Birdathon 2023 Breaks Records

By Ilana DeBare

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Birdathon 2023 broke all previous records for a Golden Gate Bird Alliance Birdathon, raising about 50 percent more money than last year and engaging more participants than ever before.

So—before we get into the highlights—we need to give a really big THANK YOU to our amazing field trip leaders, fundraisers, Bay Birding Challenge team members, auction bidders and prize donors, Celebration Host Committee and volunteers, and of course all of you who made donations or paid to go on a Birdathon trip.

Why does this matter? As GGBA’s main fundraiser of the year, Birdathon is vital to our continuing work on habitat restoration, nature education, and conservation advocacy. Your Birdathon contributions are building a stronger chapter that can do more for our local birds and local communities!

Great Horned Owl photographed during the Bay Birding Challenge, part of Birdathon 2023. Photo: Tara McIntire

Here are the numbers for Birdathon 2023, which officially concluded on May 21:

Total funds raised

This total includes:

• Individual fundraising, including pledges for the Bay Birding Challenge and general donations to     Birdathon: $53,800
• Field trip fees: $42,000
• Auction sales: $14,200
• Celebration Host Committee donations: $8,300

(Note: These are rounded to the nearest $100)

By comparison, the total raised in 2022 was about $77,000. The total in 2019, our last fully in-person Birdathon before Covid, was $66,000.

This year, 23 volunteer field trip leaders hosted a total of 27 trips that drew 278 unique participants, many of whom went on multiple trips.

Twenty-eight auction prizes attracted 71 bidders, exceeding our budgeted goal for the auction by $2000.

Twenty-seven members formed our first-ever Birdathon Celebration Host Committee, with generous donations that allowed us to make the event free of charge. Ninety-eight people registered, our highest turnout ever.

Special thanks to our top individual fundraisers, who raised big sums from many, many small donors:

First place: Derek Heins, who raised $7,047

Second place: Dan Harris, who raised $4,390

Third place: Eric Schroeder, who raised $3,720

Beyond the numbers, Birdathon participants dove into a wide variety of memorable and even once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Some 2023 trips were perennial Birdathon favorites that fill up every year; others were new destinations for GGBA.

“I’m an S.F. native (3rd generation) but had NEVER been on this hike,” said one participant in the Glen Canyon Birds and History field trip, led by Megan Jankowski and Evelyn Rose. “It was a great introduction to the area and the fascinating history of the place.”

Bruce Mast’s annual trip to see Greater Sage-Grouse on their lek in Lassen County had to be postponed from February to mid-April because of the persistent rains. But the group’s flexibility was rewarded with a calm and peaceful sunrise (no wind!) breaking over a vast expanse of sagebrush with displaying sage-grouse and cavorting pronghorns. (And yes, they also found Sage Thrasher and Sagebrush Sparrows to complete the Sage Trifecta.)

Bruce also co-led a first-ever trip to the Sutter Buttes, private ranchland in the Sierra foothills that is only accessible with a special permit and guide. Highlights included six migrating warbler species, Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Lawrence’s Goldfinches, a soaring Golden Eagle, and a spectacular landscape that’s been protected for generations through the ranchers’ love for their land.

GGBA trip to the Sutter Buttes, near Yuba City. Photo: Bruce Mast

Another new outing was to the Vaca Mountains in Solano County, led by Derek Heins. When the trip quickly filled up, Derek volunteered to add a second session! One participant recounted their excitement at “seeing a migration pulse right in front of us (and) seeing and hearing species I don’t usually see and hear: Lark Sparrow and Lazuli Bunting. Highlight: two Mountain Quail!”

On the Livermore Valley Birds & Wine trip, led by Glenn Phillips, participants got great views of Phainopepla and California Thrasher along Mines Road. Then they relaxed over tastings at the Retzlaff Winery and Murieta’s Well winery—where their wine flight was enhanced by a Western Kingbird flight! (It flew right over them and settled on a nearby grapevine.)

On the Oakland Zoo behind-the-scenes trip, Audubon members visited the zoo’s state-of-the-art veterinary clinic and saw birds (including a Bearded Vulture) that were rescued when winter storms damaged the aviary. They helped feed the bison, watched the zoo’s six gray wolves converge for feeding time, and got up close and personal with the world’s second largest tortoise species.

Bearded Vulture in temporary quarters at the Oakland Zoo while the aviary is repaired. Photo: Beth Moseley.

One blog post isn’t enough to sum up all the Birdathon 2023 field trip experiences! Participants learned about geology and California Condors at Pinnacles National Park; viewed nesting Common Murres and Brandt’s Cormorants at Devil’s Slide; heard Common Poorwills and saw scorpions (via UV flashlight) on a night hike at Mitchell Canyon; and much more.

Trip leader Noreen Weeden explains coastal geology on the Devil’s Slide trip. Photo: Ilana DeBare

Meanwhile, our new fundraising software—which allowed donors to make per-species pledges—took peer-to-peer fundraising to a whole new level of fun and challenge. (Knowing that every species you spot will trigger an additional donation from your friends adds adrenaline to even the most casual bird walk!)

And the 2023 Birdathon Celebration was especially joyful since it was our first in-person gala since before the pandemic. We honored the winners of the Birdathon fundraising awards and the Bay Birding Challenge.

The East Bay Scrub-Jay team, which won the Bay Birding Challenge, receives their award certificates from GGBA Executive Director Glenn Phillips. Photo: Jay Martin

We also presented our annual Elsie Roemer Conservation Award to State Sen. Nancy Skinner. Our Paul Covel Environmental Education award went to former GGBA board member Carol Baird, founder of the California Institute for Biodiversity, which pioneered teacher training and educational software about California’s environment.

Attendees marveled at live rehabilitated raptors from Native Bird Connections, chatted with Bolinas bird artist Keith Hansen while viewing his work, and experienced a demo of climate-friendly induction cooking—all while enjoying live jazz by pianist Bill Walker in the beautiful Oakland Hills garden of former GGBA board members Alan Harper and Carol Baird.

This rehabilitated leucistic Red-tailed Hawk, part of an educational display by Native Bird Connections, was a highlight of the Birdathon Celebration. Photo: Jay Martin
A record number of people attended the Birdathon Celebration, thanks to the generosity of the Host Committee. Photo: Jay Martin
Keith Hansen brought lots of his gorgeous bird prints to the Celebration. Photo: Jay Martin

With the Celebration over and the auction closed, Birdathon Committee volunteers will now take a well-deserved rest for a few summer months. But in September we’ll reconvene to start planning for Birdathon 2024— and you’re warmly invited.

We welcome new volunteers, especially for the auction team. Do you have ideas for fun vacation stays, nature-related adventures, or other auction prizes? Ideas for new Birdathon field trips? We want your creativity and energy! To learn more about planning Birdathon 2024, email Sharol at

Ilana DeBare was co-chair of Birdathon 2023, together with Sharol Nelson-Embry. Ilana’s debut novel Shaken Loose will be published on July 5. You’re invited to her free book launch events on July 12 in San Francisco and July 13 in Oakland. See for details.