Bird/nature festival a rebirth of annual event

April 21, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

It's a quiet Saturday morning as the group exits a bus and heads toward the edge of Fig Lagoon in west Imperial County to scan for some of the hundreds of species of avian life found in the Imperial Valley.

The silence that surrounds the group is interrupted only by the sounds a breeze makes moving through the plant life overlooking the still water.

Then the calls start.

The cries of different species of birds break the calm, causing members of the group to raise their binoculars and search the area.


There. A great blue heron glides inches above the water. It comes to rest gently near some brush as two white egrets effortlessly soar overhead as if floating with the breeze.

That was the experience shared by those taking part in the Imperial Valley Bird/Nature Festival organized by the New River Wetlands Project, the county Office of Education and the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program.

The festival was done in conjunction with Earth Day festivities throughout the day at Imperial Valley Expo.

The festival also was, in a way, a rebirth of the Salton Sea International Bird Festival, held early annually for the last five years. The festival was canceled this year as coordinators reconsider and plan to reorganize the event for next year.

Though smaller than the international bird festival, the event Saturday offered a chance to keep the bird festival alive for the time being. In fact, organizers of both events are considering an annual rotation in which one year the international bird festival would be held and the following year the bird/nature festival would take place.

For organizers of Saturday's festival, the goals were simple: to create interest among the local community in bird-watching, to educate them about a resource in the Valley and to show them what is being done to help clean the New River.

"We're doing this for the local people," said Marie Barrett, a festival organizer and coordinator of the New River Wetlands project. "We want to expand environmental awareness."

Carolyn Benson, who has been one of the lead organizers of the international bird festival, credited Barrett with developing the bird/nature festival as a way to keep the bird festival going and to generate local interest.

"She's just run with the ball," Benson said.

Some 150 people joined in the tours, which started about 7 a.m. Saturday. Eldon Caldwell led one group of visitors to Fig Lagoon and then to view half of the wetlands project.

Those taking part in the tour said it was an rewarding experience. They also urged people to consider bird-watching as an activity. They said it is easy to start, and once a person gets into it, birding can be fun, exciting and challenging.

Imperial County offers the added benefit of more than 400 species of birds and short drives that take residents to areas many likely have never seen — pristine areas surrounded by natural beauty where silence prevails.

Among those taking part in the Fig Lagoon tour were adults and children from Westmorland Union Elementary School.

Westmorland youngster Seleena Peraza, 6, held a pair of binoculars as she stood next to her mother, Aurelia Peraza.

"There are birds and everything," said Seleena, who added she likes watching birds and the tour gave her a new chance to do so.

Her mother said it was a peaceful morning and the bird-watching experiencing was an educational idea that could expand the children's interests.

Eileen Ford of Holtville is a more experienced bird-watching enthusiast.

"I just like being outside and being out in nature," she said, adding whenever she goes out she has the chance to see and learn something new.

"It's a mental challenge," she said of learning to identify the birds.

Matthew Schreiner was taking part in the tour after driving in from Irvine. He said he took part in the international bird festival last year and wanted to return this year.

He said of bird-watching, "It's a family activity. People of all ages do it. You can do it in your own back yard."

Here in the Valley, he added, "It's awesome. The variety of species here is next to none."

Also taking part in the tour were husband and wife Bruce Thompson and Gabrielle Steinau, of Seeley, who on Saturday were celebrating their 15th anniversary.

Actually, Steinau is the bird enthusiast and she is teaching her husband to join in the activity with her. Thompson was all too happy to join his wife and share in the experience.

"This is very cool," he said as he toured the New River Wetlands project with the group. He added the Valley offers areas like the wetlands for those who enjoy the outdoors.

For the Westmorland children, Saturday's tour was fun because they had a chance to see an area they might not otherwise have known of or had the chance to explore.

Evelyn Martinez, 8, said, "I like seeing the ducks."

She added, "It's pretty here."

April Noriega, 9, said, "There's lots of animals here. It's different."

As the group walked around the wetlands project, the children would stop when they spotted an unusual-looking bird such as the black yellow head. Several of the birds flew close to the group as if to examine the two-legged strangers visiting their habitat.

Event organizers said they are happy to see the local interest and they want to see it continue and feed into next year's international bird festival.

While the international festival was created as a way to promote the Valley and the tourism industry, it is not just for the more experienced bird-watching enthusiasts.

The international festival, like the event held Saturday, also is meant to reach out to local people to teach them about what natural resources the Valley has and to show them how bird-watching can become a part of their lives.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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