Great Salt Lake Bird Festival to celebrate 20th anniversary

Friday , May 04, 2018 - 5:15 AM

FARMINGTON — Time flies, particularly when it comes to putting on a birding festival.

It’s been two decades since the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival started educating locals about the vast flocks of our avian friends to be found throughout Northern Utah. The 20th annual festival is scheduled for May 17-21, based out of the Davis County Legacy Events Center at 151 S. 1100 West, Farmington. The event features workshops, field trips, booths, displays and much more.

“It’s our 20th year, and it’s kind of a big deal,” said Neka Roundy, chairwoman of the festival and community development specialist with Davis County’s Community and Economic Development Department. “I think it means a lot, especially in the state of Utah, to have the largest birding festival in the Rocky Mountains.”

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To celebrate the event’s 20th anniversary, Roundy said they’ve commissioned a special festival patch, as well as a commemorative shopping bag.

What’s more, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently issued a proclamation declaring May as “Month of the Bird.”

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Roundy has been at the helm of the festival since its inception 20 years ago. It was at a meeting on Antelope Island when a woman from the Utah Office of Tourism told her, “Birding is a huge up-and-coming segment of the tourism industry; we need to take advantage of that. I think you ought to start a bird festival.”

Roundy admits it was something she’d never thought of. But that conversation got her to thinking, and with the aid of “a very, very passionate, dedicated committee” — a committee that remains relatively unchanged to this day — she put together an admittedly small festival, featuring something like six field trips and a couple of workshops.

“We knew we had to have a first festival in order to have a second,” Roundy said. “So we just put it together that first year.”

The initial festival drew about 300 people. Today, the event draws between 1,500 and 2,000, with more than 60 field trips and workshops sprinkled across the five days of the festival.

The great thing about birding in Northern Utah, according to Roundy, is the variety of habitat. First, there’s the Great Salt Lake and its surrounding wetlands. There are the mountains, which attract an entirely different subset of birds.

And then there’s the urban environment.

“I’ve always felt strongly about urban birding,” Roundy said. “There’s birding in your own backyard and downtown.”

This year’s keynote speaker will be George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. Archibald has spent decades working on conservation projects and is the author of “My Life With Cranes.”

Archibald will speak at a Dutch-oven dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $40.

Archibald will also host two field trips and teach a workshop.

The spotlight bird for the festival is the American avocet. Roundy said it’s particularly fitting this year, as the avocet was the bird featured at the very first GSL Bird Festival.

This year’s student art contest focuses on the sandhill crane, which will make it next year’s spotlight bird.

One of the new field trips offered this year is a visit to a greater sage-grouse mating area near East Canyon State Park. Also new is a field trip to view grassland birds and short-eared owls, as well as a creative photography class to Antelope Island.

One of the most popular field trips, according to Roundy, is a visit to Deseret Land & Livestock, the state’s largest ranch.

“It’s private property, and not everybody can go there,” she said. “That’s always a sellout.”

Other field trips include birding on horseback, taking a cruise on the Great Salt Lake and bird watching via kayak.

One of the goals of the festival is to involve young people in birding. To that end, a Boy Scout merit badge workshop is planned for Saturday, along with other programs for families and children. There will also be live-bird workshops by the Ogden Nature Center and Tracy Aviary, as well as vendor booths and food.

Other than the field trips and the keynote address/dinner, most events are free and open to the public.

For a complete schedule or more information on the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, visit daviscountyutah.gov/greatsaltlakebirdfest/home or call 801-451-3286.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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