By ROBIN EPLEY - Staff Writer
CHICO -- It's a "Big Year" for thousands of bird watchers across the nation who are attending this weekend's annual Snow Goose Festival.
The festival includes workshops, field trips and children's activities at Chico Masonic Family Center, all designed to educate people about the Pacific Flyway, which is home to millions of birds and runs right through Butte County.
This year's guest of honor is Greg Miller, a famous bird watcher who participated in an annual international event to spot the most birds in a single year.
His story was recently made into a feature film, "The Big Year," starring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black, who played Miller's character.
Miller spoke at Saturday evening's "Gathering of Wings" Banquet, which has been sold out for months, said steering committee member Kathleen Huber.
Huber said anyone interested in attending today's events should come by the Masonic Center and see if they could fit into a workshop or a field trip, as spaces are still available.
"I think a lot of people wonder what those white birds are," she joked about the popular snow geese.
Field trip outings were to six different counties, Huber said, including a trip to the Llano Seco viewing platform, the oxidation ponds outside Chico, the Sutter Buttes, a local riparian ranch and the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.
Chicoan Nelson Parmerter said he came to see the raptors, a species group that includes eagles, owls and hawks, but he was very interested in the exhibit room showcasing many local, state and federal ecological organizations.
"I think it's a great community event," Parmerter said. "It's great for kids but it's also great for Chico. We can celebrate being in the flyway."
Manning a booth for Joint Venture, a collaborative, bird conservationist partnership of 21 federal and state agencies, was Bob Shaffer. The exposure the festival provided was "critically important" for Joint Venture, but also for educating children and future voters, he said.
"We're in a key area of the flyway," he said. "It's important particularly for the youth to understand the value, so if it comes down to a K-Mart or an existing wetland, maybe they'll think twice."
The bird-themed activities will continue today, the last day of the festival. Presentations and workshops include Beginning Birding for Kids, Chico Backyard Birds and Sketching in Nature. Seventeen field trips will depart from the Masonic Center on West East Avenue. They include trips to the Sutter Buttes, Bidwell Park, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Rancho Esquon outside Durham, as well as a demonstration of falconry.
"Sometimes we take for granted things that are so close by," Huber said. "But there are so many treasures around here that if you want to learn, this is a great start."
The website for the event is www.snowgoosefestival.org.