Birding Bash: Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival

One of the newest birding festivals in Arizona

Take a gander at all that Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival has to offer. I road tripped to the newest birding festival in Arizona to find out why you should go. This is what I found at the southwest birding fest …

Why Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival?

Birder Al Borgardt sets scope at edge of large blue pond with mountains in the distance Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
Birder Al Borgardt sets scope at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

When I told friends that I was going to the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival, many commented, “Why are birding, nature and history all blended together?” Well, I learned on my trip that in Yuma, the three things do blend.

You see, Yuma, Arizona, lies in the scorching desert, yet is right on the natural greenbelt of the Colorado River. Here they call the waterway with its marshes and backwaters the “Southern Colorado River.” Of course, it is on the flyway for migratory birds making their thousand-mile journeys. Yuma is also home to much territorial history and prehistory. The Quechan people have been farming fertile riverbanks for eons.

That agricultural tradition continues through today. If you happen to be eating a salad while reading this blog post, the lettuce in the salad probably came from Yuma. That’s because Yuma produces over 90% of the leafy vegetables consumed by those in the US and Canada during the winter months. But I digress.

Nevertheless, let’s get back to the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival.

Why Yuma for a Southwest Birding Festival?

Yuma, perched on the Arizona-California border, makes a perfect basecamp for a southwest birding festival. Scattered around the riverside city are over eight wildlife areas. Many are strung along the Southern Colorado River, which, as we mentioned earlier, is a migratory corridor. The wildlife refuges, which are home to waterfowl, native fish and other animals include:

1. West Wetlands Park* and East Yuma Wetlands* – where beaver, quail and hummingbirds thrive within Yuma city limits. The easily accessible wetlands are adjacent to the Colorado River and connected by an irrigation canal.
2. Mittry Lake Wildlife Area* – a reliable birding spot co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Arizona Game and Fish Department.
3. Senator Wash Recreational Area* – plentiful places for spotting water birds including grebes, mergansers and elusive loons.
4. Little Picacho Wilderness Area – part of the National Wilderness Preservation System
5. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge* – ducks and shorebirds observed from viewing tower and docks.
6. Cibola National Wildlife Refuge – where the backwaters of the Colorado River meet the Sonoran Desert
7. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge – established as a refuge for desert bighorn sheep in 1939.
8. El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve – a desert nature reserve in Mexico

This list is ordered by proximity to downtown Yuma where the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival is headquartered. *Asterisks indicate Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival field trips.

With thousands of acres of land set aside for wildlife in the surrounding area, you can see why Yuma makes a perfect launchpad for wildlife viewing and experiencing nature. It’s simply ‘natural’ that the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival should take place here.

Feathered Fliers are not the Only Aviators in Town

Statue of early airplane pilot holding leather googles against palm trees and cloudless sky.
Yuma Landing Historic Site Landmark and statue of the early aviator, Robert G. Fowler. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig.

But feathered fliers are not the only aviators that make Yuma famous. The first airplane ever to land in the state of Arizona touched down in Yuma on October 25, 1911. A statue of the early pilot, Robert G. Fowler, commemorates the landing spot. It is recognized as the Yuma Landing Historic Site Landmark. In fact, the headquarters for the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival are located in the Bob Fowler Building built at the spot where Fly Boy Fowler landed his biplane. (195 S 4th Avenue.)

After checking in to the Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival at headquarters, we walked next door to the Yuma Landing Bar & Grill to peek at the historical photos and aviation memorabilia displayed inside. It’s like a mini-museum with beer on tap.

And so, you guessed it: one of the workshops was entitled…

Wings over Yuma

Travel writer Unstoppable Stacey stands in front of wall mural of biplane during Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey outside the Yuma Landing Bar & Grill at the southwest birding festival. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

‘Wings over Yuma’ was the title of a seminar that filled in the history of Arizona’s first airplane landing, WWII pilot training and a late 1940s publicity stunt. The exploit kept a plane in continuous flight over Yuma for 47 days to prove the area’s near-perfect flying conditions. The local Jaycees club hoped to convince the military to re-open the Yuma Air Base, which closed after World War II. They DID set the world record for the longest nonstop flight.

Visit the Yuma City Hall to see the record-breaking plane.

Getcha’ Peanuts Here!

