Note: Erika is the Communications Director for Audubon Florida.
I have been birding for about seven years now – time flies when you’re having fun. However, until this spring I had yet to participate in some of birding’s most time-honored traditions: a Birdathon.
Birdathons have been used as Audubon fundraisers for decades, and the concept is simple: count birds in a set period of time – usually 24 hours. Typically, team members fan out across their region, counting as many species as they possibly can from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Of course, nothing is typical about 2020. By the time migration rolled around, we were all sheltering in place.
At Audubon Florida, we opted to change a typical Birdathon to bring not only our staff together, but our whole Florida birding community. Staff would bird for 24 hours as part of a fundraiser. The covid-19 alteration? We committed to staying at home, birding from our yards, balconies, and windows. At the same time, our Audubon Florida community would bird for a week, still staying at home. Who would see more species?
Our 24 hours coincided with Earth Day – the perfect way to celebrate! The day dawned gorgeously at my house in the northern part of the Florida, and I moved my laptop out onto the deck to start counting birds.
The Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Carolina Wrens came first, plus the usual yard birds and a pair of Eastern Kingbirds. Then I got lucky: a handful of Glossy Ibises had recently taken up residence at the lake, and they – along with a Wood Stork – walked right by my yard. Using a small composition notebook, I kept track as each species as it streaked past my field of vision.
In the late afternoon I pulled my red kayak to the edge of the lake, making a slow lap. Our rules were a bit fluid – we didn’t want people to go to parks in case they couldn’t socially-distance safely, but if a birder could launch a boat from his or her house, then why not? As I skirted the edge of the grassy edge of the water body, I added egrets and herons and a Limpkin to my list.
I loved the little burst of positive energy I felt when I wrote down a new species. I had always paid attention to the birds around me, but now each day presented a novel opportunity to observe my feathered friends. Why does writing them down prompt greater focus? Who knows, but I like it!
By the end of our Earth Day Birdathon, I had tallied 39 species. In total, Audubon Florida staff counted 121 species, and Floridians at large submitted over 2,000 checklists that covered 201 birds. Nice!