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.
|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.
|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.
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.
|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 on.
|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 find.
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!