From native plants and how to grow them, to live raptor shows, to fishing the Laguna Madre, the 24th Annual Winter Outdoor Wildlife Expo is going to be the Island’s biggest yet.

This year’s event runs from 9:30 a.m to 3:45 p.m. for five days beginning Jan. 22 with more than 60 presentations planned.

“ This is probably the biggest one that we’ve done,” said Javi Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the Island birding and nature center. “This year Jonathan Wood (live raptor shows) is going to be here for an additional day. He usually only comes for two days but we have him for three days. We’ve got new speakers presenting new topics, and we’re offering two field trips that have sold out already.”

The expo, pronounced WOW-ee, kicks off on a Tuesday with the entire day devoted to native plants and how to grow them. Harlingen master gardeners Mike Heep will have a segment on native plants, and Christina Mild will discuss edible native plants.

Other presentations include composting, landscaping with native plants, attracting butterflies and nurturing palm trees.

The next day is devoted to fishing tactics and techniques in the Laguna Madre. Fishing guides participating include Capts. Gencho Buitureira, Wade Davis and Mark Kreider, with Mark Machado talking on fly fishing in the bay and a fly tying presentation by Jack Keller.

At noon, Bettina Tolin, lead chef at Marcello’s Italian Restaurant and Bar in Port Isabel, will give a cooking demonstration.

“ She’s going to be cooking some seafood and shrimp … and people can pay $5 extra to taste the food,” Gonzalez said.

On Thursday, Jonathan Wood spends the entire day with his Raptor Project show, with additional presentations by Kat Lillie of Sea Turtle Inc. and others on gulf and bay activities.

On Friday, birds of the Rio Grande Valley take center stage with presentations by Mary Jo Bogatto of Cactus Creek Ranch, Tony Henchan on urban green jays, reddish egrets and pelicans by Lianne Koczur and plovers with Stephanie Bilodeau.

“ I’m a bird guy so I’m excited about this teacher who is going to be talking about hummingbirds,” Gonzalez said. “His name is Kelly Bryan. He’s a hummingbird bander, so he studies hummingbirds and he bands them. He lives up in the Fort Davis Mountains of West Texas and is going to be presenting about the hummingbirds of Texas.

“ He’s one of the leading experts on that topic, and that’ll be a special treat,” Gonzalez said.

Along with Bryan on the Saturday menu are a skins and skulls exhibit with Elisa Velador, bird banding with Mark Conway and mammal strandings with Shelby Bessette.

“ We’re offering three daily bird walks each day,” Gonzales said. “One is in the morning before the program starts from 8:15 to 9:15. That’s a quick hour to warm things up before the programs start. And then there are going to be another two in the afternoon, one at 1 p.m. and another at 3 p.m. when things are pretty much over for the day.

“ They’re going to be led by our volunteer Winter Texan guides each day,” Gonzalez said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer