Staff photo by Paula Blankenship
Resident birder Michael Durgain eyes the skies at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, the site of this year's Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival April 26-28.
Find out why at the Second Annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival this weekend at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood.
From leisurely walks through local riparian hot spots to late night owl prowls and power birding, the weekend festival is an opportunity to expand a backyard hobby to an outdoor adventure.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service birding is the fastest growing outdoor activity in the nation. And the Verde Valley, says resident birder Doug Von Gausig, is an ideal location for a birding festival because of its habitat diversity.
"What you want in a birding festival is lots of different birds," he explains, noting that the festival's day trips give participants opportunities to explore the red rocks of Sedona, marsh grasslands, and the surrounding foothills.
Common black hawks and zone-tailed hawks, olive warblers, bald eagles, bridled titmouse, canyon wren and painted redstarts are just a few examples of why even beginning ornithologists love coming to the Verde Valley.
"I'm very excited about the additional participation from all over the country," says Von Gausig. "The word has gotten out."
Starting Friday with bike tours and train rides to leisurely walks and geology expeditions, birders have an endless choice of destinations throughout the weekend including jaunts to nearby Mingus Mountain, Oak Creek Canyon and as far north as Flagstaff.
During last year's festival, bird watchers took to the trails into Gaddes Canyon on Mingus Mountain with local birder Gary Romig who says he loves the festival because "its a celebration of spring with other people with the same interest."
Families with young adventurers can kick off with the basics at Kids Stuff on Saturday with a guided two-hour children's stroll at 8 a.m. followed by a morning of exhibits and a myriad of presentations by naturalists.
"Just like people come in to see the diversity of birds in Arizona, many people are interested in the reptiles," says David Boyd of Arizona Game and Fish, who includes information on venomous and non-venomous Arizona natives.
Find Boyd in the exhibition tent near the mountain and common king snakes, the Gila monster and the gopher snake.
"The misconception is snakes are slimy," he says.
Kids can feel for themselves.
Also on display during Saturday's exhibit are a variety of hawks, a turkey vulture, screech and great-horned owl courtesy of the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center.
Saturday field trips options include a Cadillac Canoe Brunch and birding on horseback, even rock hounding.
For members of the Mingus Gem and Mineral Club the act of discovery is reward in itself.
"People are amazed at what they can find," said Leonard Secklin, who will lead this year's field trip to the Camp Verde Salt Mine. "They've seen rocks in shops but never have been exposed to it in the field."
The salt mine features glauberite, a sought after mineral in a crystalline formation as well as other specimens many have only enjoyed from behind glass. "Sometimes you pay a lot of money for rock that's just available for the pickings."
Finalizing the Saturday bird-a-thon, visitors are encouraged to pocket their guides and maybe some change for the banquet at Cliff Castle Casino Lodge in Camp Verde featuring music by Ken and Lynne Mikell and a presentation by raptor expert Richard L. Glinski.
"This part of Arizona has a rich history," Glinski says, noting the first Arizona sighting of a peregrine falcon in Camp Verde in the late 1800s. With its varied ecosystems, he says the Verde Valley has aided researchers in their conservation efforts for many birds of prey.
His presentation titled "Arizona Raptors: Ecological Significance and Conservation Successes" will give attendees a glimpse of area species like the black hawk, and the golden and bald eagle.
"What's good for raptors is good for people," says Glinski, who believes the ecological balance and environmental health of an area is traceable through the study and conservation of native species.
For $25, visitors can enjoy a banquet at the Casino, entertainment and shuttle service to and from the Lodge and park. Glinski's book, Raptors of Arizona will be available at a discount during Saturday night's presentation.
Returning to Dead Horse Ranch State Park on Sunday, birders can choose from field trips including a trip to Grand Canyon National Park for an exciting Condor Caper or join Carl Tomoff, a professor of environmental studies at Prescott College for a birding adventure through a variety of ecosystems.
The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival has a $10 registration fee that includes visits to the festival for all three days. Field trips range from free to $60 and fill up fast. Kids Stuff can be enjoyed as a separate event for the price of the entrance fee to the park. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood. To reach the park entrance, take Main Street to 10th Street and continue past the bridge over the Verde River. Park entrance fee is $4 per vehicle, four-person maximum. Group camping is available for festival participants.
For more information visit the web at birdyverde.org or call the VVBF Office at 634-8437. Dead Horse Ranch State Park can be reached by calling 634-5283.
If You Go:
What: The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival
When: April 26-28
Where: Dead Horse Ranch State Park
How Much: $10 registration fee