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?
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
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
‘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!
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
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
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.
Yuma History Tour: Casa de Coronado Museum
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
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
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
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?
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
Arizona Birding Festivals in 2020
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
20th Annual Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival
Thu, Apr 23 – Sun, Apr 26
Southwest Wings Spring Fling
Tue, Apr 28 – Sat, May 2
Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival
Wed, Jul 29 – Sat, Aug 1
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.
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.
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