This year’s Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival drew bird-watchers of all ages to Montezuma County.
Festival organizer Diane Cherbak said festival-goers spotted dozens of species during tours across over the county, and some experienced bird-watchers competed to find the most species.
Birdwatchers typically spot more than 100 bird species during the festival. Last year, they counted 160, Cherbak said.
On Saturday, a family tour at the Butler Corner Nature Center near Dolores was much more laid back as several families gathered for a walk through the forest and a child-friendly introduction to birdwatching.
On Sunday, a diverse group of birders arrived at Summit Lake Reservoir for a tour led by a teenager who knows to make the birds come calling.
The bonanza at Summit LakeOn a breezy Sunday morning, the birders arrived at Summit Lake Reservoir led by 16-year-old Martin Cuntz, who has been birding since he was 10 years old. He is a member of the Durango Bird Club and a Youth Bird Ambassador of the Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival.
Cuntz also led a tour during the festival last year, which brought him back as a return guest. He has a unique way of guiding, encouraging everyone to listen for bird calls. When he heard a specific call, he would play the call back from his phone to try rouse the bird from the brush. The calls brought a few birds into sight that the group might not have been able to see otherwise.
Cuntz led a first-time birder, 12-year-old Max Wright, on the tour. Wright got a bit ahead of the group and was the first to spot an eagle circling the reservoir.
Carlito Tsosie, 12, attended Cuntz’s tour last year with his cousin and had so much fun he wanted to bring his brother, sister and mother for Mother’s Day.
Tsosie said he likes the variety of birds you can see on a tour like the one at Summit Lake, and especially likes to listen as the birds sing in the morning.
The tour included seasoned veterans of birding, some from Monticello, Utah, who helped Cuntz keep track and count of all the birds seen.
According to the Cortez Cultural Center, 71 species were found on the Summit Lake tour in 2017. A final count for 2018 has not been completed.
Family day at Butler CornerKathie Butler, owner of the Butler Corner Nature Center, has been offering tours for all ages during the birding festival since 2009. She owns 6 miles of public trails with 98 bluebird houses along the way, so her land is a popular spot. But she especially enjoys hosting tours for children, she said. The former teacher and children’s librarian has hosted field trips and other events for local students about once a week since 2016, and has made it a goal to teach them about nature.
“I’ve always dreamed of having kids come out here and learn things,” she said.
Gabi Morey, a seasoned birding tour guide and director of education and outreach for the San Juan Mountains Association, led about a dozen parents and children on the tour. She started in Butler’s welcome center, which is under construction, by showing the children a selection of bird bones, feathers and eggs, and explained how to spot different species in the wild.
Each child got a set of binoculars as they set out into the woods, and some adults brought their own. Morey said she didn’t expect them to spot many species, since the tour was late in the morning.
“It’s not the best bird time,” she said. “I make this more of a nature walk than a specific bird tour. ... I think kids are more interested in general nature things rather than just focusing on birds.”
But despite the tour’s lateness and the winds that blew throughout, families did spot several types of sparrow and bluebirds, a turkey vulture and other species.
Most of the people on the tour were participating in the Birding Festival for the first time. Brian and Lindsay Moore said they heard about the festival through the Chris Vest-designed poster, while they were planning a trip to Mesa Verde National Park with their daughters, Aubrey and Cadence.
“It was such a pretty poster, and so Brian looked it up and saw, ‘Hey, it’s the same weekend we’ll be there,’” Lindsay Moore said.
Heather Faulkner, a former student of Butler’s, was new to the festival, but it was her son Hayden’s second time. He said he hoped to see a woodpecker on the tour, but he also liked the nature hike.
“It’s just a walk through the woods, looking at some cool stuff,” he said.
The big pictureCherbak said about 160 people had signed up to participate in birding tours throughout the county, which she said is a typical number for the festival. One tour, taken with a pontoon boat on the McPhee Reservoir, turned up 61 bird species.
Some of the notable species birders had spotted by Saturday included an eagle at Summit Lake Reservoir, great horned owl at Butler Corner, a northern mockingbird at Hawkins Preserve, a willow flycatcher at Ute Mountain Tribal Park and an American white pelican at McPhee.
This year’s “theme bird” was the swallow, which has six species common to the Cortez area. Festival events were held all day on May 9 through 13, mostly starting and ending at the Cortez Cultural Center.
Some of the tour locations this year included Canyons of the Ancients, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Lizard Head Pass and an overnight tour in Bluff, Utah.
This year, volunteers also planned some half-day tours for beginning birders.
The festival is organized by the Cortez Cultural Center and is one of its major annual fundraisers. In past years, the festival has typically raised about $10,000 annually for the Cultural Center.