Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Birdathon? Only birders would come up with such an activity!

By Sara Pike, Operations & Marketing Director, Tucson Audubon Society

That’s right! Birders did come up with this activity, but if you have any interest or love for the outdoors, then a Birdathon can be fun and of interest to you!

So, Birdathon…Did you know that each year, Tucson Audubon Society hosts an annual Birdathon event? This event is a fundraiser for Tucson Audubon, but it’s also a great way to get started into birding if you have an interest or a great way to get out there further if you’re already a birder (someone who enjoys birds.)

Birdathon is like a walkathon where you can get someone to sponsor you per mile, but in this case you can ask for a pledge per bird species. How cool and different is that? Then, you choose your day during the designated Birdathon time frame and go out and see as many bird species as possible. Some people do this individually, some join a team and some create their own teams.

The ultimate goal is to raise funds for Tucson Audubon Society, your local non-profit and expert on birds and habitat conservation. Habitat conservation means more open space for birds and other wildlife, which ultimately means a more beautiful southeastern Arizona! If you live here, you’ll know what I mean. We live in a beautiful location, with such a diversity of birds (over 300 species you can find here in our region alone) that it’s hard not to notice the beauty and range of habitats, from the top of Mt. Lemmon to the bottom of Saguaro National Park, when you get out and about.

Let me share a bit of what a Birdathon might look like on the ground. This year, I am joining my long standing team, the Wrenegades (yes, pun intended on the bird name!) There are other teams already set up and ready for you to join, such as the Owlympians, the Patagonia Birder Patrol, The Birdbrains, or the Scott’s Orioles. If you are new to birding and want to give it a try, you can simply join one of these expert-led teams and let the birding expert do all the planning for your bird watching day. You just show up and have a great time, learn about birds and gain a new love, or further enhance your love, for the outdoors, bird habitat and the art of bird watching.

This year, the Wrenegades are planning a “Big Day” which means we hope to go out birding for most, if not all, of a 24 hour day. We’re planning to start at 3:00am! What birds can we see at 3:00am you ask? Well, if we show up at Reid Park with a good ear for listening and a flashlight, we might be able to hear (and start counting for the official species list for the day) Great-horned Owl and possibly an overly-excited Northern Mockingbird or Vermilion Flycatcher. By briefly shining a flashlight along the lake at the park, we may see American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and of course the beautiful Mallard Duck.

Black-crowned Night Heron


Vermilion Flycatcher
From there, we make the drive up Mt. Lemmon, in the dark, stopping at various elevations to listen for owls and other night birds. It’s funny to imagine a group of folks, traipsing around in the dark with hands cupped to ears listening for owls to call, but yes, this is what makes Birdathon fun! Different owls prefer different habitat and elevation, so we can count different species along the entire nighttime drive up to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Then, as we watch dawn break in the sky, we can enjoy the glory of a dawn chorus of daytime birds calling out their territories, such as Red-faced Warbler and House Wren. For a Birdathon, you can count a bird species if you hear it, too. So, having someone on your team (like one of the expert leaders of the expert-led teams) who knows bird calls is helpful, but not required.

Red-faced Warbler

Wilson's Warbler
A drive down Mt. Lemmon with a lot of the same stops as we made on the way up in the dark can bring a whole list of new, daytime bird species to count, such as Wilson’s Warbler and Red-tailed Hawk. Once we’re at the bottom of Mt. Lemmon, we’re on our way to various bird watching locations around Tucson and southeastern Arizona. These may include Patagonia, Madera Canyon, and a few wastewater treatment plants, because birders know that birds love these places! By the end of our Birdathon, we’re hoping to have counted around 150–160 species of birds. Yes, you can count this many species, if not more, in a days-worth of intense and focused birding around southeastern Arizona.

For the more casual birder, just a morning of Birdathon will do. Maybe a trip to a State Park, maybe a walk up Madera Canyon, or a shorter route to the parks around Tucson, will suffice to bring in 30 – 40 species and make it a fun day of bird watching without too much hassle. Some of the expert-led Birdathon teams, such as the Tucson Birding Trail Map team, have such short, relaxing days planned for you already; they just need you to join up!

You could also consider a “Big Sit” which means you join up with a group, and spend time in one location and count the birds within a specified radius of your location. The Agua Caliente Birdbrains Big Sit, or the Paton Center for Hummingbirds Big Sit teams will do just this!

Each team raises funds, or there is a minimum suggested donation to join an expert-led team.

In the end, it’s all for a great cause that supports birds and conservation of bird habitat in southeastern Arizona.

To get more details on this fundraiser and to join a team, see the Tucson Audubon website here:

Get out there and enjoy some of the great birds southeastern Arizona has to offer!

Sara Pike has been with Tucson Audubon Society for 10 years. She started watching birds when she was 20 years old, thanks to an introduction by her cousin who is into the hobby. Sara is proud to be a resident of this area and to be able to appreciate the beauty of southeastern Arizona, and the diversity of birds and wildlife here.

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