I remember my first Carden Challenge; how could I forget? It was the first time I woke up pre-dawn for something that wasn’t an international flight. Although, that something did have wings.
I’d opted to participate in the Conservancy’s largest fundraiser of the year, a 24-hour birding and biodiversity marathon with teams competing in different categories. Little did I expect how joining would cement a lifelong passion and sense of belonging.
My first Challenge, I cast myself as the underdog. I had my grandfather’s old binoculars (I still sport them with pride and somewhat squinty eyes), I hadn’t broken any fundraising records and I had packed my bags like a fashionable buffoon. All this paled in comparison to my poor birding skill. I was concerned – I had nothing to offer my teammates but poorly crafted avian jokes.
“I was immediately swept up by the beauty and diversity I’d never noticed so close to home.”
The concern didn’t last, when we started I was immediately swept up by beauty and diversity I’d never noticed so close to home. My memories of that day are filled with tiny, colourful birds called warblers, big loud birds called bitterns, long legged birds called sandpipers and many more.
While I stood agog, my teammates sprung into action. They were ‘calling’ and ‘seconding’ birds I had never even heard of. What started for them was a 24-hour birding challenge, what started for me was 24-hour crash course on the birds of our region, their staggering migration, songs, habitats and sadly, the threats they face.
Not only was I charmed by the birds, but by the participants. No other competition has the same sense of comradery. Teams share where to find certain species, how to ID birds, and of course – treats. You quickly become part of a community where experienced birders are glad to pass their knowledge on to novices. It’s just another form of generosity from a group that can’t help but volunteer and fundraise and fight for our planets future.
“There is a kind of magic when you spend time with people who share a common goal.”
There is a kind of magic when you spend time with people who share a common goal. When we come together we get to share not only in the excitement of a sighting, but also clarity of purpose – these precious creatures must survive for the next generation to see, hear and celebrate.
The threats these creatures face crystalized in front of me when I saw my first, and only red-headed woodpecker. We spotted the endangered species Friday. By Saturday it died – no more teams could count it. One step closer to extinction. One more reason to protect their home.
The day feels like fun and frivolity but at its core it is about survival. About fostering the conditions that support either life or death.
Now, six years in, I have my own team of underdogs (Team Whooo’s Watching You?). A gaggle of kids who are already surpassing my skill; and whose cute faces really help with fundraising! I am proud; every year they understand more deeply the plight of wildlife, and more importantly how to help.
If you too would like to help, please donate, or create your own team!
Courtney Baker is the Administrative Assistant at The Couchiching Conservancy, a local land trust dedicated to protecting nature for future generations, including birds.