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get your bird on!

May 2, 2009

A few weeks ago, my peers back in Boston celebrated the Massachusetts-only holiday that is officially called “Patriots’ Day,” but more commonly referred to as “Marathon Monday.” Most of them did so by waking up early to drink (kegs and eggs, baby!), then watching the Boston Marathon while continuing to imbibe. And although drinking in public is technically illegal and drinking before noon is generally frowned upon, it’s okay because they then spend the rest of the day cheering on the runners in a manner that only someone who is drunk in the middle of the afternoon can.

But now that I live in Seattle, if I wanted to celebrate in solidarity with my Beantown pals, I would have to do so without the benefit of a statewide day off or a marathon to watch. I couldn’t get too upset about it, though. While my friends were yelling themselves hoarse on the streets of Boston, I was busy gearing up for a different kind of marathon.

Before you get too impressed, I should clarify that it was actually a Birdathon, a common type of fundraiser among Audubon chapters. Teams of birders ask their families and friends to sponsor their effort to see as many species of birds as possible in a self-chosen 24-hour period, otherwise known as a “big day.” I know it sounds crazy, but welcome to the world of competitive birding.

The staff at Seattle Audubon took a more relaxed approach to Birdathon and chose to bird exclusively in King County in order to minimize our carbon emissions. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see more of Eastern Washington, but it was a good decision for an environmentally-minded organization. Besides, I’ve never been comfortable with the huge distances that list chasers will regularly travel to (hopefully) see certain birds.

Even with the restriction, we still saw tons of birds. I’m still new to the area and to birding in general, so I only counted birds that I could confidently identify again on my own and ended up with 73 species and 13 additions to my life list. I don’t know if I could choose a favorite, but I was thrilled to see a Red-breasted Sapsucker and to get more practice in grebe identification. Horned Grebes in breeding plumage are gorgeous! And as someone who learns by doing, I definitely learned a ton that day. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many Seattle parks where we stopped and practicing my new identification skills.

However, I do have one complaint about the day. Our original plan had been to bird all day, then take a break for dinner and drinks before heading back into the field to go owling. But once dinnertime rolled around, everyone pleaded exhaustion and we called it a day. We had been birding for twelve hours, but what better time to test the limits of endurance birding than during Birdathon? Perhaps next year some UW students can be persuaded inspire a second wind with some drunken cheering. It can be a new Seattle tradition!

Seattle's Official City Bird

Seattle's Official City Bird

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