Hundreds of bird watchers from all over the United States and Canada will soon descend on Jeff Davis Parish with hopes of catching a glimpse of an elusive chicken-like marsh bird during the annual Yellow Rails and Rice Festival.
The festival will be Oct. 23-27, with activities in Jeff Davis, Cameron and surrounding parishes.
“We selected Jeff Davis Parish as the host because of its proximity to rice farms and the large number of yellow rails that can be found in second-crop rice,” said organizer Donna Dittmann of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science.
Festival organizers have dubbed Thornwell in rural Jeff Davis Parish as the “Yellow Rail Capital of the World.”
“The festival is an event to provide a unique venue to show birders an elusive species, the yellow rail, while at the same time promoting Louisiana-grown rice and highlighting the working wetlands as a critical habitat for birds,” Dittman said.
The yellow rails are easy to see when the rice is harvested because they fly to get out of the way of combines during the late fall harvest of second-crop rice.
Some 125 bird watchers, naturalists and photographers from 27 states and two Canadian provinces had registered for the event as of Oct. 1.
Online registration will close Oct. 15, or sooner if all spaces are filled. Registration includes festival packages and pre-festival trips. Separate purchases may be required for some events.
“Visitors can see many other species of birds as well as spectacular aggregations — going home with fond memories of their visit and hopefully inspiring them to return at different seasons,” Dittman said.
The festival also allows conservationists and scientists and members of the rice and tourism industries to interact with visitors and with each other, she said.
Although the festival is based in Jennings, trips during the festival allow participants to visit different habitats, including the piney woods and Gulf Coast to see Louisiana’s different bird communities, Dittman said.
New this year is a tour hosted by Grosse Savanne Eco-tours and kayak trips on Lake Martin and Lacassine Bayou hosted by Pack and Paddle. Trips to the piney woods and Cameron coast have also been added this year, along with scheduled tours of local rice fields and rice mills.
Guided driving tours of sites of interest in the Jennings and Welsh area are planned for Saturday morning. Tours of the LSU Museum of Natural Science in Baton Rouge will be available Wednesday.
“This brings ecotourism dollars to a
number of local communities,” Dittman said. “It (festival) is also a
great way to educate
visitors about rice cultivation and processing — field to mill to
table — and to highlight the importance of working wetlands
as bird habitat.”
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