It’s no coincidence that this column is in the sports section. Yep -I’m saying that watching birds is a sport.
Competitions do take place, and one is coming up later this month. It’s National Audubon’s yearly “Bird-a-thon.”
When I first mentioned the bird-a-thon to a friend of mine – a nonbirder – she asked, “Is it how many birds you can eat? If it is, then count me in!”
She was kidding, of course. I hope.
This nationwide event is organized by local Audubon chapters in an effort to raise money for conservation. In this area, the Penobscot Valley Audubon Chapter oversees the fund-raiser to support the Fields Pond Nature Center. Participants seek out sponsors to donate money for the effort; it’s similar to a walkathon, only instead of miles walked, it is the number of bird species identified that counts.
Birders must pick one 24-hour period between May 18 and May 27 to conduct their search. They may choose to participate individually or in teams.
It isn’t the recognition that matters, although the friendly spirit of competition is there for those who want to take part in it. What matters is knowing that you helped raise money for a good cause, and you don’t have to be a serious, expert birder to do it. You don’t even have to leave your house – you could just count the number of species you see in your own backyard.
You may spend as little as an hour on the endeavor if you like. The best thing about a competition like this is that people may participate on different levels. Many diehards who don’t mind a little sleep deprivation will stay out for the full 24 hours, adding as many night birds to their lists as possible. Others will scout and plot out good birding spots days or weeks in advance.
In the end, I guess, to birders the competition is really with ourselves. Do we know our birds well enough to know which habitats they occupy, and when? Are we familiar enough with the birds in our neighborhoods to know what time of day we might see them in a particular spot?
Just how good are we in asking people to donate money?
The latter is something I was never really comfortable with. However, one year a 2-year-old boy got all of his relatives to sponsor him and he raised $110 by identifying 13 bird species. I figured if he could do it, then I could, too.
So I’m going to go out there and count those birds.
To find out more about this event and how you can participate, e-mail or call the Fields Pond Nature Center at 989-2591.
Chris Corio, a volunteer at Fields Pond Nature Center in Holden, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org