HISTORY OF THE WALLACE BIRDATHON

Most people's first reaction to hearing of this event is, "What's a birdathon?" We need a little history: In 1976, when Bird Studies Canada was the Long Point Bird Observatory, the first Baillie Birdathon took place as a major fund-raiser for the Observatory. The idea has spread, and these days many naturalist clubs, land trusts, ornithological organizations and similar groups operate a birdathon to raise funds for various conservation-oriented projects. The basic idea is that in a given time period (usually 24 hours) one or more birders try to identify as many species as they can in a given area (a back yard, a county, a province, or whatever they choose), and they must find sponsors. Sponsors offer a number of pennies - or dollars! - per species, or they agree to donate a fixed amount, and the birder collects these funds and turns them over to the organization running the event. The "pennies per species" option always adds some interest, as the birders have an extra incentive to find as many species as they can, and the sponsors don't know until after the event how much they owe.

The Wallace Birdathon itself has an interesting history. Charlie and Norma Wallace, of Port Hope, were strong supporters of the Willow Beach Field Naturalists (WBFN), and they took part in one of the early Baillie Birdathons because a portion of the money raised could be designated for a club such as WBFN and they saw it as a way to raise some money for the Willow Beach club. But they began to feel that they would like ALL the money they raised to go to WBFN, so they began doing their own birdathon – the Wallace version. In the early years of the Wallace Birdathon, Charlie and Norma would raise perhaps $500 or so, but as they got older and birds were harder to see and hear they enlisted the help of "guest birders" like Ted McDonald and Geoff Dale, two wellknown local birders – but Charlie and Norma always went along to see as many of the birds as possible. When Charlie died, Norma continued until she was eventually unable to go along. However, Roger Frost has continued to do the actual birding for many years, and he will be doing it again this year.

Norma Wallace

Over the years, the Wallace Birdathon raised several thousand dollars for WBFN, and the money was placed in the club's Property Account, which was used when possible to protect natural spaces. When the Northumberland Land Trust (NLT) was formed in 2004, it was decided that the WBFN Property Account would be used to support NLT by matching whatever amount NLT raised with a donation of an equal amount. This arrangement lasted until 2011, when the Property Account was exhausted; but by then NLT was on a solid financial footing.

Norma, who is now 93, still wants "her" birdathon to continue to support local conservation efforts, and she is happy to have the event become a major fundraiser for the Land Trust. She still rounds up sponsors, and she always looks forward to seeing the list of species Roger has spotted in Northumberland County – usually in the 150 range. We are grateful to Norma for allowing us to carry on this tradition, which remains one of our most important sources of money for our stewardship activities.

Roger Frost

Roger Frost and Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photo: Colin King

Roger is one of Northumberland's most experienced, avid, and knowledgeable birders. He has been birding since he was about 10, growing up in Yonkers, NY. While he was studying environmental science at university, one of his birding internships included a stay at the Long Point Observatory. Here he met Elizabeth Kellogg; they were later married and they have been living in Canada since 1993 and in Port Hope since 1996. Roger now has regular struggles with his work timetable to make it fit with his birding schedule, but he seems to know every special birding spot in the County – who else knows where to find a Dark-eyed Junco in this area in late May and where to hear Winter Wrens, White-throated Sparrows and Canada Warblers singing reliably? And what special birds are most likely to be found at the Black Oak Savanna or along Lakeshore Road? Roger gives a whole-hearted 24-hour effort to the Wallace Birdathon, and his report is eagerly awaited by his sponsors. We offer sincere thanks to Roger for his enthusiasm and commitment to the Wallace Birdathon, and we always hope he beats his all-time record of 156 species!