Bird Is the Word

They will not spot a roadrunner. Nope. No way. Forget it. No roadrunners. Okay, maybe through a miracle, the world's most wayward roadrunner will take a very sharp right-hand turn in Flagstaff, Arizona, and somehow, a la the animals in The Incredible Journey, show up in the midst of the Everglades for Birdathon '98, the annual National Audubon Society fundraiser held from March through June -- heavy migration season -- in more than 300 places nationwide. But it will not have a coyote in hot pursuit. Well, probably not -- you never know.

The "they" in question here: 50 birding enthusiasts, including an ecology class from South Miami High School, who this Saturday will spend eleven hours, from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., tooling through the Everglades in a chartered bus attempting to ID as many different species of birds as possible, all in an effort to raise money that the Audubon Society will use to help preserve the Everglades wildlife habitat and fund educational programs for South Florida schoolkids.

According to Lisa Yalkut, associate director of development for the National Audubon Society's Miami-based Everglades Conservation Office, the Birdathon "works sort of like a walkathon, where you get pledged per mile. With this you get pledged per species of bird that you identify." Volunteers, she notes, have been busy arranging pledges, with most people promising, on average, a dollar per species spied. Some supporters simply donate a lump sum.

Yalkut estimates that participants will see between 70 and 90 different species, everything from your garden-variety -- but lovable -- Everglades dwellers such as ibises and egrets to the more rare wood storks and roseate spoonbills. The stork is listed as "endangered" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; both it and the spoonbill were sighted during Birdathon '97.

At 6:00 a.m. caffeinated birders (coffee provided!) will leave from the visitors center at Everglades National Park, eyes peeled. At designated points -- known habitats -- the bus will disgorge the Birdathoners. "We stop at the Anhinga Trail," Yalkut says. "We stop at Mahogany Hammock. At several of the lakes. And we make our way to Flamingo by Florida Bay. From there we split up into several groups, because there's a lot of territory down there to cover."

Right now the bus is full, but Yalkut points out that anyone can join the Birdathon by following along in their own vehicle. If you decide to make the trek, wear light clothing, preferably a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. "And bring insect repellent," she advises with a laugh. "There's lots of mosquitoes."

-- Michael Yockel

Birdathon '98 takes place Saturday, April 25, from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Everglades National Park. For more information, call 371-6399.