Fast-paced fun: a first-time Birdathon story

By Eric Schroeder
My wife and I have been members of Golden Gate Bird Alliance for about five years, but until last year we had only been marginally active, occasionally attending the monthly talks in Berkeley. Then last year I enrolled in a year-long Master Birding Program that was co-sponsored by GGBA and the California Academy of Sciences, and, as a result, I was very excited when I received the list of Birdathon outings. Two in particular caught my eye.
The first was the Big Six Hours in Oakland trip—six hours of birding in Oakland (!) with the chance to see over one hundred species. Frankly, it was the preposterousness of the claim that hooked me. How could anyone see one hundred species of birds in Oakland? Let alone in six hours?
But trip leader Glen Tepke knows his Oakland. The day seemed much more like a whirlwind than a marathon, with stops at Sibley Regional Park, Joaquin Miller Regional Park, Lake Temescal, Lake Merritt, Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Garretson Point, and Arrowhead Marsh. Highlights for the day ranged from a pair of Golden Eagles to a Cassin’s Vireo. At 1:15 p.m., Glen had 101 birds on his official Birdathon list and I had done a respectable job of keeping up, recording 95 species on my personal list.

Big Six Hours in Oakland team
The 2016 team for Big Six Hours in Oakland, with Glen Tepke in front

Cassin’s Vireo by Bob Lewis

My second Birdathon event was the 146 (!) Birds in a Day in the East Bay Parks event. I call this trip an “event” because I’m not sure there’s a more appropriate term for this marathon outing. When I arrived at Del Valle Regional Park at 5:45 a.m. for the dawn chorus, I was surprised to see that there were already about a dozen people there—and some, it turned out, had been there for almost an hour. (Now THAT’S dedication to birding!)
Led by East Bay Regional Park District biologist Dave “Doc Quack” Riensche, this trip visits many of the gems of the East Bay Parks system, including Del Valle, Shadow Cliffs, Sunol, Garin, and Coyote Hills. And whereas the Oakland trip had featured a pair of Golden Eagles, this one featured a pair of Bald Eagles: At sunrise the pair were spotted bringing food back to their nest for the chicks that had been born earlier in the month.
146 Birds in a Day trip in 2015, at Coyote Hills / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Least Tern at Hayward Regional Shoreline, one of the sites visited in the 146 Birds in a Day trip / Photo by Rick Lewis

These two Birdathon trips were highlights of my 2016 Big Year. (Well, technically it wasn’t a Big Year but given all of the birding that I was doing for my Master Birding Program, it certainly came to feel that way.)
I loved the fast pace of both trips and the opportunity to see a lot of birds in a wide range of habitats. But it was also my first time doing fundraising for GGBA, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. Rather than blanket all of my friends with an overarching email, I decided to approach people selectively, ones whom I knew would be interested in what I was doing.
Almost all of the friends I approached not only donated, but donated enthusiastically. Some were pleased to be able to pledge a dollar for every species that I saw—even when I told them about 146 (!) Birds in a Day in the East Bay Parks. But the one that touched me the most was my six-year-old next-door neighbor Arden Love, who has a special “Give” allowance that he uses for helping others (people, animals, places, ideas). His donation to GGBA was the very first distribution from his Give jar.
He chose to donate ten cents for every species that I saw. Now if I could get every member of GGBA to do that….

Birdathon 2017, the biggest fundraiser of the year for Golden Gate Bird Alliance, will take place throughout the month of April. Choose from 23 different one-of-a-kind trips and behind-the-scene tours! See our Birdathon Trips page to sign up for a trip; then create a fundraising web page to raise money from friends, or make a tax-deductible donation yourself.
Are you new to Birdathon or nervous about fundraising? We’re offering a special fundraising training session on Sunday morning, March 12 — and, as a token of our appreciation, combining it with a Bob Lewis bird walk at Coyote Hills! Details and sign-up on the Birdathon Trips page, or email Ilana for more information at

Eric Schroeder recently retired from a 30-year teaching career at U.C. Davis. While working for U.C.Davis he led more than twenty overseas study abroad programs, mostly in Scotland, Australia, and South Africa. His wife Susan Palo got him interested in birding years ago—he took to it quickly, realizing what a great portable hobby it is! About twenty years ago he began incorporated birding into his overseas programs—a practice that caused some of his students consternation but which was embraced by others who occasionally send him an email about some rarity they have seen on their own recent travels.

Eric Schroeder and friend — NOT taken on a Birdathon trip