Manzanita in full bloom last week. (Eric Moore/Courtesy)

Next week’s Prescott Audubon Society meeting has been canceled. The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, held at Dead Horse State Ranch in Cottonwood, has also been canceled.  While these cancellations are disappointing, I am glad that our community is taking the coronavirus threat seriously.

Several months ago, I received an invitation from Swarovski Optik to attend training on a revolutionary new Swarovski product that is going to change the way people birdwatch.

The training was scheduled to occur this week in Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. I was supposed to fly out Tuesday morning and return on Saturday. Needless to say, the field training was canceled. Now we will be trained via a webinar — a safe, but disappointing substitute for a week of birding in the Rio Grande Valley!

I have personally birded in the Rio Grande Valley before, and it was an amazing experience. It reminds me of birding in southeastern Arizona, in the sense that there is an incredible variety of birds in south Texas. The last time I was there, I saw 176 species in one week! Now you can see why I was so excited to go there again.

The product that is being introduced is called a Digital Guide, or simply, the ‘DG.’ This unique piece of optical equipment combines two components into one. The DG is a digital camera and a monocular (single lens, instead of a binocular). But there is more. Using Bluetooth technology, the pictures you capture using the DG can be transferred to your cell phone and shared to an iPad.

Before using the DG, there are two apps that need to be downloaded onto your phone — one from Swarovski, and a second one called Merlin. The Merlin app was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and is used to identify birds. The app compares the image you captured using the camera in the DG to the images in Merlin, and it provides you with an identification of the bird based on the picture you took! 

How cool is that? This new technology will revolutionize the hobby of bird watching. I’m comparing this technology to facial recognition, except it is for bird identification. Birds have distinctive, identifiable field marks — on the head, on the throat, breast, belly, wings, etc.  These markings are referred to as plumage. 

On a different note, I have recently been doing quite a bit of solo hiking on segments of the Prescott Circle Trail in the Prescott National Forest. I have been so pleased to see the point-leaf manzanita shrubs in full bloom! Barring a hard frost before the fruit can set, I am hopeful that we will have a great berry crop this coming winter.  Many of our wintering birds, such as American Robins, hermit thrush, western bluebirds and Townsend’s solitaire, eat a diet of berries in the winter months. 

This past Saturday, following a week’s worth of amazing rain (we got about 3 inches in our yard), I chose to go kayaking on Watson Lake. The water level was so high I was able to kayak up Granite Creek, passing underneath the red footbridge that spans the creek. From Monday to Friday, the level of the lake went up about 3 feet!  It is an awesome sight to see all of our area lakes filled to the brim and overflowing their spillways.

With more rain and snow projected this week, I think our streams will continue to run for several more weeks. It will be interesting to see how the abundant winter precipitation will impact spring bird migration.  Time will tell. 

Until next week, be well and 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 more than 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at