Expert birders speak at festival Saturday

Published on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Wildlife photographer Paul Bannick, just back from a birding excursion to Puerto Rico, will deliver the keynote presentation at the end of the Wings Over Water (WOW) celebration this Saturday, April 18, at 5 p.m. in the Blaine school district’s Performing Arts Center (PAC) at 975 H Street.

Bannick, 40, joins noted merlin expert David Drummond and part-time Blaine resident and leading eagle authority David Hancock in an impressive line-up of speakers for this year’s festival.

Saturday’s WOW festival also features locally-led wildlife field trips. Former Blaine high school science teacher Jim Jorgensen will lead two groups to examine the geology and wildlife at Semiahmoo Spit and the Plover will be making six hourly wildlife observation trips from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Bannick’s impressive slide show is based on his recent book, “The Owl and the Woodpecker, Encounters with North America’s Most Iconic Birds.” He covers five key habitats in the area and how these two key species cooperate to help define and enrich northwest habitats.

Smaller owls, such as the northern pygmy owl, no bigger than your fist and weighing only two to three ounces, often use woodpecker cavities for nesting.

Over half the smaller owls in North America depend on woodpeckers in this way, Bannick said. His show includes a remarkably clear slide of a pygmy owl calling to its mate out of just such a nest, an extremely rare thing to find even for an experienced birder.

To make this shot Bannick studied a nesting pair for several days after hearing their characteristic call while hiking in the Cascades, an irregular series of “toot-toots.”

He then crouched about 15 feet away for several hours waiting patiently for the right light and the action he wanted to coincide.

He prefers using very large telephoto lenses, “letting them do the work for me,” he said, “instead of chasing the animal around trying to get close.”

Bannick’s love of the outdoors and for capturing images goes back to his Seattle area childhood.

A University of Washington graduate, he worked as a software engineer for 15 years before retiring early to work for environmentally oriented non-profits, most recently becoming the director of development for Mitch Friedman’s Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest. He lives and works from his home near Seattle’s Discovery Park.

Bannick’s presentation, like all the events except the field trips at WOW is free. Bannick will have a question period following his show and will be selling signed copies of his book.

Speakers at the Blaine Boating Center conference room, 235 Marine Drive:

10 a.m.: Eagle expert David Hancock will speak on the life cycle and habits of the area’s eagle population. Blaine and Birch Bay are home to at least nine nesting pairs of the birds.

1 p.m.: Falcon research biologist David Drummond on finding and attracting birds to your backyard.

5 p.m.: Keynote Presentation at the Blaine Performing Arts Center, 975 H Street featuring Paul Bannick and his book, “The Owl And The Woodpecker: Encounters With North America’s Most Iconic Birds.”

$5 per trip, tickets available at the festival headquarters in the Worldly Treasures building, 638 Peace Portal Drive.

• Geology, Jim Jorgensen - 90 minute trips to Semiahmoo Spit including the marine museum and a look at local shorebirds leaves from the festival headquarters, 638 Peace Portal Drive, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

• Plover Rides and discussions on marine environments facilitated by Captain Sam Clemens: Six hourly trips from Gate Two in front of the Blaine Boating Center beginning at 10 a.m., last departure at 3 p.m.

• Hunters of the Sky presentations by the Sardis Raptor Center at festival headquarters at noon and at 2 p.m.

• Five bird viewing stations will feature expert birders from North Cascade Audubon Society at Marine Park, at the north and south ends of Birch Bay, at Semiahmoo County Park and at the pier at Semiahmoo Resort. 

• Kids’ art and poster contests.

• A “bird search” will involve visiting 10 local businesses – Paso del Norte, Petal Attractions, Pizza Factory, Goff’s, Seaside Bakery, Blaine Bouquet, Little Red Caboose, Blaine library and two at WOW festival headquarters plus a bonus stop at the Marine Park Bird Viewing station.

• To celebrate the festival, Blaine city library will be showing classic bird movies. This afternoon: “Fly Away Home” at 1 p.m. and Birdman of Alcatraz at 3 p.m.

A shuttle bus leaves Worldly Treasures Building 45 minutes past the hour and runs to the Blaine Boating Center and back.