Every year, at some point between mid-April and mid-May, a few Wake Audubon members go wild. This is a result of the Wildathon—our version of National Audubon’s Birdathon. The event embodies what you’d expect from any sort of “-athon”—it’s an exercise in endurance. The purpose: To identify as many species as possible in a given time period, to raise money for various wildlife conservation projects, and to have fun and learn. Individuals or teams seek sponsors who pledge either a per-species amount or a flat donation. Wake Audubon doesn’t limit its efforts to birds—teams may count any species they choose, and may make and modify some of their own rules, as long as the rules are clear to the sponsors.
Wake Audubon began participating in this event in 2000. Every year since then, I and at least a few others have looked forward to this special day. Over the years, my team has included various combinations of David Cooper, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton, Todd Pusser, and me. We’ve most often had four team members—sometimes as few as three or as many as five—more than that is too many for this type of event. We all have to get along well together for an entire day and night at full throttle. Some years we’ve had team members drop out or take a break after a long stretch, and we’ve been known to bring in subs from “off the bench.” Our first year’s effort lasted just 18 hours, but every year since then we’ve done a full 24, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just staying awake for 24 hours can be sufficiently difficult, but remaining intensely active, both mentally and physically, for that long, doing everything within reason to turn up just one more species before the time runs out (and it does go by mighty fast) is a real challenge—one we embrace each year. We named our team the “24-Hour Dream Team.” The “dream” part refers not to any illusions of greatness, but more to the late stages of the event, during which our exhaustion can bring on a certain dreamlike state that seems almost surreal. Usually our 24 hours extend over two different dates—i.e., we usually start early in the morning and end at the same time the next morning, although some years we have gone from midnight to midnight. Davis, Finnegan, Horton, and I formed the original Dream Team, sometimes joined by Pusser. In 2007, Ed Corey formed a team that also followed our 24-hour rules. Some years we have combined forces, and other years we’ve run separate teams. This year, our team will consist of Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton, and me. We will “run” our event over 5-6 May, beginning Saturday morning and ending Sunday morning. We plan to start at Carolina Beach and will probably end in the Sandhills, somewhere near Hoffman. Friday afternoon, we’ll head down to Carolina Beach, and will sleep in Bob Davis’ beach house that night. After time runs out Sunday morning we will retire to my Sandhills house near Hoffman for a few hours of recoverative sleep before heading back to Raleigh that afternoon.
Our team counts vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), primarily because we can reasonably identify most species in that group. We count every live or dead species that we can identify by sight or sound in 24 hours, anywhere in North Carolina. We count only wild, free-ranging native species or well-established exotics (e.g., House Sparrow, Red Fox, Rainbow Trout). We do not count domestic animals (like dogs, horses, or chickens) or captives (like parrots, aquarium fishes, etc.). Not every team member need see or hear a species for it to be counted, but identifications must be accepted by the entire team. Many other teams count only birds, but some may choose to count butterflies, plants, etc.—whatever the team chooses and is comfortable with. So far, we have limited our efforts to North Carolina, and have focused on the southeastern Coastal Plain and Sandhills regions, where the highest vertebrate diversity is to be found. Of our 12 Wildathons to date, our highest total was 217 vertebrate species, in 2011. Our lowest was 155, but that was our first year (2000), when we only spent 18 hours.
Wildathon proceeds support NC Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, local chapter projects, and two conservation and research initiatives of the North Carolina Herpetological Society (Project Bog Turtle and Project Simus, aimed at the Bog Turtle and Southern Hognose Snake, respectively, and their habitats). During these difficult economic times, we must work harder than ever to raise funds for these excellent causes.
And that’s where you come in. You can support the Wildathon by forming a team, or by counting birds or other species on your own, in whatever fashion you choose, and soliciting your own sponsors. Or, if marathon counts aren’t among your strong points, perhaps you will consider sponsoring or donating to one of our existing teams—those of us who go wild each year in support of Wake Audubon, and of the wild creatures and wild places we love.
To donate, to form your own team, or to receive more information, contact Jeff Beane (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ed Corey (email@example.com), John Gerwin (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Gerry Luginbuhl (email@example.com).
— Jeff Beane