Peanut Patch owner Donna George talks about the old-fashioned way to make peanut brittle. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

I learned about peanut farming in the Yuma area at The Peanut Patch tour. Local peanut farmers were wiped out by the whitefly, an invasive species from South America, but The Peanut Patch lives on. The tasty tradition and gourmet gift destination date back to 1977, before the infestation.

Further, I learned something new at the southwest birding festival: Virginia Peanuts are NOT from Virginia. Others were surprised to find out that the peanut not a nut; it is a legume.
Facebook friends from around the state commented on my peanutty photos. Joyce said, “We LOVE this place. Always go there when in Yuma. Dick likes the jalapeno peanut brittle they make.” 

History, Mystery, and Murders of Yuma

A sign posted in the museum asks 'Why was Yuma the City of love?" is embellished with a picture of a diamond engagement ring.
Clue for solving another Yuma mystery at the Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig.

After a walk along the Colorado River at East Yuma Wetlands, I joined a festival excursion at the Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens. The Arizona Historical Society operates the adobe home of early Yuma key player E. F. Sanguinetti. Since the charming place is right in downtown Yuma, I could walk from my hotel. When I entered the historic home, I actually stepped into a game of Clue® – remember that board game we used to play as kids?

Our engaging host led us through the labyrinth of mystery-laced rooms. Each festival participant read clues, or answered them throughout the fun, interactive exhibit entitled, CLUES: History, Mystery, and Murder Mysteries of Yuma. You needn’t attend the Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival to be a part of the intrigue. The exhibition continues now through early June. 

Unflappable Experts at One of the Newest Birding Festivals in Arizona

Black bird with crest like a cardinal sits on a leafless twig
Phainopepla seen at many southwest birding festivals. Photo by Lip Kee Yap from Singapore, Republic of Singapore. Uploaded to Wikipedia by berichard

Of course, every southwest birding festival offers fieldtrips led by birding experts, and Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival is no exception. I tagged along with Al Borgardt, an Arizona Field Ornithologists observer and BirdsCalgary fieldtrip leader, to the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge.

He arranged for the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge biologist to give the group a behind the scenes tour of the refuge. She told me about the nearby Sonoran pronghorn antelope breeding management program. I didn’t even know about a “Sonoran” pronghorn antelope, but I kept my eyes out to see one on the remainder of the trip.

How to Pronounce ‘phainopepla’?

Al, the snowbird from Alberta, helped me pronounce, phainopepla. It’s my favorite Arizona bird – it looks like a black cardinal, and I see them while hiking or kayaking in central Arizona. “Fen-o-pepla,” I said three or four times, trying to get it into my brain. Now I’m pronouncing it like a pro – with a Canadian accent.

Transportation, sack lunches and beverages were included in Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival trip fees.

A sign posted in the museum asks 'Why was Yuma the City of love?" is embellished with a picture of a diamond engagement ring.
License plate of a true Snowbird: Alberta and Yuma birder

Yuma History Tour: Casa de Coronado Museum

One-story white arts and crafts building with red tile roof.
Casa de Coronado Museum in Yuma., Arizona. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

While I was in the field, another group of southwest birding festival participants got an insider tour of Casa de Coronado Museum. Yvonne Peach, local historian, and owner of the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel, discussed the development of tourism in Yuma and the legacy of the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel. The museum features antique travel guides and brochures, furniture and appliances from the early 1900s, and historical photos.

Taste the Native History: Screwbean Mesquite Tea

Rustic wooden sign with letters burned into wood. Reading in part "Cocopah Museum"
Photo by Linda Kissam, http://allingoodtaste.info

Other workshops and fieldtrips included an excursion to the Cocopah Tribe Museum and Cultural Center led by tribal members.  A cooking demonstration was part of the package with participants making Cocopah-style fry bread and sipping tea from cups filled with Native history. The hot beverage was made from a traditional Screwbean Mesquite tea recipe recently revived by the tribe. 

Official Cocktail of the Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival

Purple-black cocktail in Martini glass
Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

The Yuma Bird Nature and History Festival’s Official Cocktail was selected from many recipes submitted for a Big Blend Radio recipe contest.  At the festival’s Ultimate Trivia Night, the no-host bar at Yuma Landing Bar & Grill served the winner, the Craven Raven cocktail inspired by The Cravens rock band.

