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First Ever Bird Fest Demystifies Hidden Avian World of Los Angeles

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Michaela Maki holding a red-tailed hawk | Photo by Michael Maki

Without meaning to, birders can often make us non-avian fluent feel like we're missing something, but it's probably because we are. The world of birds is wide and wonderful, and I would imagine birders get a glimpse of that as they spy these winged creatures flit and trill overhead.

We normal citizens are attuned to the sounds of the city -- the loud blare of an engine, the raucous sounds of drunken denizens, and sometimes the constant buzz of helicopters -- but birders seem to have a second set of senses, which allow them to hear those feathered creatures above the din, find them along the L.A. River, or see them even in a forest of buildings and telephone polls.

I've always envied that trait of birders and I wondered, "How can I find entrance to such an enchanting world as well?" As if in answer to my question, the Audubon Society and the Western National Parks Association (WNPA) are putting on the first ever Bird Fest of Santa Monica.

"I'm very excited about this event," says Sophia Wong, store and events manager for WNPA. "I think it's going to offer something fro everyone from kids to adults." The event is also unusually geared toward beginner and advanced birders alike.

A barn owl | Photo: Nature of Wildworks
A barn owl | Photo: Nature of Wildworks

On Saturday, October 18, the Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center at King Gilette Ranch in Calabasas will be transformed into a birder's wonderland. Among the highlights in Wong's book is the live bird presentation where visitors can get a rare glimpse of one of four albino ravens in the world; look through a turkey vulture's nostrils ("Its nostrils are so huge because it helps them smell the carrions," says Wong.); or get close to large, stocky, red-tailed hawks.

Those inclined to take in more of the nature around 588-acre King Gillette Ranch can opt to take a guided bird walk in the morning. The more craft-ready can take their kids to build a bird feeder, which they're actually allowed to take home.

Apart from walks, there are also talks. Listen to experts acquaint you to the sights and sounds of the most common birds in the Santa Monica Mountains. "People often hear birds," says Wong, "but they sometime can't see them. We're hoping to teach people what a bird's call sounds like and actually see what bird is making it." Advanced or more seasoned birders cover ways to maximize your bird sightings, or a more troubling treatise on how climate change in Southern California can affect the fate of its birds.

Even if you tire of all the bird talk, the Bird Fest is also a great excuse to get out and enjoy the Santa Monica Mountains. The grounds have three picnic areas and two hiking trails that lead to magnificent views of King Gillette Ranch and Malibu State Park. Come one, come all, says Wong. Everyone young and old, beginner to advanced is welcome.

The first Bird Fest of Santa Monica Mountains will be on October 18 from 9:30 am to 4 pm at Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center near King Gilette Ranch, 26876 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, CA. More details here.

Turkey vultures can be seen during the Bird Fest's live bird presentation | Photo: Nature of Wildworks
Turkey vultures can be seen during the Bird Fest's live bird presentation | Photo: Nature of Wildworks

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