By the Bay

For four days, Morro Bay is for the birds

judysalamacha@gmail.comJanuary 13, 2013 

Participants pause to hunt for birds during a walk along the Estero Bay Bluffs trail as part of the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival in 2010.

JOE JOHNSTON — Tribune Buy Photo

If you have never experienced January’s Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, watch the 2011 comedy “The Big Year” starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black. Just as in the film, Morro Bay’s festival attracts birders from all over the world seeking to spot the bird species on their life-lists. The festival takes place on the Pacific flyway. There will be plenty of unique birds, laughs and camaraderie for the novice and avid birder, as well as take-away information packed into 113 events, which start Friday and continue through Jan. 21.

“In conjunction with the Morro Coast Audubon Society, we offer something for everyone,” said fourth-year Chairwoman Marlys McPherson. “I was hooked immediately after volunteering at the registration desk in 2004 soon after my partner, Glenn Silloway, and I moved from Minnesota. We add new sessions and keep the costs affordable since our festival continues to be run mainly by volunteers. Most of our generous presenters volunteer their time and expertise.”

McPherson once investigated governmental agencies for the Minnesota governor’s crime commission and legislative auditor, then ran her own nonprofit research firm. Now she volunteers her management and research skills at the festival and the Morro Bay Natural History Museum.

“According to the annual Christmas bird count committee,” reports McPherson, “199 species were spotted this year. In years past, one of the most unusual birds to visit was the Arctic loon. They say it must have been lost, and funny thing — it only stayed for the festival.”

Chilean-born author and nature tour guide Alvaro Jaramillo will give the keynote address Saturday evening. He’ll discuss “Birding Outside the Box — How Our Brain Identifies Birds.” On Sunday, Dave Keeling will showcase the best bird shots taken by local photographers. Both programs are open to the public for a $10 fee. The Community Center’s bazaar is open and free.

“Three years ago, the board knew we needed to attract younger audiences,” McPherson said.

Family Day is for nonregistrants and mostly free. Activities range from learning about bird habitats and introductions to other critters, reptiles and a vulture hunt.

McPherson recommended registering soon: “Many of the sessions are sold out, so we developed at least three sessions for walk-up registration, but come early. Pacific Wildlife’s ‘Meet the Raptors’ is always popular.”

If you watch “The Big Year,” you’ll recognize a similar event in Morro Bay called “Big Day.” Registrants seek the highest number of species.

McPherson advises: “This day is for the more experienced because there is little time to train novices what to look for; however, everyone is welcome to experience the competitive excitement of sighting a variety of species.”

The online brochure is at, but registration is only onsite beginning at 6 a.m. Friday at the Morro Bay Community Center.

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at or 801-1422.

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