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      Nature Report: "Christmas Gifts"

      Christmas gifts abound in the South Texas outdoors. Nature's bounty is evident throughout the year, but in late December the skies fill with the thrilling calls of wild geese and majestic whitetail bucks boldly prowl the wildlands.

      The Rio Grande Valley is home to some 523 species of birds, and during the winter months our native residents are joined by scores of migratory birds. Wintering snow geese share the Valley with thousands of ducks such as migrating redheads that make their home in the Laguna Madre and nearby ponds and lakes.

      The Rio Grande Valley is the nation's top spot for bird watchers, and this year a study by Texas A&M University revealed that nature tourism is worth an astonishing 463 million dollars to the area economy, attracting more than 200,000 visitors and supporting nearly 7,000 jobs.

      Hunting and fishing also provide a huge boost to the Valley's economy. This year a nationwide study by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service showed Texas leading the nation with 1,147,000 in state hunters and 2,246,000 anglers. Combined hunting and fishing expenditures for Texas topped an astounding four billion four hundred million dollars, with a big chunk of that spent in the South Texas ranch country and Lower Laguna Madre.

      The economic value of wildlife to the Rio Grande Valley is phenomenal, but perhaps of even more importance is the intrinsic value of time well spent in the outdoors|and how would you put a price tag on a pristine sunrise on South Padre Island or the fleeting beauty of a painted bunting|.Spend some time in the South Texas outdoors this holiday season and take a few moments to appreciate nature's gifts|you will be glad you did.