What the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Means to Me
One thing I love about birding is that the community is so vastly unique and weird and awesome. At a festival, every profession, background, and level of experience is represented, and we are all there for the birds. Erik and I have been guiding at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) for the last three years and have gotten to know many of the guides, vendors, volunteers, and recurring participants very well. We’ve attended festivals as participants before and know the drill: register for trips, attend trips, talk to a few other folks, bird, go through the expo, and head back to the hotel to prepare for it again. Erik and I are generally introverts in a large crowd of unfamiliar faces – I’m not above making a fool of myself if someone says “Oregon” or other key words…but other than that we pretty much keep to ourselves. Guiding at festivals is a whole other thing.
The schedule for seasoned RGVBF guides is full and rewarding and a little bit exhausting as we try to squeeze every moment out of this experience with: leading trips, chatting with participants, greeting all the vendors and catching up, chasing rarities, birding more, leading an evening trip to see parrots, heading back to the hotel to get up and start it over again. Similar schedule but takes much more time. Erik and I didn’t make it more than a few feet into the expo before finding a friend. We talk about Erik’s favorite topic, eBird, rarities popping up, replay last year’s events, and what’s coming up next, rarely do we discuss what happens outside birding. A few asked about our motel and what we do in our lives, as it seems to be a mystery to most. But up and down the rows of booths, you’ll find conversations going on that are solving big birding issues and others that discuss upcoming travels…. but again, it’s all about birds.
When we aren't guiding, we also spend a lot of time working on the podcast, networking, outreaching, and meeting listeners and fans. This takes more time than you'd think, but it's something we love to do. It is so much fun to meet our listeners "out in the wild" and hear their stories and experiences in birding, we're always surprised when folks recognize us -- many times it's when we introduce ourselves. "Hi, I'm Hannah and this is my husband, Erik" usually rings the recognition bell. One of the reasons we decided to do the podcast is to help make birding more approachable and inclusive, which is something that festivals specialize in, so it makes a perfect atmosphere for learning and meeting one another. The RGVBF provides ample time for everyone to meet one another, whether at a reception, long bus ride, or at the expo.
Many of the guides and vendors work full-time in birding whether as a guide, a retailer, or a naturalist, so it’s just another week in their bird-y life. However, for folks like us that work outside the birding community – these festivals are the highlight of the year in which we can see old and new friends, enjoy our time birding, and see what’s new. We’ll ride the high of the festival for weeks to come and look forward to the next year with constant reminders as we look at our friends through Facebook, Twitter, and the occasional visitors hoping to cash in on the “Birder’s Discount” and promise of Tufted Puffins we offer at our motel. The entire last day and travel home, Erik and I make jokes about missing our flight or maybe we could move back to the Rio Grande Valley and think back to how fortunate we were that we had moved there in the first place.
It’s incredible that we’ve found a community of folks that we spend a week with and at the end say “see you next year” and we can pick up just as we did on the first Monday of November when our plane arrives back in Harlingen. The Rio Grande Valley is so special for all the amazing specialties that can be found there, but the RGVBF is so special for the community that it has fostered and flourished throughout its 26 years. It’s a great group of birders and people and although we’re definitely not the best guides in terms of ID skills, for some reason they still accept us into the community. Next November can’t come soon enough.