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The Birdiest Festival in America

Cranes on wooden post
Viewing seabirds is only one reason to plan a trip to the South Texas coast.

For more than a decade, Corpus Christi has celebrated its designation as the “Birdiest City in North America.” Thousands of people flock to the coastal town every year to see the birds that pay it a visit as they migrate north and south, as well as those who call Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend home. The Coastal Bend consists of nine counties along the Gulf Coast, including Nueces County, which contains three of the best birding locations — Corpus Christi, Port Aransas/Mustang Island and Padre Island.

“Springtime is the best time to see birds in Port Aransas and the coastal area of South Texas,” says birding enthusiast Ray Dillahunty of Port Aransas. In a recent talk about our winged friends, birding expert Greg Miller said the best birding anywhere in the United States could be found in April in Nueces County. “He calculated that an active birder in Port Aransas could see 147 different species in a day,” Dillahunty says. “At the Birdiest Festival in 2019, there were two daytrip groups that saw 150-plus species in one day in Nueces County.”

Many enthusiasts describe bird-watching as hunting without a firearm. They sit sometimes for hours, waiting for their soughtafter bird to appear before taking a shot — with a camera, not a gun.


Port Aransas has a nature preserve, Charlie’s Pasture, that capitalizes on its birds. The preserve, which includes 1,714 acres of freshwater, brackish water and the Gulf’s saltwater, offers the perfect recipe to entice songbirds, wading birds, raptors and others, including the rarest and most endangered of all — whooping cranes — to its wetlands.

“A huge number of birders from around the world come to see the whooping cranes,” Dillahunty says. “There were 20 whoopers in the world in 1941, and today, there are over 500 wintering in the National Seashore just north of Port Aransas. We’ve had a resident pair in Charlie’s Pasture for the past two years, too.”

There are more than 750 different species of birds in North America, and 500 can be seen around the Corpus Christi area. “They are beautiful, they are ugly, they are common, they are rare,” Dillahunty says. “But they are all different in some small way. The magnificent frigatebird spends up to three months at a time over the open ocean — and its feathers are not waterproof. If it lands in the water, it drowns. How unbelievable is that?” Birding happens every day around Port Aransas, but if you’re there on a Wednesday morning, join Dillahunty and his wife, Leslie Hoekstra, at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center for their weekly bird walks at 9 a.m.


“Oh look — there’s an American kestrel,” remarks Karyn Schmitz as she points toward native grasslands on Padre Island National Seashore, a 66-mile-long, 130,434-acre national park along the Texas Coastal Bend. “And who’s that? Looks like a harrier. And if we could see a piping plover, that would really make our day.”

Ray Dillahunty works for a close-up view of birds that draw visitors to the coast.
Ray Dillahunty works for a close-up view of birds that draw visitors to the coast.

Schmitz and her husband, Tom, are volunteer guides at the national park. For nearly a decade, they’ve been spending two months each year camping in their RV in a small park with other volunteer guides. In that time, they’ve come to regard the seashore as one of the best places in the area to see a variety of birds that come to visit during the spring and winter.

Located within the National Seashore is Bird Island Basin, home to Laguna Madre, the sixth-saltiest body of water in the world. The water brings windsurfers from around the world, and the National Audubon Society considers it one of the most important bodies for birding in the world. It’s a massive quilt of coastal wetlands, freshwater ponds and native grasslands that provide critical habitat for migratory raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, waterbirds and shorebirds, as well as endangered sea turtles.

Start your birding adventure at the Malaquite Visitor Center and pick up information or arrange a guided tour. Camping is available in two campgrounds for a nominal fee; beach camping is free in designated areas. For more information, log on to


Located on 182 acres in Corpus Christi, the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is home to the Birdiest Festival in North America, which brings birders from more than a dozen states and several foreign countries for five days filled with bird-watching, educational activities and more. At last year’s festival, attendees spotted 267 different species of birds, including a Northern jacana, known as nature’s “lily walker” due to its unusual toes that allow it to walk on watery vegetation. Watchers also spotted an endangered violet-throated hummingbird.

