Attending the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival
Recently, we had the good fortune to attend the 25th edition of the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival - one of the largest bird festivals around. The festival is located in south Texas, where there are many birds that you cannot see anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, the combination of good habitat and lots of birders always turns up rarities that are fun to see and add to your life list. For us, the rarest birds of the trip were Masked Booby (these seabirds are normally not seen until well offshore on a pelagic trip - but an individual was hanging around the end of a pier (with a bar, of course) on South Padre Island) and Roadside Hawk (these widespread, tropical hawks rarely venture into the US). We also got a wonderful chance to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl on King Ranch (a private ranch the size of Rhode Island that boasts the largest population of these tropical owls in the US). There were many other south Texas specialties to see as well, such as Aplomado Falcon, Olive Sparrow, Green Kingfisher, Plain Chachalaca, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, and Green Jay. Even beyond the great birding, the Valley is a great place for a birder to visit because of the concentration of birders around - many locations will cater to birders, and the festival means that there are many other birders around to socialize with and connect to. A highlight for us was meeting us with the good people at Birding By Bus - Marc and Eliana are a couple doing an ABA-area big year this year, but using a Volkswagen Minibus as their primary transportation and lodging! We were grateful to be a part of them finding two new (and rare) year birds - the aforementioned Roadside Hawk (which they found for the day on the way to meet us for birding - and quickly texted us to get us out there and on the bird!) and a couple of White-winged Parakeets that had joined a large grackle and parrot roost in McAllen (we visited this roost after discovering it was only minutes from our chosen dinner restaurant - we were hungry but it was worth it to see this amazing avian spectacle of tens of thousands of birds gathering for the night).