Casual nature lovers and avid bird watchers alike gathered Saturday to compete in an urban nature scavenger hunt held on the light rail.
Participants gathered in Phoenix and rode the light rail in search of local wildlife for the second Railbirds event hosted by the Rio Salado Audubon Center. Although Railbirds had a strong focus on bird watching, the main purpose was to help promote wildlife conservation in Arizona, said Audubon Center development associate Valerie Ramos, who described birding as a “gateway to conservation.”
“Railbirds opens their eyes to the environment around them and the importance of protecting it,” Ramos said.
The 60 participants were split up into five teams that competed to spot the most bird species and mark off items on the scavenger hunt list, including solar panels and birdhouses. For additional points, teams could upload pictures of the items they found on the Audubon Arizona Facebook page.
Railbirds is also a way to familiarize people with Audubon Arizona, Ramos said. Stephanie Lieb, who attended the event for the first time Saturday, said Railbirds did just that, adding that Railbirds was a great way to meet new people.
“I learned more about the organization in general and learned that there are fun activities and events besides just bird watching,” Lieb said.
Not only did Railbirds introduce participants to bird watching, it also was the first time that many contestants rode the light rail. Jeremy and Michaela Pomeory rode the light rail for the first time during the event and found that validating their tickets and riding the rails was pretty straightforward.
Valley Metro Communication Manager Susan Tierney said events like this one are a great way to introduce people to the light rail and demonstrate the impact it has on the community.
“It shows people the added value of the light rail and is a unique way for Audubon Arizona to accomplish their goal of sighting birds,” Tierney said.
Railbirds brings together a wide variety of people, Ramos said. Participants of all ages came out to spot local birds. Isaiah Lopez brought his three children — Naomi, 9, Elijah, 8, and Rebecca, 6 — who said they enjoyed seeing a roadrunner in a saguaro cactus.
“It’s really fun because it brings together a really diverse audience,” said Ramos. “Birders who’ve done it for years and younger people who just want to ride the rails.”
Mo Walters, an ASU education professor who attended Railbirds, said she enjoyed the fact that the event was very family friendly and hopes that more children attend in the future. Another Railbirds event may be held next year, Ramos said.
“It’s important to get kids unplugged and outdoors,” Walters said. She added that she enjoyed seeing all of the “nooks and crannies of wildlife” in the urban environment.
The team that observed the most birds spotted 29 different species. The Nashville Warbler was the rarest bird of the day, said Tim Tagtmeyer, who announced the winning team for each of the events. An Acorn Woodpecker, Osprey and Anna’s Woodpecker where just a few of the other birds that were seen along the light rail, said Steve Prager, a teacher at the center.
Scavenger hunters also competed to wear the best costumes. Tiffany Sprague dressed as a black-footed ferret. A zombie birdwatcher and Raggedy Anne were a couple of the other outfits that participants wore to compete for the award.
After the scavenger hunt, participants convened at the Rio Salado Audubon Center located two miles south of the city for the award presentation. The center, Ramos said, is accessible to an urban audience. The Audubon center holds many events that promote the message of conservation through advocacy, Ramos said.
River Nights is the next event for the center, Ramos said. The event will be held at the Rio Salado Audubon Center on November 16 and will feature the Bad Cactus Brass Band. The overall winners of Railbirds were awarded tickets to this event.
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