Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival


Summer Tanager

Just like most hobbies, birding has an entire infrastructure around it that consists of things like magazines, discussion boards, social and scientific groups, conferences, and festivals. Birding festivals are a big deal in the U.S. – you can find them in most states and they are another source of tourist income for a town/city/county.  Location-specific festivals bring birders together for viewing, educational, and social purposes.  Last month my friend from Illinois and I attended the 16th annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, and it was an experience I would definitely recommend.

Exactly what happens at a birding festival? The biggest draw, as you might imagine, is to identify and watch birds and preferably find a “lifer” or two or more.  “Lifer” or “life bird” are terms used by birders for a bird seen (or sometimes heard) for the very first time in the wild. In my case, I had seven life birds during this festival, which was great considering I already spend so much time in Arizona either south or north of the festival area centered around Cottonwood and Prescott.  We went on four six-hour field trips, each starting at 7 a.m. in the morning, with each having a driver for transporting groups of about 15 people to and from the birding site.  Each group also had a guide, who typically was a very experienced amateur birder who helped us locate and identify the birds.  These field trips took us from the Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which was the central meeting and exhibit location, to Page Springs Fish Hatchery, the Rocking River Ranch outside of Camp Verde, Mingus Mountain, and on a canoe trip on the Verde River.  My canoe guide was a young woman who is a financial planner by day, outdoor enthusiast on weekends.

We also attended several afternoon lectures complete with PowerPoint slides: How to Identify Warblers, How to Identify Flycatchers, Birding by Ear, and Night Birds Workshop.  Early evening and into one of the nights we went trekking with flashlights to find owls and nighthawks and ended up at a nice restaurant for a group dinner and beverages in the heart of Cottonwood.  We did get some friendly stares from people watching 12 of us in hiking boots carrying tripods, spotting scopes, and binoculars as we walked through part of Cottonwood into a sports bar on a Saturday evening.

Who attends these festivals? Honestly, people from all over the country and sometimes from other countries.  For example, we met an avid woman birder from remote Alaska who chose this festival because it also got her a break from the cold weather.  We met a couple from Alabama who had never seen a Roadrunner before and were going to head to Tucson afterwards in search of desert birds.  Some of the guides were retired teachers, and others were in the bird “business” – one guide was starting up bird touring company out of Flagstaff that will focus on the Sedona tourist market.

My two favorite lifers were the Summer Tanager and the Lark Sparrow. The former because it is such a bright red and the latter because it is a distinctively marked sparrow we found while just sitting/resting at the bird feeders stationed around the Dead Horse Ranch festival area.  In Munds Park we have the Western Tanager (red/yellow/black).

The workshops and lectures were very helpful because they made me think about upping my game when I try to identify a bird by its call or song, or paying more attention to the bird’s structure and markings to make identification easier. The folks at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival were all volunteers. The festival ran like clock-work, and you could not find a nicer group of people to associate with.  If you have any interest in attending birding festivals but don’t know how to start, you can go online to www.birdwatcherdigest.com and use the festival search function.  My next stop is Ireland (golf and birding), and then I will be staying put in Munds Park for the summer.  I hope while I’m gone some of you will e-mail me and let me know what you are seeing here in our own back yards.

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