COTTONWOOD - Expect to see a lot of birders flocking to Cottonwood by the end of the week.
The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is in its 13th year in 2013. The more advanced birding field trips, exotic destinations and opportunities are long gone, selling-out early; registration actually began in February and the choice destinations were gone before spring, but you can still find many activities to enjoy during the Birding and Nature Festival, beginning Thursday, April 25, through Sunday the 28th, anchored at Dead Horse State Park.
This year the theme is "Finches and Flowers," in concert with the Iris Society, and also playing on a theme this year of Certified Backyard Habitats.
The birding festival will attract people from throughout the United States and even across the globe.
Barbie Hart, who founded the festival while still employed by the State Parks Department, continues to coordinate it, now retired, as one of its many volunteers. Shortly after registration opened Feb. 1, she received a phone call from England. A British woman said she planned to attend the Birding Festival this year but she had a number of questions.
The avid birder from the U.K. had never been to the United States before and didn't have a concept of distances and accommodations, questioning where to stay and how to get to Monument Valley and San Francisco. The woman intended Cottonwood as her first U.S. destination as part of a trip around the West.
Barbie suddenly found herself part-travel guide and consultant. The woman was eventually able to make detailed arrangements through a travel service.
The Keynote speaker
This year the Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival has added new opportunities for birding and nature study. A key theme of "Finches and Flowers" finds us in backyards of local homeowners who have created habitats to allow for great bird watching, planting vegetation that is attractive, edible or sheltering and appealing to birds.
Open to the public is the keynote address Friday evening at the Cottonwood Recreation Center. A $20 Decadent Desert Reception will showcase national wildlife media spokesman and naturalist David Mizejewski along with some very tasty sweets. The naturalist formerly produced "Backyard Habitat" on Animal Planet and describes himself as a lifelong naturalist, animal lover and self-professed "nature geek."
You may not recognize the name, but the face will be familiar from national talk shows bringing all sorts of wildlife to the delight of the audiences. No animals will be with him this time, but his wit and knowledge will take you willingly into the world of nature in your own back yard.
Mizejewski will talk about "Wildlife Gardening" or how to make a Certified Wildlife Habitat in your backyard.
The keynote and reception are open to the public 6:30-9 p.m. with tickets available at the door of the Cottonwood Recreation Center meeting room.
Every year, new trips are added to the schedule of the four-day birding festival calendar. Among the trips this year are tours of Certified Backyard Gardens located in both Sedona and in the upper Verde Valley that have met the four criteria required for certification. During both garden field trips, birding and a snack will be provided at each stop.
Free Family Nature Fair
Hart says there are always Saturday morning activities to entertain the kids while luring them into birding. All the fun activities and presentations for the kids are free with park admission.
The beginning birding class for kids starts Saturday morning at 8 a.m. The Family Nature Fair runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is fun for the entire family and, as usual, there will be nature-related games for the kids. New games include an anthill adventure and a "bigger than life size' take on the popular computer game involving birds and pigs. Kids use a real slingshot to keep the pigs at bay. They will probably need a little coordination for this game.
An exciting new addition is the Scouting for Birds booth where kids, whether they're Boy or Girl Scouts or not, can get a jump start on earning their birding merit awards. There is also Scouting for Butterflies at 1 p.m. Scouts have volunteered to provide all the requirements and bird lists for the awards. Crafts and the always-popular birdhouse building, provided by Home Depot, will take place in Mrs. B's Bugs and Birds Booth.
A special workshop is available for all educators, youth leaders, or any interested participants in Monarch Butterflies at the Cottonwood Middle School Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon. There is no cost for this opportunity as well.
Arbor Day Tree
Every year during the festival, a tree donated by Verde Growers is planted to celebrate Arbor Day and the Nature Art Gallery will feature hands-on activities. Free presentations will be offered throughout the day and a "Taste of Birding" for the adults will introduce the novice to the joy of bird watching. All this is free with park admission.
Like a fledgling, the Birding Festival has been set free at age 13. The event was formerly under the wing of the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce. But a new multi-dimensional group, the Verde River Valley Nature Organization has been formed to take on the administration of activities like the Birding and Nature Festival. The organization is working to secure its non-profit status so donations are tax-free. The new VRVNO also recently coordinated the Verde River Runoff in Camp Verde.
Hart says there have been a few growing pains this year. "The Chamber did so much for us. We have had to get our own insurance and handle the business end of it. But, in the 13th year, the community has really opened its arms to what we are doing."
The birding event, now in its teenaged years, continues to grow and become more popular, getting more support and sponsorships and giving the area another dimension.
Looking back at the many years to when Barbie and her husband went to their first birding festival out of state and she had the epiphany, "We can do that! The Verde Valley is perfect." Today, Hart feels like a proud parent.
The festival is all run by volunteers with no paid staff. "People who come and help one year are usually hooked. The committee works year round and we can count on 50 to 75 volunteers," she says.