Everything's big in Texas - even the birding

It was the hottest day of the year and if you didn’t believe it, one look at the birds would have convinced you. They were standing in the bird bath with their beaks wide open, panting from the heat. What arrives in the mail? An invitation to attend a birding festival in Texas! That’s where days over 100 are normal during the summer. Then I looked at the festival’s date – Nov. 12-15, 2009. Suddenly, the invitation looked inviting.

I love Texas and I love Texas birding. It ranks among the best in the world. Birdwatchers come from everywhere to bird Texas. The state recognized what they had many years ago and they ran with it. Chamber of Commerce organizations in numerous Texas towns and cities all along the Gulf Coast started promoting Texas birds and birding. They’ve never stopped.

We’ve birded the region several times and it’s always an adventure. The birds are all that we hoped for. The citizens are not only friendly and helpful, they are proud of their birds and they welcome birders. The scenery, especially the hill country west of San Antonio, is beautiful. If you’ve ever thought about birding Texas, this November might be the right time.

There is only one drawback as far as I can tell. The festival offers too many great field trips. You can only cover so much ground in four days. (Of course, you could extend your trip and explore some of these places on your own.)

This event is billed as the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. This is its sixteenth year. It will be held in Harlingen, Texas, a town familiar to anyone who has birded the Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande Valley. It’s centrally located so you can stay for several days and enjoy day trips to well-known hotspots.

One primary factor makes the Rio Grande Valley a popular birding destination. Mexico is on the other side of the river and the river isn’t very wide. Birds don’t recognize international boundaries and rare south-of-the-border species cross this border. Birders are everywhere and it doesn’t take long for rare birds to get reported. On our last trip, several English birders were actually surrounding a tree in a park where a clay-colored robin had been seen. That made our hunt easy. The only thing missing was a sign pointing to the bird.

While both rare and endemic tropical birds draw birders to this festival, the birding talent is also impressive. World-class birders will lead field trips and hold classes. Bird artists and photographers will present interesting and entertaining programs as will writers of several popular bird books. Field trips to dozens of outstanding birding areas will take up the early part of each day and the other programs will be held in the late afternoons and evenings.

The best way to see if you would like to head for Texas in November is to look at the whole enchilada. A festival guidebook, complete with program and registration forms, is available. The cover’s artwork, a pair of golden-fronted woodpeckers, was done by Oregon-based Ram Papish who will be giving seminars and conducting “in-the-field” art classes.

For complete festival information and/or registration, write: RGV Birding Festival, P.O. Box 3162, Harlingen, TX 78551 or register online:

Once November arrives, some hot weather will sound more inviting than it does right now.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.