"Birds are everywhere," says Roger Radd of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society. "The investment is low: binoculars, a book, you don't need special clothes, or team members or rule books."
But a field trip or two during the birding festival will bring you closer than ever to viewing "specialties."
"Common Black-Hawk, Zone-Tailed Hawk, Olive Warbler, and several others are found only here and in a few places in Southeast Arizona," says Radd. "So a birder on a quest for new birds must come here to see them."
On Friday, the festival offers a turn around trip to Perkinsville on the Verde Canyon Railroad. "Black Hawks and Bald Eagles nest in the canyon and often greet the train," says Hart. "…The train will turn around in Perkinsville near the site of a large Heron rookery." Naturalist Randy Miller will be on board providing information about the natural and man made features of the tour. One of the most popular field trips during the festival, Hart recommends early reservations due to the bargain price of just $25 with registration.
To learn more about the ecological diversity of the Verde Valley, birders can participate in a geology tour by Geologist Paul Lindberg Friday afternoon. The expedition winds through Oak Creek Canyon to the edge of the Mogollon Rim providing participants an opportunity to learn more about the areas diverse terrain and climatology.
"The mix of climatic factors means some 'Mexican' species reach their most northerly range extent in North America right here," says Radd.
Return to the Canyon on Saturday for a visit with volunteer naturalists at Red Rock State Park and visit a popular summer destination, Slide Rock State Park. "The change of elevation provides varying habitats for different species," explains Hart. "Birds to look for include the Black Hawk, Dipper, Bridled Titmouse, Canyon Wren and Painted Redstarts." And according to Radd, birders must typically trek to high altitude rushing streams to get a glimpse of the American Dipper.
Birders can also enjoy the higher altitude of Flagstaff where they can view shore birds along with a stop at the Kachina Wetlands and the San Francisco Peaks. "Kachina Wetlands is a small-town plant that hosts bird lists of at least 150 bird species," says Radd adding, "The Peaks, of course, are a terrific example of Northern Arizona biotic diversity." Listers may get a chance to dot down such species as the Three-toed Woodpecker, Clarks' Nutcracker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Wild Turkey, white faced ibis, Pinyon jays, Clark's nutcracker, Dusty Flycatcher and the Lewis' Woodpecker.
Saturday's options also include a trip to Page Springs on the banks of Oak Creek where the riparian habitat of the Sonoran and Upper Sonoran provides one of the densest breeding habitats in the world.
Or if a forest of Ponderosa Pine is more to participants' liking a field trip up to Mingus Mountain will provide birders an environment for viewing the Gray Flycatcher, Greater Peewee, Olive Warbler and the Western Warbler.
And if a trip to the Verde Valley isn't complete without a mount, some bird enthusiasts will be eager for A Birding on a Bronco, a field trip inspired by Florence Merriam Bailey, a pioneering naturalist. Riders will travel by horseback along the banks of Beaver Creek and have a chance to discover such species as the Oriole, Tanagers and Verdins.
Ending the three-day festival is an all day trip to the Vermilion Cliffs to view the California Condor. "California Condors are nine feet across wings two feet broad," says Radd. "Even if you aren't into birds they impress by sheer size alone." Participants will travel up to the Mogollon Rim onto the Colorado Plateau along the base of the San Francisco Peaks and across the Painted Desert landscape of the Navajo Reservation. "Naturalist Randy Miller will be along to narrate the natural and geologic landscape," says Hart. "Chris Parish from the Peregrine Fund will be your host for the Condor viewing."
Also on the festival's Sunday itinerary is an all day excursion to Prescott where avian delights abound due to the Cottonwood and Willows at Watson Lake. "During spring migration (now through may) will be especially verdant and birdant!" says Radd.
Finally to witness our cultural history as a backdrop for an abundance bird life, the trip to Montezuma Well is one not one to miss. With cliff dwellings, water and a picnic area it's a great place to bring the kids for the day.
The Verde Valley Birding Festival was born from Barbie Hart's proposal to the Tourism Committee of the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce. As a result of interest shown from the Northern Arizona Audubon Society and Arizona State Parks, organizers hope for a greater understanding of the importance of habitat preservation.
When you become a birder, says Von Gausig, "You have a tiny sense of what Native Americans must of felt back then. To be really in touch with what's going on around them. You get a sense of unity about the whole thing.