What Really Happens at Rio Grande Bird Fest

Okay, finally the word on what happened people-wise at the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival. First of all, there were more kids at this festival than any I had seen before. These two guys were so cute, they came to get outfitted for a field trip. They selected Energy Binoculars, which fit well in kids hands and on kid faces. They were so cute, as Ben (tall guy behind the boys) was taking the binos out of the box and putting the straps on, one of the boys exclaimed, "They come with a case, we get a case?" You know you're getting serious when you binoculars come with a case. Welcome to the fold boys!

On the left we have party animal and Bird Watcher's Digest editor Bill Thompson. On the right is Jeff Gordon who co-wrote Identify Yourself (I'll have to add Jeff to the author sightings list). They were part of a book signing at RGV. Interesting thing, Bill pointed out that Jeff was also selected to go on the Cornell Ivory-bill search. I asked when and he said "First Two Weeks of December." When I asked which team, it turns out we are on the exact same team! I'm so relieved. When you do these things, you never know what kind of mixed bag of people will be involved and if the personalities will be compatible. After meeting Jeff, I will know that there is at least one person on my team who is fairly normal and easy to get along with.

Don't forget, while I'm out searching for "the great cock of the woods", Bill Thompson's talented wife Julie Zickefoose will be guest blogging for me.

There were a number of Bills at the convention--which was nice since I was away from Non Birding Bill. This Bill pictured here is Bill Clark who co-wrote Photographic Guide to North American Raptors with Brian Wheeler. Now I have both autographs in my book. He was offering a trip to band white-tailed hawks during the festival which I had to miss. What would my friends say if they found out I gave up hawk trapping for some birding elsewhere.

This is Dennis Paulson who wrote Shorebirds of North America. Like a dork, I didn't bring my copy of the book to be autographed so I missed out on that. Dennis was supposed to be sitting between Bill Thompson and Bill Clark during the signing, but apparently his talk was running late (or he was mobbed by shorebird groupies, we all know how fanatical those people can get). So I took a break from the Eagle Optics booth between the Bills, and took the seat for Dennis. Wouldn't you know it, but a nice lady came up to have me autograph her book. I was so tempted to continue the charade that a short sassy redhead was the true identity of Dennis Paulson, but I confessed that I was not the desired author. The woman said that she thought it was possible that I could be a "Dennis" since there were other guys with female names at the convention like Kim Eckert. For a moment in someone's eyes I was an authority on shorebirds. Dare to dream.

Tim Gallagher gave a presentation and signing at the RGV Fest too. Watching his footage of the Lunnaeu video was a very different experience than having watched it on the internet or tv news where it's blown up to grainy proportions. Having watched it on a large screen at regular speed, it makes much more sense as to why this is an ivory-billed woodpecker and not an albinistic pileated. Whether or not you believe the bird in the footage is an ivory-bill, I will tell you this, it is for sure not a pileated. It doesn't have the flight pattern a pileated does--this isn't someone speaking from behind a computer, this is someone who has considered a pileated a favorite bird since age seven and has watched it for hours in the field. If anything you could argue that the footage is an albinistic wood duck from the way the wings flap and the speed that the bird in question leaves the tree--it doesn't have the flight pattern of a woodpecker at all. What keeps it from being a wood duck is that you can see the bird clinging to the side of a tree before it takes off.

Oh dear, I just realized that went off on an ivory-bill tangent...sorry, back to the convention happenings.

Anyway, Gallagher was merrily autographing books, I have to say it was a different experience than Bobby Harrison's talk. Ladies weren't lining up to touch Gallagher. Perhaps it was his professorish air (not that that is a bad thing) and Bobby is an incredibly friendly southern gentleman? After I got my book signed I went with Amy Hooper of Wild Bird to Jeff Bouton at Leica and asked what the plan was for the rest of the evening. Jeff wanted to wait for the signing to be over and take Gallagher out for a drink. I looked at our group, even though Amy had a connection with Gallagher through Wild Bird (he used to edit the magazine too), we needed more of a presence. Bill Thompson had gone to Africa with Gallagher so I told Jeff, we should rope him in when we ask Gallagher to add credibility to our offer. Bill informed us that Gallagher would probably be tired from all the speaking engagements, but noted that Gallagher was being shuttled around and would need a ride back to his hotel. The plan was set. We would offer to drive him back to his hotel and perhaps stop for a refreshing beer. We added a few more people to our posse, waited for the signing to be over and ambushed.

Tim Gallagher came out with us. Although, Jeff did have an idea of sneaking him across the Mexican border and demand the exact location of ivory-bill sightings in Florida before returning him. It was a great time and it turns out that Gallagher is even cooler than I thought--he's a falconer. As soon as Jeff and I discovered that, the conversation quickly left talk of ivory-bills and on to the exciting flights of peregrines and Cooper's hawks.

One interesting note: Gallagher has only seen the ivory-billed woodpecker the one time--the famous time. No matter how you slice it, this is not an easy bird to see. But in a way, isn't that the nature of woodpeckers. You don't find them, they find you.

We tried to find a place for karaoke while in Harlingen and if you can believe it, there wasn't a karaoke bar big enough to fit our large group. I think at future bird festivals we are just going to have to make it an official event and hold it at the convention center. We did have a "danceteria" as a festival staff member's home. That's Katie, my coworker at Eagle Optics doing the fish in the middle. She and I are two peas in a pod and are working on an official dance when someone buys binoculars at our booth. It was a good time, especially when Katie, Bill and I did an interpretive dance to Shaft. We're bad mother birders. Right on.

I can't wait to go back next year: November 8 - 12, 2006.