The event is largely centered around birds, but Ingrid Gaston was all smiles after seeing her first turtle in the wild in California.

Gaston was on the "Birds of the Black Swan Diggins," one of many tours and workshops offered during the third annual California Swan Festival on Saturday and today.

"I like being outdoors, and I like learning about things in nature and the environment," said Gaston, who was well-prepared for the morning hike with her small backpack and trekking poles. "I like identifying birds and plants, plus the exercise and breathing the fresh air."

Gaston, a Yuba City resident, has participated in all three years of the California Swan Festival.

"It was my first time seeing a turtle in the wild in California," said Gaston. "Turtles happen to be my favorite animal."

Aside from spotting some western pond turtles, Kristen Hein Strohm had her ears perked up listening for the slightest auditory note that would tell her which bird was nearby.

"My ears are always on, and I always start by listening for the sounds of birds," said Hein Strohm, wildlife biologist with the Sierra Streams Institute and Bear River Watershed program manager. "I can be looking in one direction, but I can hear in 360 degrees."

Hein Strohm, one of the leaders of the trip, wore bird earrings and spoke in a gentile voice. She actively listens for birds — not simply to identify the species but to determine the meaning behind the sounds.

"To inspire people to appreciate nature and to take action to protect it," said Hein Strohm, of why she leads hikes. "It's about giving and receiving."

Brian Bisnett, who purchased the land near Mooney Flat Road in 2008, knows about giving and receiving.

Bisnett parceled and sold some of the land privately before selling 50 acres to the Bear Yuba Land Trust and 100 acres to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It's known as the Black Swan Preserve.

"What was once of the most devastated landscapes from hydraulic mining, not only the river and the valley here but the farmlands in Marysville and below, is now one of the most varied, resource-rich and beautiful landscapes that I've ever encountered," said Bisnett, a Nevada City resident.

Bisnett stood at the bottom of the Black Swan Pond, partially covered with swaths of green duckweed, and looked up at the roughly 200-foot sheer cliff created from hydraulic mining more than 100 years ago.

"This tells me a very moving story about the Earth's ability to heal itself, if just left to its own devices," said Bisnett, who also owns the nearby Blue Point, another former mining area closer to Smartsville. "The goal here is to conserve and permanently protect as much of the property as we can."

Bisnett said it's also an impressive historic study of what the miners were able to accomplish.

"The miners were destructive, but their ingenuity and energy were breathtaking," said Bisnett. "The fact that they were able to bring water 23 miles from Nevada City here in incredible."

Bisnett said the long-term intention is to connect other nearby open spaces like Blue Point, the U.C. Field Station and the Spenceville Wildlife Area.

"We're at the nexus of one of the great potential open spaces in California," said Bisnett, who added the diversity of recreation such a large open space would be a big benefit to Yuba County.

The two-mile hike within the Black Swan Preserve is a series of switchbacks gently climbing to an overview of the pond and then meandering along ditches that were part of the century old hydraulic mining operation before descending to the pond and back to the parking area.

The Bear Yuba Land Trust was instrumental in the creation of the trail, which is open to the public and was completed in the spring of 2014.

CONTACT Chris Kaufman at 749-4794. Find him on Facebook at ADPhotoTeam or on Twitter at @AD_PhotoTeam.

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