February 2022: A group of eleven birders convened in northern California’s Del Norte County for a weekend of searching for, and learning about, the many avian species to be found on the coast there. This course marked the first of SFI’s ‘Birding Del Norte’ classes with expert Ken Burton, with the second coming up at the end of May. Even in what is really still late winter, there was plenty of wildlife to see!

When asked to “Tell us about a magic moment you had during your course” students had some great moments to share…


“The day ended at Lake Earl with many birds of many species, and a beautiful beginning of the sunset.”

“It was a joy to be among like-minded folks — all thrilled to spend 20 minutes simply gazing at a Northern Pygmy Owl while it devoured its lizard prey.”

“That’s easy. Seeing the Northern Pygmy Owl!”

Instructor Ken Burton scoping swans at the narrows between Lakes Tolowa and Earl.
Photo by Terry Allaway
Intent birders getting a view of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.
Photo by Terry Allaway

SFI’s volunteer course host shared her experience with Ken and the class, including some good old fashioned birder’s humor:


“Participants came from inland and further south down the coast. Our instructor, Ken Burton, is the author of several local excellent guides. And what a great instructor! Ken has the ability to break down an often seriously nerdy subject into less intimidating pieces.


Because the county sticks out so far west, the area is known for a large number species of coastal birds and this class got a good taste of diversity. Del Norte also does not have so many birders to cover such a wide territory, so there’s always something unexpected to see when more birders come to town! The weather was also quite diverse, unseasonably warm and sunny one day, then almost pea-soup cold windy fog the next; but interesting and uncommon birds were spotted both days.


A running dialogue of interesting life histories, what makes a name, and other interesting facts kept things interesting when the birds were off doing other things. Early on, we bravely dived into the often subtle differences between the many types and life stages of the gulls, with a greater understanding expressed by all by the end of class. I’m glad there were no quizzes. GULLS ARE HARD. And they hybridize. But no one ran away screaming. We were even treated to a little birding humor – here’s how to relax when learning gulls, just sing “I wish they all could be California Gulls” to the Beach Boys’ song. And one more – someone asked how to learn bird calls and songs, the reply: “Start when you’re 15.” But then Ken recommended resources, such as the book The Singing Life of Birds and many online resources, as well as preserving your hearing. I’m happy I got to cross another experience off my SFI bucket list.”

~ Course host Terry Allaway