Biologist Daniel Steward leads Senator’s Wash Fieldtrip

Biologist looks up from scope mounted on tripod, Ducks on water in background during Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival

The Sunday birding exploration led by Yuma Proving Grounds biologist Daniel Steward took us to Senator’s Wash. We hoped to spot a loon, but the only one that participants saw was UNSTOPPABLE Stacey getting ecstatic over all the ducks, grebes, egrets and herons in Daniel’s new scope.

By the way, Yuma Proving Ground is located on the Colorado River and is where the US Army conducts conducted tests on combat bridges, amphibious vehicles and boats. Not only do they have a biologist, but they also have a military museum.

Where to Stay While Attending the Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival?

Hotel room swan towel sculpture on bed, sofa, office chair and lamps.
My room at the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel has historical photos on the wall. Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig

While I attended the Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival, I stayed at the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel. I had a spacious room with a sofa, desk and office chair. I always appreciate a desk and ergonomic chair in my hotel room as I always bring my work with me wherever I go. I guess that I am a digital nomad of sorts.

The mini refrigerator was more substantial than most hotel fridges, which was a good thing since I had so many vegetables that I picked at a Yuma Field-to-Feast tour. The pet-friendly hotel is perfect for birders and others looking for a centrally located hotel in Yuma. (Remember that I said that I walked to the museum downtown?) 

My room at the Coronado Motor Hotel came with a full, cooked-to-order breakfast that was out-of-this-world good. I made sure to get up early to fit the breakfast into my day – that was already starting early with birding field trips. Because, well, you know, the early bird gets the worm.

Speaking of early bird, you can reserve your room now for next year’s festival which happens January 15-17, 2021. 

2020 Calendar of Birding Festivals in Arizona

Birders stand on top of a hill with back to camera looking at water below with binoculars and mounted scope.
Birding at one of the newest southwest birding festivals in Yuma, AZ

 Arizona Birding Festivals in 2020

January

Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival

Fri, Jan 10 – Sun, Jan 12 

Next year: January 15-17, 2021

Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival

Fri, Jan 17 – Sun, Jan 19

April

20th Annual Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival

Thu, Apr 23 – Sun, Apr 26

Southwest Wings Spring Fling

Tue, Apr 28 – Sat, May 2

July

Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival

Wed, Jul 29 – Sat, Aug 1

August

Southeast Arizona Birding Festival

Tue, Aug 4 – Sun, Aug 9

If we left off one of the birding festivals in Arizona, please leave a comment below and we’ll add it.

RELATED STORIES:

20 Best Places to Visit in 2020

One of the World’s Best Places for Bird Watching? This place will surprise you!

 

As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, she will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this travel blog active. Thanks for reading.

Enjoy this travel story? Then please share by using the Social Media buttons below.  And leave a comment to say “Hello!”

6 thoughts on “Birding Bash: Yuma Bird, Nature & History Festival”

  1. Loved this blog and reading about the Yuma festival and seeing your photos – hope to get there in 2021. You can add the Sedona Hummingbird Festival in early August to this list (dates are still being confirmed). And yours truly will be presenting a Lunch and Listen workshop on Birds of Northern Arizona at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival on Friday, April 24th. Hope to see you there!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the info on Sedona Hummingbird Festival in early August. Let me know when the dates are confirmed, please. So happy to hear you will be presenting at Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival on Friday, April 24th. It’s on my personal calendar to be there…now that I know.
      Anyone want to join me?

      Reply
    • I think you could def do Senator Wash on your own. There’s overlooks that you can drive to – we stopped at two of them. Have fun exploring, Lisa!

      Reply
    • Thanks so much, Donna. I love history and its so serendipitous when I can link them with current attractions. Make sure to check out my story about the Erie Canaling adventure.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Stay in touch

Subscribe for Free Updates, Tips & Inspiration

Want to know How to Buy Cheap Flights?

Master UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s secrets for finding cheap flights, and you’ll be going to more of your dream destinations than you thought possible.

Get instant access to the
How to Buy Cheap Flights report

Like what you see?

Then Subscribe Today

Get UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s email updates delivered conveniently to your inbox.
No spam, promise!

We use cookies to offer you the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to our cookies and privacy policy.