The rapidly-growing Mountain Bird Festival, sponsored this weekend by the Klamath Bird Observatory, is expected to bring in 140 “birders” and scientists who will spend over $70,000 in the Ashland economy, get to know and love the town and come back someday. 

It offer birders their choice from 40 field trips in the region and a Saturday evening gala (dinner from a gourmet food truck) with local wines and beers at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum. 

The three-day weekend is an affordable $110. In addition to pumping the economy here, it will also boost the KBO, which started out in Ashland 25 years ago and now has 10 employees, including three post-doctorals in the field, says Executive Director John Alexander, Ph.D. 

“Birding is the fastest growing recreational activity in the country,” Alexander said, “and they have an $8 billion impact on the U.S. economy. This includes all their lodging and dining.” 

While birders may focus on sighting that rare bird for their annual or lifetime list — as made famous in the 2011 movie “The Big Year," with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black — the emphasis will also be on supporting and tracking habitat, he says. Increasing the data base on birds fosters understanding of what’s happening to the environment of the whole planet. 

“It’s a chance to be one-on-one with some of the best birding guides in the Northwest,” says KBO Assistant Director Marcella Rose Sciotto. “There will be birders from New England and San Francisco, with 75 percent of attendees from out of town. We are bringing in a new crowd and we want to make them fall in love with Ashland and the region. Last year, many went to Oregon Cabaret Theater and Shakespeare and had a great time in addition to the outdoor adventure.” 

Ashland and this Klamath-Siskiyou region are a big draw to birders, because many bird species are unique to this area, she notes. Especially sought by birders are the great gray owl, cranes, dippers, white-headed woodpeckers, the calliope hummingbird and migratory species from Latin America. 

However, the “boutique festival” here will not be dominated by famous birders and field trips will be limited to 14 participants, says Sciotto. In many birding events, trips can balloon up to 100 people. 

A big part of this and all birding festivals is purchase of “the Duck Stamp,” also called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. This supports conservation programs across the nation. They can also buy the Conservation Science Stamp, with art by a local painter, to support KBO’s regional science and education programs aimed at achieving sustainable natural resource management. 

The festival runs Friday evening through Sunday, May 29 to 31, and includes field trips on: evening owling, a great gray owl nest (birders are blindfolded as they approach the site, to keep it secret); mist-netting at Klamath Lake, where birds are caught in a net, analyzed and banded, “an unforgettable experience”; a "dipper walk" in Lithia Park, where the American dipper has been spotted recently; birding in the Mountain Lakes, Emigrant Lake, Siskiyou County, the east and west sides of the Cascades and Pilot Rock area; dragonfly spotting and more. 

The festival, now in its second year, attracts three types: typical birders, people who want to get out in nature and learn and those who seek to support science-based conservation and see it in action, says Alexander. 

The KBO office, formerly on East Main Street, has expanded into the first floor of the old Lincoln Elementary School on Beach Street. It takes on 20 more employees and interns in spring months and has three more part-time workers all year. 

The festival website is at www.klamathbird.org/community/mountainbird.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.