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Birdathons for Fun, Pain and Profit

Birders at Point Traverse. Terry Sprague photo

I took part in a Birdathon last week. It’s a gruelling exercise where birders in an active mood will spend a full 24 hours in the field, seeking out and identifying birds. Its purpose? To raise funds for a worthy cause – in my case, it was to generate revenue for the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. I didn’t spend a full 24 hours checking off birds on my checklist, as the days of such brutal torture are over for me. But I did spend 18 hours, and for someone creeping closer and closer to 66 years of age, I am quite happy with my time in the field. I emerged sunburnt, fatigued, and walking a bit like my father when he was 92. After a Waring House meal of liver and onions, fortified by a Coors Light, I regained some of my strength and carried on a little longer before I fell into bed at 9:00 p.m. With the help of three birding friends, Kathy Felkar, Mike Burge and Borys Holowacz, we rounded up 120 species. In earlier years when my feet didn’t rebel, I have reached 148 species. But we were all happy. Birding by ear comes in very handy when trees are in full leaf, but we did catch glimpses of a Canada warbler, radiant in its blue back, black necklace and yellow spectacles. With the help of a Barrie couple who we met, we had a great look at a cerulean warbler, with a song so similar to the northern parula, I no longer wonder why I have overlooked so many ceruleans in past years. How odd to see it foraging in a clump of prickly ash when their normal habitat is in the forest canopy. But Prince Edward Point’s famous Point Traverse Trails always produces surprises. A week earlier, it was a summer tanager, a long way from its southern haunts. Surprises were elsewhere too. A Wilson’s phalarope walked in front of our powerful spotting scope in the flooded cornfields on Kaiser Crossroad. It’s a shorebird that swims instead of running along the beach, spinning in crazy circles as its stirs up insects, and male and female plumages are reversed with the female wearing the brighter colours. It was radiant in its contrasting brown, white and black plumage. And so it went the entire day – a chortling pied billed grebe at a wetland along the Millennium Trail off Danforth Road, a late rusty blackbird and an equally late yellow-bellied sapsucker at Prince Edward Point, a sky blue indigo bunting at Macaulay Mountain, a pine warbler at Sandbanks. However, the obvious was missed – not a nuthatch to be seen, no green heron, no pileated woodpecker and it wasn’t until end of day that a hummingbird finally showed up. That’s the way Birdathons go and why master bird bander David Okines of the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory got 130 species, while others managed fewer species. But at the end of the day all that really matters are the $$$ we bring in. For us, it was over $1,500 of support, and when all the results are in, the Observatory will likely realize more than $12,000. And that is good news for this research facility.

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is

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  1. Borys Holowacz says:

    I was part of the birding quartet, being the junior member in terms of experience and skill. My main obligation was to drive The County as the experts, Terry, Mike and Kathy secured our respectable count.

    As the junior member of our group, I encourage all County residents to awake to the wonder of our natural surroundings and in particular to our beautiful birds, whose songs and grace in flight are able to enchant us.

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