I never really understood birders. Maybe it's because I could never make binoculars work properly (or never had a really decent pair to use). Maybe it's because I always got a crook in my neck when I tried to see them up high in the tree. Maybe it's because when I did manage to get a bird in sight, I still couldn't really see it very well, and it would fly away so quickly. Whatever the reasons, birding has been difficult for me.
Over the years, though, I have met so many kind and patient birders who have helped me learn in the field. Birding has actually become a pleasure. I sit at the back windows during lunch to see who's coming to the feeder. I listen for birds while hiking and try to learn the species by voice. I even find myself keeping lists of birds sighted during staff meetings (shh - don't tell my boss).
May is a crazy time for birding. In addition to the birds who will stick around and breed in our region, there are dozens of species that are just passing through to breeding grounds further north. That makes May a perfect time to hold a birdathon. We are currently soliciting pledges, much as people do for other fundraisers: dance-athon, jump-athon, that sort of thing. People can pledge a set amount, or an amount per species. On the first Saturday in May, the education staff accompanied by members and friends then goes out to identify as many species as possible in 24 hours.
We can usually pick up three species of swallows at Akeley Swamp.
We start at 6 a.m. at the center and check off nearly a dozen species outside the back window while charging up with coffee and breakfast treats. We've done it for enough years that we know just where to go to pick up species that have narrower habitat preferences. (Waterthrushes sing on the back side of Spatterdock Pond. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers hang out on the banks of the spillway behind Big Pond - and once or twice we have even seen a Redheaded Woodpecker back there. We can usually find Indigo Buntings and Blue-winged Warblers if we take a short drive to Akeley Swamp.)
At the end of our group birding excursion, we break into smaller sub-teams and head out to pick up a few more species. I have found myself on farm roads looking for Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks, or down at the Chautauqua Lake outlet looking for double-crested Cormorants. Others might head to a gull gathering to pick up a few species.
Our goals include having fun and learning a new bird or two. Our main goal is to raise money - a scholarship for a deserving student. This year's recipient, Allison Cramer of Lakewood, is currently attending JCC and has been accepted to the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, where she plans to pursue a degree in conservation biology. She wants "future generations to be able to make their own memories, to experience the beauty of the natural world, to gasp in awe at nature's breathtaking moments, and to strike a passion into the younger generation for the Earth as it was made to be seen."
Part of the deal is that the recipient has to go birding with us. Allison will join us on Saturday, May 4 to go birding for bucks. Others are welcome to join us, too. If you are interested, call Audubon at 569-2345 and ask for anyone in the education department. If tromping around looking for birds isn't your cup of tea, but you'd like to help out by pledging, give us a call, or click over to our online donation page from jamestownaudubon.org.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, a quarter-mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. Learn more about programs and activities by calling 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.