Scenes from the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Part 2
by Nate Swick
Harlingen, Texas, loves birders. And from what I can gather the feeling is pretty mutual. Birders have long known about the avian riches of what we simply call "The Valley", it's one of the few places in the ABA-area that nearly every person to pick up binoculars will tell you that you just have to visit, but it's incredibly rewarding to see a town in Harlingen that knows it too. Harlingen has long realized its special place in the hearts of the continent's birders and, for this week in November, it rolls out the red carpet.
The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is exhausting. It's also equal parts exciting and fascinating and just plain fun. The field trips, led by capable guides and filled to the brim with enthusiastic participants, are top notch, and a lot of that has to do with that fact that the target birds in the Valley are garish and charismatic and abundant. It's hard to stand in a group of birders who are seeing a Green Jay for the first time and not feel something move even in the most experienced birder's soul. Even if you've seen hundreds of them, it's the completely unapologetic excitement, the sheer giddyness, that birders are able to tap into on a remarkably regular basis that resonates and sustains us.
For most of us, that's sort of what birding is about. It's the thing that binds us together as a group. You may find Green Jay or feeder bound chickadee antics exciting, or you may prefer to age shorebirds by primary wear, but it's such a big part of birding to be excited about these things without any sort of self-consciousness. Birds have a way of laying us bare, of stripping away pretense, in the most wonderfully endearing ways. That sense of good-natured community pervades here at RGVBF from leader to speaker to attendee.
This is my first birding festival, so this idealistic ranting may just be the product of the heady mix of hundreds of bird people joining together in celebration of a common passion. But it seems to me that when we get together nothing but good comes of it.
The ABA - your ABA - has sought to harness this good energy on the trade floor. Instead of the conventional table and folding chairs, we have a lounge... of sorts. Two sofas, comfy and inviting, where birders, members and non, can sit down and share stories, swap sightings, and just enjoy each others company.
Over the last few days a steady stream of birders, speakers, trip leaders, field guide authors, and more have stopped and visited with us and, speaking as someone who's been there for much of it, it's been a real blast to meet so many great people with whom we share this rewarding birding experience.
We've been trying to keep track of much of the steady stream of birders coming and going on our Facebook wall. Some visitors you may recognize as movers and shakers in our community, but in most, you'll probably see yourself. A person passionate about the birds tey've been seeing, excited to be among bird people, and looking forward to a future where the ABA can truly be a voice for birders' interests and a facilitator of that continental community for birders. It's a future I think we all would like to see arrive.
And in a place like Harlingen, it really feels possible.