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Ozarks musician among Winter Wings presenters

KLAMATH FALLS — “Something a little different” will take flight at the upcoming Winter Wings Festival.

Jenn Hajj will feature songs about birds during her keynote presentation, “Gifts of the Sky,” Friday, Feb. 17. Her program will run from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. in the Oregon Tech College Union Auditorium in Klamath Falls. It will follow a buffet dinner at 6 p.m., also in the College Union Complex.

“Birds inspire us,” says Hajj. “We are enthralled by their colors and variety. We prick up our ears at their sounds. We wish to join them in the air, and we dream of their journeys. We laugh at their antics.”

Hajj will offer her thoughts about birds in words and song. She says her program will feature her original music, which reflects her love and fascination with a wide variety of birds, to “celebrate the beauty of birds.”

Earlier the same day Hajj will lead a workshop, titled “Identifying Perched Winter Raptors,” where her goal is to break down distinct marks and characteristics of various raptors “as simply as possible.” She’ll also use natural history stories to help explain the various adaptations of raptors. Participants will be provided with notebooks “where you can record all of the characteristics you learn.” The program, which costs $15, is limited to 20 participants and will run from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the College Union.

Hajj grew up in Arizona fascinated by birds, insects and lizards, an environment that “allowed me to be interested in things around me.” She began taking piano lessons as a first grader, learned to play the guitar in junior high, sang in choirs and wrote her own music.

“I guess I was raised to try new things, to not be afraid of things that look interesting.” Oddly, Hajj says her “love of birds might be related to dragons,” citing an early interest in books that featured dragons by writers like Anne McCaffrey and her “Dragonriders of Pern” and Piers Anthony science fiction tales.

Hajj and her family moved to Utah during her high school years, where Hajj later earned a degree in biology at Westminister College and “started my career with birds.” She worked in things like analytical chemistry, joined the circus as a performing songwriter and had bird education-related jobs for Tracy Aviary, HawkWatch International, Great Salt Lake Audubon and Miami University.

After moving to California nearly a decade ago, Hajj was having coffee in a cafe when a woman walked by and noticed her binoculars. Figuring she must be a birder, the woman stopped, chatted and joined Hajj. The woman worked for San Diego Audubon, and the conversation eventually led to Hajj being hired as coordinator for the San Diego Bird Festival, which this year happens a week after Winter Wings.

Hajj currently lives in the Ozarks, in Mountainburg, Arkansas, described as a “sleepy community” of about 520 people with a city park that features two large dinosaur models.

Hajj’s interest in music has been part of her life and work. Influenced by singers like Joni Mitchell, Hajj has performed in festivals in the United States and Europe.

Her “really heavy on the music” Winter Wings keynote talk will feature songs and stories celebrating her love of birds she says are “born out of my love and the intrinsic value of birds.” Hajj promises it will include “some silly singalong songs about birds of prey, which I’ll teach to everybody … It’ll be a little eclectic.”

Variety, strong interest for annual festival

A range of field trips and workshops will open the annual Winter Wings Festival Friday, Feb. 17. Unless indicated, activities will be held or meet up at the Oregon Tech College Union while field trips are planned throughout the Klamath Basin.

The Feb. 17 morning programs include a “Wildlife Photography Camera Basics” workshop with Jeremy Neipp from 7 a.m. to noon at the Favell Museum; “Photo Foray With Ray (Hennessy)” from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.; “Introduction to Techniques for Sketching Birds in the Field” with Christine Elder from 8 a.m. to noon; “Morning at Miller Island” with Elijah Hayes from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; “Human Impacts on Klamath Basin Wetlands” by Todd Kepple from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; “Birds and Bronzes” with Stefan Savides and Joe Miller from 9 to 11:30 a.m.; “Running Y Feeder Hop” with Darrel Samuels and Tom Essex from 9 a.m. to noon; and “Identifying Perched Winter Raptors” with Jen Hajj from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Afternoon programs include “Wetlands: The Key to a Wetter Future” with John Vandenburg from 12:45 to 2 p.m.; “The Klamath River Dams are Coming Out!” with Mark Branson from 2:15 to 3 p.m.; “Major Landscape Restoration is in Store for Klamath and Siskiyou Counties” with Dave Coffman and Ken Sanchez from 3:15 to p.m.; “Klamath Drainage District Fighting Over Water is for the Birds” with Scott White from 4:15 to 5 p.m.; and “Audubon Advocates for Klamath Basin Birds” with Darrel Samuels from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m.

Interest in the festival, which runs through Feb. 20, is flying high.

Organizers report several workshops and field trips are nearly or totally full with more than 220 people already registered. So far 91 people from Oregon, not including 66 from Klamath Falls, have registered for various events. Registrants from other states include 40 from California, 11 from Washington, two each from Virginia and Michigan and one each from Idaho, Nevada, Arkansas and Alabama.

Nearly full programs include “Bird-Friendly Farms of the Klamath Basin,” “Running Y Feeder Hop” and “Admiring and Aging Bald and Golden Eagles in the Field.”

For more information on Winter Wings and to register, see winterwingsfest.org.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.