Here’s our team on the beach at Higbee, not long after our 5 AM start, a smaller team this year, with leader Mike Crewe at the scope in front, his wife Megan to his left, and Ellen behind them. As always it was fun but exhausting. I’m recovering now after a good night’s sleep; sore feet, but otherwise just tired.
I have good news and bad news about our team’s results for this year’s World Series of Birding. The bad news is, our team total of species counted is nearly the worst one of any year I’ve done it: 118 species. (For comparison, we had 144 last year.) The good news is, thanks to many generous pledges, garnered both from this blog and from an email sent to some of the people I work with, Ellen and I will be able to contribute a record amount to New Jersey Audubon’s conservation efforts: $1,191.80! Thanks so much again to all our pledgers, you made it all worthwhile, including new pledgers
and J.H. AND WENDY WILLIAMS
So, where did we go astray? Well, it sounds like an excuse, but I have to put a lot of blame on the weather. All last week it was calm, sunny and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the upper 40s at night to around 70 in the afternoon. This was great for people and birds alike, but not so helpful to our World Series effort. All the migrating songbirds that usually come through our area in May and stay around for at least a few days to refuel and wait for good migrating weather arrived early in the week, and found migration conditions so favorable that they just kept on going to their nesting sites further north. By Saturday there were only a scant few to be found in Cape May County, the area we cover on our Century Run. For instance, we usually can count on seeing at least 20 species of warblers, this year we had only 7, and all local nesters, not migrants. The same thing applied to other songbirds like flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, sparrows and so forth.
The other weather problem was overcast skies all day, and cool weather with light winds from the ocean bringing in occasional light showers. Not uncomfortable, okay for birding, but in weather like this, the birds that like to hunt on the wing like raptors mostly stayed put, and the birds that like to sing in the morning sunshine were mostly quiet. We usually see about 10 raptor species, for instance, and this year had only 4. All but one were found perched, not flying.
One of the favorite sightings of the day for Ellen and I was a Bald Eagle nest with a parent sitting nearby and three almost grown young at our first stop of the day. The morning was just brightening with the first light of day, so it was too dark for a picture, but it was the best look we’ve ever had at an Eagle’s nest. Our plan to bird that location had to be cut short, though, to avoid disturbing the family, so we moved on to Higbee Beach WMA.
We were transported on a Cape May Trolley again this year for the third time, which has its good and bad points. On the plus side, there’s lots of room inside for everyone and their stuff, and you can see well through the windows. On the minus side, it’s too big for some birding spots, and very noisy, so we miss the chance to hear bird calls until we’re off the bus and it’s quiet. But our two drivers (we go too long for just one) were helpful.
We hit all the birding spots around Cape Island, the area immediatelly around Cape May, known as one of the best birding locations in the world. Well, not so much this year! We saw lots of teams, and everyone was shaking their heads and moaning about the lack of migrants.
Late morning we headed off Cape Island to a few birding spots further up the coast, including this unlikely one, a small park in the center of downtown Wildwood, where we got passersby looking with us…
…at a colony of nesting Yellow-Crowned Night Herons. These birds are rare throughout the northeast, and are constantly moving their nesting colonies. When you find one, though, they’re easy to see and fun to watch. Wish we’d had more time to do that, but we’ll probably go back for more looks soon.
After a 2 PM lunch break we began visiting locations throughout the rest of Cape May County, trying to build up our list, which had reached only 102 species by lunchtime. We stopped at Kimble’s Beach to see shorebirds like these, including the endangered Red Knot, a shorebird that is vanishing rapidly and might well become extinct in the next decade.
We also took time to stop and look at a few cool plants, like this Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid in the woods in Belleplain State Forest.
Here’s the group in Belleplain, late afternoon, having a laugh with a pair of reporters who joined us for a while, and who had just been told they were probably covered with ticks. Freaked them right out…
Despite getting to Belleplain, one of the best places in our county for nesting songbirds, earlier than usual, we didn’t add as many to our list there as we’d hoped. Again, the birds were mostly quiet and not active. We did the best we could, and got back to the finish line in Cape May around 10 PM to have some great food, chat with other teams, and go over our official list together before Mike turned it in.
So, this morning I got to wondering if 118 species was the lowest number I’d ever seen on a Century Run, and it turns out it’s not — quite. My first one was in 1988, and the total that year was 112. Of course, that year the team only covered Cape Island, and didn’t drive to other parts of the county. I don’t have records for every year since (and we haven’t done the Century Run every year), but all the other checklists I found show more than 118. In 1992 we listed 129, in 1990 we had 137, all the others I have are 140 or higher.
Meanwhile, we know we did our best this year, and to be fair, all the teams that stayed on Cape Island or in Cape May County had lower than usual results. Okay, the winner in our division (Cape May County only), the Cornell Redheads DID find 163 species (obviously super birders!), two were in the 140s, the rest were under 121. Of the top teams, who cover the entire state, the winner again this year was the Lagerhead Shrikes with an amazing 221 species. Second place went to SGG Team CMBO, which I think is Pete Dunne’s team, with 202. The rest finished under 193. Clearly birders in the rest of the state had some advantages, but most of the teams found less species this year. In addition to the weather factor, perhaps there are just less migrating birds now, due to shrinking habitat worldwide and even perhaps the effects of global warming, though that’s just a guess.
So, we’ll have think about how we can do better next year. All we can do is try for more in 2012! And we’re grateful to be able to make a strong monetary contribution to conservation efforts in our area and our state. Thanks again, pledgers!