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California condor No. 94 takes off along Highway 1 in Big Sur in July 2008. Big Sur Condor viewing is one of several outings planned for Friday and Sunday as part of the Monterey Bay Birding Festival.

Bird lovers are flocking to the Central Coast for the 9th annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival.

The four-day event begans Thursday and runs through Sunday. Organizers expect about 300 people to attend the festival, which features speakers, workshops, lectures, field trips, family activities and a vendors fair.

"This area is obviously one of the best birding areas in the world because so many species of birds come and go over time," said Dave Brockman, festival coordinator. "It's one of the premier areas because of all the different habitats, including the mountains, sloughs, the shoreline, the chaparral and the bay.

"Close to 600 bird species have been sighted here over the year," he said.

Along with year-round residents and a revolving door of tourists, the Central Coast is familiar ground for migrating birds that stop and feed while traveling along the "Pacific Flyway," which is like a super highway for numerous bird species. September is about mid-point of the fall migration, as birds are heading south to Mexico and beyond for the winter.

Last year, festival participants spotted 300 different species of birds, including raptors, pelagic or ocean-going birds, shorebirds, waders, songbirds and, well, you get the idea. Some are common, others less so, and once in a while, a wayward bird, like the common cuckoo that appeared last September in the Watsonville Wetlands, makes an appearance.


Unusual sightings like that trigger rare bird alerts, and draw birders from around the globe.

Lectures will be geared toward specific types of birds. Bob Power, the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, will discuss how to identify different raptors in the field. His talk will help people distinguish a Cooper's hawk from a sharp-shinned hawk.

The festival includes a variety of field trips on the bay, in Big Sur, the Pinnacles and other regions. One of the most popular activities of the festival, many of the field trips sell out quickly.

"The Palo Corona field trip is new this year, and it sold out within a couple of days," Brockman said of the trip to the site near the mouth of the Carmel River.

The annual festival is run by the Monterey Bay Birding Festival Association, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about the value and importance of birding and wildlife in the region.

Birding field trips

For a full listing of outings see

·Condor viewing in Big Sur: 6a.m. to 3p.m. Friday,; 6a.m. to 3p.m. Sunday. Festival guides lead an exploration of Andrew Molera State Park, one of the premier vagrant traps on the West Coast, and the Ventana Wildlife Society's Discovery Center. The Discovery Center offers visitors an interpretive look at area wildlife, including California condors, marine life and songbirds. Afterward, participants spend time looking for condors along Highway 1. Ventana field biologists will lead partipants to condor hotspots using radio telemetry equipment, a couple of different locations for a short bird walk and a great location to enjoy a box lunch (provided), all in one of the country's pristine locations-Big Sur. Escort caravan departs from Watsonville Civic Plaza at 6a.m, or meet at 9:45a.m. at the Ventana Discovery Center/Andrew Molera State Park. Activity: Moderate.

·San Felipe Lake/Llagas Creek: 6:30p.m. to 4p.m. Friday. Explore the upper reaches of the Pajaro River watershed on this rare opportunity to bird the privately held wetlands surrounding San Felipe Lake in northernmost San Benito County. Expect a good mix of raptors, rails, songbirds and waterfowl, as well as a large, resident population of American white pelicans. The group will also explore Llagas Creek, a tributary to the Pajaro River. Participants should pack lunches and drinks for this nearly all-day trip. Parking is limited. Carpooling advised. Cost: $25

·Raptors in flight: 6:30a.m. to 2:30p.m. Saturday. This trip moves from Watsonville to Coyote Valley (central Santa Clara County) in search of migratory and resident raptors.  Coyote Valley has been home to a significant population of white-tailed kites and several ferruginous hawks. Prairie falcon, bald eagle, and golden eagle are all quite possible. Field discussions will focus on the useful field marks for identifying raptors in flight. Multiple habitats will be visited. Carpooling required. Caravan leaves from Watsonville Civic Plaza. Cost: $25. Activity: Moderate.

·Pinnacles National Park: 6:30a.m. to 4p.m. Saturday. Pinnacles provides a chance to look for specialties of the California interior landscape, including a chance at yellow-billed magpie, canyon wren, Lawrence's goldfinch, greater roadrunner, loggerhead shrike, and resident prairie falcons. Other than Big Sur, Pinnacles offers the next best chance for seeing a California condor. Participants should bring plenty of water to drink, lunches and sunscreen for this nearly all-day trip. Make sure you have a full tank of gas. Cost: $25. Carpool 60 miles to San Benito County from Watsonville Civic Plaza. Activity: Moderate

·Kirby Park and Elkhorn Slough Reserve (interior): 6:30 to 11a.m. Saturday. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, in the heart of Elkhorn Slough, is one of the premier bird-watching sites in the Western United States. Birding from the Reserve offers an opportunity to explore several of its diverse habitats and see many of the more than 340 species that visit or take refuge throughout this watershed. Cost: $15. Departs from Watsonville Civic Plaza. Activity: Moderate.

·Elkhorn Slough/Moss Landing (coastal): 6:30a.m. to 11a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Scouring lthe mudflats of Moss Landing, visiti the famous Moon Glow Dairy or check the freshwater pond of Zmudowski State Beach for the many migrating and wintering shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl of the region. Peregrine falcons and merlin are often attracted to the large flocks of shorebirds, and California sea otters are usually in the area. Cost: $15. Departs from Watsonville Civic Plaza. Activity: Moderate.

·Salinas River Mouth: 6:30a.m. to 11a.m. Friday and Sunday. The Salinas River Mouth offers an excellent opportunity to find a vagrant shorebird, observe several species of terns, study snowy plovers, catch a northern harrier or a peregrine falcon on the wing, or just enjoy a walk to the Pacific Ocean. Fall is the premier time of the year to visit this locale. Cost: $15. Departs from Watsonville Civic Plaza. Activity: Moderate.

·More outings: See for a full listing: Vagrant chasing at the carmel river mouth, Sat-Sun; Watsonville Sloughs, Fri-Sun; Pajaro Dunes/Sunset Beach, Fri-Sat; Pinto Lake and local hotspots, Sunday; Natural Bridges State beach, Saturday; New Brighton State Beach, Sunday; Point Pinos and the Monterey Peninsula, Friday and Sunday.

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