A little blue heron walks near the shore.
A little blue heron walks near the shore.

Although the center is surrounded on three sides by busy roads, retailers and residential activity, the city has worked diligently to develop a greenbelt around it to protect its native plant habitats and natural wetlands — both fresh and salty — that attract a variety of birds. “It gives them a choice,” says the center’s executive director, Michael Womack. “It’s a place where they can feel safe.”

South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center offers walking paths and boardwalks through its wetlands and gardens, including its colorful hummingbird garden. Bring your binoculars and be amazed. The center is open daily from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, log onto

“One can be a ‘bird lister’ and keep track of each bird they have spotted. Or you can be a casual birder and just appreciate the birds in their natural habitat,” Dillahunty says. “Wherever you go, there will be birds, and it is fascinating to see the variety of colors, shapes, behaviors and habitats that birds thrive in.”

Multiple cranes huddling on wooden stepsBird lovers unite!

The annual Birdiest Festival in America happens at the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Corpus Christi April 22-26, just in time for spring migration. This year’s keynote speaker is David Sibley, birding expert and author of The Sibley Guide to Birds. For more information about the festival and for tickets ($35 per person) log on to

Events include:

  • Guided field trips to regional birding hot spots and private ranches (additional charge).
  • Photography workshops.
  • Raptor Project presentations.
  • Bird banding and bird walks.
  • A vendor trade show.

Stand Up and Be Counted — It Matters

CRAIG COOK Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer

How important is the 2020 census? For rural areas like ours, $675 billion is at stake.

In mid-March the U.S. Census Bureau will send postcards to most addresses in Texas and across the country. That is one of the more important pieces of mail you will receive in 2020. Why does the census matter to your broadband and voice provider, and why am I using this space to encourage you to participate?

Simply put, our part of Texas has a lot to gain from accurate census numbers — and a lot to lose if we aren’t all counted. These risks and benefits come in three main areas dependent on census data: government funding, political representation and statistics for economic growth.

According to the Census Bureau, census data determines the spending of more than $675 billion in federal funds. That can mean anything from schools, roads, and equipment for first responders to grants for rural development or programs that help those in need. Many of those projects seek to do the most good for the most people — and without an accurate count of each and every household resident, that funding may go elsewhere.

As you may have heard if you follow political news, census data is used to draw and redraw districts for state and federal lawmakers. The number of Congressional leaders representing Texas is dependent on our population. If Texas residents fail to provide accurate counts of household members, then our state runs the risk of losing much-needed representation. The same thing is true on a more local level in the state legislature. If the counties in our region come up short on the population count, we could lose a legislator who has our rural interest at heart — creating a more difficult time making our area’s concerns heard in Austin.

Lastly, our area’s population is a key factor in almost all statistics businesses look at when considering a market in which to build. Whether it’s a fast-food restaurant or an industrial plant, corporate managers are looking at our population when it comes to customer base, workforce and market potential. Showing a lower population on the census, because many people weren’t counted, would make our area less appealing for businesses.

Therefore, I urge you to keep a watchful eye on your mail in the coming weeks and be sure to be counted!

Stay Safe This Spring

Along with longer days, warmer weather and blossoming flowers, spring often also brings severe weather — including lightning, strong winds and hail. Here are a few tips for protecting your loved ones and your home.


  • During a storm, using electronics plugged into your home’s electrical system can be dangerous. Charge all phones or other communications devices before inclement weather occurs.
  • Purchase lightning rods, surge protectors or lightning protection systems to safeguard home electronics or appliances.
  • Identify safe areas in your home, workplaces or other areas you frequent and discuss emergency plans with your families.
  • Consider using a weather app or weather radio, or sign up for emergency notifications through emails, phone calls or texts.


  • Continue to monitor weather reports and stay away from doors and windows. Seek shelter in safe areas in case a severe thunderstorm approaches.
  • Do not use landline phones, running water or other electronics. Lightning can travel through phone lines and plumbing.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics.
  • Do not drive on flooded roadways.


