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Get a kingfisher hairdo, learn about raptors at festival's free expo day

By Danielle Komis · 340-2447

Next week, the McCracken family of Orange Beach will make the five-hour journey to Decatur for a return visit to the Second North Alabama Birding Festival.

Carol McCracken and her 12-year-old son Connor were thrilled when they saw large birds of prey at the raptor show last year during the free exposition day in Decatur, and enjoyed their cave excursion where they got a close-up view of gray bats.

"They had a lot of good stuff going on that engaged the kids and adults," she said. "It's really great hands-on stuff."

This year, the festival — which kicks off May 4 and ends May 6 — will bring back many of the same festivities and excursions that delighted last year's visitors from near and far in its inaugural year.

While registration closed already for guided outdoor birding excursions, the festival's exposition day May 5 is open to everyone.

"You'll find more of your families and community coming out to this while the avid birders are on the field trips," said Tami Reist, president of Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The birding committee expects a larger crowd this year at the exposition at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites and Rhodes Ferry Park in Decatur, thanks to increased advertising of the festival, she said.

The full day starts at 7 a.m. with a children's field trip to the refuge.

Throughout the day, people of all ages can enjoy birding classes, raptor shows, bird feeder crafts, photography workshops and even the chance to get a hair style like a kingfisher bird.

One of the popular activities last year — dissecting owl pellets — is back again this year.

"The kids loved that, using their little tweezers and dissecting," Reist said.

The birding committee is most proud of the Saturday expo, because it's a great way to get local people who may not be birding enthusiasts interested in the environment, said Foy Kirkland, a committee member.

"The total big picture is an appreciation of our environment so these children grow up with that appreciation," he said, "and when they become adults they will take ownership and manage that environment to its best."

For avid birders, the festival again offers 15 guided excursions over a three-day period. From the woodland birding areas of Monte Sano State Park to the shorebird habitat of Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area, the excursions cover a diverse range of habitats — a big reason why North Alabama is a prime location for birding, Kirkland said.

Last year, visitors saw bald eagles on an excursion in Guntersville and Acadian flycatchers and belted kingfishers on a canoe trip of local waterways.

Jeff Clark, birding festival chairman, said because birding is a fast-growing hobby, it's a great way to attract visitors to Morgan County.

"This was just a way to get some more interest to come into our county," he said. "It's also a good educational tool for our children for conservation of our resources."

Silent auction

Artists from around the country have donated original pieces, prints and carvings for a silent auction May 4 at the Holiday Inn. The artwork will be displayed starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m.

The proceeds will go to the family of the late Larry Chandler, a celebrated artist who was instrumental in the first birding festival last year and the annual Southern Wildlife Festival.

The Hartselle resident's work won acclaim from conservation officials and advocates, and his 2005 painting of the rare ivory-billed woodpecker found its way into publications around the world. He recently painted the new logo deer for The Hartford Co.

"Artists just loved him; he was just that kind of guy," said Beverly Newton, chairwoman of the Southern Wildlife Festival.

"(The Southern Wildlife Festival is) like an extended family really," she said. "It has amazed me that we had such an outpouring of contributions for his family, and that says a lot about what people think about Larry."

If you go

Where: Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites and Rhodes Ferry Park, Decatur

When: Saturday, May 5, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: Free

Events schedule

7 a.m. Children’s walking tour to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

9 a.m.

n Birding 101

  • Story time

    10 a.m.

    n Raptor show

  • Story time

  • Photography workshop

    10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Kingfisher hairstyles

  • Kingfisher portraits

    11 a.m.

  • Siefreid/Felder book presentation

  • Story time

    12 p.m. Raptor show

    1 p.m.

  • Birding 101

  • Falconry demonstration

  • Story time

    2 p.m.

    n Owl Pellet dissection

  • Falconry demonstration

  • Story time

    3 p.m.

  • Raptor show

  • Story time

  • Photography workshop

    Ongoing: Turkey recipe box building, insect box building, coloring contest, hiking staff carving demonstration, bird feeder construction

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