Moving Forward: The 2023 Morro Bay Bird Festival

Written by Judy Salamacha

January 13, 2023

Morro Bay Bird Festival Board members Robbie and Bob Revel invite everyone to mix and mingle with approximately 900 birders on Friday evening 5-6:30 at the Morro Bay Bird Festival Bazaar, the opening night for a mega-weekend of birding activities during the 2023 Morro Bay Bird Festival.

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Big Year” with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. The three criss-cross North America in a quest to count more species of birds than anyone else. I watch it at least once a year. The LOL movie could easily have been filmed on the Central Coast. We have the perfect venue. Each year the Morro Coast Audubon Society has volunteers counting birds in December as part of a national registry.

Our Estero Bay hosts multiple species of birds all year long, but even more during the bird’s migration on the Pacific Flyway. And San Luis Obispo County and Visit Morro Bay grants funds to help to produce the Morro Bay Bird Festival ( each Martin Luther King celebration weekend – this year January 13-16.

This festival started in 1997 and has always been a strong collaborative effort among the Morro Coast Audubon Society, CA State Parks, the Central Coast Natural History Museum, Friends of the Estuary, Small Wilderness Area Preservation, and Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. Until 2022 a committee within the Morro Coast Audubon Society organized the events, but like most events that were produced on the Central Coast, 2020-22 was without the Morro Bay Bird Festival. It is back better than even in 2023 under independent leadership.   

During 2020 a small group of previous committee members decided to reorganize and become its own nonprofit. Paperwork and protocols in place the nonprofit status was approved this past spring. In anticipation, the core committee – now the six-person board of directors chaired by Jeanette Stone — moved forward to plan the 2023 Morro Bay Bird Festival. Her board includes Chris Cameron, Morgan Nolan, Wendi Craig, and Bob and Robbie Revel. Past workshop leaders and volunteers stepped up to create this year’s comeback 2023 edition.

“I think it was pent up demand waiting for another bird festival,” said Bob Revel on December 26 when we met for this interview. “Out of 3000-plus spaces available- there are currently less than 100 spots available for a variety of activities. We have already broken records for the most registrants ever with 875 already registered.”

The festival offers 160 activities including field trips, presentations, and special events with 100-plus leaders. “There are registrants from 25 states in the USA plus Brazil and Canada, so far,” Bob added.

Robbie Revel has been all over the Estero Bay with flyers for restaurant owners encouraging them to offer welcoming discount incentives to attract the birders to stay in the Estero Bay for their breakfast, lunch and dinner plans.

She added her thoughts about their successful registration for 2023. “David Sibley is our keynote presenter on Saturday evening at the Cuesta College Performing Arts Center. Then we have John Dunn and Richard Crossley offering master classes. They are experts in their fields. These events are all day immersions in a particular subject. Sibley will be teaching a master class and leading several field trips. These men are all well-known ornithologists and authors of numerous bird books and identification books. It’s like winning the trifecta to have all three of them here for the festival this year.”

Robbie also suggested if anyone is interested, but not yet registered, “Check in often for cancellations which are posted on the website. Come to our headquarters at the Morro Bay Community Center each day during the festival to check for last minute cancellations that often happen.”

Several years ago, Robbie and Bob learned never to leave their home without binoculars. They do not claim to be over the top birders, however, they have developed a keen interest and knowledge they love to share with others.

They met and married while growing up and schooling in Georgia. They both loved the outdoors. She became a science teacher that eventually created a partnership business that offered teachers opportunities to learn new methods to teach science in the classroom. He climbed the corporate ladder within a burgeoning aerospace industry until it downsized. He reinvented himself using the IT skills he had developed during his career.

His career brought them to California, but it was an extended studies course offered by UCLA she had signed them both up for that launched their love of birding. While on tour in Owens Valley near Bishop they saw raptors on poles and other species. But it was the trumpeter swans that became the “aha” moment in time and cemented their future birding activities.

Bob explained, “These swans became agitated. They were calling and calling. A group gathered on the lake and suddenly the group took off together – up into the air the entire group went corkscrew-like. We had witnessed their call to gather for the start of their migration. We were hooked.”

Robbie added, “Now all our vacations, sporting events, activities always include birding.”

Back in the 1970s they started visiting Morro Bay. “We had read story in the AAA Magazine,” Bob said. “There was this town with a bay and a big rock.”

It became their home away from home to visit. They eventually bought their home in Los Osos in 2009. Robbie and Bob began to lead bird walks for the Natural History Museum until COVID when tours and events were interrupted. They then joined the Audubon group to offer their bird walks. They were on the festival committee for years and became one of the committee members and board members that would produce the 2023 festival. Their goal is to continue to build the volunteer core and grow the festival even bigger in 2024 and beyond.

Based on his IT skills, Bob’s focus since 2020 was to create a festival- tracking App for registrants. Robbie suggested they call it “Bobolink” with the purpose “to bring our birders online. Registrants can navigate their total festival experience.” On their smart phones, registrants receive the events they have pre-paid for, can sign up for more, plus learn what’s included, time, mapped directions to meet-up, their leaders name, and even a listing of attendees participating.        

The 2023 Festival has 160 events including field trips, workshops, presentations, master classes and special events. All-day and half-day trips take participants to a wide variety of habitats, including deep-water pelagic, oak woodland and riparian, wetland and estuary, and the unique grassland habitat of the Carrizo Plain. Workshops cover a vast array of topics ranging from beginner birding classes to gull identification and a new workshop on bats. Many are geared for photographers, children and are wheelchair accessible.

On opening night everyone, including non-registrants, are invited to the Morro Bay Community Center Friday, January 13 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wine and cheese will be offered plus everyone is encouraged to meet and mingle with fellow birders and visitors to Morro Bay at the Bird Festival Bazaar. Vendor booths featuring optics, books, music, nature art & photography, woodcarvings, jewelry, educational exhibits, and more.

Keynote David Sibley will be available to sign his book, “What It’s Like to Be a Bird.” And as the Community Center is the event headquarters, it will be open for all during the 3-day weekend festival with videos running representing the festivals over the past 25 year.


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