Swallows, such as this violet -green swallow are starting to show up in the Prescott area as spring approaches. (Courier stock photo)

I, for one, am hopeful for a more ‘normal’ non-COVID life in 2021, and see the return of some annual events such as the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival as a sign that things are starting to look up. While this year’s festival will adopt a hybrid model of both online and in-person components, it is certainly a move in the right direction.

The birding festival is slated for April 22-25. For more information, go to verderiver.org/virtual-birding-fest.

While we will not be attending the festival as a sponsor or a vendor, we will be presenting an online class on optics — something we have presented for years in a live setting. I recently did an optics Zoom class for the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival (in Sierra Vista), and it was really well received. I have since received several requests to present the same program for other nonprofit organizations.

I personally feel spending time outdoors and connecting to nature is therapeutic — both emotionally and physically. I value my connection to nature, and love the time I spend outdoors. Whether I’m hiking, biking or birding, it is all good. This past week I’ve done a little of all three — I rode on an eight-mile bike ride on the Peavine, I hiked the Centennial Trail and, of course, I’m constantly birding, no matter where I am.

This past week I had my first sighting of violet-green swallows for the year. When swallows start showing up, it is a definite sign that spring is right around the corner. Right now, our days are increasing in length by more than two minutes per day, which is very exciting!

Earlier this week, I saw covey of Gambel’s quail in my yard — the first time this year. Several of them were up in my tray feeder eating the premium blend that I use in my yard. Several more were on the ground feeding on the millet that I broadcast by throwing handfuls of loose seed for the many different kinds of ground-feeding varieties of birds that frequent my yard, such as white-crowned sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, spotted towhees and mourning doves.

I have to admit, quail are somewhat of a mystery in winter as they just seem to ‘disappear’ from my yard. I hear this same comment from a lot of our customers. They have a lot of quail activity during the summer months, but as fall turns into winter, they are nowhere to be seen.

This is interesting, as quail are non-migratory, so it’s not like they fly south for the winter. While quail are capable of flight, it is usually restricted to a response of imminent danger. Quail prefer to walk/run, and only burst into flight when there is an urgent need to flee danger. Even then, their flight is short-lived. They are strong, powerful flyers for short distances, but tire quickly.

So the question is, “Where do quail go in the winter?” My only explanation is that they seem to move into adjacent areas that have good, undisturbed native habitat. Why? I don’t really know. You would think they would congregate in areas that provide a continuous birdy-buffet, but that has never been my experience. They leave in the fall, and they show up in the spring.

A quick update on our nesting great horned owls — they seem to be holding their own. The ravens come by every so often to harass them, but I think the owls’ hold on the nest is secure. It is fun to walk out the fun door and glance over to the pine tree and see a big owl just sitting there. How cool is that?

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.