Originally Published: April 1, 2010 9:55 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Grab your binoculars, guidebooks and hiking shoes, bird watchers!
The second annual Birding Spree kicks off Saturday at the Highlands Center for Natural History and will continue throughout April and May at select locations around Prescott.
The Highlands Center, 1375 S. Walker Road on the Prescott National Forest, is once again partnering with the Prescott Audubon Society and Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, to give event participants the opportunity to observe at least 20 of the 31 bird species that are common to this area during the spring months.
Folks can find a brochure with a bird checklist and entry form at either Jay's Bird Barn or the Highlands Center's Benson Family Nature Store. This year, organizers have added another list of birds to seek out, called the "Jay's Bird Barn Challenge," just for fun.
As participants locate the birds, they check off the birds' names on their lists before submitting their forms to the Highlands Center.
Those who spot the minimum number of bird species by May 29 achieve the status of "Highlands Center Birder" and receive a birding spree pin.
Sue Craycraft, the Highlands Center's membership and operations director, said the center has more than 100 birding spree pins available for birders. An estimated 150 people participated in the inaugural spree in 2009.
Prescott teen Micah Riegner designed this year's birding spree brochure artwork and circular pin. The pin features maroon, gold, blue, black, burnt orange and white colors with a spotted towhee and the year 2010 in the middle. The words "Highlands Center Birding Spree" flow around the pin's circumference.
The spree begins with a special event at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Highlands Center's Kiwanis Amphitheater. Organizers will explain the details of the spree and Eric Moore, owner of Jay's Bird Barn, will give a short presentation about the basics of bird identification. A bird walk will follow the presentation on the Highlands Center site.
Throughout the spree, participants can watch for birds on their own or join one of the Audubon Society's guided walks from 8 to 10 a.m. on the dates and locations listed in the brochure. To find a walk's leader, look for the Highlands Center sign at each site location.
Experienced area birders, including Moore, Kathy Wingert, Sharon Arnold and Bonnie Pranter, will take turns leading the bird walks and assisting beginning birders at local sites where it's easiest to spot species.
Tom Benson, a longtime volunteer at the Highlands Center who initiated the idea for the spree and helped organize it in conjunction with the Audubon Society this past year, said Arizona is the second-best place in the United States for its variety of bird species.
"We've got the best bird walk leaders in the state, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "You have a highly professional walk leader, somebody who is very knowledgeable about the various bird species and how you might find them and where you might see them."
Benson added that all of the walks are gentle and he encourages anyone to attend, no matter the age.
"Our mission at the center is to help children and adults connect with the natural world, and this is one more good way of getting people of all ages into the outdoors and introducing them to the fun of birding," said Benson, who has assisted the Highlands Center in spreading the word about the spree.
Guided walks are free. But no pets are allowed and they are limited to 25 individuals apiece, so folks should call the Highlands Center to register as soon as possible. This past year, several people participated in multiple walks, Craycraft said.
"It's amazing what we see - how people come out with their kids and they find that there's a group there, and they just have a lot of fun," Benson said.
To buy a spree pin, visit the Highlands Center store and hand in a completed birding form. The pin costs $4 for members of the Highlands Center and/or the Prescott Audubon Society and $5 for non-members of those organizations. After participants submit their forms, the center will enter their names into a drawing for a gift certificate. The drawing will take place in June, so completed forms must be turned in before June 20.
For more information about the spree and/or to register for organized bird walks throughout April and May, call the center's office at 776-9550.