Only 370 more days until the next World Series of Birding

The World Series of Birding has come and gone.

It all started around 10 p.m. on Friday night, when Scarlet Knight-Herons captain Brian Clough drove his mother’s Toyota Avalon to pick up other team members Bill Lynch, Charlie Kontos, and David LaPuma. We were in high spirits when we arrived at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for the start of our day. The clock struck midnight and we could finally tally the first birds on our list. Virginia Rail, Sora, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Canada Goose were all heard quickly. Despite our best efforts, the Eastern Screech Owl wasn’t being cooperative, so we moved on to toward the Overlook parking lot. American Woodcocks were abundant, but with cars constantly coming and going, hearing into the distance was becoming exceedingly difficult. We decided to head north.

Standing out in the cold rain, we heard Common Moorhen and Northern Mockingbird. While hoping to hear Pied-Billed Grebe, we instead were treated to another birder skulking into the marsh and failing miserably to recreate the bird’s call. We had to retreat before we all burst into laughing and further bothered the other birders in the area.

With dawn quickly approaching, we climbed up Vesper Hill. At this point, a little after 5 a.m., there were seemingly walls of bird songs hitting us from every direction. It is almost a surreal experience. On our way back down, we finally heard the Vesper Sparrow vocalizing, which prompted us to hoof it out of there quickly to move onto our next spot.

Moving through the High Point area, we stopped occasionally to listen and look for more species. We hiked into the woods and heard Pileated Woodpecker, Winter Wren, and finally a Barred Owl. At another stop we heard Golden-Winged Warbler, but without seeing it we couldn’t say for certain whether or not it had been a Blue-Winged Warbler singing a Golden-Winged song. That location still produced for us, as we added Belted Kingfisher, Northern Waterthrush, and Red-Breasted Nuthatch. We were also treated to a close-up view of a Swainson’s Thrush as it sang perched on a nearby branch. On one of our last northern stops, we were able to hear Cerulean Warbler, and viewed Common Merganser and Spotted Sandpiper out on the water.

We were heading south around 9 a.m. with 15 hours to go. Our species count had eclipsed 100, but glaringly absent from our list was Hairy Woodpecker, American Bittern, and Pied Billed Grebe, among others. Visiting Duke Farms helped us add to our total. Bald Eagle and Bobolink were our first new birds. As we drove through the grounds, we added quite a few more, including Northern Rough-Winged Swallow and a migrating Cape May Warbler.

Recent father David had to depart at this time, so we dropped him off at his car and said our goodbyes. Then it was off to Brigatine’s Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. This was the longest leg of the trip, driving down the Parkway after having been up for about 28 hours straight already (the three of us remaining had all taken our big final the day before). We passed the time listening to bird songs, eating trail mix, and reminiscing about the now legendary Pied-Billed Grebe imitation.

Forsythe immediately produced a handsome Merlin flying overheard, as well as Caspian Terns, Black Skimmers, and a Least Bittern. Scanning a distant flock of birds, Brian was able to spot Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Green-Winged Teal. Unfortunately by this time we running behind schedule, and had little time to scan individual flocks of shorebirds for less common species.

We arrived at Belleplain State Forest around 4 p.m., which turned out to be a big mistake. The temperature had reached the mid-80s and the trees were, for the most part, silent. Only one new species, Yellow-Throated Warbler, was added to the list. We had to make up for lost time with only a few hours of daylight left.

On the way to Cape Island we stopped at Reed’s Beach for Ruddy Turnstone and Red Knot. After arriving at Cape May point, we scanned the ocean and were rewarded with Northern Gannets and two Parasitic Jaegers. Soon after we got looks at Horned Lark, Piping Plover, and Least Tern. We headed north again, stopping at Nummy’s Island (which produced a Peregrine Falcon) and Stone Harbor. With about 20 minutes of daylight left, the Scarlet Knight-Herons were in serious danger of not seeing any night herons! While that could have been mildly amusing, we did end up adding Black-Crowned Night Heron on our last daytime stop.

Torrential downpours followed us up through Cape May County, but finally subsided at around 10 p.m. We exited our car at Jake’s Landing and waited for the Black Rail, but it was not to be. Fortunately enough we did add Chuck-Will’s-Widow, Common Nighthawk, and Whip-Poor-Will to our list. It was time to call it a day. We tallied up our 178 species and handed in our list at the finish line in Cape May.

We were exhausted and borderline delirious. 24 straight hours of birding had come to an end, and our upstart team of first-time WSB participants had ended up placing 7th among statewide teams. We were all excited, and looking ahead to an improved number at next year’s May 15th event.

The Atlantic City Press actually pulled us aside at the awards the next day to give a quick interview. Here is their brief article along with a photo of 3/4ths of the Scarlet Knight-Herons: 24 hours, 77 teams, 269 species of birds

We want to thank everyone who supported us and/or donated. Thanks to all the other great teams out there who helped scout the state and make this event so much fun, particularly the Nine Inch Rails. A big thank you to the EcoGSA for their support. And thanks to River Horse, our unofficial sponsor and supplier of free beer and t-shirts. Drink River Horse!

The day has arrived!

This is it, folks!  Charlie, Bill, and Brian just finished their last final of the semester, kicked back a few bottles of River Horse outside of class (seriously), and are now gearing up for the World Series of Birding.  At approximately 10 p.m. they will depart for the Great Swamp to start the 24-hour extravaganza listening for bitterns, rails, and owls.  From there it's straight to the tip of New Jersey, listening for more night birds along the way, and finally settling in for the dawn chorus.  Warblers, sparrows, and bears - oh my! we may or may not see a bear, but they don't count anyway.  World Series of Mammals isn't until next month.

Down through central NJ until we hit Duke Farms.  Breeding Bald Eagles and grassland birds await.  South Amboy is a possibility for Little Gull and Great Cormorant, and then it's down south until we reach Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge.  From there it's onto Heislerville, Belleplain, Cape May Point, Stone Harbor, and finally to Jake's Landing for any rails or night species we may have missed.  Of course we'll have a big update on Sunday or Monday with a full report including species seen and cups of coffee chugged.

Thanks for your support, everyone!  This is going to be a blast, and we're already getting excited for next year when we have a little more time before the event.  Get ready, birding world, the Scarlet Knight Herons are about to make a name for themselves!

Scouting, Fund-raising updates

One last push in the fund-raising department has helped us reach our original goal of $800! Not too shabby - although we'd still love to get to our slightly loftier goal of $1000. Time isn't up yet, folks. If you're still thinking of donating please feel free to contact us or use the PayPal button on the right-hand side of the blog.

We headed out on Saturday to scout and map out the Great Swamp NWR - but unfortunately our days were mixed up and we weren't able to access the management areas. On the bright side (pun intended), the sun came out and we were able to get some casual birding in. Highlights included Lincoln's Sparrow, a stunning White-Crowned Sparrow, Yellow-Throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, a lone Solitary Sandpiper flying overhead, and a female Hooded Merganser which might be worth checking up on before the big day. It's late in the season for them and if she's still hanging out it wouldn't be a lengthy detour to add another species to our list.

Charlie and Bill continued to bird the area and visited Scherman-Hoffman Audubon Sanctuary. A Pileated Woodpecker swooped in and gave us some good looks right out of the car. House Wrens aplenty, with Black-Throated Blue Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak rounding out the afternoon.

Brian will valiantly time our northern route this week, and hopefully the team will be able to lock down a few final breeding bird locations. The World Series of Birding is less than one week away...let's hope it's not going to pour.