warbleryellowrumpedaudubonsmalewintertinneyLast Saturday was one of those times when Mother Nature played a trick on us – the 2011 Birding Spree kick-off event was canceled due to snow. While the cancellation was disappointing, I am grateful for the snow that fell this past weekend. I am always of the opinion that any form of moisture is a blessing here in Arizona.

The Birding Spree kick-off will not be re-scheduled because the Highlands Center is involved in another big event this weekend: the “Get Out…Get Into It! Discover Prescott’s Natural History” one-day festival on Saturday, April 16.

As far as the Birding Spree goes, it is in full swing even without the kick-off event, so you can officially start your birdwatching activity and work on checking off the list of required birds that you need to see so you can achieve the status of “Highlands Center Birder.” If you have any questions, give either the Highlands Center or Jay’s Bird Barn a call.

This Saturday’s nature festival should not be canceled due to weather – in fact, I think it will be a nearly perfect day. The “Get Out…Get Into It!” event is centered around celebrating the official designation of the Watson Willow Lakes Ecosystem as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Dedication of the Watson Willow Ecosystem will occur at 11 a.m. at the Willow Lake Park Hilltop Ramada. Registration is not required to attend this activity.

Throughout the day, there will be free interpretive walks at both Willow and Watson Lakes and at Watson Woods Riparian Preserve that highlight the area’s birds, plants, geology, archeology and trail system. Sign-up for the free interpretive walks and guided hikes is required to provide the best possible experience for participants. For more information and to register, visit the Prescott Audubon Society website at www.prescottaudubon.org/events.

As part of the day-long celebration the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary will be hosting a free day at the zoo from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. There will also be discounted canoe and kayak rentals at both Willow and Watson Lakes. The turnout for this event will likely exceed available parking, so Tim’s Subaru has graciously offered overflow parking at their Willow Creek Road location. Prescott College will be offering a free shuttle service from Tim’s Subaru to the zoo and to the hilltop ramada.

The effect of having lakes in the Prescott area is huge when you consider that this area did not have any lakes naturally. Historically, the dominant plant communities in this area were grassland, scrub-oak, pinyon/juniper and, further to the south in the Bradshaw Mountains, pine forests.

Even though the lakes are man-made, the effect of having these bodies of water is a much richer bird community. Probably a full 20 to 25 percent of the birds that occur in Prescott can be directly attributed to the lakes. Without our lakes we wouldn’t have all of the ducks, geese, gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, egrets, cormorants and pelicans that occur in Prescott.

This weekend’s festival is truly a community event and could not have occurred without the support and sponsorship of the following organizations: the Prescott Audubon Society, Prescott Creeks, Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, the Highlands Center for Natural History and the City of Prescott.