Birders flock to Morro Bay

Since 1900, Audubon societies nationwide have set aside a day in December — the most recent being Dec. 19 — for a Christmas Bird Count.

Five decades ago, the Morro Coast Audubon Society joined this scientific effort to catalog area birds. Positioned on the Pacific Flyway, the Central Coast traditionally ranks in the top five United States birding areas.

“It looks like somewhere between 190 and 200 species,” said Tom Edell of Cayucos, the Morro Coast compiler since 1994.

Thus, the primary reason more than 450 birders will flock to Morro Bay for the 14th annual Winter Bird Festival, from Jan. 16 to 18. Novice or experienced birders can choose from more than 100 events to spot numerous birds.

Cruises, kayaking, countywide van trips, hikes and quiet observation with many photo opportunities are promised in the 2010 brochure at www.morrobaybirdfestival.com.

Headlining are Rosalie Winard, famed environmental photographer and author of “Wild Birds of the American Wetland,” and Cal Poly’s Lars Tomanek, who has a doctorate in zoology. They will be discussing the effects of global climate changes on birds, people and the planet.

And then there is Ross Schaefer. At 13 years old, the Atascadero student is one of the youngest birders invited to co-lead a workshop. He will assist his mentor, Jim Royer, with a workshop Friday evening on searching for owls.

Ross has been birding seriously since he was 6 years old, when he amazed his parents, Natalie and Mike Schaefer, on a trip to Walt Disney World. Ross started naming all the birds — correctly — so they revised their theme-park itinerary to search Florida’s birding areas.

“He had studied a Florida bird book,” his dad said. “He has a knack for recognizing species.”

The Schaefer family has traveled to the Galapagos, Ecuador, China, Africa, Thailand and various parts of the United States, including the Lower Rio Grande. Ross always studies the bird books first, then seeks to identify as many birds as possible. His journal records his sightings.

“I’m at 751 now,” Ross said. “My goal is spotting 1,000 by the end of next year.” Another family visit to Thailand during Christmas break would help him reach his goal.

Morro Bay festival director and Mayor Janice Peters cautioned, “Workshops fill up fast. We hope locals will attend. The vendor fair is open to the public, and many activities are free for children under 12.”

Attendees must postmark desired workshops by Tuesday, or they’ll have to wait for on-site registration at the Morro Bay Community Center during the festival weekend.

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.