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Get ready to wing it
Bird-watching bonanza set for this weekend at Unicoi State Park
Charlie Muise conducts a bird banding demonstration at Unicoi State Park. He will be speaking on the topic and offering a demo from 3-5 p.m. April 29 and 8-10 a.m. April 30 at next weekend's Georgia Mountain BirdFest.

Georgia Mountain BirdFest

When: April 28-May 1

Where: Unicoi State Park & Lodge, 2 miles northeast of Helen on Ga. 356

Cost: $110 for all four days, many Saturday events free and open to public; $5 parking; lodge room rates $59, cottages $105-$150, campsites $25-$53

More info: 706-878-2201 ext. 305

This weekend's Georgia Mountain BirdFest is shaping up to be the Woodstock of bird watching.

The four-day event runs April 28 through May 1 at Unicoi State Park north of Helen, and offers a little bit of everything for birders.

The festival will include more than 60 field trips, seminars and hands-on activities for bird lovers of all levels, beginner to expert.

Ellen Graham, Unicoi's director of programming, says the park has held bird walks before but never with this many events included.

"This is the first time we've done a birding event to this scale," she said. "This is more like a conference over several days."

Guest speakers will include ornithologist Marshall Iliff of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Giff Beaton, author of "Birding Georgia." Numerous other experts will lead discussions on various species and aspects of bird watching.

More than 20 guided field trips will be offered to locations such as Smithgall Woods, Ivy Log Gap Road, Brasstown Bald, Anna Ruby Falls, Sosebee Cove and Buck Shoals, which is usually restricted.

Seminar topics will cover bats and butterflies as well as birds. Among other planned topics are Binoculars 101, Warbler Identification, Bat Conservation in Georgia, Nature Photography, Tree Identification and Birding by Ear.

On Saturday, April 30, several events will be open to the public, including guided bird walks, crafts and hayrides, many of them free. A full schedule of events is available at the event's website.

Interest in bird-watching continues to grow. It is inexpensive, easily accessible to everyone and a fun way to connect with nature.

"Many publications have noted that birding is one of the fastest-growing hobbies," Graham said.

Graham said the BirdFest already has attracted interest from bird lovers far and wide, with attendees from eight states already signed up, including some from Washington state. Her hope is that a successful festival will lead to an even bigger event in years to come.

"There's a lot going on in the birding community in Georgia in the spring, but nothing we've found in this region at this scale open to the public," Graham said. "We feel there is room to grow in future years."

Plenty of spots remain for birders looking to sign up, she said. Lodge rooms, cottages and campsites are available at the park for those seeking to stay over.

Unicoi includes more than 1,050 acres of forest, streams and a lake, with eight miles of hiking trails.

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