The first annual Yellow Rails and Rice Festival (YRARF) took place on two consecutive weekends: October 30-November 1 and November 6-7, 2009 in Jefferson Davis, Cameron, and Calcasieu parishes. The festival brought together birdwatchers and other environmental enthusiasts with southwestern Louisiana rice farmers to highlight the role of Louisiana’s working wetlands in bird conservation, and to provide recreational enjoyment for birders and possible economic opportunities for area farmers.
The festival was named for the Yellow Rail, a very secretive migratory waterbird species; cultivated rice is one of the Yellow Rail’s primary habitats in Louisiana during the non-breeding season (October to April) in the Gulf Coast region.
Because they are so secretive and difficult to see, Yellow Rails are highly sought after by many birdwatchers. The Southwestern Louisiana rice growing region is ideally suited for observing this otherwise difficult to find species: the region produces a substantial second crop of rice during the mid-late fall, the harvest of which coincides perfectly with the arrival of substantial numbers of Yellow Rails (as well as other rail species) from their northern breeding grounds during October-November.
Fields of maturing rice provide premium rail habitat, and the birds can be easily observed as they fly or run out of the path of the harvesting combines. Thus, the Yellow Rail is an excellent symbol representing the second rice harvest and its tremendous overall importance to birds.
The YRARF was free and open to the public thanks to the generous support of volunteers, partner organizations and private donors.
YRARF had the support of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Rice Growers Association, Jefferson Davis Parish Rice Growers Association, and USA Rice Federation, National Audubon Society, Baton Rouge Audubon Society, Louisiana Ornithological Society, Jefferson Davis Economic Development and Tourism Commission, and Decatur Street LLC. Employees of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U. S. Geological Survey were among the many volunteer facilitators helping participant’s spot rails.
The majority of participants were from Louisiana, but several participants traveled from as far away as Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas and British Columbia, and yes, there was even a visitor from Norway!
The Yellow Rails and Rice Festival Organization has been nominated for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation Award to be awarded this summer, 2010.
Written by: Donna L. Dittmann; Steven W. Cardiff; Kevin and Shirley Berken.
To learn more, contact YRARF at Yellowrailsandrice@gmail.com