Bird in the bush

HARLINGEN — For the next few days, things will be looking up.

And participants at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival will be out in front with the big glass in hand — powerful binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with massive telescopic lenses.

Day One of the fest at the Harlingen Convention Center began Wednesday with a smooth transition into the first of the guided field trips by bus and van across the Valley and South Texas.

Field trips range from islands in the Laguna Madre to the King Ranch and Kleberg County to Rio Grande City and more.

It’s the second year for one of the most unique field trips, Battlefields and Birds, led by guides Jon Dunn and Bob Powell. They’ll combine a little birding with a history lesson as they walk the site of the last fight of the Civil War, the Battle of Palmito Hill.

“We had a couple of guides who are history buffs and they posed that we do this trip because we have so much history here in the Valley, and the places that have that history also have birds,” Sue Griffin, the chair of the RGV Birding Festival, said Wednesday. “So we decided that we would combine those two areas close to Brownsville and put it together as a trip.

“Last year, it was well-received but not full, but this year it has really bloomed and we’re almost full on that trip,” she added.

The RGV birding festival overlaps with the fall migration as the avian species which do migrate make their way south to Mexico and Central and South America via the Central and Mississippi flyways. Along with the Atlantic and Pacific, these are the four major north-south migration routes in North America.

Last year birders at the Harlingen festival identified 270 species, ranging from common sightings like the cedar waxwing and herring gull to less-seen birds like the ferruginous pygmy-owl, Chihuahuan raven and the cardinal-like pyrrhuloxia.

The latter three are strictly birds of the subtropics, seen only in the Valley and points south.

Starting Thursday, 82 vendors selling everything from high-dollar optics to T-shirts to offering advice on trips to exotic world birding sites will roll out their wares at the convention center.

“The trade show will be open to the public starting at noon,” Griffin said, noting the trade show and all activities at the convention center are free and open to the public. Only the field trips and seminars have a fee, and if you’re from the RGV, Griffin said the festival will waive the extra registration fee so all anyone has to pay is the price of the field trip.

“We have 82 vendors. We have optics, we have jewelry, we have books as swell as information booths about birding in other countries,” she said.

One of those vendors is local, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa.

On Wednesday, Friends volunteers were setting up their booth, loaded with T-shirts screen-printed with ocelots and varied field guides and other nature literature.

“These events are terrific opportunities,” said Shari Wilcox, a member of the Friends board and Texas representative for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

“Through the birding festival we reach a national audience here in the Valley, and it’s just so important to bring the word that this is a biodiversity hotspot here at the tip of South Texas, and so many Americans are not aware of that,” she added. “So we’re eager to attend these events, get the word out, and generate some passion for our neo-tropical flyway, our birds, as well as our resident ocelots.”