The following appears in the March issue of California Sportsman, which you can access here:
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
For a jaw-dropping nature spectacle, it’s hard to beat a bird festival. Some of the nation’s most celebrated bird festivals are at or near national wildlife refuges. And no, you don’t have to be a birder to enjoy one.
National wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds. Scores of refuges are located along major bird migration routes, so when the birds move en masse in spring and fall, visitors get an eyeful.
Many festivals celebrate the seasonal arrivals of large birds, such as sandhill cranes, notable for their great wingspans, noisy calls and striking mating dances. Other festivals focus on bald eagles, tundra swans, snow geese and prairie chickens.
So what better place than a national wildlife refuge to find some of the nation’s best birding and outstanding birding festivals? The National Wildlife Refuge System is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The festivals are hugely popular, so advance registration is suggested. Some festivals charge a registration or activity fee. Check out the below calendar of annual bird festivals on or near national wildlife refuges. Then try one. Refuges are family-friendly, so bring your whole crew.
HARNEY COUNTY MIGRATORY BIRD FESTIVAL
Wildlife art shows, kids’ nature fairs including a chance to learn about wild birds, music and book signings are among the highlights. This is a chance to visit the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the Pete French Round Barn, built by frontier cattle baron Pete French around 1880.
Celebrate the marbled godwit at the 24th annual festival! Field trip destinations for this festival along the northern California coast include Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The event also includes scores of eco-tours and workshops, an art show and live birds of prey.
WMBD is the only international education program that highlights and celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Each year, WMBD explores a different aspect of migratory birds and their conservation. This year, many events in North America will take place on May 11 (and on the birds’ wintering grounds on October 12). Many wildlife refuges take part in WMBD celebrations. Check the Refuge System special events calendar for event listings.
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to rest and feed along the Washington Coast and in the Grays Harbor estuary during their migration northward. Coming from as far south as Argentina, these Arctic-bound shorebirds are among the world’s greatest migrants. Field trips to birding hotspots, lectures, vendors, exhibitors and great shorebird viewing take place at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and in other parts of the county.
For 27 years running, the festival has offered great birds, excellent guiding, educational seminars and workshops, and children’s activities to thousands of birders of all ages and all skill levels. With over 100,000 shorebirds of 25 different species migrating through in early May, this event celebrates the return of spring and migrating birds. The festival includes field trips to Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
This festival highlights birds and other natural wonders around the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah. Take part in field trips, workshops and activities for families, youth and scouts. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is among the festival’s field trip destinations.
The Friends of the Refuge in partnership with Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge have created a one-day wonder for the 23rd annual free festival, including early morning guided bird walks, live bird show, plenty of activities for kids and Conestoga-style wagon rides around the refuge.
Join the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge for this annual concert in celebration of wildlife in partnership with the Friends of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. There are lots of activities for the whole family, including music, crafts, games, food and fun. Local musicians are invited to perform for the public as they enjoy the great outdoors.
Join Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate the coming of fall and the wildlife that make the refuge their home. The annual festival, along the lower Columbia River, offers Audubon bird shows, live music, arts and crafts and activities at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Native American structure found in the old town of Cathlapotle.
Take a 4½-mile drive through the back fields and past ponds at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge to observe migrating waterfowl – sandhill cranes, ducks of all variety, snow geese, coots, grebes, mergansers and bald eagles looking for their next meal. Interpretive programs to help visitors identify waterfowl.
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes and snow geese at the spectacular Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just outside of the city of Socorro, about an hour’s drive from Albuquerque. Enjoy workshops, tours, great photographic opportunities and other events at one of the most celebrated birding festivals in the country.
Note: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more info, visit fws.gov, or connect through facebook.com/usfws, Twitter, (@USFWS) YouTube.com/usfws and flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.