Birders take part in annual Bennett Birding Classic

By Stephanie Drummond
Sept. 26, 2014

Nicole Murtagh is looking for birds, as many as she can find.
She is in a competition to identify the most birds in a 24-hour period. She will be taking place in the annual Bennett Birding Classic this weekend.
Teams take pledges for the 20th annual event, and scour the island to identify as many birds as possible.
The competition is a joint effort by the Island Nature Trust and the Natural History Society of PEI.
Murtagh, is a wildlife conservation technology student at Holland College and familiar with the Island Nature Trust.
“A few of us have worked and volunteered there quite frequently,” she said.
She won’t be competing alone, the class has its own team.
The competition started as a way to honour Neil Bennett, an Island Naturist and as a way to fill a gap in fall events, said the executive director of the Island Nature Trust, Jackie Waddell.
“A fall event was rare. We needed to try and fill that gap or niche and excite people in nature.”
Since the first birding classic, interest has grown, she said.
“We expect between $4,000 to $5,000 in donations. In the beginning it was $1,000. Enthusiasm is building. People enjoy feeding birds in their backyards. They want to learn more about them and how to identify them.”
Not only will participants learn about identifying birds, but data collected helps the Nature Trust learn more about migration, Waddell said.
“There’s also a gap in data in fall birds. The rarities as well occurring with climate change. It’s not about how many birds we see of one kind, just the species.”
Teams heading out have until Sunday morning to submit their data. The record is 107 different kinds of birds. Ninety per cent of the team must be there to see the bird for it to count.
The Holland College team is ready for the challenge and happy to support the cause, Murtagh said.
“The Nature Trust partakes in numerous conservation projects and we want to see these projects grow and expand.”
Competing in the classic allows student to practice their skills, she said.
“Last year, we were taught how to identify numerous bird species and many of us have branched off further from there. This event will be an exceptional opportunity for us to use the skills that we have acquired as well as learn a few new things.”
Murtagh is excited about the friendly competition.
“Above all, (it’s) a fun day of birding.”