Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Post #43 - Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF), thoughts on community....

Terribly sorry for the down week last week! I was frantically preparing for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival for which I departed on Tuesday. This post will, in small part, serve as a bit of a recap of my experience at the festival, and, in larger part, speak to the amazing community of birders with whom I spent an amazing 5 days in South Texas.

Cuing for dinner on the first night

(I have no idea why but I need this text here to correctly format the next paragraph - 
sometimes I really, really hate computers and their autoformating. #technologyfail)

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is one of the premier birding festivals in the country. This year was the 22nd installment of the gathering that is annually based in Harlingen, Texas. Over 600 people from all over the country registered and attended in an official capacity, and thousands more, mostly RGV locals, cycled through the various free exhibitions, talks, and activities that accompany the more traditional birding field trips. I was one of the keynote speakers, and when not on stage I was deployed as a leader for the myriad of field trips in which registrants can participate. I thoroughly enjoyed trip leading and might look to do more of it in the future. I specifically enjoyed the interactions, bird-centric and less-so, with the various participants. The 3 trips I led, 2 of which we bicycle-based and 1 of which was boat-based, were a perfect balance of birding and gabbing. We saw loads of cool stuff without generally worrying too much about the specific species we found. As many will attest, even the common birds in the RGV valley are spectacular!

Here is the bike-birding group that Dudley Edmondson 
and I led at Bentsen State Park (Dudley is third from left)

Participants biking at Resaca de la Palma

Pontoon boat on Rio Grande

As for birds, I saw all the usual Rio Grande Valley specialties (Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Plain Chachalaca, Green Kingfisher, Clay-colored Thrush, etc) as well as a few less expected regional rarities (Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Blue-throated hummingbird). I was generally unconcerned with what I/we found as I was simply enjoying being out of LA for 5 days. I did little photography as most of my time was allocated to organizing, leading, and summarizing field trips. It was a blast but it was significantly more tiring than I though it would be! Loads of other good birds were found including Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Hook-billed Kite, Pacific-slope Flycatcher (1st state record). Many folks enjoyed a late-migrating Swainson's Warbler before it was eaten by a Loggerhead Shrike! There is actually a video of the act and I will try to link it if I can find it - Got it! The birding was high quality as is almost always expected for the RGV in the winter.

Un-bird, aka Bobcat cub at 
Estero Llano Grande State Park

This oddity was also present at Estero Llano Grande SP
for most of the week. Can you ID it?
(Answer at end of post)

I will say, without hesitation, that the highlight of my time in Texas was the other birders - participants and leaders alike. For the first time in a long while, I really felt like I was part of an extended community. Many of my birding friends, new and old alike, are scattered around the country where I am not too frequently able to enjoy their collective company. This festival, I am sure like others, was a bit of social overload as dozens of my birding contacts assembled in one place. It was amazing to hear what people have have been doing on the birding, traveling, guiding, conservation, artistic, and personal fronts. There are so many ways to enjoy birds, birding, and the out-of-doors. I am incredibly thankful that I have found such a diverse and interesting group of folks with whom I can share my own lifelong love of birds and all things nature. I am looking forward to returning to the RVGBF in the future. Between then and now I will attended a number of other festivals, so it will be interesting to see how others compare as I experience them in the next few months. My only regret is that I didn't take more pics of people.....

Catching up with Debbie Shearwater!

I got crabby as I realized the festival was winding down

Anyway, that's about it for now. I'll stop before I get too sappy. I'll leave you with one of the very few photos I took this past week. The background is a bit busy from a technical standpoint, but I like how it shows the reedy edges along which Great Kiskadees often forage. This large, very-animated flycatcher cannot be missed in the RGV. If you haven't watched them chase each other around as the forage, you really need to book a ticket to South Texas!

Great Kiskadee - Pitangus sulphuratus
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4 x III on EOD 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800, Manual 

The mystery duck is a Northern Pintail  - Gadwall hybrid!

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