Check out this guest blog by friend Dudley Edmondson from his blog, Fit Guy Outdoors, which currently highlights a birding trip from the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival that includes some more Outdoor Afros you may recognize!
Had the pleasure last week of being invited to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in southern Texas. Had no idea that I would have so much fun. I was flown in to accompany attendees to designated birding location and help them identify and find birds. With over 20 years of birding and bird photography to my credit it seemed like an enjoyable and easy task.
With the help of local tour leader, Roy Rodriguez we took bus loads of birders out to pad their life list with new birds. Highlights included: Red –crowned parrot, Rudy ground dove, Crimson collared grosbeak, Least grebe and Aplomado Falcon.
Roy is one of the most amazing human vessels of knowledge I have ever met. He was never at a loss for information on the history of south Texas, its people or its birds. Many of the participants including myself were truly mesmerized by Roy’s extensive knowledge.
Perhaps the most amazing things about the festival that may have gone unnoticed by many in attendance was that it was perhaps the most culturally diverse birding festival ever held in the United States. Granted the numbers were not that high but of the 400-500 folks in attendance there were perhaps 8-10 people of color present as trip guides, attendees and vendors. None of this would have been possible without the forward thinking of Festival coordinator and longtime friend Mary Gustafson. Mary is no dummy she is fully aware of the fact that without young birders and more people of color birding simply has no future. So this year she stacked the deck by bringing in the most knowledgeable young birders she could find and then contacting me to help with ethnic diversity. In turn I brought in friends Dr. Drew Lanham, Associate Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources at Clemson University and Douglas Wayne Gray avid birder and member of the Indiana Audubon Society. Together with local Roy Rodriguez we made up the most noticeable diversity at the conference, as designated trip leaders.
This is just the latest of many efforts within the birding community to bring about a shift in who in America sees themselves as birders. Also in attendance at the Conference were Dave Mapgiong and Paul Baicich co-founders of the Fledging Birder’s Institute who’s main objective is to engage younger and more ethnically diverse birdwatchers. They’ve planned a conference on the subject for the fall of 2011 with a huge emphasize on ethnic diversity in birding.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of the festival will be the newfound friends in Roy, Dave, Paul and Jeremiah Alexander. All the folks mentioned have bonded and are already planning our next big adventure. We also realize now how many of us are out there are pushing change in the outdoors and plan to work together on this issue at every opportunity.