Sunday, January 27, 2013

St. George Birding Festival 2013

For the past ten years, St. George has held a birding festival. It's the last weekend of January, which means it's a great escape from the snow and cold of more northerly latitudes. I've wanted to go for several years, but with little kids, I didn't know how I could pull it off. Fortunately, last year I asked my mother-in-law if she would help watch the kids this year, and she said yes.

The festival was held from Thursday evening to Saturday evening. We drove down after school on Thursday. On Friday, I took Desert Boy with me on a shorter bird trip. Since he was missing a day of school, I figured he should do something educational.
Bird field trips are fun for several reasons. First, the leader is usually very knowledgeable and you can learn all sorts of things about birds that you never knew. This was definitely true for our trip. At our first stop we saw the huge gaggle of Canada geese out on a pond that's in the first photo of this post. Kevin found the lone greater white-faced goose in the group, and put his scope on it for us. Plus he made sure we all saw the canvasbacks and ruddy ducks and explained that the ruddy ducks only get the strange-looking blue bills during breeding season. 

Second, the leader knows the local bird hotspots. You see cool birds not only on the field trip, but know where to go when you return. You'll see a spot below to which I'd like to return.

Third, it's fun to meet other birders. Often people of all levels go on the bird trips, and it's fun to find out more about how people got into birding and if they've seen anything interesting lately.

 This is what I hoped Desert Boy would be doing for the field trip. I taught him how to use the binoculars and helped focus them. He looked through a few times.

 This is what he preferred to do, though--gather materials for a little boat made of bark.

He thought the pampas grass was cool and wanted to add that to his collection.

I enjoyed seeing an array of birds, including some that I haven't seen around here for several months, like the northern mockingbird, seen above.

Female and male house finches cooperated for us by sitting still on top of a tree so that everyone could see the differences in plumage.

 One of our locations for this trip was Halfway Wash, which has some nice riparian habitat. It's easily accessible, with a paved trail along it. This is part of St. George's extensive trail system, something I'd like to get to know better.

 Desert Boy found some friends, and they had a wonderful time digging in the dirt, gathering materials, and even pretend fishing. When I commented to another mom that Desert Boy wasn't getting as excited about birds as I had hoped, she reminded me that he was getting some good outside time. And much to my relief, he managed to keep his feet dry (especially since I had forgotten to bring any other footwear for him).

I saw two new birds for me: the greater white-faced goose and a quick glimpse of a verdin, a small bird just larger than a bushtit with a yellow head.

The next day I had planned on going on a five-hour birding trip, but early-morning rain discouraged me (plus I figured the kids might get a little too rambunctious sitting inside), so I changed to a three-hour birding trip to some other locations. Local birders from my valley happened to be on this trip, too, and it was fun to get to do some birding with them.

 Our first stop was at a golf course. It was beautiful, despite the overcast skies, with ponds and wetland areas. It all made wonderful bird habitat.

We got some good looks at ruddy ducks.

A song sparrow also let us get quite close. With the spot in the middle of its chest and a streaked breast, it's one of the easier sparrows to identify.

We stopped at several other parks in the Washington area, and found cool things at each: a hummingbird (probably a Costa's), American wigeons, a better view of a verdin, and another new species for me: Abert's towhee. Abert's towhee doesn't migrate and is found in a rather small area of the desert Southwest.

The rain started a couple hours into the trip and stayed steady through the rest of the day. It wasn't ideal for birdwatching, but the birds are still out there in the rain, so they can be found, it just takes more effort.

In the afternoon, I took the kids back to Tonaquint Nature Center for the bird house-making activity. Home Depot had donated bird house kits.
 Desert Boy couldn't wait to get started.

 He did most of his bird house all by himself.

 Desert Girl was lacking a nap and wasn't so enthusiastic.

 Such concentration! Fortunately he didn't hammer any digits.

 A lot of people turned out for the activity.

Desert Girl cheered up as the birdhouse neared completion.

Success! We'll put these in the yard and see if we can entice any birds to take up residence.

We'll definitely be going back to the St. George Bird Festival. There were so many programs we didn't have a chance to attend, plus field trips to many more areas. It's only $5 for adults and free for kids for the whole festival. And even though it was rainy, it was nearly twenty degrees warmer than home, and for me, that makes it an extremely nice winter getaway!

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