Having never been to a bird festival before, I was quite excited for the opportunity to go to one. When I saw the St. George Winter Bird Festival on Facebook, I knew that it would be helpful to me in learning the birds in Utah since I just moved to southern Utah a few weeks ago. Also, it would be a great way for me to meet other birders in the state who share my passion for beautiful birds! So, off to the Tonaquint Nature Center in St. George we went!
On the way down, we were in a heavy snowstorm. As we drove further south, we ran out of the snow…thank goodness!
Friday’s St. George Bird Festival Events We Attended…
The festival began on Thursday morning, but we didn’t arrive until later that evening. The schedule for the three days looked just great. Thursday had short distance local field trip out to look and observe certain birds. Also, an Owl ID and Ethics course, followed by an “Owl Prowl”. (More on this in another paragraph.)
Friday morning we began by attending a fantastic presentation by Dr. Joseph Platt, a St. George avian ecologist, on the “Raptors of Southern Utah.” It helped to clarify some worries I had in trying to ID all the various raptors here. He taught us about how different stages of growth have different plumages on the raptors and can present some difficulty in trying to ID them as a beginner. Also, he helped with long necks vs. shorter necks in silhouettes, rounded ends of tail feathers vs. square ends. We learned about the California Condors and how they are a recipe for extinction just by their behavior, how close they were to extinction, and the many efforts to bring them back to a bigger population of them. There are 19 birds of prey in southern Utah and he excited all of us with his stories and pictures about them.
Biking and Birding Along the Virgin River
We loaded up the bikes for the bird festival to especially do this bike path. When we arrived there, we were an hour late due to presentation overlap. The group had already embarked on the trail, so we got on the path and knew we would run into them at some point, which we did.
The Virgin River is a winding river, much narrower than what I’m used to back east in North Carolina. Nevertheless, it was beautiful with its riparian buffers, rocks and of course, BIRDS!
Live Raptor Presentation Delivered!
Nothing was going to do until we went early Saturday afternoon to the Live Raptor Presentation by Hawkwatch International. A live Great Horned Owl named Katori, and another raptor, Aymara, a Swainson’s Hawk, was brought in for us to learn about and see firsthand. You can learn more about these two particular birds, and their story of why they are at Hawkwatch.
Up Close for Inspection…
Another birder was there with deceased species often found in Utah for you to see. Since I like to hold things in my hand for proportion, I took the opportunity to hold a few of these and further inspect them to learn more about their coloration and size for identification in the field.
Time to Prowl…on the “Owl Prowl”
About 8pm Friday night, we attended a short presentation by biologist Cordell Peterson on Owl Identification and Owl Ethics. We learned just how camouflaged an owl can be in a tree, their unique sounds, the various sizes and habitats they live in. He also introduced us to the various sounds of them by listening to an app that conservation and raptor biologist Neil Paprocki had us listen to as Cordell spoke about each owl. Afterwards, we all went outside to listen for owls.
We then left and traveled to a golf course to listen and look for owls. Not long after arriving, a dark silhouette was spotted on the end of the branch of a Cottonwood. It turned out to be a Great Horned Owl. It was way cool, and COLD!
Saturday’s Events Attended
In the morning, we dropped in on Ken Hinton’s “Introduction to Birding” presentation at the Nature Center. He has a accounting background and birding is a hobby he enjoys. It was very informative and we learned how much more fun it is to have someone to bird with on your adventures and other items of interest. He urged everyone to not think they had to start out with expensive binoculars and cameras to get started birding. His passion for birding was contagious as he taught and shared with us about birding.
Conclusion on the St. George Winter Bird Festival
The St. George Winter Bird Festival was fantastic. My take below on it:
- We learned a lot great information to help in our birding
- Met some incredible birders with a passion for birding
- Came away with an even deeper connection and appreciation for birds and their habitats.
- Was a great opportunity to get educated by professionals in this field in a way that we could understand.
- Learned through field trips how to spot, look for and listen for birds.
- Had up close personal viewing of birds both alive and deceased to examine behavior, sounds and colors.
- Enjoyed casual exercise through biking and how you can bird at the same time.
- There were additional field trips we didn’t get the opportunity to go on. They fill up fast so if you want to attend a birding festival, so be sure to register early for them.
Zion National Park, Santa Clara River, biking along the Virgin River, local ponds and washes, Beryl Junction raptors, Reservoirs, Ranches, and a walk around the beautiful Tonaquint Nature Park would have been cool to have been on, but we couldn’t do all of them.
Check out your local state bird clubs and the internet for bird festivals near you in your state. I promise you’ll love the opportunity to learn about birds and make new friends at the same time! Ahhh…Till the next festival!