Laredo Birding Festival 2019

14 02 2019

Red-billed Pigeon – Luke Tiller

I just spent a wonderful weekend in Laredo, Texas at the Laredo Birding Festival. Though the town is west of many of the traditionally known spots in the Rio Grande Valley for winter birding and not as well known as McAllen, Harlingen and Mission, Texas it has plenty to offer wintering birders. In fact it’s actually ground zero for a couple of the ABA area’s hardest to find and most sought after species: Morelet’s Seedeater and Red-billed Pigeon. For those two reasons alone it’s always been included in my Rio Grande Valley birding tours and why I have such a high success rate with Red-billed Pigeon when I’m in the valley.


La Posada Hotel, Laredo – Luke Tiller

What to say about the festival:

The central location for everything is a really wonderful Spanish style hotel smack bang in the middle of downtown Laredo. La Posada Hotel is a great location with a couple of restaurants on site, two nice pools and a decent fitness room. The good food options here meant that I spent most of my post field trip and booth time chatting to participants in the hotel bar and restaurant. I thought this mingling of guides and participants, especially at dinner time, really added to the overall experience. (La Posada Hotel website here).

The opening night was held at the Laredo Center for the Arts where there was a show containing 375 wonderful submissions from local amateur artists of all ages. Not only was the art fun, but it added to the sense that the local community were invested in this event and their local environment. Adding to that sense of community were the events taking place at the local American Legion Hall and the number of locals involved as both drivers and guides on all the field trips.


Audubon’s Oriole – Luke Tiller

As well as the spectacular local specialties: Red-Billed Pigeon, Audubon’s Oriole, Muscovy Duck and Morelet’s Seedeater, there were lots of fantastic birds that you associate with Southern Texas and Mesquite brush country: Plain Chachalaca, White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia and Harris’s Hawk among others. In all the three days of field trips totaled about 170 different species, many of them were lifers or ABA species for visiting birders and even I finally had a Muscovy Duck that I felt pretty good about counting in the US.

As well as the great birds we had at the festival, it’s worth noting that the event takes place at the peak time for Mexican vagrants to be showing up along the Rio Grande Valley. Though the Crimson-collared Grosbeaks and Golden-crowned Warblers were a little too far from Laredo to be included in the official field trips, a visit to points south and east in the Valley pre or post festival would make for a nice extension for visiting birders.


White-collared Seedeater – Luke Tiller

One of the real highlights of the weekend for me was how many of the places were sites that I’ve never birded before. This is because the large majority of sites visited on field trips are not usually open to the general public. Festival goers are therefore getting treated to some really unique birding experiences. The number of local ranchers that welcomed birders on to their property during the event was impressive and testament to local relationships forged. It was really nice to see some of those ranchers attend the end of festival banquet and receive a warm round of applause from birders for their willingness to have us visit their properties.

There are plenty of places that are great for birding in the Laredo area that are publicly accessible, but the special access developed by festival organizers really adds to the list of exciting places to visit.  One of my main highlights of the trip, personally, was a visit to Trevino Uribe Rancho, a beautiful building recently restored by the River Pierce Foundation (website here). It’s usually only open the first Sunday of the month, but we had special visiting hours arranged for the tour groups.


Common Ground-Dove

Finally the last thing to address: I was saddened to hear one tour participant say that her non-birding husband had joined her solely because he was worried about the situation on the southern border. Of course they had never been to the Valley before and could only guess what to expect from media reports.

I’ve visited the Valley on many occasions and the towns and cities along the Rio Grande seem no more or less dangerous than any other city in the country. In fact with the almost constant presence of Border Patrol it feels like they are probably safer. In the multiple years I’ve visited the border, often standing just a stone’s throw from Mexico, I’ve never felt unsafe. The Rio Grande Valley is a wonderful part of the United States with a rich history, wonderful wildlife and welcoming people and I hope that its open spaces stay accessible to future generations.


Scoping Laredo’s parakeet roosts – Jeffrey Gordon

So, to summarize: If you haven’t been to the Valley before I would highly recommend this birding festival. If you’ve been before and still need to see Red-billed Pigeon or Morelet’s Seedeater I would highly recommend this birding festival. If you just love the valley and want to see a few places that you’ve never gotten the chance to visit before I would highly recommend this birding festival (can you see where I’m going with this…)

The festival feels like it has a great group of people working hard to make sure it continues to grow and improve and I was proud to be there with ZEISSBirding helping to support their efforts. Next year’s event takes place February 5-8. To find out more about the festival visit their website (here). I hope to see you there!