Mark Cullen and the Baillie Birdathon

As you might already know, Canadian gardening expert Mark Cullen is this year’s celebrity guest birder for the Baillie Birdathon. And today is the day he’s doing his Birdathon, at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto — more information on this below.

So I was very excited back in February or March when I found that Mr. Cullen was going to be the special guest speaker for our local Spring house and garden show — I thought it would be great to meet him and talk to him. And then I found out that it was going to be on the same day as the Snow Goose Chase (Saturday, April 27th), so I wouldn’t even be around!

My mother helped me brainstorm, and I ended up writing to Mr. Cullen to see if I could meet him a bit earlier, maybe the evening before, and interview him for my blog. As it happened, he was going to do another event for our town the day before, and so we planned to meet on Friday at 5 pm. But then in mid-April I got the bad news that the Friday event was cancelled and Mr. Cullen wasn’t sure what time on Friday he would be arriving. And we had to leave home around 8 am on Saturday morning to get to Tofield in time. Drat!

Mr. Cullen was so wonderful and accommodating, agreeing to meet me at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday, and we had a nice talk; my parents were there too. He gave me some bookmarks to hand out at the Snow Goose Chase, and gave my mother some vegetable seeds for the garden! I followed up by sending him my interview questions by email. Of course, this is his very busy speaking and gardening season, but I will have that interview on my blog as soon as he’s able to send his reply.

Here we are on the deck of Lakeland College’s Alumni House, holding my Baillie Birdathon 2013 t-shirt*,Charlotte&MarkCullen

I did get a chance to ask Mr. Cullen how he came to be this year’s Baillie Birdathon guest birder, and he said he was convinced by his friend, David Love, who is executive director of the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto and is on the board of Bird Studies Canada. He also said he is more of a gardener who appreciates birds, than a hardcore birder, which I completely understand because that’s what my mother is too. (And it was my mother’s idea to put up bird feeders in the garden, and all the goldfinches they attracted, that started me on my path to birding several years ago.) As Mr. Cullen says on his Baillie Birdathon page,

As a third-generation career gardener, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a hobby gardener in this country who does not consider themselves an amateur birder too. Merely observing the activity around my 12 garden feeders convinces me that birds are as essential to the outdoor human experience as trees, water, and fresh air. And as you know, the presence of diverse and abundant birdlife is one of the most visible signs of a healthy environment.

Mr. Cullen is doing his Birdathon today, May 14th, at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, which was selected as a globally Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International in 2001. He’ll be birding with Mr. Love and my friend Jody Allair from BSC, whom I got to know last year at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop (Jody is a huge supporter of the Baillie Birdathon and also contributed to my own Birdathon — thank you again, Jody!). So far Mr. Cullen has raised $3,055 and the first $5,000 raised will be matched by a generous anonymous donor. Here is his recent blog post on the Birdathon.

And here’s a link to his great recent Toronto Star article, Citizen Scientists and the Birds We Watch, and an excerpt:

As I write this column from my home office, I am keenly aware of dozens of visitors in my backyard. My nine bird feeding stations are in clear view and they are very popular today. Juncos, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, a European grackle, and a mom and dad cardinal are all gorging themselves like they have not seen food all winter. From time to time, a blue jay arrives to scoop up an unshelled peanut, cawing an announcement to his buddies that there is a feast to be had at the Cullens’ place this morning.

There is barely a hobby gardener in this country who does not consider themselves an amateur birder, too. That is not to say that all gardeners feed the birds intentionally, but we do have an inherent appreciation for the qualities that they bring to the outdoor experience.

Birds find the work of the gardener helpful even when that is not our primary intent. Plants provide protection, nesting areas, and, of course, natural sources of food for native birds. A garden pond provides a drink, a bath, and for some bird species, another source of food.

Condo and apartment dwellers should not feel left out. A balcony garden can provide all the aforementioned benefits regardless of how high up you reside.

Mr. Cullen encourages readers to “consider raising funds for BSC by participating in the Birdathon yourself. By doing so, you will not only benefit Canada’s native bird population, but you will no doubt learn a few things about birds that will illuminate your outdoor experience.”

And that’s really what it’s all about — making sure we preserve Canada’s birds to illuminate our outdoor experience. Thank you, Mr. Cullen!

*  *  *  *

* The artwork for this year’s Baillie Birdathon t-shirt was created by artist and naturalist Barry Kent MacKay, who is Bird Studies Canada’s artist of the year for 2013. From Barry’s website, where you can see more of his wonderful art:

Barry’s interest in wildlife dates to his earliest memories.   His late mother was a pioneer in wildlife rehabilitation, and Barry grew up in a house that was filled with wildlife. He also assisted his mother and other adults in banding many thousands of birds, and learned to become a skilled preparator of preserved bird specimens of value to science and necessary in much of his artwork, since art was of equal interest and importance to him, also for as long as he can remember. He devoted his life and career to the study of natural history, and the protection of birds and other wildlife. …

Barry has participated in numerous activities related to bird and nature study and conservation. As a fast sketch artist he promoted interest in wildlife during 16 years of appearances on a nationally syndicated children’s television show. He did field work for the Royal Ontario Museum and for the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Costa Rica; illustrated the reptiles and amphibians of the Toronto Zoo; illustrates various scientific covers and papers in various technical journals. He was well known and respected for his Nature Trail column, published weekly in The Toronto Star for a period of 25 years.  His writings and articles have appeared in numerous magazines such as Birds of the Wild; Defenders; BirdWatchers’ Digest; Seasons; Mainstream; and Animal Issues;and as feature articles in The Toronto Star and various other publications, large and small.  …

He has also illustrated several books such as Wrens, Mockingbirds and Dippers of the World (by A. D. Brewer, Pica Press, U.K., 2001), A Field Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos (by M.P. Harris, Collins, 1974) and Songbirds: Celebrating Nature’s Voices (by Ronald I. Orenstein, Key Porter, 1997) …

3 thoughts on “Mark Cullen and the Baillie Birdathon

  1. Pingback: Interview with Mark Cullen, Baillie Birdathon celebrity guest birder | Prairie Birder

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