By Ilana DeBare
Go Bears! Spot that warbler!
That’s a chant you’re unlikely to hear from the packed bleachers of Memorial Stadium during a Cal-Stanford football game.
But it’s a chant we’ll be mouthing silently to ourselves on April 13, when Golden Gate Audubon Society faces off against Santa Clara Valley Audubon in Birding’s Big Game — the first-ever Cal-versus-Stanford birding competition!
As part of our annual Birdathon fundraising month, a team of U.C. faculty, staff, students, and community members will spend four hours combing the Cal campus in Berkeley to find as many bird species as possible. Our rivals in Santa Clara Valley Audubon will be doing the same thing on the Stanford campus.
How many will we find — 40? 50? more?
“I’m aiming for 50 species,” said Maureen Lahiff, a lecturer in Applied Statistics at the School of Public Health who is leading the Golden Gate Audubon team. “I don’t know if we’ll get there, but we have a good shot.”
Mention the U.C. Berkeley campus to most people, and they’re more likely to picture undergrads tossing Frisbees or activists gathering signatures than wrens or flycatchers.
But the campus has been part of GGAS’ Christmas Bird Count circle for decades. It includes a variety of habitats such as creeks, oak hillsides, and redwood groves. It also has a birding jewel in the form of the U.C. Botanical Garden — 34 acres of trees, bushes and flowering plants from around the world.
One of the co-leaders of the Cal birding team on April 12 will be Chris Carmichael, Associate Director of the Botanical Garden, who leads quarterly bird walks there. If anyone can find birds in the garden, it’s him.
“The nice thing about an April date is that we’ll have the end of wintering birds like Fox Sparrow, while migrants like Black-headed Grosbeaks and Hooded Orioles should also be back by then,” Carmichael said. “One of the treasures of the Garden is California Thrasher, which we find in the upper corner by the roses…. The intersection of natural habitats and the (international) habitats that we create leads to a very rich birding area.”
Joining Lahiff and Carmichael as team leaders will be Erica Rutherford and John Colbert, a graduate of U.C.’s Haas School of Business, who will focus on the parts of campus in Strawberry Canyon but outside the Garden.
They’ll all be birding with students from The Wildlife Society at Berkeley, a new student group that formed just this year.
“Supporting student birders is a big part of this,” Lahiff said. “We all want to get younger people involved in birding, and this is a good way to do this.”
Lahiff, a lifelong birder, has been spotting birds at U.C. Berkeley since she started working there about 20 years ago. When she walks across campus to her classroom, she finds crows, juncos, California Towhees and the occasional Oak Titmouse.
When students ask to speak with Lahiff after class, she says, “Let’s go outside to my office with the hummingbirds.” As they gather outside Morgan Hall, three or four Anna’s Hummingbirds are also often gathering in the Mexican sage around the building.
But why turn the mellow activity of birding into a competitive inter-collegiate rivalry?
As Lahiff said, part of the goal is to reach out to student birders. Another goal is to inspire all members of the Cal community to notice and appreciate the wildlife around them.
And then there’s supporting Golden Gate Audubon. Birdathon, which takes place throughout April, is GGAS’ biggest fundraiser of the year. Like in a walkathon, Lahiff and her team are asking people to sponsor them with a tax-deductible contribution to Golden Gate Audubon.
Finally, of course, there’s fun. And bringing birding glory home to Berkeley!
It might seem unlikely that anyone could beat a Cardinal at birding. But these are Bears who know their birds.
“I’m not a competitive person by nature,” said Chris Carmichael. “But… GO CAL!”
Support the Cal team in Birding’s Big Game! Click here to sponsor them with a tax-deductible contribution to Golden Gate Audubon Society. Donations of any amount are warmly welcome. Want to join the team? There are a still a few spaces. Click here for details/registration for this and other Birdathon events.