LOWER TOWNSHIP — While it may be too soon to tell if Claire Berner, 15, will become an avid birder, organizers of the first Pledge to Fledge said she took the important first step on Thursday.
Berner, a vacationer from New York City, visited the different birding, butterfly, photography, marine touch-tanks and other stations at Cape May Point State Park on Thursday.
“I like the butterfly station the most and the bird station,” said Berner.
She saw butterflies being tagged and a live kestrel, short-eared owl, red-tailed hawk and great-horned owl. She also planned to climb the Cape May Lighthouse, which was offered to children free on this day as a way to attract them to the event.
There was also a bingo game to determine the winner of a free pair of binoculars. Children also had cards marked off as they visited each station at the park, which registered them for a drawing for a second pair of binoculars that was given away.
“There are 40 people at the live raptors. Everybody’s going to every booth, and they’re interested,” said Richard Crossley, a West Cape May bird photographer and author who organized the event.
The goal was to draw people who don’t normally look at birds. August was a good time to do it. The fall migration is just a trickle at this point. If the event were held in October it would be packed with birders.
“The idea is to get people into birding, not have existing birders come. We want to fledge new birders,” Crossley said.
The goal appeared to work with Jack Hess, 7, of Hammonton in Atlantic County, who couldn’t take his eyes off a great-horned owl named Houdini brought by the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, Burlington County. Hess just recently got into birding while on a family vacation in Maine.
“He’s really into raptors,” said his mother, Chrissy Hess. “We thought it would be a good event to learn more. He’s really interested in identifying birds and their sounds.”
Asked whether he would rather play baseball or watch birds, Jack said “probably watch birds.” This is the sort of interest Crossley wants to cultivate.
Newbie birders were encouraged to tell their stories to a live video going out on the Internet.
“My name’s Jake. I’ve been birding about one year. I just left Stone Harbor Point. I’m glad to be here at Pledge to Fledge. Go birding,” said Jake Cuomo, of Virginia, to the live Web cam.
Besides the young, the organizers also hope to broaden bird-watching to other countries and ethnicities. David Magpiong, one of the organizers of the event who has hosted conferences advocating “birding diversity” said 35 percent of America is African-American and Latino but they make up only 5 percent of the birders.
“If you have 35 percent of the country that knows nothing about birding or nature they won’t try to save it,” said Magpiong.
Crossley said birding is viewed as a wealthy sport and countries of a higher socio-economic status have more birders. He noted Pledge to Fledge is being promoted in China, India, Brazil, South Korea and other non-Western countries.
Cipri Patulea, 32, of Romania, who ran the video camera for the event, said there isn’t much birding in his home country. He said he knew little about birds before working with Crossley.
“Where I come from, you don’t see a lot of people having this as a hobby. It’s a way to get out and relax,” said Patulea.
Magpiong also extolled the health benefits.
“You don’t need to roll something up or pop a pill. Just take a walk,” Magpiong said.
The park here was the kick-off for the international initiative that will be promoted in at least 40 foreign countries through Sunday. Birders are encouraged to take nonbirders out birding in hopes that they welcome the sport and become advocates for conservation.
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