WALNUT CREEK -- The third annual Bay Area Science Festival is taking its first giant step into Contra Costa County, with the Lindsay Wildlife Museum hosting three separate programs -- "Not-so-Scary Animals for Halloween" (Oct. 26, 27, 30, 31), "Hands-On Sun Science" (Oct. 27), and a "Mini Monday, Animals of the Night" for scientists age 2-5 and their parents (Oct. 28).
The festival is a science-saturated 10 days filled with Open Labs, Nerd Nights, Apocalyptic Parties, "The Moth" Storytelling and farmers market tours supported by area scientific, cultural and educational institutions.
It all culminates in Discovery Days. Last year, more than 30,000 people participated in the free daylong programs at AT&T Park, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Cal State East Bay.
And while folks have been jamming into labs and lectures west of the Caldecott Tunnel for the past two years, people in the eastern counties have been left waiting for the wealth to spread.
"It just wasn't on the radar over here," said Melissa Strongman, Lindsay's director of education. "Next year, I think there will be more activities here. It's just a matter of finding someone with the passion to pull it all together."
Strongman joined the museum in the spring after 25 years in the Napa Valley public schools.
"Doing collaborative work was a huge part of my experience there," Strongman said. "And science practically begs for teamwork."
Strongman rattled off a list of organizations she hopes will jump in the pool next time: Delta Science Center, The Gardens at Heather Farms, Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation, Bancroft Garden, Blackhawk Museum, Saint Mary's College, Diablo Valley College and others.
"The whole idea is to get your inner scientist unleashed," she said. "We all have natural curiosity about how things work. The festival's an opportunity to explore those questions as a family. It's not about the Lindsay; it's about science across the entire world."
But science has to start somewhere, and for kids to be interested, it often starts with touch. Hands-on transformation occurs every time a kid peeks under a rock or guts a fish. Careers are launched by cloudless, late-night hikes or a teen with a smartphone deciding to design an app.
At the Lindsay, Strongman often watches visitors walk into the museum and gasp.
"They assume the raptors we have are stuffed. But when the owl up above them moves, that real encounter is meaningful. It's then that we can have valuable conversations about keeping wildlife safe."
The not-so-scary festival activity days will include animals like bats, owls, spiders, snakes and vultures. Strongman called them "animal ambassadors" and said they'd be the hardest-working members in the museum.
Kids can get up close and personal with animals as teens involved in a special training program explain the animals' proper feeding and care needs.
"They'll be able to touch the 'touchables,' " Strongman said, "just not the tarantulas."
Special natural history displays will reveal more wonders of the natural world, like the number of mice found in a barn owl nest box ("Almost 50!" Strongman exclaimed) and why nocturnals break curfew and stay out and up all night. Mythbusting will be big, with animal trainers separating wildlife fact from wildly imagined fiction.
The second featured event, "Explore the Sun," is a joint production with the Mount Diablo Astronomical Society. Solar telescopes will be set up near the old pump house in Larkey Park, next to the museum.
"They'll be helping kids see sun spots and talking about using the sun for tracking and navigation," Strongman explained. "If it's pouring rain, they won't be there, but otherwise, it's another opportunity to put curious minds into action."
If gazing at Earth's star isn't dazzling enough, Bee Dancing lessons for wiggly wee ones will be an option. The "Hive Alive!" exhibit teaches how bees signal each other by "dancing" and why the sun is their compass.