U-T Article About San Diego Bird Festival

Flight school 2024 San Diego Bird Festival lands Feb. 21-25, with scores of activities including field trips, talks and tips for gardeners

A great blue heron glides across the water. The San Diego Audubon Society’s annual festival offers birders a chance to observe an array of species over five days. Getty Images Image

By Caron Golden
San Diego lovers of all things avian are eagerly preparing to gather later this month for the San Diego Bird Festival, hosted by the San Diego Audubon Society.

The event will run from Wednesday through Feb. 25, and it will be filled with close to 200 activities for everyone — from novice and experienced birders to families, photographers, gardeners and those who are interested in the protection of birds as part of the environment.

The Bird Festival, which now draws out-of-town visitors as well, was launched about 30 years ago at the Living Coast Discovery Center in South Bay.
“It was a handful of little field trips and no exhibits,” recalled Jennifer Hajj, public programs manager for the San Diego Audubon Society and the event organizer. “It was really just birders coming together for a picnic and some light activities.

“Every year, we’ve added more to the festival. This year, we’re looking at having more than 700 people attending.”

The festival will be headquartered at the Marina Village Conference Center, on Quivira Way in Mission Bay. The festival pass costs $35 for adults and $10 for teens. Kids 12 and under can attend free when accompanied by an adult. The pass is required for preregistered field trips that provide transportation, as well as classroom programs at Marina Village, and events that include food or drink.

Keynote speakers
The festival launches with a welcome reception and keynote Wednesday evening at the Marina Village Conference Center with dinner and a talk by Toronto-based lecturer Julia Zarankin, the best-selling author of “Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder.” She’ll share her reflections on what she’s seeing and learning while she’s in the field, said Hajj. Zarankin will also hold a nature journaling workshop on Thursday afternoon at Marina Village.

Thursday evening will feature Tiana Williams-Claussen, a member of the Yurok Tribe, who was raised in Klamath on the Yurok Reservation. She was integral in reintroducing California condors to Yurok country and integrating traditional Yurok knowledge into government wildlife management practices.

“Her projects are really unique because it’s a partnership between federal agencies and a tribe,” said Hajj. “They have very different reasons for wanting condors to be healthy in this part of the world.

“For the federal government, it’s a conservation project and they want the numbers to increase. For the Yurok tribe, it’s spiritual. The bird is very important to them in their stories, their lore, and their religion. It’s a beautiful synthesis of ideas that you don’t see very often in science. She’ll be talking about her experience, where the project came from, and why it’s personal.”

Friday’s keynote will feature Christian Cooper, best-selling author of his debut memoir, “Better Living Through Birding.” You may remember that disturbing viral moment back in May 2020 in New York’s Central Park when a White woman called the police and falsely accused Cooper, who is Black, of threatening her after he asked her to leash her dog. But Cooper, a lifelong birder who recently was the host of a National Geographic series, “Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper,” turned that into an educational opportunity. The Harvard-educated science writer and editor, whose talk will be held at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park, will discuss inclusivity in birding and how to expand the birding audience.

Field trips and more
The festival also features a host of daily field trips all over the county. Some, like Birding the Border, Rancho Jamul, Camp Pendleton and a Grebes and Wine trip, include collective bus transportation. Others are of the “Meet You There” variety. There will be daily Dances with Grebes trips to see their courtship behavior; hands-on Digi scoping walks (a method of telephoto photography) with Swarovski Optic; explorations of Rocky Shores and San Elijo Lagoon; and Birding by Bike.

Among the field trips offered is North County Lakes and Lagoons, sponsored by the Palomar Audubon Society and offered Thursday.

“The field trip will cover the Whelan Lake Bird Sanctuary in Oceanside in the morning, and the Batiquitos Lagoon (Carlsbad) in the afternoon. We are also providing two scholarships for two teenage birders to attend the San Diego Bird Festival’s Camp Surfbird,” said Jim Beckman, the organization’s vice president.

The Batiquitos Lagoon is a 600-acre coastal wetland and estuary that is home to 240 species of birds, ducks, shorebirds and raptors.

San Diego County’s other Audubon chapter, Buena Vista Audubon, will also offer a field trip called Birding Hotspots of North County with Buena Vista Audubon. It also will explore the 78-acre Whelan Lake Bird Sanctuary, where some 235 species have been sighted over the years, including teals, eared grebes, wood ducks and sora. The second stop will be Guajome Regional Park in Oceanside, where you may just see acorn woodpeckers, California gnatcatchers, Bewick’s wrens, Phainopepla and Cassin’s kingbird. Board member Patti Langen and her board colleague Barbara Swanson will lead the Sunday day trip, which begins and ends at Marina Village.

The festival also will offer daily kayak trips in South Bay, as well as a couple in Mission Bay, and three pelagic trips, meaning open sea.

If you have teenagers, check out the overnight experience of Camp Surfbird Imperial Beach, in which young birders can gather for two nights for chaperoned activities to expand their birding skills, learn about coastal California’s natural history, and explore potential careers in ornithology, research and conservation with leaders in their fields — all while getting to know other teens with similar interests.

Back at Marina Village
Between field trips, you’ll want to explore the offerings at the Marina Village Conference Center. An exhibit hall will include local organizations and businesses that can help you get more out of birding and offer ways to help birds.
The exhibit hall also will feature an afternoon pub for adults dubbed Uncommon Saloon.

Each day, there will be opportunities to attend talks on a wide range of topics, including shorebirds, common pelagic birds and birding, bird migration, beginning birding, bird art basics, backyard bird feeding and virtual tours of Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and Panama. There’s even a discussion on Birds in Comics. There are also planned field sketching and journaling walks, Digi scoping walks, and family birding and photography walks around Marina Village.

And on Feb. 25, the festival will present a bird-friendly home and garden fair at Marina Village that demonstrates ways to protect birds.

If you love silent auctions, check out the online silent auction already in progress to support the San Diego Audubon Society, at bit.ly/Audubonsilentauction . It’s offering a range of opportunities, such as a South African photo safari for two; equipment from REI, George’s Camera, Yeti and Zeiss; restaurant certificates; artwork; and entrance to local animal parks. The auction ends at 5 p.m. Feb. 24.

You can get all the details for the San Diego Bird Festival online at sandiegoaudubon.org/birding/san-diego-bird-festival . Once you get to the festival page, be sure to click on the View the Catalog button, which has a comprehensive list and description of all activities.

Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.

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