Friday, May 20, 2011

End of an Era!

At the World Series of Birding Awards Brunch on Sunday May 15th, as part of the awarding of the Urner-Stone Cup to the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes, Captain Paul Guris made this statement -

"This event has been a major part of our lives. Mike and I have literally been doing it for more than half of our lives. Zach was once a fresh-faced Nikon youth team member. Bert has spent the better part of his retirement with us.

We've had a cast of other characters on the team such as Eric Pilotte, Adrian Binns, Bill Stocku, Megan Edwards (now Crewe), Rick Mellon and Julian Hough.

So it is with very mixed emotions that I'm announcing the retirement of the current incarnation of the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes. DVOC may still field a team in the future, and one or more of our faces may pop back up, but it's time for this particular group to call it quits."

Monday, May 16, 2011

How the South went (Play by Play).

We traditionally consider the "South" part of our route everything below I-80. This is the play by play of what we found and where. I don't have the timing sheet from Bert yet, so maybe he can chime in with some times for reference. This is the summary while it's still fresh in my (very tired) head:

Our first stop was Harmony road to get our "drive by" Snow Goose, which we did after an initial scare when we couldn't locate him among all the Canada Geese. It turns out he was right next to the road, duh. This was the second year in a row that our scouted Snow Goose at Brig. was eaten or disappeared right before the WSB, but thankfully this year the guys up North found a backup. We also found some Horned Larks in a nearby field as well as Orchard Oriole and from there it was a straight run all the way South to Millville with just a single stop for gas (and toilets) along the way. We arrived at Rainbow Lake where I had a drake Greater Scaup on Thursday, but things were not off to a great start for my part of the route as he was a no show and the rain started to fall harder and steady now. The Southern Breeding land birds were not gonna be fun in this rain! We got to the first stop and our luck immediately changed when Zach heard a calling Bobwhite. We quickly nailed our Blue Grosbeak and Carolina Chickadee, then off to spot #2 where we got our Prothonotory, but no luck with the Kentucky or Summer Tanager. Spot #3 came through with Summer Tanager and White-eyed Vireo and off to spot #4 where we got our Kentucky for a complete set in less than 1/2 hour and by using only half my stops! Luck was now on our side. We made a quick stop to try for our missing kingfisher at a nest hole I had found, but it wasn't home (we ended up missing Kingfisher).

With the predicted wind and high tides, it was nice to now be able to fully concentrate on shorebirds, seabirds, and waterfowl. We rolled into Heislerville at dead low tide as expected. I knew there was going to be low numbers of shorebirds due to the tide, but I was surprised to only see a handful of birds. We did get Black Skimmer, Ruddy Duck, Red Knot, Red-breasted Merganser, and a host of common shorebirds. There was a Cooper's Hawk hunting the impoundment though and everything was scared off including the flock of both species of Yellowlegs I was expecting to get. This was going to be a great source of stress for me as we couldn't seem to buy one the rest of the day! We skipped Bivalve (and the Yellowlegs that were propably there) since we had the Bobwhite and I wanted to bank the time for later. Our next stop was Tamerlane Campground for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Bert had found the nest hole, but some campers were having a barbeque right under the tree! The birds were no where to be found and we searched the immediate area without success. We were on our way out when by some miracle we found one, but we wasted over 1/2 hour of our precious time. We next went to try for Cattle Egret, but yet again we came up empty on this species and this was our only spot. We then headed straight South into Cape May where our next stop was a raptor scan at Steven's street to try for Kites or Sharp-shinned Hawks which we still needed. No luck, but the farmer was plowing the field in front of us and lo and behold there was a Cattle Egret behind the tractor! How lucky can you get?

