BIRDY VERDE - 15th Annual Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival, Yavapai County, AZ

April 22 & 23, 2015
Although this birding festival had reached its 15th year, this was the first time I signed up and participated in any of it.  Two of my friends and I wanted to join in Carl Tomoff's PRESCOTT BIG DAY of birding on Thursday, the 23rd, so we drove up to the Verde Valley a day early to avoid getting up in the middle of the night to be ready to leave Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cornville at 6 a.m.

On Wednesday, the three of us departed the Phoenix area early to reach Mingus Mountain in the Prescott National Forest between Cottonwood and Prescott via State Route 89A, for some birding of our own. We met a local birder there, Pat Scott, who pointed out some of the best birding spots, and we were delighted that the birds were fairly abundant and singing when we arrived at 8 a.m.

Pat led us onto a trail that required crossing a small stream on rocks right below a small concrete dam, but I was the only one who followed. The other two decided it was risky for getting wet feet and chose to bird the area near where we had parked. Temperature was in the low 40s; I wore a toque, gloves and many layers of clothes; quite a shock when Phoenix temperatures have hovered in the 90s. The cold would not have worked well for wet feet, either!

Bird song was everywhere. In trying to learn bird sounds, hearing many at the same time leads to disaster for my ears! Pat was more accustomed to these species and immediately heard Painted Redstarts who soon showed up to say, "Good Morning."  It was almost as if they wanted to see us (or whoever was walking through their territory) as much as we wanted to see them. Lighting in the dense forest at that hour would not do justice to a Painted Redstart or the Grace's or Olive Warblers that crossed our path. I was thrilled with the hidden path and could have stayed for several hours. But my birding buddies were down by the car and although I expected they were getting good birds, too, I thought the group should stay together, so Pat and I turned back after thirty minutes of spectacular birding. As we did so, two Broad-tailed Hummingbirds whirled past producing their discernible wing buzz.

With all of us in one car, we drove farther down the road to where it was gated. The Forest Service considers April to be part of the winter season so the road will remained closed until they have an opportunity to check all the camp areas and roadways for fallen trees or branches. Then, the gate will remain open. But we had to leave the car at the gate and begin walking.

Sign in front of one of the camps located on the mountain (Located between Cottonwood & Prescott on 89A)

Western Bluebird
Chipping Sparrows were too numerous to count; Western Bluebirds were quite abundant (12) with American Robins being a close second (8). To see five (5) Painted Redstarts seemed rather amazing to me and although I didn't take photos, I've posted one from earlier this year so you know the handsome bird I'm talking about.

Painted Redstart
Other highlights on Mingus Mountain were Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Greater Pewee, Dusky, Gray and Ash-throated Flycatchers and both Rock and House Wrens.  We tallied 26 species there in four hours before heading back down the mountain to Cornville.

Although it was not yet opening day for the Festival that would start on Thursday, all tents were set up and we were able to register in person and pick up a name tag -- our ticket for the van ride tomorrow up to Prescott.

The grounds at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park include several lakes, so we birded there, too.

15th Annual Birding & Nature Festival (along Verde River)

Susan beside one of the lakes

Great-tailed Grackle 

Great Horned Owl
With few options for lodging, we ended up at a clean, basic and acceptable motel, The View, that provided a fantastic view over the valley and the mountains beyond.

Thursday morning, we were back at the Festival grounds by 5:45 a.m. to get a good seat in one of two vans taking our group north to Prescott to meet Dr. Carl Tomoff. We chose the one being driven by our friend, Paul Wolterbeek from Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Driving north on Old Highway 89, we connected with Carl Tomoff at Jerome Waterway in the Granite Dells. He insisted we remain quiet as we exited our vans to get a sense of "place".  Then we began birding in high gear. There were Wood Ducks, Bushtits, Yellow Warbler, a male Common Yellowthroat and various other foraging song birds. Carl, very knowledgeable about the geology, biology, bird habits and habitats, kept us well-informed with comprehensive context for each bird we saw. In the dark of the mountains, photos are slim.
Jerome Waterway

Cooper's Hawk at Jerome Waterway, Granite Dells

Bullock's Oriole, also at Jerome Waterway location in Granite Dells

We made stops along the drive up into the Bradshaw Mountains. There were eight (8) eBird entries, one of which included some of our early driving to the higher elevations. South Senator Highway took us to the intersection with the road from Walker (accessed from Lynx Lake Area) which ended at S. Senator Highway, close to where we parked at 7200' elevation.

Reveling in the fact that the weather was not rain as forecast, but clear and cool, we focused on the Western Tanager whose voice let us know it was in the area. Virginia's, Grace's and Red-faced Warblers were a treat. Mountain Chickadees were vocal and visible; White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches were found, Painted Redstarts were at this elevation as were three (3) Black-headed Grosbeak, my first-of-year sighting. 

A picnic lunch was provided by the Festival, included in the fee for the trip, $80.00. Picnic tables were available at the historic Groom Creek School where several of us also got good looks a pair of Olive Warblers. Carl was fascinated by the juvenile Pine Siskins - their youth determined by various characteristics of the bill.

Returning to the lower elevation again, we birded Sundog Waste Water Treatment Plant before concluding our day with 30 minutes of birding from the edges of Willow Lake where a juvenile Bald Eagle was the sighting I liked best.

It had been a grand day of birding with an opportunity to get acquainted with new birders from various parts of the country and to say "Hello" to fellow birders from the Phoenix area.
Carl was his usual excellent "teacher-birder" and over the two days, my friends and I saw 94 species.

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