Winter Wings Festival

Wintering Bald Eagle

Canon - sponsor for the Winter Wings Festival

Participants try out new equipment at the Canon booth.

Presidents Day is celebrated in the United States on the third Monday of February.  In Klamath Falls, Oregon, that entire weekend is dedicated to the Winter Wings Festival and birds.  In fact, the festival has expanded to four days, running from February 13 through 16, 2014.  This year the festival is headquartered, for the first two days, at the Running Y Ranch Resort then, over the weekend, at Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT).  When we last toured the event in 2011, it was entirely headquartered at OIT.  There we found vendors of all things birding – and more, presentations, seminars, art and photo contest entries, and activities for kids.  In 2011, the event also offered a reception and bird quiz with writer, photographer and naturalist, Jeffrey Gordon.

In 2014, four featured participants are scheduled, they are:

  • Bill Thompson III is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and the author of  numerous books, including Bird Watching For Dummies,  Identifying & Feeding Birds, and the Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America. Bill also writes a weekly blog (Bill of the Birds).
  • Rick Sammon is a Canon Explorer of Light.  He has photographed around the world and gives more than two dozen photography workshops and presentations each year (ricksammon.com). Rick has published 36 books on various aspects of photography including Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography.
  • Brian Sullivan is one of the country’s leading raptor experts. In addition to leading a special field trip, he will provide the Thursday night keynote presentation and share new insights on raptor migration and identification.
  • Sharon Stiteler is a recognized expert in digiscoping — taking digital photos through a spotting scope or binoculars. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, All Things Considered, and NBC Nightly News.  Her book is City Birds Country Birds.
Kestrels at the Winter Wings Festival.

Kestrels at the Winter Wings Festival.

The seminars address topics of interest to birders, but with Canon as a major sponsor, many focus on photography with improved wildlife photography being the goal.   In order to keep the event fresh,  organizers bring in a different mix of seminars each year. The festival also offers a lot for kids.  Live birds are a highlight.  In 2011, we spotted a couple of young ladies walking around the venue with live kestrels – the smallest North American hawk. Kids were delighted with the opportunity to pet a live turkey and see a wood duck up close.  Local school kids participated in an art contest, so their work was judged and displayed at the festival.

Wild Turkey

A Friendly Turkey for Kids to Pet.

The vendors typically offer photography, binoculars, paintings, birding tours, jewlery, publications, bird feeders, sculptures, fountains, crafts and even peanut brittle. The activities at the Running Y and OIT generate enthusiasm and excitement and the seminars improve enjoyment of the outdoors.  Ultimately, however, it’s the tours that get people outdoors and exploring.

Getting Outdoors

Birders Studying an Eagle in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Birders Studying an Eagle in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2011, the event offered 23 field trips.  For 2014 the list includes 31 fieldtrips –  most on buses and a few in carpools.  The field trips cover all birding skill levels from beginners, to intermediate to expert .  Eschewing guided tours,  many of the participants will go exploring on their own.  That’s not to say that participants in the Winter Wings Festival will dominate exploration in the Upper Klamath Basin during the weekend.   As we explored the public lands along the Oregon-California border during the 2011 festival,  we ran across a large group of families with kids from Redding, California visiting the Lava Beds National Monument, a smaller caravan of volunteer hawk watchers and banders from the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory near San Francisco exploring the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, and many individuals and families that were not associated with the Festival.

My 2011 Adventure

The Grange Co-op Offered Supplies for Birders.

The Grange Co-op Offered Supplies for Birders.

I didn’t register for any of the event’s activities, but there are still plenty of things to see and do – at no cost.  First, I stopped by OIT and chatted with some of the vendors.  Photographer Terry Spivey sold a few of his great wildlife photos, but decided he wasn’t going to quit his day job just yet.  Cindy Deas was promoting regional outdoor recreation and selling the outstanding Klamath Basin Birding Trail booklet.   Steve Spencer of Leo’s Camera Shop was greeting visitors around the Canon display.  Scott and Betty Dickson were handing out samples of their Auntie Flo’s peanut brittle.  The vendor area was bustling even after most of the field trips had already set off and seminars were underway.  I wandered around the kid’s area to see lots of excitement, popped into Doc Wild’s entertaining presentation on wolves, checked out a Canon workshop, took a look at the art and photo contest entries then headed for the field myself.

Bald Eagle - Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

A Bald Eagle Posing for Photographers

I drove around the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges and Lava Beds National Monument to see explorers everywhere.  Videographer Larry Arbanas was exploring the Tule Lake National Wildlife refuge.  Later he showed me the fruits of his adventure – some great footage of river otters playing in the water.   I first crossed paths with the Redding kids at Petroglyph Point and again at the visitor center.  A group of Winter Wings participants was leaving the Lava Beds National Monument and setting out to find tundra swans.  Several groups, unrelated to the festival, were venturing through the snow and into Merrill Cave and the lava tube caves near the Monument’s visitor center. In addition to the eagles, hawks, tundra swans, and people, I saw lots of pheasants, quail, deer, ducks and other waterfowl.  I’m not much of a birder, but those that are reported seeing many other species.  Dave Menke of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led two tours and noted the following highlights: Eurasian Wigeon, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Grebe, Say’s Phoebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon and a barn owl.  Dick Ashford of the Klamath Bird Observatory led two other tours and saw some additional species including: Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and American Kestrel.  Those watching eagles flying out from the Bear Valley Refuge counted as many as 139.  It was great to see this level of exploration going on during a single winter weekend in a place as remote as the Upper Klamath Basin.

Rating

We haven’t developed  a rating system for events yet.  However, from my perspective, everything looked well run and the participants seemed happy.  Obviously the organizers have given a lot of thought to the mix of adult, kid and family activities as well as the mix of seminar topics.  I can’t speak to how well transportation worked as my timing was off and I was  never able to connect with one of the formal tours.  A quality experience is usually a given for this event as the Klamath Basin Audubon Society has been improving it for many years.  The event began in 1980, as the local Audubon Society was forming.  At that time it was the Bald Eagle Conference with a focus on the science of bald eagle management. As more people participated, the offerings gradually expanded until 2005 when the event was renamed the Winter Wings Festival to encompass all the birds in the area. The event is now known as the oldest birding festival in the United States If the Winter Wings Festival sounds like an event for you,  be sure to check out their website and sign up for their e-mail list at: www.WinterWingsFest.org.  You can learn more about  the Klamath Basin Audubon Society and their year-around adventures at www.klamathaudubon.org

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Credits

The eagle photo used in the header and as the ‘featured’ photo is ©2011 by Larry Arbanas and used with permission.  All other photos, text and video by Jerry Haugen, pathfinder.   ©2011, 2013 Global Creations LLC.  All rights reserved.

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