We Survived the World Series of Birding
Cape May, NJ - Who in his right mind would be bird watching at 3 AM?
It was only 5 minutes after we began the 2007 World Series of Birding that I asked that question. But there I was with four other crazed birders, listening for owls at the end of Bayshore Road at the canal.
Before I could even answer my own question, an elusive Chuck-will’s-widow (like a Whip-poor-will) popped off and all of us got psyched. It was going to be a long but fun day.
Several months earlier, my friends Michael McCabe and Peter Grannis began twisting my arm. They convinced me it would be fun doing a marathon 18 hours of birding for the World Series.
Our team consisted of some very competent birders - Michael, Peter, our team captain Evelyn Lovitz (Michael’s wife) and Dianna Wentink (Peter’s wife).
While the World Series of Birding covers the entire state of New Jersey, our team decided to focus only on the area south of the Cape May Canal. The goal - to see or hear as many species of birds as you can from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday.
We chose to start at a more leisurely 3 AM.
Two hours before sunrise, we walked a half mile out onto a marsh, trying not to stumble into poison ivy. It was worth it. We heard Screech Owl, Clapper Rail, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow - all before daylight.
We watched the sun come up at the St Mary's jetty at the Point. We were hoping to see parasitic jaeger, scoters and gannets. The sunrise was beautiful, but we struck out on the birds.
Time for a coffee break. Luckily, home was on the way to our next stop.
Maybe it was the coffee and scones, but our luck changed right after that. After walking to one of Higbee Beach's wooded wetlands, we were barraged by warblers.
Pete was on a roll. After finding some great warblers, including Bay-breasted Warbler, he pointed out a Mississippi Kite, directly overhead.
We also managed to find two Cerulean Warblers, Purple Sandpipers, hummingbirds, and a number of other species.
It was just 9:30 AM. We still had 11 more hours to go.
Why were we subjecting ourselves to 18 hours of squinting, straining our ears, looking into the treetops until our necks ached, and walking until we had blisters?
We were raising money for conservation. In the weeks before the World Series, we had solicited contributions from our friends and business associates.
We had chosen to raise funds for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization that focuses on climate change and educating the public about the dirty process of making electricity with coal and other fossil fuels.
Because we wanted to have a low carbon footprint, we used a Honda Civic Hybrid. That car was graciously provided for the day by Avalon Honda.
After 18 hours on the road, we used only 2.9 gallons of gas. When we figured it out at the end, we managed to see 43 species for every gallon of gas we used!
On those 2.9 gallons of gas, combined with 8 miles of walking, we managed to bird at the Cape May Point State Park, Cape May beach front, Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, Hidden Valley Ranch, the Magnesite Plant, the U.S. Coast Guard Base, the Cape May Harbor, and a couple of other places.
Thanks to scouting and strategizing by Michael and Pete in the weeks before the event, we had a productive day.
We managed to pick up a Red-headed Woodpecker on a lawn on New England Road, a Brown Pelican at the Cape May Point jetties, a Common Loon at the Coast Guard base, and a Northern Harrier at the Magnesite Plant.
We decided to give the St Mary's Jetty another try about 6 PM and wouldn't you know it - we finally got our parasitic jaeger and scoters, 12 hours later.
The crowning moment of the day, however, was the last bird for our list.
The sun was setting as I was standing on some high ground at the Magnesite plant trading quips with Pete Dunne, the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory. Even in the fading light, I detected a cat that swallowed the canary look on his face.
Within seconds a yellow and grayish bird zipped by at eye level.
Peter Grannis looked at me in astonishment and mouthed the words “Western Kingbird,” which I almost didn’t have the nerve to utter. Western Kingbirds normally are somewhere near Colorado. I realized why Dunne was smiling!
The Western Kingbird was not a bad way end to a very successful day.
We managed to bird for 18 hours, no one collapsed, we saw 125 different species, we raised something on the order of $5,000 for conservation, and we had lots of fun.
Will we do it next year? You bet!
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