Have you ever heard the soft wisp of air that furls off a bird’s wings as it glides past, so close that you could almost touch it? Hundreds of bird-watching enthusiasts and nature lovers will get their chance to do just that March 13 through 16 at the 12th annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival in Blaine, Washington.
The festival’s events and tours are centered in a pristine scenic coastal area of the Pacific Flyway, and are uniquely situated to take advantage of the extensive nearby intertidal mudflats of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay, designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Birding Area (IBA) of Washington state.
The festival kickoff event—a gallery walk featuring local artists—takes place Thursday, March 13. On Friday, March 14, an opening artists’ reception will feature author, editor, and world adventurer Noah Striker. Noah has studied birds on six continents, most recently in Antarctica. If you’re a bird nerd like me, you know that a “life list” is a cumulative list of all the birds you’ve positively identified in nature in your lifetime. My life list has hovered around 80 for a decade. Noah’s is approaching 2,500.
The majority of festival events, organized by an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, take place Saturday, March 15, and include a little something for everyone, from arts and crafts to all-ages educational activities.
The festival’s mission is to promote conservation, education, and the stewardship of birds and their habitats while encouraging ecotourism that supports the local economy. “Collaboration between Birch Bay, Semiahmoo, and Blaine has drawn more than 1,500 to 2,000 people to this event, and attendance has been growing steadily,” explains Debbie Harger, Festival Chair and City of Blaine Community and Tourism Development Coordinator. Debbie has helped plan these festivities for the past decade.
A wildlife biologist will lead historic Plover passenger ferry nature cruises, and will help identify the host of migratory birds
sightseers might encounter. “Occasionally, in past years, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the sweet surprise of seeing a species you don’t see every day, like the Marbled Godwit, the White Pelican, and the Snowy Owl. You might not see one, but it’s possible,” says Debbie.
Other tours include the expert-led wildlife and geology field trip to Semiahmoo Spit, as well as excursions to local museums. All tours leave via bus from the hub of the event, Blaine Middle School (975 H Street in Blaine; use Interstate 5 Exit 275) and cost only $5(U.S.), many running on the hour.
Debbie’s great insider tip: arrive early to reserve your spot and purchase tickets for the many tours offered. While you wait, you can check out the variety of other activities for both kids and adults. Kids can have their faces painted, and anyone can learn to build a functioning birdhouse or a bird feeder, and find out what to use for a stash of nesting materials for your own backyard. These and other family-friendly activities are offered free or for a small donation.
Nature lovers can visit several prime North Cascades Audubon viewing stations equipped with spotting scopes attended by knowledgeable experts. A wildlife photography class led by Seattle-based photographer Karen Ulvestad is new to the festival this year. Her incredible photography captures birds in motion interacting with their habitat. Look for me—I hope to enroll in this class.
I’ll also get up close and personal during the live raptor presentations by Sardis Raptor Center. This center adopts a variety of rescued owls, hawks, Peregrine falcons, and bald eagles that cannot return to the wild. You’ll not get closer to these majestic beauties anywhere else.
Saturday’s featured speaker, the award-winning wildlife photographer and bird book author Paul Bannick, is the heart of the event. Known for his best-selling bird book The Owl and the Woodpecker, Bannick focuses on how the histories of these two important species are intertwined with one another and their habitats. These are both keystone and indicator species for the status of our environment—understanding them has never been more crucial. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Bannick’s photography and hearing his recorded calls of some of the rarer species.
The weekend closes with Sunday’s Breakfast for Birders on the Birch Bay waterfront and will feature additional speakers, followed by the opportunity to explore the area on your own.
You don’t have to be an ornithology nut like me to enjoy this long weekend chock-full of art, tours, workshops, exciting speakers, and family fun. You just have to show up and let the splendour of our incredible Pacific Northwest birds glide over you.
For more information and to make tour and workshop reservations, contact the Blaine Visitor Center at (360) 332-4544 and check out blainechamber.com or— wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com.
by Lorraine Wilde