Bird Nerd Heaven

CFO GroupBirding and Nature Festivals are springing up all over the country. Start in January at the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival in Arizona, or the Morro Bay Bird Festival in California, and continue to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and New Mexico’s Festival of the Cranes in November—if you have the airfare and the time, you can spend an entire year flitting from festival to festival, returning home just in time for the Christmas Bird Count.

LAH_2453I don’t have a lot of money, and I certainly can’t skip town for an entire year (I’m pretty sure my husband would object), so I haven’t been to many festivals. Besides, I don’t like crowds. The two times we went to Bosque del Apache to see the cranes, we arrived the day their festival ended. It was great. The birds were still there, but the people weren’t. Of course, neither were the speakers, experienced field trip leaders, displays, promotional exhibits, and all the other wonderful reasons people flock to birding festivals.

Birders_McElmoCyn-CO_LAH_2769In spite of my solitary nature, there is one event I plan to attend every year. I’m driving home today from the Colorado Field Ornithologist’s (CFO) annual convention. This year it was held in Cortez, in the southwest corner of the state (right next to Mesa Verde National Park). And as expected, it was a lot of fun.

The convention included mediocre food, interesting presentations on a variety of CFO-funded research projects, an ID quiz that would stump all but the expert “power birders,” plenty of field trips, and a lot of very nice people.

Saturday night was the banquet with an unforgettable keynote speaker. The brochure blurb describes him well:

In 2011 John Vanderpoel, an avid and experienced birdwatcher, decided to push his boundaries and do a birding Big Year.He ended the year with an amazing 744 species, the second largest total ever recorded for a Big Year. John’s careful documentation via his www.bigyear2011 blog has set new standards for Big Year accounting.

I thought I’d have a hard time staying awake for his talk, especially after three days in a row that involved a 4 am wake-up call and 10 or more hours of nonstop birding. However, Vanderpoel’s presentation was so entertaining, even complete exhaustion couldn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying every bit.

As with most birding festivals, everything revolved around the field trips. Cortez’s southwest location provides easy access to a variety of habitats: desert scrubland, reservoirs, canyon creek riparian, pinion–juniper woodland, and lush coniferous mountain forest, and the birds are as different as these habitats. I’ll devote several future posts to my trips—there’s just too much to pack into one article. For now, let’s just say I was hoping for one “lifer” (beak-speak for a bird I see for the first time), and I got two!

The new birds were exciting and I got some photos I’m pretty pleased with, but the best part of my long weekend, and the reason I will keep coming back, was hanging out with a bunch of exceptionally delightful people. I am a relatively newbie—this was only my second CFO Convention—and many of these birders have been friends for decades. Yet I was warmly welcomed, introduce, and included. Birding is loads of fun, but birding with friends is even better.
Top photo taken by Rick Harness.

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