Bird-watching is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the United States. According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 48 million Americans reported watching birds and 17 million say they took trips to observe birds.
If you haven’t noticed, we live amid and near some world-class birding festivals. Birding festivals plan tours and events that cater to those new to observing wild birds as well as those who are experienced at birding. Tours are usually led by local birding experts who volunteer their time.
The tours are usually limited in size and require online registration. Some trips involve carpooling; check each site for details. Here’s a look at upcoming birding festivals.
Monterey Birding Festival
Head to Coyote Valley in Santa Clara County to spot as many as 12 different migratory and resident raptor species, including bald and golden eagles. Take a night trip to hear – you probably won’t see them – up to six different kinds of owl species in Robinson Canyon, one of the state’s most productive owl sites.
Workshops throughout the day cater to expert as well as new birders. Learn to identify native birds and plants or what to look for in buying your first pair of binoculars. The festival also features evening presentations by national birding experts.
Many trips and some workshops sell out as soon as tickets go on sale in June. However, a full refund on tickets is good until Sept. 1, so check www.montereybaybirding.org to see what trips may have opened up.
Some trips require additional fees, $15 to $55, and all trips, workshops and presentations must be registered for online since each has limits on number of people.
Elkhorn Slough Safari, (831) 633-5555, takes visitors on a 27-foot pontoon boat over calm waters. In addition to a variety of bird species, the boat tour offers the chance for up-close views of sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions. Take a kayak tour or rent one from Monterey Bay Kayaks, www.montereybaykayaks.com, or Kayak Connection, www.kayakconnection.com. Both companies have multiple locations in the Monterey area and offer guided tours. If you want to rent a kayak and paddle on your own, both companies will suggest areas to kayak based on your level of kayaking experience – from first-timer to expert.
Sandhill Crane Festival
The greater sandhill crane, which is a state-listed threatened species, is 5 feet tall with a wingspan that can reach 7 feet. The lesser sandhill crane, which has a more stable population, is about a foot shorter with a wingspan of about 5 feet. The main threat to the cranes is a loss of habitat due to development.
Workshops, presentations, exhibitions, an art show, music and children’s activities are among the free attractions. Guided wildlife tours are offered, too, including kayak trips, with space limited and online registration required.
Also, Ken Nieland, president of the Lodi Sandhill Crane Association, told The Bee last year that the festival attracts a number of tourists from the Bay Area who often add wine-tasting to their visit to Lodi. There are about 70 wine tasting rooms in the Lodi area.
California Swan Festival
Some 30 tours and educational programs are offered, including hikes in the Sutter Buttes and Sierra foothills, activities for children, birding basics, photography techniques, an evening owl tour and olive oil and wine tasting in Yuba County. In winter, swans can be seen wheeling over wetlands and rice fields with the scenic backdrop of the Sutter Buttes. During the festival, Yuba County donates use of a large building to serve as the host site for the festival, dubbed “Swan Central.”
Tours are limited to 30 people, and groups will caravan to specific sites to view the birds. Online registration is required for the two-hour tour, www.dfg.ca.gov/regions/2/swantours. Call (916) 358-2912 for more information.
2015 birding festivals
The following festivals will release more details later this year:
Jan. 21-25 in Chico
Late January/early February in Galt
Check the city of Galt’s website for updates.
Early February at 500 Connolly St., Mare Island
Feb. 21 at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, Davis
April 24-26 in Point Reyes