The World Series of Birding is an annual competition and fund-raiser for nature and environmental organizations in which teams try to see or hear as many bird species as possible inside a 24 hour period (midnight to midnight) and inside the state of New Jersey. It’s held on a Saturday in the first half of May, the 12th this year. It was begun in 1984 by Pete Dunne and others, and the first year there were thirteen teams. This year there were 73 teams and hundreds of participants. Since its inception, the event has raised more than ten million dollars for the organizations involved. Our team, the Cape May Bird Observatory Century Run began in 1987. My first year was 1988, and though I’ve missed a few years, I’ve participated about 25 times. The event is a mixture of exciting (when you find good things), frustrating (when you don’t), a cool nature adventure, an exhausting experience, and usually lots of fun. Every year a core group of fans, friends and supporters help me contribute to the cause of the Cape May Bird Observatory’s mission of conservation, education and preservation, and I’m glad they were there for me again this year.
Our 2018 team had 24 participants, including the team leader Brett Ewald, team planners and birding experts Roger and Kathy Horn, photographer and binocular specialist Clay Taylor from Swarovski Optik, and team planner Patti Domm. Many participants on this team return year after year. The top Level 1 teams are usually much smaller, 3 or 4 people, and some cover the entire state of New Jersey, or, like us, one particular county or area There are also Senior and Youth team categories as well as Carbon Footprint teams who travel only on foot or by bike, all competing for awards as well as raising money. Our Level 2 team does not compete for awards, but we do raise lots of money for important conservation work by New Jersey Audubon (over $6,000 this year), and we have a great time doing it. We birded from about 4:45 AM to about 9 PM this year, not as long a day as the 24-hour teams, but quite long enough! And our day tends to be more relaxed than the level-one teams. We keep up a steady pace, but also take the time to get good looks at some of the best and most interesting birds. That’s our team bus, above, at our starting point at the Cape May Meadows parking lot. As thunder and lightning flashed and rumbled in the distance, we got our first few species by call here before heading to our first stop, the Cape May Airport. There we added two more difficult species by call, Horned Lark and Chuck-Will’s-Widow as a light shower began.
As dawn broke, and the shower passed, we were at our next stop, a walk at Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area that added more good birds like Green Heron, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Waterthrush and Northern Flicker. While we were there, a fire siren went off in the neighborhood, and this prompted a local Barred Owl to start calling! Apparently this often happens, though I’d never experienced it, and adding Barred Owl to our species list was a treat. Owls rarely call during the day, and we often don’t get any for our list. We left this birding spot at 7 AM with 57 species.
Our next stop was Norbury’s Landing on the Delaware Bayshore a little north of Cox Hall Creek. Here we added gulls and shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstone and Red Knot to our list, as well as a difficult-to-find Bonaparte’s Gull, and two Bald Eagles, We finished here around 7:45 AM with 77 species on our list. The weather was gradually clearing.
Another Delaware Bayshore stop further north at Reed’s Beach added species like Snowy Egret and Least Tern, but the best bird of the stop was a Glaucous Gull found by Clay Taylor using his scope. This nearly all-white gull is rare here, and is not on the official checklist, so it was a write-in! Those are always a thrill to add to our list.
Here’s a photo of a Glaucous Gull I found on eBird to give you an idea, though ours was surrounded by dozens of Laughing Gulls, and not easy to pick out.
Around 9 AM we stopped at the Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research and Education (CRE for short) to use the bathrooms, and pick up a few more species like Orchard Oriole and the often elusive Cedar Waxwing. We also added Ruby-throated Hummingbird, coming to the feeders there.
Our next stop was Jake’s Landing, which overlooks wide expanses of wetlands draining into Delaware Bay. It was a full sun morning now, and remained so for much of the day with light winds and increasing temperatures into the upper 70s by mid-afternoon. In all, a very pleasant birding day.
Here we added species like Willet (above), Clapper Rail, Marsh Wren and Seaside Sparrow.
By about 10 AM we were in Belleplain State Forest, the area not far from where I live that I’d been scouting for the past 10 days. We began on Narrows Road, but not much was calling there, so moved on to the bridge on Sunset Road, above.
Here we added key breeding bird species like Acadian Flycatcher, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Wood Thrush, and warblers: Hooded, Worm-eating (above), Yellow-throated and Prothonotary. By 10:10 we’d reached our nominal Century Run goal of 100 species about an hour earlier than usual! This was cause for celebration, but we all knew that after the first 100, it gets much harder. In other parts of Belleplain we added Eastern Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Bluebird and more. We found most of the birds that breed here except for Summer Tanager, which I’d had several of the day before, but none turned up for us. That tends to happen every year with a few species. One final stop in Woodbine, near Belleplain, added Eastern Meadowlark, then we headed south toward Cape May Point again around 12:15 PM with 115 species.
We arrived at the Cape May Point State Park around 12:45 for our lunch break, which we took at one of the picnic pavilions overlooking Lighthouse Pond. There team leader Brett found a Broad-winged Hawk circling overhead with some vultures. After eating, we went up to the dune to view the ocean where it meets Delaware Bay. Here a difficult-to-find Parasitic Jaeger was added to our list, as well as a few more species.
