Come to the Festival

You enjoy the birds in your backyard. Birding field trips crowd your calendar. But have you ever participated in a birding festival? Getting together with other enthusiastic birders for an entire weekend is a terrific way to learn more about birds, add species to your life list, and have a thoroughly enjoyable experience. You’ll want to come back year after year!

It just so happens that I have a birding festival right here in Colorado Springs. Once again, a group of nature-loving volunteers (including me) have been busy getting everything ready for what will be the fourth annual Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival. The website has been thoroughly updated and registration is finally open.

Why attend a festival? There are as many reasons as there are attendees, but here are my favorites.

You’ll be guided by experts. This is the primary reason I sign up. Going hiking on my own usually yields birds. Going hiking with other birders means more eyes, and a longer species list. But going birding with “power birders” who know the terrain and are familiar with the possibilities raises the possibility of hard to find lurkers, rarities, and even a lifer, if you’re lucky. When I look at the list of field trip leaders for this festival, I’m confident that some attendees will be very lucky, indeed.

You’ll be birding with other people who love to go birding. Seeing a rarity is fun, but it’s so much better when you share the experience with someone who appreciates its significance! Think of all those high-fives and lifer dances.

You’ll have access to private properties and other closed birding spots. Festival organizers arrange field trips to places you can’t otherwise go. For example, we’ll have trips to both an Audubon property and a Nature Conservancy ranch normally closed to the public. Festivals in other parts of the state likewise arrange access to a wide assortment of closed areas. Take advantage of the opportunity.

There’s a lot to see and do. It’s not just the field trips. Our Pikes Peak festival will have vendors selling everything from beer to bird-related crafts and birding supplies. You can learn to ID raptors, or how birds are related to dinosaurs. Nature’s Educators is bringing their live raptors, the Mile High Bug Club will have tarantulas (will you hold one?),  and the Air Force Academy cadets will fly their falcon mascots. That’s not something you see every day.

You can hang out with other birders. I value the time we all stand around waiting for a trip to begin, head out together for a meal, or just hang out. These are people I have something in common with, and I enjoy getting to know them better. I’ve discovered that in general, birders are some pretty fabulous folks!

If there’s one downside, it’s the fee. The price will vary from festival to festival; some include trips in the cost, others charge a la carte. In an effort to include everyone, the organizers have made the Pikes Peak festival significantly cheaper than other, comparable festivals. I guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth! Plus, if you sign up by April 15, there’s an early bird discount—and you get a free festival t-shirt.

In addition to some preliminary work I helped with, I’m signed up to assist on two of the field trips. Perhaps I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one with the long lens, floppy khaki hat, and a big smile.

(Here is a link to a list of festivals I am aware of. Or Google “birding festival” and see what pops up!)

Last week’s quiz bird was a Chipping Sparrow.

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