Birding Festival on horizon

A barn owl, which typically has a 42-inch wingspan, maintains a safe perch high up in the rafters of a building at the Agriculture History Project in Watsonville. Area birds will be the focal point of the upcoming 15th annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival Sept. 20-22. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — The 15th annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival is on deck for a three-day run of lectures, field trips, pelagic journeys, scintillating slide shows and local foods and wines.

The festival is Sept. 20-22 in Watsonville.

“Right now registration is somewhere between 230 and 250 guests, which is really strong,” said Debbie Diersch, marketing coordinator. “While some of the field trips have already sold out, there are plenty of openings in areas like beginning birding and area sloughs. And a lot of the workshops are still open.”

Based in Watsonville, the family-oriented festival, which lures birders from around the world, offers field trips and information for the beginning backyard birders to experts and nature lovers.

The Pajaro Valley has long been recognized as an important spot for birding and wildlife venues. Birders can expect to see soaring golden eagles to effortlessly gliding California condors, cheeky bushtits, Townsend’s warblers, scampering snowy plovers and flocks of thousands of sooty shearwaters during the event.   

This year the festival will be dedicated to Nancy Lockwood, former solid waste division manager for the City of Watsonville, who died at 62 after a battle with cancer. Lockwood was a key player in the creation of the Watsonville Nature Center at Ramsay Park, the slough-wetland trail system and in recognizing the value of birding in the Pajaro Valley. 

Diersch, who has volunteered with the festival for more than 10 years, said there will be a dedication in memory of Lockwood at the opening reception Friday at the Taste of Pajaro Valley, which runs from 5-7:15 p.m.

Also new this year will be a special presence of non-profit tables where people can sign up to make donations directly to non-profits whose organizations promote birding and similar directions. That event runs Saturday.

September marks the peak of fall migration, with wintering shorebirds arriving en masse. Warblers and other passerines are also part of the mix along with wintering ducks and other waterfowl. Offshore, jaegers, shearwaters, and alcid (birds of the auk family) are showing in good numbers, organizers said.

Field trips this year include: Pinto Lake (a local favorite), Wine With Birds, Big Sur River mouth and California condors, Natural Bridges, West Cliff (both in Santa Cruz), Owls of Robinson Canyon, and Ospreys and Owls of Elkhorn Slough.

Keynote speaker John Muir Laws will address “Thinking like a Naturalist: Reclaiming the Art of Natural History on Sept. 20.

He will cover how to develop and enhance powers of observation and curiosity. A naturalist and illustrator, Muir Laws will demonstrate simple and fun techniques to develop a framework for exploring mysteries in nature.

On Sept. 21, Brian Sullivan, who has conducted fieldwork on birds throughout North America for the past 25 years, will present “eBird: Innovating Citizen-Science, Big Data Research, and Bird Conservation.” eBird is a network of human observers spread across the planet collecting millions of data points each month, combined with the power of remote sensors that collect real-time environmental data, spun together through computer science and modeling that achieve real-world conservation results for birds. eBird is the fastest-growing biodiversity network in the world. Birding travels, photography, and field projects have taken Sullivan to Central and South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Arctic, and across North America.

“We are so thrilled we are still here and still doing this,” Diersch said. “We’ve added workshops and a few more field trips, which is something we try to do every year. We have such a wonderful birding community here, including folks from the Audubon Society, the Santa Cruz Bird Club, the Santa Cruz Raptor Center, and so many other experts.”

Diersch added, “Now, more than ever, we are in a epidemic disaster with global warming. Habitats are quickly being destroyed. The good news is that there are so many out there trying to turn that around, wanting to help. Birders are great stewards of the land.”

Walk-up registration is also welcome, Diersch said, which is a good way to see what might be open at the moment.

The Monterey Bay Birding Festival is headquartered in the Community Room on the top floor of Watsonville Civic Plaza, 275 Main Street.

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For information, visit montereybaybirding.org.

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