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30 Days Out: Take a birding trip in Texas


16th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
Harlingen, Texas
November 12-15th

Every November, Harlingen hosts the area’s biggest and best birding festival. For 15 years the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival has drawn crowds because of its reputation for having terrific guided field trips and a host of birding products available in the Birders Bizarre. Also part of the extravaganza are seminars, kids’ activities, and the joy of meeting others with an enthusiasm for birds.

Who Should Go

Travelers looking for a value destination that affords a chance to be outside comfortably in November, anyone who’s ever wondered about what it means to be a birder (consider signing up for the fest Birding 101 workshop), amateur wildlife photographers tired of taking photos of the ho-hum birds in their own backyard.

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Experience It Like a Local

Draw up your list of “targets”, ie bird species you’d like to spot on your walkabouts. Sign up for one of the festival’s many field trips to have the chance to tour with a knowledgeable guide who will help point out the various species you may see, including hook-billed kites, altamira orioles, and golden-fronted woodpecker. Some of the festival’s tours and panels are led by a Who’s Who of birding luminaries, including Don Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds, and Jon Dunn, National Geographic Field Guide.

Getting There

Continental and Southwest airlines both fly into the local airport, Valley International (HRL), located just 4 miles outside of Harlingen. Southwest offers direct flights to HRL from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston; Continental only flies direct from Houston. Sample round trip fares on Southwest and Continental for that particular weekend all hover around $300 for trips originating in Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Other Things to Do While You’re There

  • Head to the beaches of South Padre Island, located an hour’s drive east of Harlingen.
  • If ugly weather has you looking for different activitieshead back across the Queen Isabelle causeway from South Padre Island to Port Isabel. Tour Port Isabel’s three notable museums.
  • Check out larger wildlife at Glady Porters Zoo, one of the nation’s best small zoos

Fodor’s Recommends

Where to Eat
Manuel’s – Visitors and locals alike go nuts for is this tiny taco joint near the lighthouse
Republic of the Rio Grande Restaurant & Cantina – A sumptuous mix of Mexican seafood dishes, wood-fired brick-oven pizzas, and Angus beef cuts

Where to Stay
The Renaissance Casa de Palmas Hotel – Arguably the most beautiful and the most historic hotel in South Texas
Inn at Chachalaca Bend – Amazing nature outside and terrific service inside

Resources & Shortcuts

Why does the tiny lower Rio Grande Valley boast more than 500 species of birds?
Official Banks Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Web Site
Clay’s Digiscoping 1,000

Alternative Destination Recommendations

Domestically, Big Bend NP, Joshua Tree NP, and Tucson and Florida’s Everglades all offer prime birding opportunities.

Photo credit: Photo from Wikipedia; public domain

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