By Todd Klein
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.
|Early start at the Meadows © Todd Klein|
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 $7,000 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
|Seawatching at Norbury's Landing ©Todd Klein|
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.
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.
|Jake's Landing © Todd Klein|
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.
|Willet © Roger Horn|
Here we added species like
Willet (above), Clapper Rail, Marsh Wren and Seaside Sparrow.
|Belleplain State Forest © Todd Klein|
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.
|Worm-eating Warbler © Roger Horn|
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.
|Tree Swallow © Roger Horn|
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.
|Bob's Woods © Todd Klein|
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, the State Park granted special access to this normally off-limits area - 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. 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
|TNC's South Cape May Meadows © Todd Klein|
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
At Stone Harbor Point we found
one of the few remaining Piping Plovers in our area.
This species is endangered in New Jersey mainly because it nests on beaches
where people also like to be.
|Purple Sandpipers © Roger Horn|
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 143 species!
|Yellow-crowned Night-Heron © Todd Klein|
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 144 species
online, as is now the method, seven more than last year!. 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.
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.
Captain's Note - Thanks to Todd for taking the time to write this summary of a wonderful day, the team members that make it happen, Clay Taylor and Swarovski Optik for gear, equipment and camaraderie, and all the support, both financial and logistical, that make this such a great event for Conservation!