Bird festivals great way to learn, but costs climb

Bird festivals are migrating though our spring calendar.

Once upon a time most activities during bird festivals were offered free or at a nominal charge. For whatever the reason, those days are gone, right along with free access to Forest Service trailheads and state parks.

Attending a bird festival, and participating in its lectures and field trips, is a fantastic way for bird-watchers (novice and experienced) to have access to experts and to explore good birding sites.

But it’s important to explore bird festival websites before you go, choose the trips, check the fees), then sign up as soon as possible because many of the trips quickly fill up.

The chambers of commerce love bird festivals because they attract thousands of bird-watchers and bring a quick infusion of money into an area’s economy.

One 2012 analysis showed that birders form the largest single group of ecotourists and provide significant revenue to an area because their incomes are significantly above the nation’s average household income, generally in the upper middle class bracket.

Perhaps the prices reflect those incomes as well as trip leaders who no longer volunteer, demand for field trips encouraging higher fees, costs of buses and boats, money to attract top-ranked keynote speakers, or fundraising.

It certainly follows the no-pay, no-play approach, which affects those with fewer dollars but no less love of birds or knowledge.

Looking at Web pages of the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival and the Olympic BirdFest, the costs jump out (GHSF is more expensive): field trips $25 to $45; keynote speech, $15; speaker, dinner and auction, $40; nature photography workshop, $40; even some lectures command $10 to 15.

The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival (April 5 to 7, www.othellosandhillcranefestival.org) still offers some free trips and lectures.

The Sequim-Dungeness bird count area continuously leads the state in number of bird species seen during the annual Christmas Bird Counts, in part because it has mountains-to-sea habitats.

Its 10th annual Olympic BirdFest, April 5 to 7, is an opportunity to explore the area with experts, but you’d better hurry because some of the field trips are already sold out.

The guest speaker is international wildlife photographer Kevin Schafer. See www.olympicbirdfest.org.

The Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, April 26 to 28, is the place to be if you want to see tens of thousands of shorebirds feeding in the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.

The best time to see them is about two hours before or after high tides that push the shorebirds closer to bird-watchers. At low tides, the birds are far away from the beach. See www.shorebirdfestival.org.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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