A few miles west of Fresno, standing among dozens of ponding basins at the Fresno County Wastewater Treatment Facility, more than 30 people gazed over the waters with binoculars and scopes, naming off birds of all shapes, sizes and colors.
The group is from the Fresno Audubon Society, a local chapter of the National Audubon Society. The organization is dedicated to the conservation of ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.
The Fresno Audubon Society hosts Wednesday walks twice a month from September to May. The next walk is scheduled for Nov. 6 at Sycamore Island on the San Joaquin River.
Wednesday morning's walk at the wastewater plant near Jensen and Cornelia avenues was clearly not the most scenic or naturesque trip the group has embarked upon, but birders caught glimpses of more than 50 species of birds, including a peregrine falcon, flocks of western Grebes, a pair of white-faced Ibis and gadwalls.
"It's a real treasure spot for migrating birds," says Carol Manning, a longtime Audubon member.
She notes that the various water levels at the basins allow each bird to find a preferred feeding area to pick at a range of plants and insects.
"Birding is a science of understanding nature," Manning says. "It's about the balance of plants, water, mammals, insects and birds."
The gated facility also acts as a protected resting spot for the birds on their long journeys to their winter homes.
David Ficklin has been birding for eight years, after he and his wife woke up one morning to knocks on his sliding glass door.
"I looked up and there was a small yellow barn owl standing on the outside," Ficklin said.
Since then, he's taken up photography and reconstructed a nestbox on his property that is now home to barn owls.
The 63-year-old retired electrical engineer also recently installed a tiny camera in the box to watch and study the barn owls.
Frank Gibson, 74, started watching birds when he was 10 years old after his elementary schoolteacher took the class on birdwatching walks on the streets of Los Angeles.
His passion for birds and wildlife continued, even on family hunting trips.
"When I was in high school, I went duck hunting with my folks, and I didn't get any particular thrill out of the hunting part," Gibson said. "I enjoyed just sitting out there in the marsh watching the birds."
An Audubon member since 1977, Gibson recently finished a "big year" — an informal competition among birders to see who can see the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year.
"It was a lot of fun and frustrating," Gibson said. "It was interesting going places you've never been before."
Gibson traveled across the United States and saw 631 species of birds.
For more information on the walks, go to www.fresnoaudubon.org.
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