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Forty Countries' Folks Meet Forty Bird Species
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published June 2016

The lure of birding the Lower Rio Grande Valley is strong. It amazes us, but really should not, that birders from so many countries hear about the Valley and make their way here, binoculars and cameras in hand.

During April we at Alamo Inn B&B, Gear and Tours had a busy month, typical of spring time. A young couple showed up in early April from Japan. Shy and full of smiles, they knew all about birding the Valley, and enjoyed a great time. They were out early and back late, filled with bird sightings and stories of loving it. Early in April our group of 8 highly focused German birders made the Valley their home for a while. We guided them to see 265 bird species, many of them migrants, and returned the birders to Houston's International Airport for their flight home.

Darren, a notable artist from Scotland guided a tour from Great Britain. His tour seemed relaxed and to move at slower rate, but appearances can be deceptive. By the time they were done and returned to Houston via the Texas Hill Country, their bird species count was 300, a remarkable number.

In mid-April thirteen birders from Denmark checked in and took over one wing of our hotel. They were very interesting people, and also very successful at spotting birds. We enjoyed getting to know them. Our staff birding guide, Mary Beth, and a mutual friend Pat, provided them with top-notch guiding particularly identifying unseen but heard birds by their calls. The Danes loved eating Texas steaks and TexMex foods. Their memory banks were packed full when they drove north form the Valley, full of our birds and food and laid back culture.

Birders from Norway, Maine, Washington, Canada, Texas, California, and a dozen other U.S. states stayed with us during April for anything from one night to two weeks each. They loved the fall outs of small birds on South Padre Island. These fall outs occur when winds blowing from the north blow out into the Gulf of Mexico. The song birds that migrate over the Gulf, flying into head winds all night become exhausted. They flop down onto any land they see, which often turns out to be South Padre Island. Here birders love that they can see these beautiful birds close up (ten to thirty feet). Because the birds are exhausted, they drop out of the sky to rest in shrubs and trees, becoming instant celebrities to the gathered photographers and birders. Water and food are provided by kind South Padre Island and Port Isabel birders. The birds start arriving about 11 am and stay one to three nights, gathering their strength to continue their journey to our Northern states and Canada, where they go to nest.

The Valley welcomes birders, having recorded visitors from forty different countries including places like: Sweden, France, Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Moldova (look it up, adjacent to Ukraine), Bulgaria, and New Zealand. We similarly welcome birds from Central and South America, little hummingbirds and tanagers, cuckoos and orioles, as well as raptors such as Broad-winged Hawks and Mississippi Kites. Probably a good forty species for a birder who spends a week at peak migration counting species at fall outs.

All these bird species and birders from all those countries meet up in the Valley in spring. What a party. What excitement. Local birders post to Facebook on a site called Rio Grande Valley Birding. It is fun monitoring the site through the spring as excited birders post their notes and photos of brilliant birds at their best in breeding plumage. It is fun to read all about it on Facebook, surpassed of course by the fun of experiencing it.

Make a plan to go out birding next April and May. If you cannot make it to South Padre Island, any patch of Valley trees is likely to support its share of migrants. As you photograph and admire the forty abundant, tame bird species, listen to the accents of the birders from forty different countries and from forty different states . . .