The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, going on its 26th year, is nothing new to Harlingen, but this year they plan to shake it up a bit. The RGVBF is keeping things fresh and exciting with a change in location, new field trip destinations, and a few other changes that will be sure to excite the birder and all its attendees.
The festival will be held at the Harlingen Convention Center this year and expects to see hundreds of attendees. Last year the event saw 600 attendees that came from 41 states and six countries. Attendees come to see the many birds that are only seen in the Valley and take part in one-of-a- kind field trips.
Because of the Valley’s unique ecosystem comprised of coastal marshes and plains in the east, desert chaparral in the west and a lush corridor of riparian woodlands along the river, the Valley has 30 unique species of birds. The RGV is also major migration corridor because of the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.
The big numbers aren’t that bad for the Valley birder, and those that come and visit just to see the birds. Of 950 bird species in North America, the United States has over 800, Texas has 600, and more than 500 of those can be found in the Rio Grande Valley.
The birding festival began in 1994 when the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce and members of the birding community capitalized on the RGV’s biodiversity with an initiative to create this one-of-a-kind birding festival. Propelled by volunteers that first year, and funded by sponsors, the festival was a success and served as a model to many festivals across the country and abroad. Birding and nature tourism were making waves and the RGV was on the leading edge.
According to coordinators, last year’s event brought three million dollars to the local economy. According to a recent Texas A&M Economic Impact Study, ecotourism has an economic impact of nearly half a billion dollars on the Rio Grande Valley annually, extrapolating over 6,000 jobs in the Valley.
The success of ecotourism in the Valley has led other cities to create festivals and events where the wildlife is celebrated. The Valley also has the World Birding Centers, nine distinctly different nature centers, that draw thousands of visitors throughout the Valley.
In previous years, donations have been used on projects for the Red-crowned Parrots and Harris’s Hawks. Last year the Tejano Parrot Project was able to purchase telemetry collars and tracking equipment. Volunteers have been able to conduct weekly roost surveys in Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco and McAllen utilizing the tracking equipment on collared birds in three of those roost areas. Funds from this year will be used to purchase additional collars for birds in other Valley communities to continue gathering behavior information on these amazing parrots that visit the Valley.
The Harris’s Hawk project was able to use donations to purchase climbing equipment enabling researchers to access and band chicks in 22 nests. Donations this year will be used to study interaction of these banded birds with the adults from the same nests and to compare and analyze DNA samples extracted during the banding process.
A new project added this year is the South Texas Hummingbird Banding Project. This effort will provide the lower Rio Grande Valley with its first and only hummingbird bander. Buff-bellied Hummingbirds of the Rio Grande Valley will be the focus of this project.
Speaker presentations will be held on Thursday and Saturday afternoons that will give more details of these projects.
This year’s festival will include family activities and nature activities that will be held at the convention center on Saturday and Sunday. Activities include the Kiskadee Korner, a raptor show, a bird walk and the Birders Bazaar. Special events during the festival include a silent auction, a student awards ceremony recognizing artwork area students have drawn, a Star Party on Wednesday evening, and the American Birding Association’s 50th anniversary podcast bash.
Field trips include visits to the local Birding Centers, State Parks and refuges, McAllen Nature Center, Laguna Madre, Bahia Grande, local battlegrounds, a ride on the Riverside Dreamer, biking field trips, breakfast with the birds at The Inn at Chachalaca Bend, a butterfly field trip, South Padre Island, and more. Topics discussed during field trips include ornithology, parrots of the area, banding, Valley raptors, and photography. There will be workshops on how to do birding with technology, how to record bird sightings, learning to listen to the sounds around you, improving field identification skills, and so much more.
The festival will run from November 6 through 10 where visitors will descend on the City of Harlingen, eager to experience all that makes the RGV so special. There will be music, food, wildlife, habitats to explore, and of course, friendly, warm people.
There is a $25 registration fee for everyone attending. Field trips are designed for beginners to advanced. Prices for field trips range – all prices can be found online. Prices for seminars and keynotes range between $10 and $20, but a Kiskadee Pass is available for $30 which allows entry to all of those being offered in the auditorium. These tickets must be purchased during open registration, before the day of the event. Individual tickets for seminars and other events (excluding field trips) can be purchased at the door. The Bargain Bazaar and some other events are free and open to the public. Please visit their website to get a full list of details.
The Harlingen Convention Center is located at 701 Harlingen Heights Dr. For more information and full list of field trips, visit www.rgvbf.org.