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Lola Smith of La Grande gets a few pointers from birdathon volunteer helper Pat Kennedy on where to look to spot a bird Saturday morning at a viewing area along Foothill Road south of La Grande. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
The eighth annual Ladd Marsh Bird Festival had a record number of watchers last weekend.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist at Ladd Marsh, Cathy Nowak, there were 361 registered participants at the three-day event.
That is up from the 350 the festival had last year.
“We were hoping for that many,” Nowak said. “We expected to do a little better than last year.”
Nowak said that 22 percent of the participants came from outside of Union County, which means that word is getting around about the birding opportunity.
And one reason for the continued increase may be because of the staffed birding stations that are offered.
Nowak said the stations are unique to other bird-watching festivals and offer novice bird watchers the opportunity to see birds they may miss on their own.
“People really like going to those stations,” she said. “They like the fact that there are experienced bird watchers with good equipment and knowledge there.”
Nowak said that Blue Mountain Wildlife’s presentation was also well received. About 115 people sat on bales of hay to listen to the story of Patriot, a bald eagle that is a new-education bird.
“People really enjoyed him,” Nowak said. “This was just his third time out. People also got to see a barn owl, a red-tailed hawk, a horned owl and a barbary falcon that Blue Mountain Wildlife brought.”
There were also plenty of hard-to-find birds found throughout the weekend, Nowak added.
She said a few people had the chance to see a marbled godwit, a shore bird, and a blue-winged teal.
“Blue-winged teals we have annually but in low numbers,” Nowak said.
Other rare birds spotted were an eared grebe, and some secretive marsh birds such as Virginia rails, a sora and an American bittern.
“It helps to have a lot of birders who can help locate birds,” Nowak said of why some of the rare birds were spotted.
The bird festival also offered field trips, and on the trip to Rinehart Canyon birders had the chance to see seven species of warblers.
“That is about as many species of warblers as you can find in Union County,” Nowak said.
On the Birds of the Ponderosa field trip, watchers got the rare experience of spotting a great gray owl, a bird that even the most well-traveled bird watcher may not get the chance to see.
“That is a tough bird to find in a lot of places,” Nowak said. “We had two people come from Seattle who went on that trip just to see a great gray owl.”
Nowak said that she hasn’t thought too much about possible changes for next year’s Bird Festival, but she did say that two years down the road is garnering some attention.
That will mark the 10th year of the Bird Festival.
“We want to bring Year 10 in with a bang,” she said.
Nowak added that she plans on holding the festival around the same time in coming years, so people can continue to mark it on their calendar the weekend after Mother’s Day.
“We’re always looking to add more field trips and volunteers. We couldn’t do this festival without the volunteers,” Nowak said.