By Ann Powers
For the TODAY
More than a decade ago a handful of bird nerds and blues lovers in Pacific City thought it would be a good idea to combine their passions and share it with the rest of us.
They were right and the brilliant pairing of birds and blues was hatched.
“[We] came up with the concept of Birding and Blues — a festival with hikes and presentations during the day and music and socialization at night,” said Gary Lesniak, one of the event’s original founders. “The locals and the merchants seemed to embrace the idea and encouraged the chamber to support it. Amazingly, things came together and our first festival attracted a big, happy crowd of town and county residents and other northwest birders.”
Hence, the Birding and Blues Festival took flight and 2017 marks the 13th year hundreds will flock to the coastal community for the everything birds, everything blues and everything fun extravaganza from Friday, April 21, to Sunday, April 23.
The event aims to share the area’s natural beauty and wildlife while offering educational opportunities and entertainment for visitors and the local community. Festivities include guided field trips, nature presentations, river boat tours, kayak explorations, children’s activities, free events, art shows, food, libations and a blues concert led by the Eugene-based Joanne Broh Band.
“We’re all very excited,” said Broh. “It’s one of our favorite areas and it’s a good way to raise awareness. Not a lot of people know about the area and all it has to offer.”
But they will, thanks to field trips highlighting the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Neskowin Marsh, the Pacific City beach and Sitka Sedge State Natural Area — Oregon State Park’s newest acquisition not yet open to the public. Attendees will also have the opportunity to learn about Oregon’s marine reserves, black oystercatchers, flowers of North American deserts and even birds in China.
“It’s a lot of fun and we have a lot of repeat visitors,” said Dawn Harris, Oregon Coast Natural Wildlife Refuge’s visitor service manager, who advises attendees to register for field trips in advance, as they tend to fill quickly. “We have regional experts come in and talk about issues facing the environment.”
Like this year’s keynote speaker Paul Bannick, a wildlife photographer who has won prestigious photography awards including Audubon Magazine and the International Conservation Photography awards.
Bannick will give a photographic presentation about his new book, “OWL: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls.” The book features four owl species: Northern pygmy-owl, great gray owl, burrowing owl and snowy owl.
“I believe we protect what we love and we love what we know,” said Bannick. “Birds are a great way to remind us, like colorful flags, about the natural world and the importance of it. What is also nice is the people showing up — because they care and they are curious and they want to create a discussion.”
And that discussion extends beyond Pacific City. This year’s fest is scheduled in collaboration with the All About Birds Art Show, through May 8, at the Chessman Gallery in the Lincoln City Cultural Center.
“It adds more things for people to come and see while they’re here,” said Krista Eddy, the gallery’s director. “It makes the festival bigger and better. It’s always uplifting and brings out a certain playfulness.”
The event is also the recipient of a 2017 Mindful Birding Award for its efforts to promote ethical birding guidelines and bird conservation.
“The festival holds a healthy educational activity that brings life and fun to our town each year,” said Lesniak. “Birds are beautiful and diverse creatures with behaviors that amaze and entertain us. It gets us to view and appreciate raw nature getting us away from our housebound lives. It is a family activity that all can participate in.”
The Birding and Blues Festival is held at the Kiwanda Community Center, 34600 Cape Kiwanda Drive, in Pacific City. For more information, contact the Kiwanda Community Center at 503-965-7900, or go to www.birdingandblues.org.