The Field Pass
Yellow Rails and Rice Festival participants enjoy a unique opportunity to engage in agritourism, observing close-up rice harvesting operations, with the added benefit of seeing Yellow Rails and other rail species (Sora, Virginia, and King) that may be flushed by a combine while it is harvesting rice. Access to the fields while rice is being harvested is part of a Festival Package and referred to as the Field Pass. In addition to rails, many additional bird species may be seen in the vicinity. The 2023 Festival Package is a three-day Field Pass (weather and equipment permitting): Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (Sunday is the emergency back-up day). Each participant receives one Combine Ticket, which allows one (or possibly) more combine rides (if a participant so chooses and is physically capable to do so - see below).
*Combine rides: Not all participants may be physically capable to climb up on to the combine landing: you must be able to climb up several stairs to reach the combine landing.
If you are not able to climb to the landing safely by yourself then we regret we are unable to provide rides under those circumstances.
Although most participants enjoy the unique experience of riding on the combine, be advised that riding on the combine's outside landing is noisy, and can also be a very dusty experience: a dusk mask and ear protection is strongly recommended (a dust mask and ear plugs will be provided).
Early Bird Special: Riders with the lowest Combine Ticket number ride first. Numbers are assigned in chronological order when registration is completed. Depending on number of working combines or field configuration, weather or other factors, the total number of riders will vary per day - and your number may not come up until the second, or rarely the third day. However, a high number does not necessarily preclude you getting aboard sooner, because we load passengers from those WAITING at the combine loading site, and participants with a lower number may opt to watch from the sidelines. Regardless of your Combine Ticket Number (and barring any unforeseen mechanical problems or inclement weather conditions) all participants should have the opportunity to ride the combine if so inclined.
IMPORTANT: Your best views of the rails will be from the field and not aboard the combine: think bumpy pelagic trip. All participants are strongly encouraged to attend field days regardless of high pass number to watch for Yellow Rails. Although Yellow Rails can be quite numerous, some years they are scarcer and because not all fields are created equally - we don't want anyone to miss their opportunity to see a Yellow Rail. ATVs may also be available at the fields to get closer to the action.
Rail diversity and number of rails varies from field to field depending on a variety of factors including depth of standing water and the structure of the rice field (height or density of rice plants). Unfortunately all rice fields are not created equally with regard to number and species of rails, and because the festival goes where the farmer is scheduled to cut. The festival is also at the mercy of weather, another reason we do not offer a single day pass option. The 2023 Festival Package includes access to rice harvest actives (weather permitting) on Thursday, Friday , and Saturday to hopefully guarantee success of seeing a Yellow Rail. Sunday is reserved for an Emergency Field Day if all of the previous three days are canceled due to inclement weather (review Weather Contingency Plan).
You are free to wander around on your own at the field site but be attentive to STAY A SAFE DISTANCE from the working combine; facilitators (identified by lime green or orange vests) are on site and can also assist you finding birds or answer any questions.
Food and beverages at the field sites is the responsibility of the individual participant. If you don’t want to leave the action for a food break, then be prepared with water and snacks. Don’t be caught unprepared.
Weather can be uncomfortably HOT AND HUMID! It is important to stay hydrated!
There will be an ice chest with bottled water available at the field site.
Transportation between festival sites is the responsibility of the individual participants and we recommend a high clearance vehicle; alternatively, be attentive to driving on potentially high-crowned/pot-holed farm roads when you leave the public roads.