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Othello going to the birds

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | February 9, 2024 1:35 AM

OTHELLO — The 26th annual Sandhill Crane Festival will be held in Othello from March 22 to 24 with a series of lectures, tours, hikes and activities located at Othello Church of the Nazarene, McFarland Middle School and the surrounding area. 

Festival Committee Co-Chair Chris Braunwart said tickets, which were available starting Feb. 5, are selling very well and several activities are sold out. She said this year’s festival will likely be a bit larger than in 2023 and possibly back to pre-COVID attendance. 

“We always have new and different hikes and tours and speakers, and we try to get a few new people in each year,” Braunwart said. “We've tried to put in a few more hikes this year. People really enjoy the hikes, and they fill up really, really fast, and some of them are already sold out.”

Registration is available online at the festival website. All the tickets are digital, according to the website, which also features information on the various activities offered and guidelines for the event. 

Lectures, tours, and hike participants must purchase a General Admission Ticket for $10.00. Tours and hikes are mostly around $20 to $25, with some bus tours and boat tours ranging from $60 to $90, according to the event website. The website advised that attendees of tours and hikes should dress for cold or rainy weather.

The lectures will be held at the middle school on Friday night and most of the day Saturday, Braunwart said.

“We have a couple of speakers that have been with us almost since the beginning. Mike Denny does an incredibly good job, and he's just a bird lover with lots of enthusiasm. He will be back again this year. He does a neighborhood bird walk,” Braunwart said. “Dr. Gary Ivey has been with us virtually since the beginning, and he comes every year. He's with the International Crane Foundation and just has a wealth of knowledge about the cranes.”

A full itinerary of lectures can be found in the brochure on the festival website. 

“The other lectures, we go from wolves to turtles to bees; that's a new lecture this year, is the (Washington State University) bee research station,” Braunwart said. “This is the first year we've had them. Hopefully, next year we'll be able to actually go out to the station and have a tour out there … Then we have some incredible geology speakers.”

Braunwart said there will be a free lecture Friday at 7 p.m. by the WSU Raptor Club, featuring live birds. 

“I think we have a really outstanding lineup of speakers again,” Braunwart said. 

Children’s activities will be available Saturday in the middle school commons from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Other activities at the event will include hikes, bike tours, vendors and informational booths, concessions and food trucks, art events at Othello’s Old Hotel Museum and Art Gallery and more. 

“The Old Hotel is kind of our center of information. Because the cranes are here over a six-week period, and we have people coming all of March and into April to see the birds, it's not like they only come on the weekend at the festival,” Braunwart said. “So if (people) check in at the Old Hotel, they'll give out maps of where to see the birds and where we spotted them, talk about the ethics of viewing the birds and just give them the information that they need.”

Braunwart explained where the cranes might be found.

“Around town, they're going to be flying overhead. They day feed from about the time the sun comes up until maybe 10 (p.m.) out in the cornfields,” she said. “We do scouting ahead of the festival so that we have a good idea of where we're going to see cranes. We never guarantee that the tour will see a crane, but I don't know that we've ever had a tour that hasn't seen a crane.”

The birds roost at night at Scooteney Reservoir, Braunwart said. 

“If you go down to Scooteney, oh, a half an hour before sunset and stay until after sunset, maybe 10,000 cranes will fly in,” she said. “It's really a cool thing to see. This year, we're going to take two buses down to Scooteney Reservoir.”

Braunwart, who has been involved with the event for about 20 years, talked about how the festival is usually funded, including money from the lodging tax funds of both the city of Othello and Grant County, Big Bend Electric Cooperative’s nonprofit Caring Neighbors and Columbia Basin Health Association.

“We are nonprofit,” Braunwart said. “We do take donations and apply for grants, we get our (lodging) tax money, and we get a lot of donations from local businesses…we do have a lot of nice donors, which helps us to keep the prices reasonable.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.

Knowing the festival:

For more information on the event’s activities and itinerary and to register online, visit bit.ly/SandhillFestival2024. The event itself is anchored at multiple locations in Othello:


Othello Nazarene Church
835 S. 10th Ave., Othello

McFarland Middle School
790 S. 10th Ave., Othello

Old Hotel Art Gallery
33 Larch St., Othello


    Jay and Janice Berube, of Kettle Falls, scan the sky for birds during the 2022 Othello Sandhill Crane Festival. This year’s event will be held at both Othello Church of the Nazarene and McFarland Middle School.
 
 
    Sandhill cranes cross a field south of Othello in spring 2021. The birds are the focus of the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, which will take place from March 22 to 24. Event registration opened Feb. 5.
 
 
    Isaiah Zuniga works on a bird-themed craft during the 2023 Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, the festival’s 25th anniversary.