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Taking flight in south Texas

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By Chris McBeath,

Travelink Publishing

There were, perhaps, 150 of them, swirling around our heads like a scene out of Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds , and still we couldn’t get enough. Every few minutes, another group of five or six Green Parakeets would join the squawking social gathering that had taken temporary residence on the telephone lines above. With our binoculars trained skyward, we could see the intimate antics of each bird as they preened each other’s feathers with affection, jostled for position to chatter about their day, compete for the attention of a potential mate or simply to enjoy time out as a couple, observing the feathery bustle of their surrounds.

"This is like their cocktail hour," explains Keith Hackland, a naturalist and wildlife guide with Birding Trails. "Every evening just before dusk, they gather together from all around the area to share their day, before flying off to their roosting destination for the night." Five more parakeets arrive mid-explanation, and the volume of the flock crescendos. Binoculars spring back into action. There seems to be great kafuffle and the raucous chattering climbs decibels high.

"They’re about to go," calls Keith above the noise. It’s as if the group were waiting, albeit with boisterous impatience, for these last stragglers, because within minutes they all start to depart. Twenty here. Forty there. Ten more follow. Until there were none.

"We don’t know where they roost," Keith says, breaking the sudden silence. "We can’t even be sure where their gathering spot will be because the parakeets will party at a certain location for a few days and then suddenly change. They keep us on our toes."

This seems to be the understatement in the Rio Grande Valley. And therein lies the real story.

Widely regarded as one of the finest and most diverse bird-watching areas in North America, the RGV lies as the natural flyway between North and South America. With almost 500 species of indigenous and migrating birds, drawn here for the moderate, year-round temperatures, the valley has become a year round twitcher’s paradise.

"There are species of birds here that virtually appear nowhere else in the country – White-collared Seedeaters, Clay-coloured Robins, Ringed Kingfishers, Brown Jays, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Chihauhuan Ravens, and Tamaulipas Crows," Keith continues, adding that we should also watch for tropical birds of the Texas-Mexico border such as Great Kiskadees, Green Jays, Plain Chachalacas, Altamira Orioles, and Red-crown Parrots. The list is impressive.

But you don’t have to be an avid ornithologist to appreciate what the valley has to offer. Novice birders and nature photography enthusiasts are also finding their way here: to canoe down the Rio Grande River itself through one of the state-run national wildlife refuges, explore locations along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, discover one of the new World Birding Centers dotted along 120 miles of river road between Roma and South Padre Island, or to find themselves in a trend-setting "back-to-nature" South Texan backyard.

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