May 10 - May 14, 2017
The Annual Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival provides a popular venue for visiting southwestern Colorado during the second weekend in May. Nestled between alpine and mesa forests and scenic desert canyons, the Four Corner’s intriguingly diverse landscapes, and mild climate, have drawn people to the region for generations. Ancestral Pueblo farmers dwelled in places now known as Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Canyon of the Ancients. Today’s meadows, pastures, cultivated fields, historic orchards, stock ponds and reservoirs establish habitat for a wide-spectrum of migratory and resident birds. Some species, such as Lucy’s Warbler, are found no place else in Colorado.
Hosted by the Cortez Cultural Center, the UMMV Birding Festival draws upon the expertise of regional wildlife specialists who volunteer as tour guides and guest lecturers. Each year new tours, and repeat favorites, explore an array of birding hotspots that attract avian species from loons and grebes to sparrows, grosbeaks, and finches. Overnight tours within easy driving distance offer different environs and the prospect of encountering species not found within the Cortez area.
Southwest Colorado’s first birding records date to the 1880s. Tours that combine birding with regional archaeology, ecology, and history take UMMV birders into the realms of gulls, shorebirds, waterfowl, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Bald and Golden eagles, elusive owls, woodpeckers, flycatchers and phoebes, American Dipper, towhees, crossbills, and colorful bluebirds, tanagers, and warblers. The festival’s birding tally has climbed to 180 species.
The UMMV Birding Festival designs activities and tours to fit a gamut of abilities, ages, and interests. Early evening lectures, social hours, a bird-themed art show, and banquet add to the festival’s five days of enjoyment — learning, socializing, and most importantly birding.
Two centuries ago, while people in the East were discovering birds and debating how to name them, people in the West were discovering landscapes and lifescapes and passing along the wonder. Western expeditions searched for cities of gold, routes for railroads, sites for military forts, places to mine precious metals; and somewhere in all that searching, people always found new wildlife. More than 150 years passed between the first bird documented in the unnamed place that would become Colorado and the actual naming of the place we now call home. This program presents the history that never gets taught; it is the story of how the discoveries of place and of birds weave together over time.
Kevin J. Cook is a writer-naturalist who lives in Loveland, Colorado. He was a contributor, columnist, and feature writer for Bird Watcher’s Digest for 31 years; he has been a newspaper columnist since 1974; and he has edited about 1,500 research papers for science journals such as The Auk, Condor, and others. More than just birding every county, park, and national forest in Colorado, he has gone birding into Colorado’s past by searching archives for the details of how Colorado’s birdlife came to be known.
Moving from Iowa to Colorado in 1974, Kevin earned his BA in biology from Western State College in Gunnison then his MS in wildlife biology at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. He worked five seasons as an interpretive naturalist with the National Park Service, including four at Curecanti National Recreation Area and one at Everglades National Park. He worked one summer as a wildlife technician for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Since 1981, he has worked full time as a writer-naturalist, a career that has including writing, editing, speaking, consulting, teaching, and guiding, all of it involving Colorado’s lifescapes and wildlife.
Some highlights of his life would include:
- getting head-butted by an elephant
- getting bitten by a leopard
- being hugged by a chimpanzee
- getting stung by a stingray
- almost petting a gray whale
- really petting a northern elephant seal
- getting sniffed by a black bear
- being watched by a puma
- getting stung by a Portuguese-man-o’-war
- publishing about 10,000 pieces of writing
- editing about 1,500 articles for science journals
- evacuating two tour groups from CSU’s Pingree Park campus during the 1994 Hourglass Fire
- backpacked, hiked, cross-country skied, and snowshoed over 30,000 miles in Colorado
- hiked alone in the dark of night for 40 years
- found almost 2,000 plants
- almost 400 birds
- almost 100 mammals
- almost 500 mushrooms
- more than 200 butterflies
- almost 80 fishes
- 25 of 27 snakes
- 18 of 19 lizards
- 4 of 5 turtles
- 20 of 26 orchids
- all of these just in Colorado, and he has a lot more to find with no intentions of quitting until he has seen every living creature in Colorado or else dies trying!
When recently submitting a book manuscript to a publisher, he reduced the requested one-page autobiography to two sentences:
When working, I walk among the trees that I might engage the birds and wildflowers that I might learn about them to enrich the lives of others. When relaxing, I walk among the trees that I might engage the birds and wildflowers to enrich my own life.
Kevin will present the 2017 UMMV Birding Festival’s Keynote Address “200 Miles of Birding in 200 Years” on Saturday, May 13th at 7:30 pm at the Cortez Conference Center.