Tom Wharton: Bird festival celebrates the Great Salt Lake
Like many good ideas, the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival was hatched when folks with similar interests met in a beautiful place.
Neka Roundy, the community development specialist for Davis County who chairs the event, said she went to a meeting in the late 1990s on Antelope Island with a group of people associated with the Great Salt Lake.
"Somebody suggested that we ought to do a bird festival," she recalls. "I had not thought of that, but it made prefect sense. We had access to places where people like to see birds."
So, with no budget and only a few dedicated committee members, Davis County started the bird festival in 1999. It was relatively small, with only five field trips offered.
Planners hoped the festival would grow into a big gathering with people from all over the U.S. even the world coming to see the late spring migration of thousands of birds at such places as Farmington Bay, Ogden Bay, the Bear River Bird Refuge, Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Reserve.
While people have come from Australia, Japan and England, as well as surrounding Western states, Roundy said it remains primarily a festival attended by Wasatch Front residents. She continues to advertise in national magazines and websites, however.
"Every year, we get more questions from further away," she said. "We've had people come from the East Coast and Midwest."
The event, May 17-21, has grown to include 56 field trips this year. About 30 vendors will be on hand with displays and live birds Friday and Saturday at the Davis County Legacy Events Center in Farmington. The vendor event and workshops that continue all day are free, though there is a charge for field trips and to hear the keynote speaker.
"We have worked hard to keep the cost down," said Roundy. "Part of our mission statement is educational. We want to give people a taste of how wonderful the Great Salt Lake is."
Workshops that look especially interesting this year include a talk by 8-year-old Ivan Richardson of St. George at 1 p.m. Saturday about his experiences birding with his family, and a 2 p.m. talk by Utah bird expert Frank Howe, who will discuss the strange names given to flocks of birds a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens or a murmuration of starlings.
The festival always has drawn well-known birders and naturalists as keynote speakers. This year's keynoter on Saturday night is Greg Miller, who was portrayed by actor Jack Black in the recent comedy "The Big Year" about the world of competitive birding.
I personally count the Great Salt Lake as one of the world's most wonderful places. A year-long series of stories The Tribune published in 1991 allowed me to explore many aspects of a place that makes Utah unique.
I can only say thank you to Roundy and her committee, who have made the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival a yearly reminder of the wonders in our own home.