Due to the cold and sleet from the prior week, there were only 38 participants for the Saturday (Feb. 5) event as compared to last year when 65 showed up, said Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mike Pierson.
“We had 16 cancellations on Friday due to weather. However, those who did attend had an opportunity of a lifetime. They were allowed to explore areas of Choke Canyon that are closed off to the public,” Pierson said.
Paul Jaure, interpreter and resource specialist from Choke Canyon State Park, contacted Homeland Security and was granted permission to take the birding group to the South Shore area below the dam that was sealed off in 2006 for national security.
Following a continental breakfast from the Pon’s Donut and Chinese Restaurant, the birding group started at Tips Park to explore the new Nature Trail designed by Miles Phillips from Texas A&M University Agrilife Extension Service on Nature Tourism. The park host keeps the feeders filled at the new birding area to attract a variety of birds.
Around 10:30 a.m. the group made their way back to the gym to hear various speakers, including Mark Klym, coordinator of the Texas Wildscapes and Texas Hummingbird Roundup programs at Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“Mark [Klym] gave a cool presentation on hummingbirds. He photographs, tags and researches them. He knows everything about hummingbirds and his presentation was very interesting,” said professional nature photographer Sylvia Garcia-Smith.
Jennifer Owen-White with the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge gave a presentation on how the Texas Parks System works together for successful conservation.
Lunch was a sandwich buffet provided by Zamzow’s Deli of Three Rivers.
After lunch, the birders listened to more lectures and followed guides like John Yochum, park interpreter for the World Birding Center in Brownwood. He helped identify many of the birds seen at the festival. By the end of the day, 76 different birds were detected, including an eagle, peregrine falcon and sandhill crane.
Professional nature photographer Sylvia Garcia-Smith gave a presentation on her 2010 birding adventures and the photography contests in which she participates. She showed photos of birds in flight. Her presentation was well received. One man wanted to know what settings she uses on her camera.
“I usually shoot at ISO 400, aperture priority and let the camera select a shutter speed to match. I know many photographers like to use shutter priority while the camera adjusts the aperture. It is best to have a Gimbal mount head and a big lens so that you are not that close to the bird but close enough to get full frame,” said Garcia-Smith.
For an additional fee, John Goins of Goin’s Birding Excursions provided boat rides to those who wanted to study the birds on the reservoir. “It was a great boating trip,” said Garcia-Smith.
“Unfortunately, there were not very many other takers, folks thought it was going to be cold, but it was quite comfortable. I stood on the bow with my camera ever ready for a shot of birds flying by. You get a different perspective of birding when you do it by boat. The birds don’t spook as easily and you can get a bit closer to them. I was able to photograph a variety of wildlife on the small section of the lake John [Goin] took us on,” Garcia-Smith added.
The evening meal was BBQ catered by Brush Country of Three Rivers, followed by an unassisted “owl prowl” for those interested in staying a while longer at the park.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the hobby of bird watching has become the fastest growing outdoor activity in the United States.
Pierson added, “The birding event was wonderful, the speakers were excellent and the food was great. I am happy to report we had no complaints by any participants.
“Furthermore, we have decided to dedicate an entire web site to the birding festival with photos, etc. The website address is: http://www.threeriverstx.org/birdingfest/index.html.”