Every year since 2000, 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 annual event embodies what you’d expect from any sort of “fundraise-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, to document North Carolina fauna, 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.
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 in support of the wild creatures and wild places we love.
by Jeff Beane
Vice President, Wake Audubon
Every year since the Wildathon began in 2000, I and at least a few others have looked forward to this very special day. Over the years, my team has usually included Bob Davis, John Finnegan, and Stephanie Horton. Some years, it has also, or instead, included various combinations of Todd Pusser, Ed Corey, and David Cooper. Several other Wake Audubon members have also participated over the years with their own teams (most don’t participate for the full 24 hours – that’s up to each individual team). But Ed Corey enjoys the Wildathon so much that one year he participated in two 24-hour events – one with my team and one with another team that he assembled – on back-to-back weekends. Ed and I agree that the Wildathon is usually our favorite day of the year! 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 in one vehicle 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 delusions of grandeur, 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 in 2000. We usually run our event the first or second weekend in May, beginning on a Saturday morning and ending the following Sunday morning.
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 14 Wildathons to date, our highest total was 235 vertebrate species, in 2013. Our lowest was 155, but that was our first year (2000), when we only spent 18 hours.