Taking its cue from marathons, phone-a-thons and the like, the Nichols Arboretum sponsored its first NeoTropical Bird Migration Festival and Bird-a-thon yesterday.

Nearly 25 birders abided by the old adage “the early bird catches the worm,” showing up bright and early to participate in the Sunday event. They spent three hours searching for birds who migrate from the warm climates of Central and South America to Canada around this time of year.

“They (the birds) stop in certain areas that look beautiful and green,” said Nichols Arboretum Development Officer Inger Schultz. “The Arb is one of those green spots that they identify from high up. They stop and feed a few days and then leave for Canada.”

One of the reasons the Arb sponsored the bird-a-thon was to raise money to help preserve and develop a bird habitat in the Arb, create instructional material about birds and promote awareness about protecting bird habitats.

“This is very special in that there are very few birding events,” Schultz said. “A lot of folks have made pledges about the number of birds they hope to find.”

Birders ended up finding 75 species of birds. The winning team found 67 on their own, and the “Arb Team,” consisting of experienced birders Dea Armstrong and Michael Kielb, found 55.

“I was in the novice group and we had a wonderful time,” said Ann Arbor resident Martha Claus. “We found 30-some birds, unless you count the M-track bird, the ambulance bird and the chainsaw bird,” she joked.

Some of the more experienced birders were able to identify more birds by either their appearance or their songs.

“You can pick (birding) up really quickly,” said Karen Drabenstott, a professor in the School of Information. “You do it and listen to tapes, do it and listen to tapes, and find people who have been birding a long time. Most of the time it”s just being there.”

Many of the birders carried binoculars and books with pictures of birds but found it difficult because the leaves had already grown on the trees, blocking many of the views. “It could have been a better day for birds,” Kielb said, “but this wasn”t bad.”

The rest of the day went on without a hitch, except for a birder who was knocked down by some unleashed dogs. “We”re trying to educate people to put their dogs on a leash. It”s the law,” Armstrong said.

The birder who was knocked down, the birders who found the most species, the youngest birding team and others received prizes ranging from artwork to bird books donated by local businesses.

“People can still give more donations by sending a check to the Nichols Arboretum and indicate that it”s for the birds,” Schultz said.

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