HARLINGEN ó Joanne Blake didnít know there were wild parrots in the United States.
"I thought you had to go to South America to have parrots," she said.
Minutes later, a red lored parrot fluttered over the city lake here.
"Itís thrilling," said Blake, a retired substance abuse therapist from Montana. "Itís a tourist attraction for the area."
Late Thursday afternoon, about 50 birders attending the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival toured Harlingen and San Benito in search of parrots that make up an expanding population.
By FERNANDO DEL VALLE
Joe Hermosa / Valley Morning Star
In San Benito, the birders pressed binoculars to their eyes as they scanned a thicket of trees behind Whalenís Fine Furniture.
"Right here! Right here! Right here! Right here!" a group shouted in unison. "There they are! There they are!"
In search of the wild red-crowned parrot, the birders suddenly gazed at a dozen green parakeets as they flushed out of the thicket.
"Thatís neat," Blake said as she cracked a grin under her binoculars.
Like the red-crowned parrot, the green parakeet is believed to have returned to the region after a long absence, said Nick Block, a tour guide whoís a wildlife student at Texas A&M University.
After the parrotís native habitat was destroyed here, Mexico became the birdís northernmost territory, Block said.
"Then with all the habitat destruction in Mexico, they came back," he said.
The guideís sighting of the red lored parrot allowed the birders to see the bird in the wild.
"Itís really cool," said Karen Carbiener, a saleswoman from Plano. "Itís amazing theyíre here in Texas. You donít expect to see anything like parrots anywhere but South America or Africa."
For Block, the red lored parrot was "one of those cage birds."
Years ago, the parrots were released into the wild here, Block said. Since then, the birds have mingled with the green crowned parrot, he said.
For John Kelly, the late afternoon outing closed the second day of what he called one of birdingís finest festivals.
"Weíve been trying to come to this festival for four years," said Kelly, city manger of Coconut Creek, Fla. "This is spectacular óthe variety of birds. Itís one of the greatest concentrations of birds anywhere in the country. Itís a Mecca for birders."