Kids activities, live owl programs, speakers, field trips, owl-themed vendors and more can be found at the International Festival of Owls in Houston, held the weekend of March 2 to 4. 
COURTESY INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF OWLS/©ALAN STANKEVITZ
Kids activities, live owl programs, speakers, field trips, owl-themed vendors and more can be found at the International Festival of Owls in Houston, held the weekend of March 2 to 4. COURTESY INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF OWLS/©ALAN STANKEVITZ

“Is a groundhog the same as a woodchuck?” No, not that.

“Well, I certainly hope spring comes early no matter what that animal did or didn’t see.” Nope, not that either, although I’m with you on that hope.

“You’re teasing us with a long, drawn-out opening.” Umm, there’s a kernel of truth there, but again, no.

“The International Festival of the Owl is roughly a month away and it’s time to get seriously planning.” Yes, yes, YES – that’s it!!

The weekend of March 2 to 4 sees the International Festival of Owls once more finding its perch in Houston, Minn. As you may know, naturalist Karla Bloem’s longtime love and study of owls, including her companion, Alice the Great Horned Owl, and Alice’s stint at the Houston Nature Center as well as in school and public programs, eventually led to the creation of the International Owl Center. Bloem is its executive director. The center is currently located at 126 East Cedar, right on Highway 16 in Houston.

The International Festival of Owls originally started as a “hatch-day” party for Alice in 2003. Alice is a permanently injured, human-imprinted owl who started her working career at the Houston Nature Center. She began working at the International Owl Center in 2015 and is now semi-retired. This event grew into the only full-weekend, all-owl festival in North America. The Owl Center is an outgrowth of the festival itself.

Not only is the International Festival of Owls great fun and educational (shh, don’t tell the kids that latter point), it’s also a fundraiser for the International Owl Center and the center’s biggest event of the year. Here’s an overview of the happenings.

The program Saturday night, March 3, includes a banquet, the World Owl Hall of Fame Awards, and a presentation by one of the award winners, Jonathan Haw of EcoSolutions in South Africa. A social hour begins at 6 p.m. with a meal and then program to follow. The events are held at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, 210 S Chase St. in Houston.

The menu sounds delish with beef tenderloin tips, Bluff Country twice-baked potato, fresh-roasted green beans almondine, Mesclun salad with raspberry vinaigrette, Ciabatta dinner roll, and sorbet. There’s a vegan entree option of vegan lasagna. Cost is $40 per person to attend the banquet and presentation ($35 for International Owl Center members). Cost is $50 per person if registering Feb. 26 or later for members or non-members. Limit of 150. Pre-registration is required for meal planning.

Registration details may be found online here, www.festivalofowls.com/registration.html. There are some discounts available for registering before Feb. 26.

Events

There are many, many activities and programs at the festival. Highlights of two needing reservations follow.

An Owl Prowl will be held at 8 p.m. Friday, March 2, leaving from the Houston High School (located at 306 West Elm and home of most festival events), following the live owl program. There will be buses for families or adults only. Pre-registration is required: $10 per non-member and $7 per member. There will be an expert owl caller aboard, to give you the experience of seeing and/or hearing wild owls. Keep in mind that these are wild owls and there are no guarantees. Moon phase, wind, cloud cover, precipitation, and more will likely affect the owls' response. I’ve done one of these in the past and highly recommend it, although keep in mind you do stand a lot (or take a stool along), it’s cold (dress warmly!) and you need to be quiet. www.festivalofowls.com/owl-prowl.html

A birding bus trip takes place Sunday, March 4, from 8:30 a.m. till 12:30 p.m. It leaves from the Houston Nature Center parking lot, at 215 West Plum Street. Get to know the birds, natural history, and the geology of the Houston area better on this Sunday morning bus trip. Scheduled to be on board are Dan Jackson, your birding guide, Tim Weisbrod, geologist, and lifelong Houston resident Brian Lee will highlight other natural history of the area. The trip concludes with a lunch at Carlson Roasting Company. The bus is not handicapped accessible and participants will get on and off the bus in multiple locations. Pre-registration required. Cost is $40 per person and includes the meal. If registering Feb. 26 or later the cost is $50 per person. Limit 40 people. /www.festivalofowls.com/birding-bus-trip.html

And remember, there are lots of other things to see and do! www.festivalofowls.com/schedule.html

As both the event poster and website – www.festivalofowls.com –  make abundantly clear, Saturday is by far the busiest day. People are encouraged to attend on Friday or Sunday, if at all possible.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for about 15 years.