Big birder

Meet a Bay Area bird-watching guru
Rachel Levin

The rufous-sided towhee he spotted through a stranger's scope in Big Basin State Park back in college was what really got Les Chibana going. Now, more than 35 years later, the self-proclaimed "bird nut" and creator of the playful website www.birdnutz.com still gets excited when he talks about his very first sighting. "He had a black hood, white spots on his wings, reddish-brown sides, and these deep red eyes ... I was just knocked over!"

Since then, Chibana has taught birding classes, photographed birdlife, and led all kinds of bird-watching outings and trips. A graphic designer by trade, he also recently produced "Birding the San Francisco Bay Trail," a guide published in August. With maps outlining the richest concentrations of birdlife from Alviso to Petaluma, the free flyer aims to make birding more accessible to the wildlife-loving masses ― and inspire people to get out and explore the 270-mile-long Bay Trail running through their backyard. In winter, Chibana says, you can see up to thousands of birds, from long-necked snowy egrets to red knots, which are small gray birds.

As both his guide and his website suggest, birding is for everybody. "Sure, you get people who are really good at it, competitive," he laughs, but adds that his students are mostly regular people in their 30s through 60s. Indeed, some of the best birding can come from the most common experiences. "Catch even your basic rock pigeon in the right sunlight, and it just glows."

INFO Visit www.birdnutz.com for information on classes; to order a copy of "Birding the San Francisco Bay Trail," call 408/946-6548. Birding walks offered by the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory the second weekend of each month ($10).