Birds without borders await guests

Whether inside of the Ridgefield refuge or out, Birdfest goes on

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

• What: BirdFest 2013, a celebration of wildlife and Native American culture.

• Where: Ridgefield. Birder’s Marketplace will be in the Ridgefield Community Center and on Mill Street. Bird demonstrations and children’s activities will be at Davis Park, 212 N. Main Ave. If the federal government is still shut down, activities at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Cathlapotle Plankhouse will move to Davis and Abrams parks in Ridgefield, and an updated event listing will be at

• Tours: Sandhill crane tours meet 15 minutes before departure at the Visitors Contact Station on the River “S” Refuge Unit. Wear weather-appropriate footwear and clothing in muted, neutral colors. Preregistration required at Tours will be rescheduled if the government is still shut down.

• When: Main festival is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 5 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 6, with events on Main and Mill streets. Sandhill crane tours begin at 5 p.m. Oct. 4 and repeat at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Oct. 5, and 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Oct. 6. Bird language workshop is 3 to 8 p.m. Oct. 5.

• Cost: Free for most events. $25 for sandhill crane tours. Suggested donation of $25 to $35 for bird language workshop; contact to register.

• Information: or 360-887-4106.

photoPhotos by STEVEN LANE/Columbian files Audubon Society of Portland volunteer April Brown shows off Lillie, an American kestrel, at the 2012 Birdfest and Bluegrass in Ridgefield. The soundtrack for this year’s festival will be exclusively birdsong.


photoRed-winged Blackbird


photoA ruby-crowned kinglet peeks through the bushes at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. A government shutdown may close the refuge, but the birds will still be all around Ridgefield, Birdfest organizers said.

(/The Columbian)

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Visitors will find a lot of new activities to flock to at this weekend’s Birdfest in Ridgefield, even though bluegrass has gone the way of the dodo.

New offerings include ethnobotany and wildlife walks, a digital photography workshop, an artwork display and a bird language workshop, among others.

“We’ve dropped the music, but we’ve added more bird-related things this year, more hikes and walks,” said Julie Almquist, a spokeswoman for the festival. “It’s not getting smaller; it’s just getting more focused.”

The Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which helps organize the event, ran into some issues with Broadcast Music Inc., an agency that collects licensing fees, when it tried to build the music component of the 2012 BirdFest.

To keep the bluegrass, which had been part of the festival for 10 years, organizers with the nonprofit friends group would have to pay at least the minimum BMI license fee of about $225, but the budget is just too tight for that, said Sarah Hill, who is organizing several wildlife refuge activities this year.

“Most of the members are volunteers, and we have all the work we can handle,” Hill said. “It takes more money and people to make (the bluegrass music festival) happen. And at this point, we’re not trying to get bigger. We’re trying to maintain.”

Planning this year’s festivities has been even more labor-intensive than usual due to threats of a federal government shutdown. If the shutdown continues, the refuge will remain closed and activities from the site will move to Davis and Abrams parks in Ridgefield. The popular sandhill crane tours also will be rescheduled.

“We have a Plan B,” Hill said before the outcome of the shutdown was decided. “Everything in town is going to go on. If the refuge has to be closed, there are other natural areas and parks in town we can use.”

She said there are some areas in the city that can be used for bird walks that would have been at the refuge.

The friends will have updates on the situation at They will also put up signs up in town noting changed venues if the shutdown continues.

She added that the city of Ridgefield has been very helpful during the uncertainty.

“It’s been great to know that we have this support,” Hill said, adding that she’s glad most of the activities will be able to go on as planned.

All of the new offerings are aimed at expanding the public’s appreciation of nature and Native American culture in the region.

Storytelling, the Audubon

Society live bird display, a display of Oregon Zoo animals and family activities at Davis Park are all free, as are the nature hikes and most of the guided tours.

Also new this year is the English Ivy Basketry Workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5. It explores ways to be creative while removing invasive species.

“They’re doing some cool work,” Hill said. “Rather than just discarding invasives after you clear an area, you can make baskets and other things from the materials.”

In a new and expanded offering, Jon Young, author of “What the Robin Knows,” will hold a Bird Language Workshop from 3 to 8 p.m. Oct. 5 to teach people to listen and understand how birds talk to each other about things in their environment such as predatory animals or other creatures passing by.

“So if there’s a Cooper’s hawk heading into a eucalyptus grove, it’s a sneaky animal, and people don’t usually see it, but the birds will know it’s there,” Young said. “We’ll teach people how to listen and understand birds differently.”

The event has a recommended donation of $25 per individual and $35 per family.

In some cultures, understanding birds can help protect people, because birds give off warning signs when large predators are approaching. And it’s important to note that birds also are talking about the people who are watching them, he said.

“The main thing is to remember that you’re in the conversation whether you like it or not,” Young said. “When you become attuned to it, you can reduce the wave you create.”

That knowledge can help people draw more from the natural environment. And it also could be useful for those who attend the free beginner workshop on nature photography from 10 to 11 a.m. Oct. 5, because understanding bird behavior and language can teach photographers how to see what’s around them more closely.

“We’ll run people through the basics of what makes good pictures,” Hill said of the photography workshop. “They’ll learn about composition and many other aspects.”

Young, who lives in California, said he’s looking forward to the festival, whether it is at the refuge or in the city of Ridgefield.

“I hope people come,” Young said. “If the government shuts down, the birds will still be there.”