Let’s go birding<br><i>Festival celebrates the joy of birdwatching</i>

Courtesy George Andrejko, AGFD

THE MAJESTIC bald eagle makes the Verde Valley its home.

Two years ago, festival coordinator Barbie Hart said they tracked a total of 171 species in three days — making this fourth-year event a featured draw for bird watchers around the United States.

From April 22-25 at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, birding enthusiasts and lovers of the outdoors spanning both coasts will convene for an event that continues to grow in popularity.

“We have a diversity of habitats in a centrally located area,” Hart said of the Verde Valley and north-central Arizona. “We want to let people know what the natural resources are here.”

Although the festival breaks even and garners no profit for its operators, it’s been a boon to the local economy in Cottonwood. This area and Yuma have earned a reputation for wildlife watching, although birding has expanded across Arizona in recent years.

“There are already talks of expanding, and we may add more days on to this festival,” Hart said.

The event here relies on volunteers to donate their time for instruction and guided tours.

On the festival’s opening night, award-winning naturalist writer Craig Childs — who holds a master’s degree in desert studies from Prescott College — will be the keynote speaker at a special reception and raffle.

Childs, who has penned a number of award-winning books on the Grand Canyon and desert ecology, will speak at Mingus High School the evening of the 22nd. Admission to the engagement is $25 per person, and tickets are available through the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce.

On April 23, students from local schools will visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park to participate in a number of nature activities. Leading up to the event, area pupils can enter an essay contest in which the winners earn binoculars and a field trip to the birding festival.

Later this month, on March 27, educators will be offered a birding curriculum workshop. (For further information about this, call festival organizers at 928-282-2202.)

Above all, the festival has become well known for its short daily field trips, ones that explore everything from rock hounding to wildlife watching to the history of geological rock formations in north-central Arizona.

For the second straight year Paul Lindberg, a professional geologist in Sedona who studies mineral deposits, will lead the “Red Rock Geology Field Trip” April 23-25 at a cost of $25 per person.

Lindberg packs participants into a 12-passenger van each day at the festival and drives across the Verde Valley (near Jerome) to Sedona. Holding a small microphone while in the vehicle, Lindberg discusses various aspects of the area’s local geology, complete with a view of the Mogollon Rim.

The trip totals 60 miles and takes half of a day to complete. Lindberg takes care to explain that the red rocks around Sedona are hundreds of millions of years old and gives a running commentary of the region’s mining record.

“It’s a basic discussion, but it shows a lot of scenery,” Lindberg said.

To find out more about the birding festival, visit its Web site at http://www.birdyverde.org or call (928) 634-8437 for a registration packet.

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