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A great way to get the family outdoors - The Galveston County Daily News: Guest Columns

October 1, 2016

Guest column A great way to get the family outdoors

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:15 am

Sitting on a bookshelf in my parents’ home in Houston is my father’s guide to North American birds — and tucked in the back pages is a list of species we identified over the years as I grew up.

We were not avid birders, but looking back, it is fascinating to see how the list grew, and I know it contributed to our awareness of the biodiversity in our own backyard.

April heralds the spring migration of hundreds of species of birds, traveling from warm southern climates to their northern summer homes, and Galveston Island is an important stopover after an arduous flight across the Gulf.

Spend even just a little bit of time outside in your backyard, at a neighborhood park or at one of Galveston’s lagoons or beaches, and you are bound to spot a few.

Each year, islanders and visitors from near and far celebrate this migration with FeatherFest, one of the state’s largest birding and nature photography festivals. This year’s festival is scheduled for April 10-13 and will be headquartered at UTMB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, 4700 Broadway, in Galveston.

Birding trips can really test your stamina in the field — long periods of standing, waiting and whispering are punctuated with brief moments of pure adrenaline as you sight a new species or observe a new behavior.

Although on first glance one might not think of birding as a family friendly activity, there are many benefits to spending time together outdoors, and birding can be a fantastic, low-cost opportunity to bond and learn together. 

FledglingFest is new to FeatherFest this year. Designed with families in mind, youth ages 6 and older and their grown-ups can register to attend specialized activities that will introduce them to the natural world and the joys of birding.

Families can choose from an exciting trip to view dolphins and birds around Galveston Harbor and Galveston Bay aboard the Seagull II, an interactive workshop to introduce birding as a hobby, with identification techniques and places to explore on your own, and a birding field trip by bus to put those new identification techniques to work.

These family friendly events will be led by Stennie Meadours, a Texas Master Naturalist and former president of the Houston Audubon, with extensive experience leading birding and nature programs for children, including the Great Texas Birding Classic 8- to 13-year-old Youth Birding Competition. Online registration is open through 11:59 p.m. Sunday at www.galves

tonfeatherfest.com.

On-site registration at FeatherFest Headquarters begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Throughout the festival weekend, there also will be free educational birds of prey shows open to the public, along with a Birders’ Bazzar featuring birding optics equipment vendors, local environmental nonprofits and other nature-themed products and services. You can find times and locations on the festival website.

I encourage you to put down your digital devices this spring and head outside with your family. Our area boasts an incredible wealth of natural resources, just waiting for you to explore.