Ridgefield’s BirdFest & Bluegrass celebrates feathered friends’ contributions to ecology

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: BirdFest & Bluegrass, a celebration of wildlife, Native American culture and bluegrass music.

Where: Downtown Ridgefield and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

When: Kicks off at 5 p.m. Oct. 6 with sandhill crane tour (registration required), 7 p.m. screening of “Love Thy Nature.” Tours, workshops, nature walks and other events continue Oct. 7 and 8, mostly between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. 

Cost: Most events are free; some outings and workshops require registration and cost between $10 and $35. 

Information: http://ridgefieldfriends.org/events/birdfest-bluegrass

Let’s get the gross-and-disgusting stuff over with, shall we?

Turkey vultures are “nature’s garbage disposal,” boasted Samantha Zeiner of the Friends of the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge. “They clean the planet, digesting diseases. They also poop on their feet to stay cool … and they vomit on those who threaten them.”

Plus, she added, they’re just plain ugly.

Therefore, what better nominee than the turkey vulture for Bird of the Year at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge during its annual celebration of avian creatures and earthy music, BirdFest & Bluegrass?

“They are so underappreciated for their service to the planet, they’re fun to learn about, and even though their physiology is gross, kids love it!” Zeiner wrote in an email.

Those kids will certainly enjoy throwing turkey vulture vomit in Overlook Park, bean-bag-toss style, during the fun family activities Oct. 7. “Hurl Like a Turkey Vulture” is the name of that prestigious event, with a lifelike borax/glue mixture playing the role of the “vomit.”

Clearly, falling in love with turkey vultures requires a second look and a sense of humor. So it’s fitting that professional ornithologist Dan Varland, the founder of a nonprofit research-and-conservation agency in Hoquiam called Coastal Raptors, has teamed up with Tony Starlight, the Portland crooner, comedian and amateur ornithologist, to provide an entertaining and offbeat keynote presentation from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Old Liberty Theater.

Varland will stay scientific during the first part of “The Turkey Vulture: Love at Second Sight”; then Starlight will join him in a humorous musical tribute to the joys of birding as well as the tale of how a tagged turkey vulture sparked their friendship.

Bluegrass is back

Due to permitting and scheduling complications, the bluegrass part of BirdFest & Bluegrass has gone pretty quiet in recent years, but organizers say that’s over now. Bluegrass music will be back in a big way this time.

“The setup is a ‘picker’s festival,’ so musicians will show up and jam at any of the locations at rolling times,” said event coordinator Alexandra Danielsen. “The Oregon Bluegrass Association is helping to put the word out, so we’re expecting a good crowd of local musicians … (who) are really excited to hear that bluegrass is returning to BirdFest.”

There are three festival locations in all. One is downtown Ridgefield including the community center, library, elementary school and Overlook Park. That’s where you’ll find vendors and crafters, family activities, kayak and canoe tours (leaving from the marina), an art show, and bird and animal displays.

Downtown is also where you can catch the Oct. 6 evening kickoff event: a special movie screening of “Love Thy Nature,” a 2014 documentary that explores humanity’s troubled relationship with the natural world.

The other sites are the northern Carty Unit and the southern River “S” Unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Guided hikes and special workshops — such as beginning landscape watercolor painting, birding photography and bird language — are all scheduled. Check the extremely detailed schedule of events for details, and don’t neglect to register for outings. Consider buying the $5 commemorative button — created by designer Patrick Hildreth and featuring a banjo-playing Turkey Buzzard — which will get you into several events as well as supporting the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.