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You've heard the old saying " Birds of a feather flock together"? Nothing could be truer for man and bird when the Brownsville International Birding Festival gets underway February 15-17, 2007 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Now in it's seventh year, the festival is being hailed as one of the most significant wildlife events in North America. Birders and lovers of wildlife are fast discovering this beautiful region and the festival is a great introduction to the semi-tropical paradise of the Lower Valley.

Fortunately for winter travelers and especially RVers, this is the perfect time of the year to visit the Valley region where the winters are exceptionally mild and offer some of the best temperatures in the nation for outdoor adventuring.

Each year birders and wildlife enthusiasts are invited to explore the region with fellow enthusiasts and expert guides from around the world. Participants can engage in a series of special lectures from leading naturalists and tour the abundant wildlife facilities that dot the region, including the El Cielo Biosphere across the border in Mexico.

Brownsville Festival participants can attend guided field trips to nearby Santa Ana National Wildlife Area, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Frontera Audubon Center, Sabal Palm Audobon Sanctuary and the South Padre Island/Laguna Madre Area . In addition to abundant bird-viewing, other wildlife species can be seen, including the rare North American ocelot.

The South Texas landscape is a unique blending of temperate, subtropical, coastal, and desert habitats. Mexican plants and wildlife are at the northernmost edge of their range, while migrating waterfowl and sandhill cranes fly down for the mild winters. This combination makes the region world famous for its birds, and home to a mix of wildlife found nowhere else.

Increased bird populations here have been noticeable over the last few years with increased loss of wet lands throughout the U.S., primarily from development but also from natural disasters like Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina.

Running concurrently with the Brownsville Festival is the El Cielo Nature Festival in Cuidad Mante, a city in Mexico's State of Tamauilupas, a short 3-4 hour bus ride across the international border into the heart of an ecologically diverse region of cloud forests, well known for abundant bird and butterfly populations.

The Reserve has replaced environmentally-damaging logging operations in the region, creating an economic hardship for the villages of the area. But cooperative efforts between groups in Mexico and Texas are helping communities of the region adapt to the change. Festival tours are conducted by local guides, and support services, such as lodging, dining and recreation, are quickly replacing income lost as a result of the closing of logging operations.

In the cloud forest region of the Reserve, birders will experience some of the birds of the area that populate the region, including Bat Falcons, the Tamaulipas pygmy-owl, ornate hawk-eagle (seen at the last festival), social flycatcher, azure-crowned hummingbird, elegant and mountain trogon, boat-billed flycatchers, social flycatchers, melodious blackbirds and crimson-collared grosbeak, among many others.

On the Texas side, expect to glimpse ocelot, Texas tortoise, green jays, chachalaca, and javelina, who prefer the dense thorny brushland areas while alligator, least grebe, and black-bellied whistling ducks choose the ponds and resacas of the Rio Grande Valley. Desert dwellers like roadrunner, verdin, and cactus wren inhabit the scrub areas, while species like roseate spoonbill, egrets, and herons join black-necked stilt, American avocet, and piping plover at the shorelines of the Laguna Madre and South Padre Beaches.

If you are unfamiliar with the endangered ocelot and have never seen one you are in for a real treat. It is rare to spot one in the wild, but you can see one on close inspection at the Center. These cats were rescued and unreleasable and help to educate the public about their plight.

A major problem facing the endangered ocelot in South Texas isthe loss of natural habitat. You can help support habitat protection and continuing research for ocelots at the Laguna Atascosa NWR and in South Texas. An Adopt-an-Ocelot program is sponsored by the Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR, a non-profit group. Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to:

Adopt-an-Ocelot
P.O. Box 942
Rio Hondo, TX 78583
Sponsoring an individual ocelot is $20 and a family may be sponsored for $30.

Don't miss the chance to brush up on your ornithology before you arrive and take a look at the World Birding Center website and their future plans for the center.

As you can see, there is much to explore and discover at the Brownsville International Birding Festival. Join the flock of bird and wildlife lovers in the Beautiful Rio Grande Valley, Feb. 15-17!
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