Into the wild: Sign-up time is here for birding festival’s field trips

HARLINGEN — High noon is coming Monday.

The four-day Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival doesn’t begin until Nov. 6, but perhaps the second most important date occurs Monday, when registration opens at noon for birders to reserve field trips, which can sell out fast.

These field trips are major attractions at the festival, which this fall will celebrate its 26th anniversary.

“Of the new field trips that we’re offering this year, we have some very interesting speakers and we sucked them into doing some field trips in their special areas,” said Tamie Bulow, registrar for the festival.

“Rick Wright is one of our speakers and he is going to do a field workshop on learning how to differentiate sparrows,” she added. “He is really good. He’s a really excellent teacher so I think it would be a very entertaining and exciting trip even for a local person to get the benefit of being with Rick.”

Another speaker will be Ted Floyd of the American Birding Association who just happens to be editor of Birding Magazine.

“He’s going to do two different field trips on birding in the digital age,” Bulow said. “So using modern technology to help identify birds and where to find them, where to look. … iNaturalist, ebird — whatever other tricks he’s got up his sleeve, who knows? It’s going to be a nice opportunity to be with someone who is extremely knowledgeable.”

Prices vary

The individual guided field trips this year — there are around 110 of them — mostly range in price between $65 and $95.

“Most of the local people are not really into taking our field trips because they can already go there,” Bulow said. “Most of our attendees come from other states and the world, different countries. That’s where we draw most of our people. Maybe half of our people are from Texas.”

“We do offer lots of free events and things for the locals to participate in, so they feel like they’re part of it but they don’t have to pay $65 to go to Estero Llano Grande,” she added.

The cost of the field trips is based on the festival’s investment, which includes buses or vans to transport birders to and from the sites, along with entry fees where they apply.

Boats, cameras

Some of the more expensive field trips, and the most exotic, are birding with Scarlet and George Colley in the Laguna Madre on their pontoon boat ($125) or a trip with Pete Dunne to the Inn at Chachalaca Bend near Los Fresnos ($95).

“If you’re a birder, you know who Pete Dunne (author and founder of the World Series of Birding) is, and he’s going to be going out and doing a talk for us on a behind-the-scenes of the World Series of Birding. He’s going to be leading the field trip on Sunday morning, the Breakfast with the Birds, where they go to the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, and go birding on the grounds. They come in and have a really nice buffet breakfast and go back out on the grounds and go birding.”

The priciest field trip this year is the Martin Refuge near San Miguel ($225).

“Our most expensive trip is a photo-track trip where photographers would be more inclined to go on this one, the Brotherhood-of-the-Big-Lens,” said Bulow, referring to the massive wildlife photography lenses used by serious amateurs or pros which can cost up to $10,000. “It’s not so much for the little point-and-shoots.”

“They’ll have a lot of photo opportunities. They have some blinds set up designed for photography and getting birds coming to a puddle or going to a piece of driftwood or whatever, that don’t have any unnatural things in the background,” Bulow said. “That one’s $225 and that’s by far and away our most expensive.”

Other field trip sites this year include Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana national wildlife refuges, Quinta Mazatlan, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Resaca de la Palma State Park, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Kleberg County, Port Mansfield, the King Ranch, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, the Audubon Islands of the Laguna Madre and more.

Top sponsors for this year’s birding fest are Swarovski Optik, the City of Harlingen, the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, the American Birding Association, American Forests, Bird Watchers’ Digest, the King Ranch, Land, Sea and Sky and Zeiss.


26th Annual RGV Birding Festival 2019

WHEN — Nov. 6-10.

REGISTRATION — Opens at noon on Monday, July 29, to reserve individual field trips.

COST — $25 per attendee. Kiskadee Pass (all-event entrance ticket) is $30. Individual event prices for seminars are $10 to $20 at the door. All field trips are priced individually, depending on distance, time and entry fees. Price range mostly from $65 to $95.

SIGN UP — Online at