It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

For bird lovers, that is, when the arrival of spring brings waves of new, and sometimes unexpected, migrating birds to the Front Range. And here to celebrate every last house finch, Western tanager, white-tailed ptarmigan, burrowing owl and curve-billed thrasher is the eighth Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival with more than 60 field trips, workshops, seminars and more for new and experienced birdwatchers and birders.

The event isn’t until May 18-21, but early bird registration opened at 10 a.m. Saturday. Some of the field trips sell out within 20 to 30 minutes, says festival co-chairperson Jessica Miller, but others will likely be available until registration closes April 30.

With a $35 early bird price tag for the entire festival, it’s a birding bargain, which was important to festival founders, who wanted to keep the event accessible.

“This is the cheapest birding festival I’ve ever seen,” said Miller, who’s also the Fountain Creek Nature Center supervisor. “We want to connect people to this important, rewarding natural resource. Birding doesn’t need to be an exclusive club. And the Front Range and El Paso County is such a nice area for birding. It’d be a shame if we didn’t throw some sort of celebration in May to celebrate all the birds coming up this flyaway.”

Our region is a gorgeous salad bar of possibilities for birds, with its wetlands at Fountain Creek Regional Park, the creek system, forests and plains. Last year, folks at the festival were able to spot nine new species, including a black-necked stilt, red-bellied woodpecker, Eastern phoebe and black-throated green warbler. There was even a white ibis sighting, the first record of the species in El Paso County.

“Last year’s festival, over all the field trips, we recorded 182 species,” Miller said. “That’s a really nice number over three or four days.”

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Some of the festival’s most popular field trips take participants to private or restricted properties they can’t go on your own, such as Brett Gray, Horse Creek and Hanna ranches. Several trips are scheduled to Chico Basin Ranch, which is open to the public, but might be better to attend with a knowledgeable guide, Miller says.

Big Sits are a new addition. They operate exactly how they sound — bring a lawn chair or folding chair, binoculars and prepare to sit and bird for a few hours at three locations: Big Johnson Reservoir and Bluestem Prairie Open Space, Chico Basin Ranch and Fountain Creek Nature Center. A lot of birds can fly by in that stretch of time.

Another addition is a two-part program about mountain lions with David Niels, a mountain lion tracking expert. He’ll give a presentation May 19 on all things lion, then lead a group of 10 hikers on a May 20 field trip at Aiken Canyon Preserve to look for evidence of the big cat.

Resist getting bummed out if you don’t get your top choice of field trips, Miller says. Birds are everywhere, and the weekend will still be a bird lover’s paradise.

“We keep the cost low so if you’re maybe not into birding yet but want to be led around by experienced guides you’ll get a nice snapshot of what birding is over a weekend.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270