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Feather in their cap: Brothers' efforts helping transform Southeast Texas into birding base

Feather in their cap: Brothers' efforts helping transform Southeast Texas into birding base

October 10th, 2018 by Associated Press in Features

In this Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, photo, a great blue heron, right, attempts to steel a fish from a Neotropic cormorant at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont, Texas. More than 370 of the 642 bird species in Texas can be found within a 45-mile radius of Beaumont. That's because of the city's location on both the Mississippi and Central migratory flyways, according to the Ripma brothers. (Guiseppe Barranco/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

BEAUMONT, Texas—As the fog lifted at Cattail Marsh on a recent Wednesday morning, professional birders and brothers Rob and Eric Ripma were enjoying their second day of birdwatching in Southeast Texas.

The Indianapolis, Ind., natives are in the region plotting a birding tour for their company, Sabrewing Nature Tours.

In just two days, the Rimpas said they'd spotted 121 species of birds.

More than 370 of the 642 bird species in Texas can be found within a 45-mile radius of Beaumont. That's because of the city's location on both the Mississippi and Central migratory flyways, according to the Ripma brothers.

Rob Ripma said birds flying from the Yucatan Peninsula across the Gulf of Mexico might travel for 18-24 hours without spotting land.

"They'll stop at the first trees they find," he told the Beaumont Enterprise.

"Beaumont is just a really good place to base yourself for birding because not only do you have the birding here, but you're so close to Sabine, Big Thicket, High Island, Galveston—everything is within an hour and a half away."

The Ripma brothers said they travel the world, taking paying customers on birding expeditions.

"Birders spend money," Eric Ripma said. As an example, he said his brother's binoculars cost $23,000.

The 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that 45 million Americans participate in some sort of birdwatching, and that wildlife watching contributes almost $80 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

"Between hotels and food, the gear, it introduces a lot of money into the local economy," said Christina Majdalani with the Beaumont Conventions and Visitors Bureau. "Just one rare bird sighting in Pennsylvania generated $233,000 in 67 days from travelers."

In this Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, photo, Christina Majdalani, left, and Rob Ripma bird watch at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont, Texas. Professional bird watchers, Ripma and his brother Eric, not pictured, are designing a bird tour specific to Southeast Texas to help bolster tourism. (Guiseppe Barranco/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

In this Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, photo, Christina...

The CVB is hoping to bring attention to the great birding opportunities that Beaumont and the surrounding areas have to offer, she said.

"If you Google 'birding hotel package,' the Beaumont CVB website will be the first result, because we're really trying to encourage people to come," Majdalani said.

"When birders see that we've done something just for them—and they're a largely underserved community—they're excited."

Rob Ripma said the area has a lot to offer birding enthusiasts.

"It's all about perspective," he said. "You may see a blue jay or a cardinal and it's no big deal, but to someone from England, it would be really exciting because they don't have cardinals there. So, people are willing to travel all over to see different birds and check them off their lists."

Charles and Janet Watson drove in from New Caney on Wednesday to stop at Cattail Marsh.

Janet Watson is in a competition with her brother in Alabama to spot the most birds in 2018. She said she is winning.

"Birding means a lot of different things to different people," Rob Ripma said.

"You make it what you want so it can be really competitive or relaxed."

Now that it's migration season, the Watsons said the come to the area more regularly to bird watch at Cattail Marsh and Sea Rim State Park.

"It's just fun," Janet Watson said. "We go out birding once or twice a week, and we like coming to Beaumont to see good shore birds that we don't see at home."

She said the hobby gives them a reason to get outside more and walk around.

"We've learned and awful lot about birds," Janet Watson said.

"I was joking with my husband that we need a bumper sticker that says, 'We stop for birds,' because any time we see a hawk or a falcon, we pull over to take a look at it."


Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com

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