A surprising Birdathon star

By Ilana DeBare

You might think that the top Birdathon fundraiser would be an experienced birder. You might think that he or she would be an experienced fundraiser.

You’d be wrong!

Berkeley resident Bonnie Ng knocked the Birdathon ball out of the park in 2014, raising a whopping $2,480 to support Bay Area birds. And she was a relative novice both at birding and at fundraising.

“I have to confess, we didn’t even know what Birdathon was when we started,” she said.

Bonnie’s early ventures into birding were not auspicious. Many years ago, she got up at 2 a.m. to go on an owling trip and didn’t hear a single owl. Then she went on a pelagic trip to the Farallones and watched people vomiting all around her.

“After that I stopped birding,” she said. “But when I retired ten years ago, I had more time and started going to Audubon lectures.”

Birdathon grabbed her interest for a couple of reasons.

First, she wanted to improve her birding skills. Second, she wanted a project that she could share with her husband Paul Kramer. “Many of our projects are competitive with each other,” she said. “I wanted something more even-keeled where we could enjoy nature. I asked him to be my Birdathon partner and he immediately agreed.”

Bonnie Ng exploring another aspect of nature with her daughter, who was one of her Birdathon donors
Bonnie Ng exploring another aspect of nature with her daughter, who was one of her Birdathon donors

Bonnie and Paul signed up for the Birding Boot Camp field trip. And here Bonnie had a third reason – trip leader Allan Ridley.

Years ago, her job involved landscape planning for Buena Vista Park. Park officials were recommending clear-cutting much of the park to prevent illicit activity in the underbrush. But Bonnie felt that the wild, natural feeling of the park was one of its most intriguing characteristics. She sought input about park wildlife over the phone from the biology teacher at the Urban School… who happened to be Allan.

“When I saw his name as a Birdathon trip leader, I decided that I was going to see what Allan Ridley looks like!” she said.

Once Bonnie and Paul had decided to do the Birding Boot Camp, they settled down to fundraising. Bonnie was nervous, but sent a heartfelt email to her friends.

Bonnie receives the top fundraiser award at the 2014 Birdathon Awards Celebration
Bonnie receives the top fundraiser award at the 2014 Birdathon Awards Celebration

“It was truly amazing the (number of) people who responded,” she said. “I guess my personal confession that we were birding neophytes and old lovers who needed a new project just touched a lot of hearts.”

By the end, she’d gotten 37 donations and raised more than twice her initial goal of $1000!

“You wonder, ‘Can I really make a difference?’” she said. “But you just have to get over your fear of asking for money. When you realize it’s for a greater cause, it becomes worth stepping out of your comfort zone.”

Fundraising wasn’t Bonnie’s  only Birdathon success. She loved the Boot Camp field trip, which is being offered again this year on Saturday April 11.

“We went early in the morning and there was so much to see,” she recalled. “There would be ID contention and we would stay for a long time looking for markings. It was really interesting how much patience it took. It was a great day to observe both birds and human beings.”

Bonnie took copious notes during the trip. Afterwards, she bought a Sibley field guide to keep by her computer. Now, a year later, she is the bird expert among her daily tennis partners.

“It’s so wonderful to stop a match to ID a bird,” Bonnie said. “And the people on my court get so excited!”


You can do what Bonnie did! Sign up for a Birdathon trip and raise money from friends. You’ll have fun… and you’ll feel the pride of making a difference for Bay Area birds.

Click here for a list of Birdathon trips, and then here to create a fundraising page where your friends can make online donations. You can also download a page of helpful fundraising tips. The most important one is the one that was key to Bonnie’s success: Speak from your heart.