Bay Birding Challenge Returns on April 1st

By Eric Schroeder

Cal versus Stanford… A’s versus Giants… and now East Bay Birders versus San Francisco Birders!

Yes, there’s a new tradition of regional rivalry in the Bay Area. On April 1st, birding teams representing S.F. (Stork Raven Mad) and the East Bay (East Bay Scrub Jays) will square off in the second annual Bay Birding Challenge to see who can find the most bird species in a day during Golden Gate Bird Alliance’s Birdathon fundraising season.

Last year San Francisco eked out a narrow victory, 146 species to 141, after 13 hours of birding that started at 6:14 a.m. This year the teams have new leaders—Derek Heins for the East Bay and Keith Maley for S.F.—and new strategies.

What will happen? Who will find the most birds? Which team will generate the most love (i.e. donations from supporters like you)? It’s anyone’s guess, but here’s our version of a tip sheet about the teams’ strategies and backgrounds.

Last Year

The 2022 Bay Birding Challenge was a study in contrasts. Team SF, led by Rachel Lawrence, ran like clockwork. In fact, the team designated roles for its members, including a timekeeper to get members back in their cars on schedule: the entire day was parsed into fifteen-minute segments. Team East Bay was more free-form. Led by Alex Henry, they planned their first stop—Mitchell Canyon on the backside of Mt. Diablo—hoping to cash in on spring migrants. (They did this, recording 46 species, including some hoped-for warblers, but it took three hours.) Beyond Mitchell Canyon, though, there was no plan. Strategy evolved as the day went on. But despite the vastly different styles, the race was close.

Team East Bay (East Bay Scrub Jays) 2023

Derek Heins, Team EB’s new leader, has a clear strategy for winning—”a very strict timeline.” (Does that sound like a page from the Team SF playbook?) Added to that, he plans to have a clearer template for the day, including “doing different forest areas early in the day.” Thus no trek out to Mt. Diablo but instead an early morning trip up Berkeley’s Vollmer Peak. 

Derek Heins, the team captain of the East Bay Scrub Jays competing in the Bay Birding Challenge this year – photo provided by Derek Heins

As one of the co-compilers of GGBA’s Richmond Christmas Bird Count and the current Treasurer for GGBA’s Board of Directors, Derek has the organizational skills to implement a carefully planned schedule. After all, when he and his co-compiler organized the first Richmond Christmas Bird Count last year, it was wildly successful, with 180 participants placing it in the top twenty CBCs nationally last year (out of a total of 2,621 count circles!)  Moreover, Derek will use his passion to motivate his teammates, both those returning—Clay Anderson, Anne Ardillo, Alex Henry, Dan Roth, and me (Eric Schroeder)—and the team’s two new members, Jeff Manker and Tara McIntire.

When Derek was in sixth grade and school friends were collecting baseball cards, he recalls that a teacher had bird cards. He thought they were cool. By that time he was already interested in birds. On a family road trip to visit relatives in South Dakota, he and his siblings each got to pick out something from the gift shop in a national park. Derek, the youngest, chose a Peterson’s field guide (for which he endured some ribbing from family members). But its influence was evident—he still recalls the shrike he saw on the trip, what he regards as his spark bird. And, in planning a foray along Mines Road as part of the team’s itinerary, he’s hoping to pick up a Loggerhead Shrike.

Show the East Bay some love! Click here to donate to GGBA in support of Derek and his team. You can make a flat donation or pledge a certain amount for every species they find. If you pledge by species, your credit card won’t be billed until after the team reports its total.

Team S.F. 2023

Keith Maley, who is taking over leadership of the San Francisco team, won’t go down easily. Keith is currently co-teaching “Bird City,” a San Francisco-based beginning bird class, for Golden Gate Bird Alliance. It’s his fourth time teaching the class, and he says he’s motivated by his enjoyment at seeing beginning birders discover a species that’s new for them. Like Derek’s, Keith’s love of birds is contagious, which accounts for the fact that the team is almost entirely made up of returnees from last year—Lisa Bach, Nina Bai, Dawn Lemoine, Yvette Macdonald, Eddie Monson, and Lisa Moorhouse. Their efforts will be boosted by the addition of first-time Challenge participant Eli Gross.

Keith Maley, the S.F. (Stork Raven Mad) team captain for this year’s Bay Birding Challenge – photo provided by Keith Maley

While Keith is quick to say the East Bay team has a natural advantage because of the more varied habitats accessible to them, he’s confident that he can keep the title in San Francisco, citing the “high energy” of his teammates. And their organization will help, of course. He estimates they made almost thirty stops on their Big Day last year and says that this year’s route “will be similar.”

Like Derek, Keith dates his interest in birds to his childhood. He recalls being at the beach when he was about four-years old and seeing a flock of birds, which caused him to shout “Mom and Dad— look at all the chickens!” His parents did what Derek’s folks did: they bought him a Peterson’s field guide. The field guide helped him identify his own spark bird around his neighbor’s feeder—a Ring-necked Pheasant. (He seems a bit sheepish in recalling that his childhood favorite was a non-native species.) 

Keith also likes to recall how, as a boy at Christmas time, he enjoyed wandering around looking for Snowy Owls. Like Derek’s friends when he was young, Keith’s pals didn’t know what to make of this interest. But his non-birding adult friends get it, though—the charismatic nature of owls was on full display earlier this year when a Snowy Owl spent a month in a suburban neighborhood in Southern California.

Show the S.F. Team some love! Click here to donate to GGBA in support of Keith and his team. You can make a flat donation or pledge a certain amount for every species they find. If you pledge by species, your credit card won’t be billed until after the team reports its total.

Funds raised by the Bay Birding Challenge will support Golden Gate Bird Alliance’s education, conservation, and bird advocacy work. Can’t decide which team to support? Make a tax deductible contribution to both! Then follow our Facebook  and Instagram throughout the day on April 1st to get ongoing updates on how the two teams are doing. This year’s April 1st will be full of birding drama… and that’s no fooling. 

Eric Schroeder is President of the GGBA Board of Directors and a founder of the Bay Birding Challenge.