Our next stop was a nearby place I’d never visited at the northwest corner of the Cape May Point State Park. Called Bob’s Woods, you enter along a right-of-way through someone’s yard into a patch of woods that was full of birds, including about a dozen warbler species. It reminded me very much of how birding used to be decades ago at Higbee Beach a few miles north, but seldom is there today. We added many migrating warblers to our list that we’ve often missed in recent years, including Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Blackburnian and Blackpoll, but the star attraction here was a Swainson’s Warbler that had been calling regularly for the past two weeks. This is a species that’s usually found further south, but one has been showing up here every year or two for a while now. They are secretive and very hard to see, but fortunately have a distinctive call, which allowed us to count it. You can see pictures and videos of the bird calling HERE. To me, the call sounds like “Come on and get your PIZZA HERE!” (Okay, I like pizza.) I first learned it in South Carolina, and have heard one calling in the Cape May area before, but not for many years. This was another write-in bird, two in one year! Pretty cool.
About 3 PM we did some birding outside the Northwood Center of the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point. I’ve volunteered here for many years. We added a hard-to-find Black-billed Cuckoo. We were running a bit behind schedule, so we soon moved on.
Probably our longest walk of the day was on the loop trail at the Cape May Meadows from 3:15 to 4 PM. This had been one of our best spots last year, but was not as productive this year. We did add Gadwall and a few other species. A Mississippi Kite had been reported just north of us, but we didn’t see it. It was time to drive north again, where a stop at Shell Bay Landing just off the Garden State Parkway, added Whimbrel to our list. Next was Nummy Island where we found Tricolored Heron, Black-bellied Plover and Common Loon. I was pretty tired at this point and neglecting to take group photos, sorry. We left the Meadows with 133 species, just two short of our estimated goal of 135, and four short of last year’s total of 137. We had high hopes of more, but they were getting ever harder to find.
At Stone Harbor Point we found one of the few remaining Piping Plovers in our area, photo above found online. This species is endangered in New Jersey mainly because it nests on beaches where people also like to be.
Another bird we added here was Purple Sandpiper, which has usually migrated north by now. We left this area around 6 PM with a great total of 141 species!
We found one more in Avalon, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, seen here in a photo I took last year, possibly the same bird. This is a species that is rare and hard to see unless you know their daytime roosting spots, which we do.
We then stopped at the Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard where we had great looks at many of the shorebirds we’d struggled to see earlier in the day, as well as a family of young foxes playing nearby, but unfortunately did not find anything new for our list. Weather predictions were coming in of a massive line of thunderstorms approaching from the west, and there was a tornado warning. We headed back toward Belleplain State Forest after a stop at Wawa for snacks and bathrooms, and by the time we got there it was fully dark, and the western sky was full of thunder and lightning. We made two attempts to hear Whip-poor-will, a night-calling bird common there that’s often the last one we add to our list, but they were silent this time, perhaps as spooked by the weather as we were. We decided to call it a day and headed back to Cape May Point. On the way, as rain showers began, Roger Horn submitted our official list of 142 species online, as is now the method. By the time we got back to our cars, the storm was upon us, with torrential rain, lightning and thunder. Just getting the 20 feet from the bus to my car got me pretty wet.
I had planned to go to the Finish Line at the Grand Hotel, where there would be food and good company, and where we’d see other teams coming in as well, but by the time I drove over there, the rain was, if anything, coming down even harder, and there was nowhere near the hotel to park, so I decided to just head home instead. Even with having to drive much slower than usual, I arrived home earlier than I often do at about 10:15 PM.
This morning there was an Awards Brunch for participants wanting to attend, which I never do. I’d rather sleep in a bit and recover, and I also need to work on this report. At some point soon there will be an official list of all the team results, which I will link to here when I get it. I also hope to get some bird photos from our day from Clay Taylor, and the official checklist from Brett Ewald. I learned this afternoon from Roger Horn that our team total is now 144! Adjustments must have been made at the Finish Line. I will add or link to all that when I can. Thanks to Roger Horn for use of some of his photos. It was an excellent day. Oh, and for my fellow participants, that number I threw out as the approximate highest total of species ever seen by the Century Run team? I don’t know where I got that, I may have dreamed it! I did some research today, and while I don’t have results from every year, the highest one I do have is 149 species from 2000. So, our total of 144 is quite good by comparison. The lowest total I have (from 1987, the first year) is 104. Several early ones were 112, a stormy 2011 got 118. Most other years range from the low 130s to the mid 140s.
Thanks again to all my pledgers and supporters for helping me raise funds for nature, and to the team’s excellent leaders and great participants. It was a fine group to be part of, everyone was friendly, polite and helpful, and we had a blast.
I’ll probably be doing and reporting on this again next year! Thanks for reading.
ADDED: Here’s a link to the TEAM RESULTS. As you can see, we won our category, which is NJ Audubon Ambassadors. This is the Level 2 teams.