a.m. ready to start their hike to the sounds of birds whistling, ducks and pelicans flying in formation.
Harrier’s were gliding even higher scanning for something to swoop down and snatch up to eat.
The birders scanned the area for hours looking at the many different types of birds until noon.
“This is one of the best birding festivals in the country,” said Virginia Johnson, a College Station resident, as she strolled past Alligator Lake located in the state park. “It is well known, well organized and there’s lots of species.”
More than 50 others had also arrived to the wildlife sanctuary nestled in the growing urban area just minutes down the road from the Texas/Mexico border.
“It’s a treasure in this urban environment where you can come and escape from the hustle and bustle and dive into the world of butterflies or birds or mammals,” said Raymond Van Buskirk, an Estero Llano Grande State Park tour guide for the festival.
The Estero Llano Grande State Park was one of the many tours organized. Other tours went as far as Laredo and the King Ranch.
The photo track field trips are new this year. Birdwatchers are linked with trained photographers, loaned cameras and taught how to take pictures of birds in flight to add to their lists and albums.
And over the weekend there are free activities for the public to enjoy.
The festival has drawn more than 500 bird watchers spanning 42 states and 11 countries ready to look for birds chirping on trees, hidden in the sticks and gliding high above them in the sky.
“We are only going on three trips,” Virginia said about the many tours the festival offers. “But it is still pretty good.”
The tours are guided by world class birding specialists.
The guides could point out birds hidden in the trees. They knew them by sound and they could even call them by mimicking their chirps.
“On a good day, you can come and see over 100 species of birds here,” Raymond said about the state park.
And it was a good day.
The bird watchers got up-close looks through their binoculars and telescopes at White Ibis, Great Egrets, Lincoln Sparrows, American Coot White bills, Pauraques, Great Blue Herons, Green Kingfishers, Great Kiskadees, Nashville Warblers, thrashers, Orange Crown Warblers, Buff Belly Hummingbirds and more.
“It’s really an amazing spot to visit,” Raymond said. “It’s a treasure hunt.”
He compared birding to real life Pokemon Go.
“You never really know what you are going to find,” Raymond said. “Each bird looks different, each bird sounds different and each bird utilizes the habitat differently.”
Raymond is with Brant Nature Tours based in New Mexico who has been a guide for the festival for the last 10 years.
“It’s an amazing festival,” Raymond said.
The number of people represented at the festival
11 different countries
Number of species of birds by region
North America 950
United States 800
Rio Grande Valley 500
Only found here 30
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 25th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival,
WHEN: November 7-11,
WHERE: 1204 Fair Park Blvd.