Festival Offers Rare Treat for Birdwatchers

By JOE EATON Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 20, 2004

It’s still hard to believe birding has become so mainstream. We used to be considered eccentrics—caricatured at best as bores (remember John McGiver in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation?), at worst as wimps.  

No longer. 

Now there are 71 million of us, a multi-billion-dollar market for binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides, magazines, software, feeders, seed, guided tours. And there’s a year-long calendar of festivals and other special events, tied to the natural calendar of the birds’ movements north and south: Godwit Days in Arcata, Lodi’s Sandhill Crane Festival, the Aleutian Goose Festival in Crescent City, and others at Los Banos, Morro Bay, and the Salton Sea. 

One of the most successful of these events, the San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival, takes place this weekend (Friday through Sunday) in Vallejo. This will be the festival’s eighth year, and it keeps growing. Coordinator Myrna Hayes estimated 5,000 or 6,000 attended in 2003. 

The free festival is centered on the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard, with field trips to outlying areas. There’s something here for all levels of birding expertise and degrees of interest. At the Family Wildlife Exploration and Birding Expo (Saturday and Sunday only), over 50 environmental groups and public agencies will have informational exhibits, along with binocular and scope vendors.  

The Expo will also feature visits by live birds of prey, a duck decoy carving demonstration, a Native American intertribal Red Tail Drum performance, readings by author Stephen Ingraham, and a showing of the film Winged Migration. Eighteen walking tours on Mare Island take visitors to areas not yet open to the public, including the historic shipyard and St. Peter’s chapel with its Tiffany windows. 

The Festival’s field trips cover a wide range of mostly North Bay bird habitats. In keeping with this year’s spotlight on the Napa River, designated a Globally Important Bird Area, there will be guided river cruises to a reclaimed marsh. Early birders can sign up for a 5:30 a.m. rail-ing tour, for a chance to hear—and with luck, see—these secretive birds in their marshland haunts. 

For raptor fans, Sonoma City Councilman Dick Ashford will lead several tours to normally off-limits Skaggs Island where multiple species of wintering hawks can be found. (Due to anticipated high demand, participants in the Skaggs Island trips will be chosen by lottery). Farther afield, there’s a banding demonstration at the Coyote Creek Field Station at Alviso and a hike at Rush Creek Marsh near Novato. 

Three of the Flyway Festival’s events combine birding with another Bay Area obsession. A Friday morning outing includes a visit to the Napa-Sonoma Marsh Wildlife Area, followed by wine-tasting at Acacia Vineyards. A presentation on sustainable vineyard management at Bouchaine Vineyards is scheduled for Friday afternoon. On Sunday, participants can tour the Viansa Winery’s restored wetlands, the subject of Kenneth Brower’s The Winemaker’s Marsh. 

This sounds like a great way to celebrate the annual spectacle of migration, which brings hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese and over a million shorebirds to San Francisco Bay.  


For more information, visit the Festival’s website (www.sfbayflywayfestival.com) or call (707)649-WING or (707)557-9816.