jamesrmorrisorange-crowned-warblerWhile the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is still several months away, it is not too early to start planning which field trips, workshops and seminars you would like to attend. This event grows in popularity each year, and when registration opens in February, many of the field trips will fill up very quickly.

I feel badly when individuals make the decision in March or April to attend the festival, only to find out that almost all of the field trips are filled. You should be planning now what events you would like to attend, and mark your calendar to register as soon as possible after Feb. 1 to reserve your place. You can register online at www.birdyverde.org. This year’s festival takes place April 26-29.

I made a quick trip to Atlanta, Ga., last week to attend a trade show. Flying out of Phoenix gave me the perfect excuse to do some bird-watching in Maricopa County. On my way down I made a brief stop in Rock Springs and birded in the Sonoran Desert, which resulted in many additions to my 2012 Arizona bird list. I love being in the desert and seeing classic desert birds such as cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, black-throated sparrow and verdin, to name a few.

And, since I was in Phoenix, I just had to go bird-watching at the Gilbert Water Ranch! In less than three hours, I observed 56 species, and added a new bird to my life list – something that doesn’t happen very often. I had such a good time.

Part of the Jay’s Bird Barn Centennial Birding Challenge is to try to visit each county in Arizona during the centennial year and identify as many bird species as you can. Spending time at the Gilbert Water Ranch is such a great place to add a variety of bird species to your Arizona list – including herons, egrets, ducks, shorebirds, birds of prey and songbirds.

Some of my most exciting observations were peregrine falcon, osprey, loggerhead shrike and an orange-crowned warbler – on which the orange on the crown of the head was actually visible!

However, seeing a new life-list bird took the cake. I observed a species that was not on the list of birds that had been documented to occur there. I emailed the administrator of a website for the Water Ranch informing him of my discovery with specific directions on where I saw the bird. Here are excerpts from our email conversation:

“Hi Eric. Thanks for the heads-up. Clay-colored sparrow is a very difficult bird to ID and I have not put it on the Gilbert Water Ranch list because no one has documented a clay-colored there yet. I am not doubting your report – just being very conservative in what I add to the list. I will spread the word around and maybe someone can relocate and document the bird. Again, thanks for the report.”

Three days later I received the following email: “(The clay-colored sparrow) has been re-found in the same general area the last two days and photographed by several people. Tough bird to find, and sometimes even tougher to ID, so congratulations!”

Needless to say, my time at Gilbert Water Ranch paid off with a great discovery. If you haven’t gotten started on your 2012 state list, I encourage you to make the commitment to get out and explore Arizona during the centennial year. Information for the event is available online at www.jaysbirdbarn.com. Click on the Centennial Challenge tab.