By Nancy Moldt Sugges / 11 years ago

I am not sure I even knew what was meant when I heard the term, birder, not many years ago.  Now, with just a bit of tongue in cheek, I refer to myself as one.  Thus it was that recently Pete and I attended an annual ‘Birding Festival’ here in Arizona.  The festival offers a lot more than just birds to view and since we had been to it in year’s past we signed up for some other activities.

The first day was a tour of EuroFresh, that wonderful way of growing tomatoes on the vine called hydroponic.  We were not invited into the growing areas since in the past couple years plant disease is believed to have come in on visitors’ clothes and shoes.  A well-versed employee of the plant gave us a slide show presentation that outlined how the growing is done and the success of the tomatoes.  He finished his talk by giving each of the 20 visitors a gift box of tomatoes.  Now folks that have gardens in Iowa would not recognize this odd looking way of growing tomatoes.  I’m not sure that it is easy to say a grown on the vine EuroFresh tomato is as good as an Iowa soil beefsteak tomato, but they are mighty fine and that is what we can find in Arizona.  We did a lot of sighting of birds on our way to and from the plant.

Another day was spent seeing a 6500 acre ranch.  This land was once a working ranch for cattle.  The new owner is dedicated to making it a preserve for wildlife and birds.  He gave us a fine talk on the history of the area and all the conflicts the white man had with Cochise.  His land is full of artifacts and he had several for us to look at that had been picked up on his property.

The other days were spent just sighting birds.  Southeastern Arizona is a hub of activity for migrating birds this time of year.  The sandhill cranes are the most famous since they are in such abundance and possibly since, when in flight and landing, they are the most vocal.  They spend overnight standing in a marsh to get some rest and yet feel safe from predators.  Every a.m. at daybreak they take noisy flight to grain fields that are empty of grain but where some is always left behind and they spend the day feeding.  Intuitively when it is about sunset they leave, just as noisy in flight, to return to the marsh.  As the weather gets warmer in the northern part of the U.S. they will migrate on.

Hawks are another beautiful sighting.  They sit on top of power poles and watch for an unsuspecting rodent to dart and then the hawk swoops in for a meal.  Some wait by the holes of prairie dogs or gophers for their meal.  It is the way nature works.

Usually our group was about 20 in size.  We are transported by van to sites the guides have scouted out to be good viewing areas.  It isn’t always quick to get all 20 of our aging bodies out of the van to grab our binoculars nearly in unison and aim where the guide points.  Some birders come with a spotting scope on a tripod and quickly set it up and begin to call out the bird markings.  Most of us carry at least one bird book and the more shop worn it looks the more you are believed to be a seasoned birder.

I can only wonder if I will ever be able to recognize what kind of bird it is by the shape of its shoulders when in flight.  The small differences in tail length, color of beak and feet I begin to notice.  All I know is it is a fine, no make that grand moment, when I call out what I think it is and it turns out I am correct.

Grab your sun hat, your binoculars and head out.  If you aim toward the top of a tree and keep looking you just might become addicted to looking for anything that lands there.  You are then a birder.