Picture a 90 degree, humid, late afternoon day in southeast Texas as sweaty birders cram into 4 vans with all their binoculars, cameras, scopes and tripods. The vans scattered throughout Harlingen, Texas’s residential and commercial neighborhoods, each with a driver/guide, spotter and anxious birders hoping to find the target flocks of Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots.
These colorful, loud birds are widely scattered in the daytime, but as evening approaches this time of year they tend to flock to one or two varying locations around town creating a memorable spectacle of noise and color. Throw in the barking dogs, excited birders, and gaping neighbors and children, and you have a unusual birding treat.
This event was part of the annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. It, along with countless other guided trips through numerous habitats in the valley, key note speakers, vendors, etc. make it one of the top birder destinations. www.rgvbf.org And don’t forget the birds. Texas as a whole and in particular the Rio Grande Valley has an impressive bird list of possible sightings with over 540 species seen in South Texas.
The Green Parakeet is a long-tailed, large-billed, non-migratory bird native to Mexico and northern Central America. The Red-crowned Parrot is a stocky, large-headed and short-tailed bird, native to a shrinking area of northeast Mexico, and considered endangered. There is some controversy whether these two birds of the Rio Grande Valley are feral or native in an enlarging range, but these birds found elsewhere in California and Florida are clearly escapees.
The chase did not yield immediate fruit. Our aggressive driver carreened around corners and zig-zagged through the neighborhoods with one eye on the road and the other on the treetops, using the cell phone (hands-free) to coordinate with the other vans–all initially also coming up dry. I gathered there was a badge of honor given to the first van to find the target birds. Several curious elders on their front porch waved as our van passed down their street for the 4th or 5th time. As dusk approached I was beginning to worry, but then we heard them before seeing them. 25 or 30 Green Parakeets were devouring berries on a small tree on a side street. We called in our location and all the vans and happy birders converged for pictures.
As if on cue the parakeets took off and the birders tumbled back into the vans, now to find the parrots in the waning light. Lucky again, we heard and found a large flock of 50 or 60 in the trees and wires. These green and red birds, seemingly in Christmas attire made an impressive sight. I saw one of my fellow birders set up his scope for some local children who were wondering about this invasion of birds and birders into their neighborhood. Their squeals of delight at seeing these birds, up close, with great optics made me think we probably just created some new birders in south Texas. With the light now too low for photography, we left the birds and neighbors alone, content with our success in this unique Great Parrot Chase.