Four years ago, my husband and I bought a cabin on the edge of the Verde River. It was run down, but we loved the surprises that the property brought every day. The first week there, we saw a blue heron. Then, a big black bird left a mysterious feather on the bank. After that, one of the large Cottonwood trees went down, was stripped of its bark and leaves overnight, and left as a downed log.
Just one week and I knew I had to embrace the saying “we are not owners of the land, but rather only temporary caretakers.”
The downed Cottonwood inspired me to research the story of the beaver in the Verde Valley -- learning how building their dams makes the river ebb and turn, slowing down the water and making our valley green. Next, I learned how trappers and hunters had eliminated the beaver, and how Arizona Fish and Game had (long ago) restored the beaver to the valley, helping to bring back the greenery we know today.
I feel lucky to live where beaver live, so I decided to do what I could to make the landscape better. I removed all the Tamarisk, and helped my neighbors to do the same. We cleaned up all the litter and debris, eliminated lights along the river (returning night to the creatures), and let the banks grow wild with native plants that butterflies and fireflies love.
Loving birds, I placed out a seed feeder and a hummingbird feeder. Both were immediately emptied and we saw birds galore! By watching them, I learned that we have a resident cardinal, and that a hummingbird can stay on its two-egg nest in gale force wind -- bouncing like a rough rider on a rodeo bronc. I also learned that ravens call out to their nearby family when their nest is in trouble.
But with all this nature around us, I still couldn’t find out which bird left that large black feather. I went to the forest service, I asked at Montezuma castle, but no one could tell me. Finally, I registered for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival and walked with fellow birders along the banks of the Verde downstream of our cabin.
While on that walk, we spied a nesting pair of Common Black Hawks. It turns out that they are not so common and only come north to Arizona in spring, often nesting along the banks of the Verde River. What a thrill to learn about all the birds that use the Verde as a stopover on their norther migration!
The following year, my husband and I were at our cabin, stealthily watching a pair of heron downstream. As we started to walk away we were startled by a large Common Black Hawk in the tree above -- in the same spot where I had found that black feather the year before.
In my mind, things go full circle. We take when we are young, and if we are lucky, we can give as we get older. And it turns out that giving brings unexpected joys and learning! For this reason, I volunteered with Friends of the Verde River to lead the 18th Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival.
This festival brings birders from near and far to visit the places that are home to us. They are drawn by the birds that, like the Common Black Hawk, visit the Verde because of its unique ecosystem -- a riparian oasis in the desert. So please join me, whether you are a backyard birder, or an experienced trekker, and see up-close and personal the birds that visit and call the Verde Valley home.
For field trip and workshops visit www.VerdeRiver.org.