Point Blue takes flight with annual Bird-A-Thon
It’s time for birders of a feather to flock together. The 45th annual Rich Stallcup Memorial Bird-A-Thon begins today, a month-long fundraising effort of Point Blue, the Petaluma nonprofit that advances conservation of birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through science, partnerships and outreach.
During the 2023 Bird-A-Thon, running Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts will dedicate a 24-hour period to counting as many bird species as they can.
“You can sign up any time during the month of the event,” said Melissa Pitkin, Chief of Staff at Point Blue. “And you can spend a day, a half day or even just an hour counting bird species.”
Participants can be sponsored teams or individuals. Anyone can sponsor a team by making a financial pledge to support Point Blue’s mission. The fundraising goal this year is $80,000. Bird-A-Thon supporters of $50 or more will receive Point Blue membership benefits including a subscription to the organization’s quarterly magazine and invitations to science presentations, plus bird and nature walks led by expert ecologists and educators. With a gift of $500 or more, they will become a Friend of Point Blue and receive invitations to additional exclusive events.
A new feature this year is the Marcia Grand Bird-A-Thon Team Challenge. Any team that correctly spots and identifies a mammal, an amphibian and a reptile will receive a $50 gift for their team total to support Point Blue. Marcia Grand is a longtime supporter of Point Blue.
The Bird-a-thon was inspired by Rich Stallcup, for whom it is named. Stallcup was a local legend in conservation circles. He was known to have recorded every living creature he saw during his many Bird-A-Thons.
Special events this year include a virtual kick-off on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Led by Point Blue Communications Manager Lishka Arata and hosted on Zoom and Facebook, the event will allow participants to ask questions and learn more about Point Blue.
Also on Sept. 16, there will be a special half-day tribute to Stallcup. Heather Cameron, Ivan Samuels and Pitkin will lead the group birding at the Fish Docks and Drakes Beach at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. They will meet at 9 a.m. at the Fish Docks (Chimney Rock Trailhead parking). Space is limited to 15 people. To reserve a spot, RSVP by email to Debra Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sept. 20, participants are welcome to join the bird banders at Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station in Bolinas. With the approach of the peak fall migration season in the coastal North Bay, staff will be chatting about the newest wave of migrant songbirds moving through the area.
Since the inception of the Bird-A-Thon, more than $3 million has been raised for conservation science. Public support helps Point Blue scientists reduce the impacts of climate change, habitat loss and other environmental threats while promoting nature-based, climate-smart solutions for wildlife and people.
In addition to the Bird-A-thon, Point Blue is well known for its STRAW program — Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed. The program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Housed at Point Blue Conservation Science, the program leads K-12 students in professional-level habitat restoration projects. Since the program launched, nearly 70,000 students, teachers and volunteer parents have participated in restorations.
STRAW began in the fourth-grade class of teacher Laurette Rogers, who started it at Brookside Elementary in San Anselmo. After showing her students a video about endangered species, they asked what they could do to help, and the class collectively landed on habitat restoration as its path to action. To date, the program has put 84,000 plants in the ground to help restore stream and wetland habitat.
“I knew I was dreaming big when I started the program 30 years ago, but I never let myself dream it would really get this big,” Rogers said. “It’s really been amazing to look back at not just the conservation impact the program has achieved, but also to think about how many lives were touched. We have heard so many stories of students who have gone on to careers in conservation or have active lives helping their communities, and that’s a really great feeling.”
The program has grown beyond the North Bay and now works with students to conduct restorations in 15 counties, including work in San Francisco’s North, South and East Bay counties.
“Over the years as the STRAW program has expanded, we’ve included new priorities, going beyond just the restoration work itself,” said Pitkin. “One of our big focus areas now is creating career pathways through STRAW. We engage apprentices through programs like our Community College Conservation Internship program. And many of those apprentices go on to become Point Blue staff, designing restoration projects and working with classes to implement them.”
Thanks to a recent block grant from California’s Wildlife Conservation Board, Point Blue is poised for even more growth. The grant awards Point Blue $26 million over four years to build wildlife-friendly resilience and equity in California’s working landscapes through restoration projects on farms and ranches.
“Much of the money will be regranted for restoration on agricultural lands,” said Pitkin. “We’ve had 85 applications so far, most of them eligible.”
Point Blue will prioritize outreach and funds to projects that are otherwise hard to reach through state funding mechanisms, with a focus on reaching disadvantaged communities.