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Blaine hosts annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival

The festival comes soaring back for its 21st year for a weekend of bird watching

A group of attendees on a guided birding field trip at Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival in March of 2022 in Blaine, Wash. Visit this year's festival to experience birding in the Pacific Northwest. // Photo courtesy of Debbie Harger

The 21st annual Wings Over Water Birding Festival is set to captivate bird enthusiasts and nature lovers in Blaine from March 15 to 17. This three-day annual festival brings together bird watchers, conservationists and experts to celebrate the diverse bird life in the Pacific Northwest.

Debbie Harger, festival coordinator and founder, traced its roots back to 2003. The festival originally started because of the critical habitat of the brant bird, a little goose feeding on eelgrass during its migratory journey from Alaska to Baja California. 

Harger expressed that the unique habitat in Blaine became the inspiration for the Washington Brant Festival, which eventually evolved into the Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival.

“We are able to host this festival because Blaine is on two different levels. We are on the great Washington State Birding Trail, and we are at the key position of the Cascade Birding Loop,” Harger said.

The festival takes advantage of Blaine’s strategic location along the Pacific Flyway, a route for birds’ migration south. Harger said there are around 200 species of birds in the area, and while participants might not see all of them during the festival in March, it’s an excellent opportunity to witness a large number of them.

Over the course of the three days, there will be a variety of activities for bird enthusiasts. On the first day, guided trips will take about 40 participants to Canada’s Reifel Bird Sanctuary, a significant bird reserve just north of the border. 

Other local field trips and unique experiences like forest bathing are also on the agenda. Holly Merker, a keynote speaker and expert in mindful birding, will share insights into the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching. Gregory Green, a biology instructor at Western Washington University and wildlife photographer, is also set to be a speaker at the festival this year. 

Along with the speakers, there will also be a featured artist, Laurie Potter. Potter will be displaying her paintings that are inspired by the natural world and its inhabitants. 

John Bower, a professor at Western’s Fairhaven College who studied acoustic communication in birds, shared that marine birds that wintered further south from Bellingham are arriving in local waters. Many of these birds are starting to change their breeding colors, which can make it especially fun to see them.

“In the bigger picture, many millions of people watch birds, even if it is only at their bird feeders. With all that interest, birds are an excellent vehicle for teaching people about ecology, evolution and environmental issues,” Bower said.

The Blaine Pavillion hosts the heart of the event on Saturday, March 16, featuring the Birding Expo with arts and crafts vendors, exhibits and presentations throughout the day. Live raptor presentations, offshore birding cruises and birding trips provide immersive experiences for attendees.

One of the festival sponsors, The North Cascades Audubon Society, plays a crucial role in bringing the festival to life. Pam Bloso, a representative from the society, highlighted their commitment to bird conservation.

“We exist to promote the study and conservation of birds, wildlife and their habitat,” Bloso said. “Our volunteers actively participate in field trips, viewing stations and education efforts during the festival to engage the public in bird conservation.”

The festival relies heavily on volunteers and invites individuals to join the festivities and contribute to the bird conservation efforts. Bloso explained that anyone can volunteer – even if people don’t have knowledge on the topic of birds or birding, they will find a place for them.

Join Wings Over Water NorthWest Birding Festival and discover the different types of birds that fly through the Pacific Northwest. The festival is overall free to the public, you can register for specific paid events on the website.

Isabella Vandaveer

Isabella Vandaveer (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is a junior majoring in visual journalism and newly minoring in film. Outside the newsroom, you can find her skiing at Baker, drawing, or taking a long walk around her neighborhood. You can reach her at 

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