Take flight to area bird festivals

Bird festivals have become increasingly popular in Washington, a chance to mingle with experts, see birds that can be added to your life list and get outside after this winter's challenging weather.

One of the most jam-packed festivals is the Sandhill Crane Festival, a great gathering that gives folks a look at the cranes, which don't spend much time in Western Washington, as a choice of birding-related events March 23-25.

Warning: If you're interested, go now to www.othellosandhill

cranefestival.org. Some of the outings are already full. Fortunately, there are dozens of choices, many of them taking place in the Columbia National Refuge Headquarters near Othello.

Here is a sampling of the guided tour options that might still be available:

Bike for Cranes. Pedal through some of the best wildlife viewing areas on a 20- to 25-mile ride on flat and rolling terrain.

Potholes. A seven-hour birding expedition to the shrub-steppe and wetlands of the desert wildlife areas. Expect raptors, and possibly snowy owls and Say's phoebe. There's also a Potholes Reservoir birding-by-boat trip.

Take refuge. Take a six-hour birding tour of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

Cranes and owls. Check out the sandhill cranes and burrowing owls.

Don't forget. The Forgotten Trails tour follows an ancient path with historical and geological interest.

Drumheller Channels. Learn about the geological features and history of channels created by the Missoula Floods.

Get squirrelly. Take a two-hour outing to a colony of ground squirrels.

Wahluke Slope. Birders visit the slope, Hanford Reach National Monument and Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

Wet and dry. Both habitats will be explored on this all-day trip to the Sun Lakes.

Lower Crab Creek. The trip concentrates on the Russian olive groves and wetlands of this wildlife area, the cliffs of Saddle Mountain, and wetlands where the cranes roost.

There also are dozens of lectures and workshops led by experts, including "The Lives of Dragonflies," "Owls of Eastern Washington," "Bats Life in the Dark," "Birds, Bats and (Windmill) Blades," "Bhutan: Tiny Gem with Tremendous Value," "Crane Festival Photography Workshop," "Insects for Kids," "Dead Wood and Wildlife" and "Butterflies of the Basin."

Other birding festivals include:

Olympic Peninsula BirdFest (March 30-April 1). Emphasis is on birdwatching in the quiet bays, estuaries and beaches; a five-mile-long sand spit; and the Dungeness River Valley in search of marbled murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, peregrine falcons, pygmy owls and others. There's also a Protection Island boat trip. Information: www.olympicbirdfest.org.

Northwest Birding Festival (March 31). Each spring, thousands of wintering brant geese stage on Birch Bay for their trip north. The festival, headquartered in Blaine, offers the typical bird-festival fare, with emphasis on the brants. Information: www.washingtonbrant.org.

Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival (April 27-29). The event coincides with the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds who stop at the Grays Harbor estuary to feed and rest before flying to their Arctic nesting grounds. Information: www.shorebirdfestival.com.

Puget Sound Bird Fest (May 18-19). Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day with birding, workshops and lectures in Edmonds and along the Edmonds marsh and waterfront. Information: www.pugetsoundbirdfest.com.

Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest (May 18-20). The festival focuses on raising awareness of neotropical migratory songbirds that arrive in the Wenatchee Valley to breed and fledge. Information: www.leavenworthspringbirdfest.com.

Bird book

And while on the subject of birds, ecologist H.H. Shugart brings us "How the Earthquake Bird Got Its Name and Other Tales of an Unbalanced Nature" ($17, Yale).

Shugart covers more than birds (packrat, possum, wolf) but always in an entertaining fashion, weaving history, science, people and anecdotes into a book that helps us understand the ecological complexity of our surroundings.

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