Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival begins Friday, January 17

Photo By Diane Drobka: The Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival is this weekend, Friday – Sunday. Tours to the Chiricahua Mountains search for Mexican Chickadees and other high-elevation borderland species.

By Diane Drobka

Willcox – The Wings Over Willcox (WOW) Birding and Nature Festival runs from Friday, Jan. 17, through Sunday, Jan. 19, WOW brings together expertly led birding tours, free educational seminars, and a nature expo with live animals and informative exhibits. It’s a great family event with something for all ages including fun activities for kids.

Photo By Diane Drobka: Sandhill Cranes fly against the sunset sky.

Located in southeastern Arizona, Willcox lies at the center of some of the most diverse birding habitat in Arizona. Marshlands like Willcox Playa and Whitewater Draw attract up to 30,000 wintering sandhill cranes that forage in adjacent farm fields by day. Surrounding lakes and ponds draw hundreds of waterfowl and shorebirds. The area is also a hawk watchers paradise with many species easily seen close to town and along roadways.

Climbing in elevation through oak, pinyon and juniper habitats provides a different mix of birds. The nearby Chiricahua and Dragoon mountains include pine, fir and spruce forests; their proximity to the international border results in sightings of species normally seen in Mexico and Central America.

WOW tours explore these habitats attempting to see some of the more than 100 avian species while sometimes catching a glimpse of mammals such as pronghorns and white-tailed deer. Other tours focus on geology, history and even local wines. Tours offer something for both the casual birder who might get excited seeing a Greater Roadrunner and those wanting a new “life list” species such as a Merlin, Yellow-eyed Junco or the recently seen Greater White-fronted Goose.

Photo By Diane Drobka: Burrowing Owls are a special treat sometimes viewed during the Hawk Stalk tours.

Forays include half-day tours such as Sparrow Seek and Hawk Stalk as well as sunrise and sunset crane viewing. Those leaving on early-morning tours can enjoy the Rotary Breakfast at the Willcox Community Center. Transportation and water are provided for all tours; full-day trips include lunch.

Saturday’s evening banquet at the Elks Lodge includes a choice of prime rib, chicken or vegetarian lasagna. Keynote speaker Rick Taylor will present Six Seasons: A Birding Year in the Land of the Apache, highlighting the Chiricahua Apaches’ six seasons based on transitions in nature.

A list of tours and seminars, nature expo participants, local eBird hotspots, hotels, and a biography of the keynote speaker, can be found at www.wingsoverwillcox.com. To inquire about tour availability, call 520-384-2874. Don’t miss your chance to experience this great winter birding event!

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