Senior Report: Tourists come in search of the yellow rail

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

HORNBECK, LA. (KPLC) - People have come from 22 states and as far away as Great Britain in search of the elusive yellow rail-- a bird that some bird watchers only dream of seeing in its natural habitat.  And the yellow rail can be seen in rice country in Jeff Davis Parish where what they call second harvest is underway.

The birders who have journey here have a chance to ride a combine and see the birds because they are much more prevalent during second harvest. Also during the "Yellow Rail and Rice Festival" local rice farmers have a chance to talk up rice--and share their story with environmentalists, bird watchers and others to help them see they share common ground. Farmers help provide important habitat for many birds including the yellow rail.

Organizers say it's a one of a kind festival and this is the second annual one.

Bird watching tends to be very popular with senior citizens because after they've retired they may have the time and patience needed to participate. and, with any luck, a little money to travel.

Rice farmer Kevin Berken helped organize the event.  "The yellow rail is one of those birds that people put on their bucket list, their top 100 that they want to see in their lifetime. So, they go all over, whatever it takes for them to see these different birds that they have on their list. And this one, the yellow rail, here in the rice fields in our second harvest are very prevalent."

And this second yellow rail and rice festival is a chance for farmers to show how they share common ground with birders and environmentalists. "It also gives me an opportunity to talk about the rice industry, what our rice industry provides, our habitat that we provide for just numerous numbers of wildlife," said Berken.

The birders have a chance to ride a combine to try to spot a yellow rail-- indeed there is an air of excitement among them.. Judith Fortney is from North Carolina. "Oh I'm really excited to see it. Come a long way to see it. I've been looking for this bird for a lot of years. I've heard them. I've stood in marsh, up to my knees in cold water and heard them but not seen them."

To be a birder you have to have time and patience. John Valliant has come all the way form Maryland. "I've been birding most of my life and I've yet to see a yellow rail. This will be the first chance, first real opportunity I've had to see one of these elusive birds. And it's pretty exciting for us."

And it was a successful pass on the combine-- the elusive yellow rail has been spotted. Explains Valliant, "It's a little bit like kicking a field goal in the final seconds to beat Alabama."

In all some sixty people are here in search of the yellow rail. For more on the Rice and Rail Festival click here.

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