  • Stay at least 35 feet away from downed utility lines and report any fallen lines to authorities. Avoid items such as a fence, car or tree in contact with a downed power line.
  • Monitor weather apps and local media for reports of weather-related

Sources: The Electrical Safety Foundation International and the Department of Homeland Security.

Maybe it’s Not So Smart

Streaming TV: TV set up with eye icon in the center. Streaming Boxes Can Add a Layer of TV Security

Is your TV watching you? Could it be a backdoor to your private information? Those are questions recently posed by the FBI. For people who rely on a smart TV, the answer might be, “Yes.”

A smart TV can connect directly to the internet, allowing access to services and applications that provide movies, TV shows, music, videoconferencing, photo streaming and more. It’s all right there in one consolidated interface.

But convenience comes with tradeoff. Some smart TVs include microphones and cameras. These features allow voice commands and the potential of using facial recognition to customize content to an individual viewer.

Those innovations, however, raise the possibility of TV manufacturers eavesdropping. Similarly, an unsecured TV has the potential to be used by a hacker as a backdoor into your other Wi-Fi-connected devices.

The FBI suggests a range of strategies to ensure a TV protects your security. Do internet research on your specific TV model to check the status of updates and reports of security breaches. Also, if possible, change passwords. Then, learn how to turn off microphones, cameras and the ability of the TV manufacturer to collect personal information. Even placing tape over the camera lens is an option.

There’s another strategy, too — do not directly connect your TV to the internet. Instead, consider a third-party device to create a bridge between your television and streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and more.


Roku device and remote
Many devices that allow TVs to connect to online streaming services are sold by companies that also offer TV content. As a result, not all services are available on every device. If that’s a concern, consider a Roku, which can generally connect to all content providers. Rokus typically range in price from $30 to $99.
Apple TV device and remoteApple TV: Prices for an Apple TV device range from $149 to $199, with the more expensive options having more storage capacity and the ability to play 4K video. The device will connect to most streaming services, and currently the purchase of a new Apple TV comes with a one-year subscription to the Apple TV+ streaming service.
Amazon Firestick and remoteAmazon Fire TV Cube or Fire Stick: Amazon’s Fire streaming devices cost from about $30 to nearly $200, based on capacity and the ability to offer 4K content. Look for frequent sales to find a bargain. The interface is clean and useful. Fans of Amazon Prime can have easy access to that service’s streaming options. While most streaming services may be available, that has changed from time to time.
Google Chromecast device
Google Chromecast:
Google offers its twist on the streaming boxes with a small, hockey-puck-shaped device that allows content to be “cast” from a computer, tablet or phone to the television. Most streaming services are supported, and viewers with a Google Home smart speaker can control programming with voice commands.

Understanding the Census

Understanding the Census - A count that mattersOnce a decade, the United States counts its citizens. This results in a treasure trove of data relevant to politics, businesses, schools and much more. For example, federal agencies use census results to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds annually.

Similarly, states use census data to draw congressional district boundaries. The numbers can even determine how many congressional representatives a state sends to Washington, D.C. Locally, many counties, cities and towns lean on census statistics when planning infrastructure such as roads, schools and emergency services. Businesses also factor census data into calculations that determine the locations of new stores, hotels and more.

As you can see, the census is an important program and one in which you’ll be asked to participate. For the first time, everyone can complete the census online, as well as by phone or by mail. You will still receive a census form by mail, but you will have the option of visiting to complete your duty to respond to the census.

Census Day is April 1, and census takers will visit households that have not already replied to census questionnaires online, by phone or through the mail. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau hired thousands of temporary workers to help implement the 2020 census.

The bureau also understands the unique challenges of counting people in rural areas. Some rural homes do not have typical mailing addresses, using instead post office boxes in nearby community centers. However, census questionnaires are not mailed to P.O. boxes. In these remote areas, census takers will deliver paper questionnaires to each home and offer guidance on how to respond by phone or online. If there’s no response, expect an in-person follow-up.

By law, the Census Bureau must keep your information confidential, using the details to produce statistics. The bureau may not publicly release responses in any way that might identify an individual.


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