You could say McCaffrey Middle School went to the birds on Saturday. But that would mean leaving out live bats, slithering snakes and a whole wild animal show.
The sixth annual Galt Winter Bird Festival was hosted by the city of Galt and the Galt Joint Union Elementary and High School Districts. It brought together artists, conservationists, students, teachers and a falconer to share knowledge about the wide variety of birds to be enjoyed and photographed in and around Galt during the winter months.
Out at the Cosumnes River Preserve, keen birdwatchers or photographers might spy a range of winter birds, including Sandhill cranes, gray egrets, snowy egrets, a great blue heron, and lots of ducks, said Joanne Hagopiar, a volunteer at the preserve.
Several tours left to seek out the birds during the day by bus, by car, on foot and even by kayak.
The festival began six years ago through Galt’s economic development program, said Kathleen Amos, a volunteer.
“It does a lot of good for everyone, bringing families out for a healthy activity together. And it brings a lot of people to Galt,” she said.
Kaileen Morris, 17, managed a booth teaching children about owls and owl pellets for Estralita High School.
Instead of feces, as many people believe, owl pellets are actually regurgitated bits of fur and bones of eaten mice that can’t be completely digested. Morris brought several samples from beneath a friend’s palm tree for children to dig through and locate mouse bones.
Alex Kaas, 10, poked through the pellet with a toothpick, and held up his find. Morris explained it was the lower jaw of a mouse, and Kaas’ eyes widened.
“It’s a mouse tooth! It’s cool, but a little bit gross because I know where this is from,” said Kaas.
Another school group set up their station in the opposite corner of the school gym. Members of the Salida Middle School Reptile Education Club demonstrated ball pythons, a legless lizard, and a prehensile-tailed skink. The club is run by Laurel D. Peterson, who cares for dozens of reptiles in a heated school shed.
“It’s a club for kids to learn how to care for reptiles, and how to teach others the same skills,” said volunteer Debbie Bell.
That wasn’t the only live animal in the room. Corky Quirk, a member of the NorCal Bats association was feeding mealworms to a four and a half year old big brown bat.
“This one was injured by a cat and can’t fly, so we were able to get a permit to use her for education,” said Quirk. More common to the Lodi and Galt area is the Mexican free tailed bat. In the summertime, the bats are known for their ability to eat their weight in insects in a single night.
Outside, falconer Karl Kester readied his falcon Beethoven for a show of flights, drops and stunts. But after two or three dramatic swoops, Beethoven was ready to leave. The falcon flew off into the distance while the crowd of onlookers waited hopefully for his return.
Kerster wasn’t worried.
“He has a radio transmitter, so finding him is the easy part,” he said.
Good thing there was so much to see inside.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.