Interview with Mark Cullen, Baillie Birdathon celebrity guest birder

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember that I wrote a post last week about celebrated Canadian gardener Mark Cullen, who is this year’s celebrity guest birder for the Baillie Birdathon.

I’m happy to announce that I have an interview today with Mr. Cullen, especially during what is a very busy time of year for him, even without the birding! As you may know, he writes a regular gardening column for The Toronto Star, appears weekly on CTV’s Canada AM, and one of his most recent books is Canadian Garden Primer: An Organic Approach. And he did his Birdathon in Toronto last week, May 14th (a half day rather than the full 24 hours) with several Bird Studies Canada staff and board members, including David Love and Jody Allair. According to Jody, some of the bird highlights were a Black Scoter, Orange-crowned Warbler, Horned Grebe, Canvasbacks, and Great Egrets.

As a reminder, Mr. Cullen’s personal goal is $15,000, and he has raised $4,720 as of this writing; the first $5,000 he raises will be matched by a generous anonymous donor.

As Mr. Cullen wrote on his Baillie Birdathon page,

It is an honour for me to act as Bird Studies Canada’s 2013 Baillie Birdathon Celebrity Guest Birder. …

I am a believer in the work of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) and I am excited to be a part of this national event for conservation.

I see the Birdathon as an important opportunity for you and me to support the work of Bird Studies Canada and many naturalists’ clubs, migration monitoring stations, and other conservation groups across the county. Funds raised will support BSC’s vital research and conservation programs—including Project FeederWatch, the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, nocturnal owl surveys, marsh monitoring programs and many other programs from coast to coast.

Charlotte: How did you get involved in the Baillie Birdathon?

Mark Cullen: My good friend David Love [executive director of the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto and a board member of Bird Studies Canada ] approached me in the winter and asked if I would do it. He was able to convince me through his well honed powers of persuasion. I think he bought breakfast.

Charlotte: What were the particulars of your Baillie Birdathon, and how many bird species did you see?

Mark Cullen: Where: Tommy Thompson Park and High Park in Toronto. We sighted 84 species.

Charlotte: What is your favorite bird/bird species?

Mark Cullen: As of today: Warblers. There are so many and they travel over such immense distances, South America to far north of Canada.

Charlotte: Do you consider yourself a birder, or as more of a gardener who enjoys birds as part of the gardening and outdoor landscape and experience?

Mark Cullen: I am a “fair weather birder”. Same with Blue Jays baseball. As a gardener my interest in birding is a natural extension of the outdoors: my yard, the community and the green spaces in my community.

Charlotte: Do you have a “nemesis bird”, one you’ve been hoping to see which has proved difficult?

Mark Cullen: I have been trying to get a wood duck to nest in two boxes that I built and mounted in our pond. So far, no luck. I am told to be patient. What!!!!

Charlotte: When you travel around Canada, as you are now, are you actively looking for birds in your travels?

Mark Cullen: My eyes are always moving when I travel by car. You never know when that rare species might just show up!! While driving on the Prairies, out by your home in Vermilion, I spotted a Bald Eagle!!

Charlotte: What bird-friendly trees or shrubs do you suggest, for Alberta in general and the east central region of the province in particular?

Mark Cullen: Saskatoon berry, serviceberry, rowan [Mountain Ash], purple coneflower

Charlotte: Other than flowers and trees, what are some other good ways of attracting birds to one’s garden?

Mark Cullen: Feed them. Feed them quality food that they will not “kick out” of the feeder. Cracked corn is cheap but not very attractive to a wide range of birds. Quality black oil sunflower seed, millet, and selected nuts do a great job of attracting the good guys.

Charlotte: Why are you so passionate about teaching Canadians that they can have beautiful gardens without pesticides?

Mark Cullen: There are two questions here:

1. I am passionate about teaching people to garden as many have not discovered the many benefits of the experience. It is not the “look” of a garden that makes us feel good so much as the activity of making
it that way.

2. sustainable: ’cause that is the responsible thing to do.

Charlotte: Do you think you might participate in future Baillie Birdathons?

Mark Cullen: I just might — if David Love buys me breakfast.

*  *  *

A very big thank you to Mr. Cullen for letting me interview him! And best wishes reaching your Birdathon goal!

As a reminder, I’ll be doing my own Baillie Birdathon next week, for a 24-hour period from May 30th-31st. My own Baillie Birdathon page is here. I’m raising money for Bird Studies Canada and for our local naturalist society. My Birdathon goal is to see 80 species (last year I saw 79), and my financial goal was $500, but I’ve already raised $1,120 with so much generous support. You can still give until the end of July, and all donations of at least $10 are tax deductible.

My Edmonton Nature Club friends Curtis and Michelle, who already made an incredible donation to my birdathon this year, have made the following Birdathon offer now that I’ve reached $1,000: $2/bird seen to my own effort, $2/bird seen to Beaverhill Lake Bird Observatory, and $2/bird seen to the Edmonton Nature Club.

One of my new birder friends, Bird Boy, who is nine years old, is participating in this year’s Baillie Birdathon, with a goal of raising $300. He wrote a blog post about it here, and here is his Baillie Birdathon donation page.

If you are doing the Baillie Birdathon too, please leave a link to your page in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Interview with Mark Cullen, Baillie Birdathon celebrity guest birder

  1. Good luck with the Birdathon Charlotte. As we count in Milk River, we will all think of your efforts!! Just donated to Birder Boy!!

    Best Bob

  2. Congratulations on your fundraising, Charlotte – that’s hugely impressive. I hope you have a great 24 hours for your birdathon next week. Bird Boy and I are heading out early afternoon tomorrow (Friday), in the middle of a Rain Warning in Southern Alberta, with snow in some areas. I guess we’ll focus on water birds!

    And Bob Parsons, many thanks for your involvement in the Snow Goose Chase, and also for your generous support of Bird Boy (my son) and his Birdathon fundraising.

  3. Pingback: Young Birder Blog Birding #17 « ABA Blog

  4. Pingback: Blog Birding #136 « ABA Blog

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