This past week was the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in Cottonwood at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The weather was cool for late April, but I have to admit it was the best weather we have enjoyed at this event in all the years I have attended. On Thursday, I taught two classes – a three-hour beginning birding class, and a one-hour class on optics.
My beginning birding class focused on identifying wild birds by observing their behavior. Midway through the class, we took a break and wandered outside with our binoculars to stretch our legs. During the break, we saw a say’s phoebe, black phoebe and ash-throated flycatcher. All three species are in the flycatcher family and share similar behaviors, especially hawking: flying out from an open perch to catch insects.
Since the focus of our class was on behavior, it was a great experience to see first-hand what we were discussing in class. During the break we also saw an American kestrel, a black-throated gray warbler, and phainopeplas, and we could hear a yellow-breasted chat singing (if you can call their vocalization singing!) in the distance. The consensus after taking a break was that everyone wanted to continue birding and forget about the classroom instruction!
My second class was a lot of fun to present. I enjoy good-quality optics! In our stores we sell both Swarovski and Vortex optics, including monoculars, binoculars, scopes, tripods, etc. As a birder, I can’t imagine trying to watch birds without good-quality optics. When I take groups birding, I just want to cringe when I see what some people are using for optics. This weekend I saw my share of “antique” optics – optics that needed to be retired and replaced! I joked with several people that their optics belonged in a binocular museum (if there is such a thing).
I camped at Dead Horse Ranch, which provided me the opportunity to go birding each day in the park before the activities got under way. I saw a lot of great birds including osprey, white-faced ibis, sora rail, yellow-headed blackbirds, wood ducks, lesser nighthawks and many more. There were so many colorful birds, too – summer tanagers, lazuli buntings, vermilion flycatchers, Bullock’s orioles, and northern cardinals. It was great!
The highlight this year, however, was not the birds. The highlight was the keynote speaker, David Allen Sibley, the author and illustrator of numerous books on birds of North America. I so enjoyed visiting with him one-on-one, and I was honored to have him autograph one of his field guides for me.
When he arrived at the festival, binoculars in hand, I noticed that he had the same make and model that I use – Swarovski 10×42 ELs. I asked him if he had seen the newest 10×42 EL model and offered to let him borrow a pair for a field trip he was leading the next day to Page Springs Fish Hatchery, which he did.
I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation on “The Psychology of Bird Identification.” It was a very interesting topic and I am so grateful I was able to hear his presentation. Meeting such a famous birder reminded me of the time I met Roger Tory Peterson when I was a young man in Tucson. Roger came to the University of Arizona in 1974 to do a book signing of his book “A Field Guide to Mexican Birds.” Obviously, I have had a passion for bird watching for a very long time!