Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2016 St. George Winter Bird Festival

The last weekend of January means it's time for the St. George Winter Bird Festival. I've gone the last few years, enjoying the warmer weather. And while it's rained quite a bit in previous years, this year's forecast was for no precipitation and highs of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit each day. I registered a few weeks in advance and although a few field trips were full, I was able to get in on the Photography trip to Lytle Ranch, which had a capacity of 12 people.

We drove over an hour from St. George to BYU's Lytle Ranch Preserve past St. Clara. I had never been on that road, and it was so neat seeing the transition from Great Basin Desert to Mojave Desert. The sagebrush slowly disappeared to be replaced by Joshua trees, creosote, and cholla cactus. Then we dipped down into a canyon and saw a riparian zone. It was quite a surprise.

The caretaker, Umberto, gave us an introduction to the Preserve. Then our leader told us that we were free to wander for the next two hours and take photos of whatever we wanted. It wasn't quite what I was expected, but I was up for anything.

A phainopepla appeared, looking sort of like an all-black cardinal. It's a super cool bird (as I found out when I looked it up). It doesn't need to drink much water, as it can get almost all its moisture from the mistletoe berries it eats. And it can eat 1200 mistletoe berries a day! It also breeds twice a year, in both woodland and desert habitats.

And on the other side of the bush, this was the view:

I wandered down a path for a bit, seeing lots of house finches in the field and trees. This one was busy eating the seeds on the tree.

I got a better view of a phainopepla. It's a new bird species for me, so I was pretty excited.

Although the riparian area was really nice, I couldn't resist scampering up a hill to check out some of the Mojave Desert. I got a great view.

And also some closeups of Joshua trees. These are such cool plants!

I didn't see any cactus wrens, or for that matter any other birds, but I wanted to hang out a little longer, so I wandered around. Although the creek running through the ranch was tiny (maybe 1 cfs), it's apparent that when it floods, it floods a lot, with the streambed over 100 m wide in places.

This dead Joshua tree seemed worthy of a photo.

I eventually descended and saw a belted kingfisher, killdeer, American robin, mallards, and more. I really liked this tree. Maybe it wasn't a bird, but hey, it was a photography workshop, right?

I caught up with another photographer, and then this purple finch flew really close to us, posing on a branch. We both got some nice photos of it.

I had missed the western bluebirds that others had seen earlier, so I went in search of them. This one landed briefly on top of a Joshua tree.

It didn't stay long to get a very clear photo of it, but fortunately this one landed not too far away. Such pretty birds!

On the way out, I got an even better of a phainopepla. All together, our group saw 27 species. I learned some good tips--ditch the tripod for hiking around, and carry a backpack to put all my layers in. It started about 30 degrees but quickly warmed up.

My mother-in-law had kindly agreed to watch the kids, so when I got back I retrieved them and then took them to the aquatic center, which is a place they really love. Then it was dinner at a delicious new restaurant in downtown St. George, The Twisted Noodle Cafe. Finally, our last event of the day, watching The Martian at the $2 Red Cliffs Cinema. We had listened to the story at Christmas, so the kids knew what to expect and enjoyed it. But as we left the theater, Desert Girl told me, "I don't want to be an astronaut. Too many things can go bad. I want to be a paleontologist."

The next day we took our van in to be serviced (no trip to town is complete without multi-tasking!). We had our bikes with us so rode up to Tonaquint Park to make birdhouses. They also had a football toss option, and Desert Boy chose to do that.

Desert Girl really likes hammering, but this wasn't the easiest project for her.

Nevertheless, we got it done.

Thank you, Home Depot, for having this event!

Then we listened to an interesting talk by Hawkwatch International comparing birds and dinosaurs and at the end saw this Swainson's Hawk.

Next up was a Western Screech Owl. So tiny! We hear Great Horned Owls almost every night in our yard and see them frequently, and they are so much bigger.

We ate lunch at the concessions provided by the Red Cliffs Audubon stand. Then the kids wanted to bike to Cottonwood Park, a really cool playground. We got on our bikes and started up the bike trail.

Along the way we saw an American kestrel. Very nice!

The kids were done with organized activities, so while my mother-in-law watched them, I explored bike trails for an hour. St. George has a wonderful urban bike/hike trail system. It was such bliss getting in a good workout and checking out some new and different scenery. And such a contrast from the wintery conditions we would face on the drive home the next day.

The St. George Winter Bird Festival has so many activities, we only scratched the surface. Hopefully we will be back next year and do even more. Rumor has it the festival might move to Hurricane, which would be more willing to assist with the festival. The EMT conference I went to in December is moving from Salt Lake to Provo next year. It turns out sometimes a smaller city is a better venue because they are more willing to work with the organizers and provide more assistance.

Anyway, thanks to all who put on the St. George Winter Bird Festival, we really enjoyed it!

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