Owls star in Puget Sound Bird Festival

Owls are the stars of the Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds next weekend.

“Washington has the highest density of owls in North America,” said photographer Paul Bannick, author of “The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North American’s Most Iconic Birds.”

“Snohomish County is rich in owls for an urban area,” the festival’s keynote speaker said.

Friday will be the first time he presents on the owls of North America and the habitats that they define.

Bannick (www.paulbannick.com) also will lead a class on long-lens photography. He recently won the Cannon Award in the International Conservation Photography competition for his photo of the sun on a snowy owl in flight.

He also won the professional Birds and Their Habitat division of the Audubon Magazine Photography competition for a northern pygmy owl gazing from its snug cavity in an aspen.

“Owls are an indicator species for defining habitat. Owls help us understand habitat changes. Most of the ecosystems in North America have an owl that symbolizes that habitat and tells us about the habitat’s health.

“In Washington, the northern spotted owl is the one for old-growth forests; the flammulated owl, old-growth ponderosa pine forests; and in the Columbia Plateau, it’s the burrowing owl,” Bannick said.

The rest of the festival takes place on Sept. 8 and 9, with classes, bird walks, boating for birds, exhibits and activities for children. Some activities are free; others have a small fee.

Seattle Audubon Society will have an exhibit of scopes and binoculars at the Edmonds Marsh; the Puget Sound Bird Observatory will host a class on building owl boxes; and there will be a class on the top picks for bird feeders and nest boxes, as well as one for bird songs and calls.

Event details and registration are at www.pugetsoundbirdfest.org.

A swift return: Swift Night Out returns to Monroe from 5 p.m. to dusk on Sept. 15. Thousands of Vaux’s swifts will go down the chimney for a good night’s sleep at Frank Wagner Elementary School.

The swifts are migrating south for the winter. Monroe’s flock is one of the largest congregations of Vaux’s swifts in North America. As many as 26,000 swifts entered the 4-foot-square 31-foot-tall chimney on Sept. 7, 2011.

While waiting for the show, enjoy the information provided by several booths, including one that allows touching of bird skins and comparing the relative sizes of different species. Activities for children and a spaghetti dinner are part of the show.

Docents will answer questions from 6 to 8 p.m. If you are an experienced birder and would like to be a docent, call Susie Schaefer at 425-771-8165.

Bring a blanket and folding chair or just sit on the lawn and watch the aerial action. For more information, go to www.monroeswifts.org.

Bookshelf: There’s probably not another birding trio like Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton. What they’ve forgotten in their more than 100 years watching hawks most birders could only wish they knew.

The closest thing to picking their brains is to buy the second edition of “Hawks in Flight: ($26), covering all of North America’s hawks.

The three have added more identification information by using selected photographs and Sibley’s illustrations mated with tips for identifying the hawks.

Some of us need all the help we can get when it comes to identifying hawks while craning our necks. The trio has come to the rescue.

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

Puget Sound Bird Festival

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday with the Pilchuck Audubon Society’s reception and keynote speaker Paul Bannick. Events continue on Sept. 8 and 9.

Where: The reception on Friday is in the Plaza Room above the Edmonds Library, 650 Main St. Events on Saturday and Sunday will be at the Plaza Room and at the adjacent Frances Anderson Center.

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