Archive for September, 2016

It was late summer of 2000 when I received a phone call from Ellen Blustein. I knew Ellen from birding on the hawkwatching team she led for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, from helping on her South San Rafael Christmas Bird Count, and other shared bird walks over the years. The reason for this particular phone call was that earlier that year, Leica Sports Optik made a contribution to, then, PRBO to sponsor the creation of a youth bird-a-thon team. Rich Stallcup and Ellen had agreed to organize and lead the team that fall. Going off our birding history together, Ellen wanted to know if I might be interested in being one of the youths. Of course I was delighted to be invited and said yes right away. Ellen also asked if my brother, Joshua Haiman, and two close friends, Christopher Berner and Frazer Meacham, who were also serious young birders, would join the team as well. All agreed, and the youth bird-a-thon team had its founding members.

In late September of 2000, the six of us met, with my mom, Ann Kositsky, along as the responsible adult for the teens, and piled into a rented van for the first Leica/PRBO Youth Bird-a-thon. We had an amazing day with beautiful weather, terrific companions, a disturbing amount of food (remember that there were four teenage boys in that van), and a total of 157 species seen. Some of the highlights that I still remember included hearing Spotted and Saw-whet Owls at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, finding a Black Rail in the marshes of Pine Gulch, seeing my first Pomarine Jaeger off Stinson Beach, and finding a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Yellow-headed Blackbird while stopping at the Outer Point. That first youth bird-a-thon was such a great success that almost every year since, in late September or early October, the youth team has continued to meet. The only year we did not take to the field was 2012 when Rich’s health was declining.

Sanderling, adult winter (John C. Avise)

A Sanderling in basic plumage (Photo by John C. Avise)

Over the last 15+ years, we have gone through a few name changes as sponsors have come and gone and PRBO became PRBO Conservation Science and now Point Blue Conservation Science. A few years in, we settled on ‘The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings’ for our official team name and it has really stuck. Our membership has also changed as new, passionate young birders have joined our team and our older members have dispersed to colleges, other bird-a-thon teams, and other pursuits. We have had over 30 youth members and all are still passionate about the natural world. Many have gone on to pursue careers in biology in one form or another. Our total species counts for our bird-a-thon have ranged from 132 to 170 species including lifers for all our members.

One of the features that I have been struck by, as our members and former members have moved out into the world, is the diverse paths that this set of young people are taking. From psychology to computer programing, the people who have participated in the youth bird-a-thon are spreading across the globe. But all share a love and passion for birds, nature, and wildness. This is the passion that the youth bird-a-thon aims at fostering, and they are carrying this passion out into the world with them. As one of the founding youth members of the Youth Bird-a-thon team in 2000, and having been a participant almost every year since, I have witnessed this amazing process first hand. Every year it has been a special honor to participate. Being able to spend a day birding at the side of birders such as Ellen Bluestein and Rich Stallcup guaranteed that I would gain knowledge; and wisdom as well. With wonderful birds to see, special parts of Marin County to explore, and terrific team members to share and learn with, the PBCS Youth Bird-a-thon is one of the highlights of my year. I am very excited to now be co-leading the team and experiencing the bird-a-thon in a whole new way.


Wrentit (2015 Bird-a-thon logo)

Year after year, the youth members, from the age of 5 years old and up, have shown that ‘adulthood’ is not a required component for serious birding, and also that kids can play an important and significant role in birding culture and conservation as a whole. Hard work, energy, and enthusiasm have earned these kids the respect of their peers, and each stands as a reminder of what young people can accomplish when given the opportunity. By making a donation in support of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, or any other youth team, you are supporting the next generation of birders and conservationists; you are supporting the future of birding. So, this year, I hope you decide to do just that.

To donate and support the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, follow this link, and click on the ‘Donate’ button on the right side of the page.

See you in the field!

Aaron N.K. Haiman



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