The Big Day started the night before. Technically, it was morning but no sane person would call a 4:15 meetup “morning”.

The four Land Conservancy Larks deployed from Kalamazoo by 4:30 am in a Prius packed full of rubber boots, extra socks, binoculars, coffee, and enough snacks to sustain them through 14.5 hours of birding. It was time for the 2017 Southwest Michigan Team Birdathon and the Larks were buoyant with enthusiasm!

Birdathon, now in its 19th year, is an annual event where teams of crazy birdwatchers, typically representing a conservation organization of some kind, collect pledges from friends, family, friendly-looking strangers, etc. — pledges can be either be a flat rate or by $ / per species of bird. Birdathon teams then have from midnight until 7 pm to find as many species as they can within the borders of Berrien County, MI.

Within 45 minutes, the Larks rolled into Sarett Nature Center’s parking lot. The big, bright moon lit the forest trails so well that they didn’t need flashlights, and after listening to the calls of Virginia and sora rails from a high marsh overlook, the Larks hurried over to the prairie, accompanied by an increasingly boisterous dawn chorus. The beloved songs of robins, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and song sparrows nearly drowned out the voices of the less common birds . . . but that was fine. The prairie was gorgeous: moonlight, so strong that it cast shadows, competed with the rosy glow on the eastern horizon, and a rising mist made everything soft and surreal. And the birds were singing like crazy. As Nate said, “There were so many Henslow’s sparrows singing that we couldn’t hear the grasshopper sparrows.”

The day was filled with highlights: the beaver that threatened the team with its warning tail-slaps on the water; the green heron that, oddly, perched in the very top of a lone prairie oak; indigo buntings that dueled with song; the red-headed woodpecker and northern oriole that perched together in the same bush near some backyard feeders, the last minute sighting of a Harris’ Sparrow (a species that is very uncommon to Michigan) . . . those are just a few of the standout moments. The Larks bounced around Berrien County, from forest to swamp, from dune to prairie, from marsh to shore, from backyards to sewage ponds. And the overarching memory? A long, fun, beautiful day spent outdoors (and in a car) with friends.

At the end of the day, the teams gathered together at Love Creek Nature Center for dinner and to compare notes and tally the counts. The Land Conservancy Larks counted 121 species in 14.5 hours and came in third place (the winners found 134). And thanks to all of our generous donors, the Larks earned over $3000 in pledge money, which will go toward creating a universal-access trail at Bow in the Clouds Preserve. Turns out that all of the teams put together raised over $20,000 on Saturday for their various charities . . . and in the 19 years that Southwest Michigan Team Birdathon has occurred, its participants have raised over $700,000!

A huge thank you to everyone who pledged to support conservation in southwest Michigan!

PS: If you would still like to make a pledge, you can base your donation on a per-bird dollar amount (121 birds x $) or just make a flat donation. If you would like to do so, please click here. Thank you!

Photos and video by Mitch, except the silly selfie by Nate.