Birds in the Binoculars

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Cooler weather and a change of the season brings many visitors to the Rio Grande Valley. Fall migration occurs, where multitudes of birds wing their way into the region — much to the delight of birders and other outdoors enthusiasts.

To mark this special time of the year — and to invite more people to experience the incredible birdwatching opportunities available in the RGV — Explore RGV has released a Birding Adventure Guide perfect for both novice and advanced birders.

“We wanted to produce a tool for families and people that have interest in beginning this kind of hobby, it’d be a great starting point,” said Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. “This tools serves as a beginner-friendly way to catalog and visit our region’s great birding locations. Even those folks that have been birding before, can use it as a treasure hunt and make it a personal challenge to visit all those sites.”

The Birding Adventure Guide can be found on GoExploreRGV.com/Birding. The webpage includes listings of recommended birding sites, an interactive map of the sites, a downloadable guide, and resources.

“A lot of those locations are either free or low cost, so it gives families and individuals that live in the Valley a very low-cost hobby,” Garza said. “Ecotourism is a big driver for our economy, the website and guide allows visitors from outside the Valley to more easily plan trips.”

Explore RGV’s Birding Adventure Guide isn’t the only initiative celebrating Rio Grande Valley birdwatching right now. This year’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is scheduled from Nov. 6 to Nov. 10. The Harlingen festival includes field trips, speakers, programs, and much more.

“It’s a great festival — I know a lot of people look forward to it,” said Richard Moore, a local wildlife photographer who takes part in the event. Last year, the festival marked 25 years, hosting 600 participants, according to festival registrar Tamie Bulow. “Obviously, it’s a boon to the economy. I think that’s one of the most remarkable things about the wildlife in the Valley, is the economic value of it.”

Birding and ecotourism contribute $463 million to the Rio Grande Valley’s economy each year, a 2011 Texas A&M University study found.

RGV birding also enjoyed the spotlight in a recent Netflix documentary called Birders. Moore was among those featured in the 37-minute documentary, which explored birding on both sides of the border. It includes locations like Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, to name a few. Those four sites are also among the locations listed in the Birding Adventure Guide. More birds have been documented at Laguna Atascosa alone than at any other national wildlife refuge in the country, Moore says.

Explore RGV launched in late 2018 as a grant-funded smartphone app and website organized by the LRGVDC. As a part of this project, the LRGVDC identified hundreds of unique treasures across Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties to feature in the listings. The project aimed to highlight both well-known and lesser-known gems for both residents and visitors.

Recently, Explore RGV has started announcing city partnerships to enhance regional buy-in to the Valleywide marketing campaign. Cities taking part so far include Alamo, Brownsville, Combes, Edinburg, Elsa, Harlingen, Laguna Vista, Los Fresnos, Los Indios, Lyford, McAllen, Mission, Palm Valley, Pharr, San Benito, South Padre Island, Sullivan City, and Weslaco. (GoExploreRgv.com/partner-cities)

“I think it’s a really neat idea,” Moore said of Explore RGV. “It gives you right at your fingertips the opportunity to look at all the different places to visit in the Valley — not just birding, but other places you can go for cultural interpretation and just to do stuff with the family.”

Because the directory is so extensive, this year, the LRGVDC has leveraged local experts to help curate the listings based on categories special to the region.

That’s where the new Explore RGV Adventure Guides come in handy.

“Explore RGV is so comprehensive,” Garza said. “With nearly 1,000 listings, we wanted to devise an option that categorized it in a simpler format. If someone had a specific interest, you have it in a simple-to-read, very usable and shareable format. That’s a cool thing. You can easily share this with people that don’t live in the Valley. It helps us market our own assets.”

In Explore RGV’s downloadable Birding Adventure Guide, one side features 44 birding sites, complete with name, address, phone number, website, if available, and directory link on GoExploreRGV.com. On the other side, Moore helped identify eight of the most sought-after birds in the RGV to include with pictures and descriptions, such as the green jay, buff-bellied hummingbird, white tail hawk, aplomado falcon, and others.

“We brought in experts in that field to decide,” Garza said. “Birding’s very unique because you could almost bird from your backyard in the Rio Grande Valley, but we wanted experts to come up with a list of our top birding destinations.”

The LRGVDC will use a similar approach to subsequent Adventure Guides.

“The birding adventure guide is really only the beginning,” Garza said. “We hope over the course of the next year to develop more guides that people can use to simply navigate our own assets.”

If nothing else, the Birding Adventure Guide will help people get out and enjoy the nicer weather.

“I think birds are a good excuse to get outdoors,” Moore said. “There are so many beautiful birds and of course this is the best place in the United States to see birds. That’s pretty telling, right there, when you just happen to live in the four-county area where there’s more birds than any place in the country.”

Visit GoExploreRGV.com, download the app, or follow Explore RGV on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube @GoExploreRGV