Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

How ‘The Lookers’ Team Bird-A-Thons During a Pandemic

Despite how oddly time is flowing this year, it’s now fall! For many of us it an exciting time of year, when you never know what new and amazing birds you are going to see (or catch in our nets at Point Blue’s Palomarin Field Station), as fall migrants arrive for the winter or pass through on their way to warmer locales.

Even during this challenging year, each migrant seen, heard, or captured gives birders joy as we take in their beauty and complexity, and stokes our wonder (they were nesting in the tundra a couple months ago? they are headed to where, Mexico? this individual was caught in this exact mist net a year ago and has migrated there and back in between!?). This is a gift, as each bird observed allows us to be in the moment and offers a much-appreciated break from (and even perspective on) the heavy times we are in given the coronavirus pandemic, political turmoil, racial disparity, wildfires, and climate change. It is a pleasure to bird and is somehow refreshing to be reminded that the seasons are still turning, and birds are still doing their thing – even as our help is needed so that may continue.

Golden-crowned Sparrow – whose “oh dear me” song tells birders in the lower 48 that they have returned from the tundra (check out our research showing where they go!). Photo by Kim Savides / Point Blue.


At Point Blue, fall is always additionally exciting because it’s when we do our Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon, our annual fundraiser timed during peak migration, when ‘counters’ try to see or hear as many bird species as they can in 24-hours to raise funds for the conservation science we do. And 2020 marks the 42nd year of this event, bringing together birders and supporters alike! And since 2007, the Palomarin Field Station Bird-A-Thon team has been dressing up to add an element of fun and flair to the event. We call ourselves The Lookers, and our motto across the years has been “Bird hard, stay focused, and look good.”

The Lookers in 2008 at the Outer Point in Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Diana Humple / Point Blue.


The Lookers in 2009 above Duxbury Reef, Bolinas. Photo by Khara Strum.


The Lookers in 2019 at Abbotts Lagoon, Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Steve Howell.


This year has been a paradox of human connectedness, with most of us experiencing limited interactions, and yet at the same time, sometimes expanded or renewed connectivity with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors, even if in virtual, unusual, and distanced ways. We are applying those ethos to The Lookers Bird-A-Thon this year. Because it is not possible to bird in a large group, and we want to keep all our counters safe including the ‘Palo Pod’ (which functions as a family unit and contains Palo interns, a resident graduate student, and very limited staff), we decided to break our traditional team of staff, interns, and local alumni into subteams to bird separately.

We then took it further, inviting all of our alumni (which includes anyone who ever was part of the Palomarin Family) to count as part of The Lookers team from wherever they are and at any day during the Bird-A-Thon period (Sept 15 – Oct 15). Yes, we threw out the rulebook, which felt suitable for 2020! We retained one rule: team members still have to dress up and adhere to at least that part of our motto (birding hard and staying focused being optional this year).

We’ve had alumni join in who will be counting in Hawaii, Tennessee, Mississippi, Pennysylania, Montana, Utah, Oregon; our dear friend who counted already on Whidbey Island in Washington; and others throughout central California. The bird list will be fascinating (we promise not to illicitly compete for “most number of species detected by a team”).

And most importantly, this has helped us remember how connected we really are, even if we can’t necessarily bird side by side or see each other’s faces: we can still work (and play) together to make a difference. I’ve been so inspired and moved by all the alumni who decided to join our team, and hope still others will do so (the time is nigh with the count going through Oct 15th!). We have always called ourselves ‘The Palomarin Family’, and that feels even more true (and more grounding) today than ever.

To learn more, to support us, or to join our team virtually if you are an alumnus, please check out our team page at

One of The Lookers ‘mini teams’ in 2020 – Carleton Eyster and Diana Humple birding the Bolinas Lagoon. Photo by Steve Howell (who stopped as he was passing by on Highway One and ‘gave’ us a Peregrine Falcon for our list).


Best to you all, and good birding.

Written by Diana Humple, Point Blue’s Palomarin Program Lead.

Diana received an undergraduate degree in environmental science (ecology) and psychology from the University of Virginia in 1995, and subsequently came to Point Blue as an intern in 1996 studying birds in the shrubsteppe of Oregon and banding at Palomarin. In 2009 she completed a Master’s Degree in Biology at Sonoma State University studying genetics and oil spill demographics of Western and Clark’s Grebes. Her primary interests include: intern training and public outreach to instill an appreciation of birds, natural history, and conservation science; bird banding and monitoring techniques; migratory ecology; phenology (the study of seasonal cycles); oil spill science, preparedness, and response; and long-term monitoring of landbird populations to identify trends and the mechanisms and consequences of change. As a Senior Avian Ecologist, Diana currently coordinates the science, training, and outreach at the Palomarin Field Station; manages landbird monitoring projects throughout the Bay Area; is Point Blue’s banding and permit coordinator; and coordinates Point Blue’s oil spill response and preparedness efforts for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.