We then went to Alexander Ave. to do our first of two Sea Watches. We missed Purple Sandpiper, but more than made up for that with Surf and Black Scoter, Gannet, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Tern, and even a Red-throated Loon! We went to do our second sea watch closer to the tern flock in the Rips, and managed to pick up Royal Tern and nothing else. Next up was the South Cape May Meadows where we were dreading having to walk both the east and West paths. On the way out we spotted 3 ducks in flight which turned out to be 2 males and a female Gadwall and while we were watching them a 4th duck joined them and it was a Blue-winged Teal! That was one of my worrisome species. We got to the end and had a Piping Plover on the nest and we hoofed it back to the car after failing to find the Glaucous Gull that had been hanging on the beach. Next up was more beach walking at Poverty Beach where we quickly found our target Great Cormorant and off we went to Ocean Drive where we squeeked up a Saltmarsh Sparrow in record time. We quickly checked unsuccessfully (again) for Kingfisher along the Coast Guard ponds and then we stopped at Sunset lake in Wildwood Crest for our only chance at Bufflehead. A thorough scan of the lake produced nothing, but while scanning along the far side I found our birds sitting under the docks there. They were tough to spot even when we knew they were there, but it was another bird on the list and off we went. Bert had us stop next to the bowling alley in downtown Wildwood where some yellow-crowned night Herons were nesting in tall pine trees right in the worst part of town. We managed to not get mugged and headed to Nummy Island next where we scored a Peregrine and a Tri-colored Heron, but no Little Blue Heron. We checked for Purple Sandpiper at 113th street, but the all the rock jetties were under water on this extremely high tide. I figured any purple Sandpipers would be on the only rocks available and that was in front of the Avalon Seawatch. We made that our next stop and sure enough there were purple Sandpipers there. tick! Believe it or not, it was almost 6pm and we still needed Ring-billed Gull! My next stop was Townsend's Inlet to look for Lesser-black Backed Gull and hopefully a stupid Ring-billed would be there. The Gulls were further away than usual, but we quickly found both species as well as Little Blue Herons flying in to a nearby roost we knew about. Our last stop before heading to Brigantine to end our day was 44th street in Sea Isle City were we found the Common Eider Flock and even got some thumbs up from the happy hour crowd at the Princeton Tiki Bar after they asked if we got the birds as we headed back to the car. I suspect we weren't the first team to go by there.

We shot straight to Brigantine to spend our last hour of daylight hopefully filling in some of our missed species. We got there around 7pm and quickly got our Gull-billed tern and Caspian Tern. The tide outside the impoundments was so high there was nothing but water out there. This was an advantage for us because all the birds were forced to the inside. We finally found a Greater Yellowlegs, but still needed a Lesser (always tough in mid May) and also found a female Greater Scaup floating outside the dikes. On the back side we found a pair of Green-winged teal way out in the pool, but failed to come up with the Horned Grebe that was seen the day before. We got to the last section of marsh and looked for White-rumpled Sandpiper where I had 5 the day before but struck out. We did find our Lesser Yellowlegs though in the last section of marsh in the last bit of daylight, whew... We went to the exit road and waited for Chucks and Whips to call. Usually the Whips are a bit harder, but for some reason we only had whips calling (including one just feet away) so we moved down the road where we could hear and got our Chucks. We didn't know it at the time, but this was to be our last species for the day at #221. We headed to the Marmora Wawa for much needed coffee and gas and then went all the way to Turkey Point to try for Black Rail. At this point the wind was howling and we had flooding out at Turkey Point. We hid behind the car so we could hear over the wind and waited for the Black Rail to call. We all knew it was futile, but we had to try anyway. Things got a little better when I pulled 4 cold beers I had stashed for just such a situation. The beers didn't last long and the rain started again and we decided to call it a night and head to the finish line and see how we did. It's a LONG ride to the finish after such a long day, but I made it without incident and we completed the list on the way. We were all very happy with our day and I think we did as well as could be expected in a pretty tough year. We all had such fun birding together, it was too bad it had to end. We were ready for some well earned sleep though.

Michael Fritz

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Trophy

At the Awards Brunch

The Dust Settles

The official results of the event will be announced at the Awards Brunch this morning in Cape May. Unofficial results from the finish line show that the team total of 221 species identified allowed the team to successfully defend the Urner-Stone Cup. There will be a couple of reports posted today from the brunch and team members will also post blog entries reflecting on the event over the next couple of days.

Unofficial results

It appears we won the World Series of Birding!


Unofficial results show us on first place.


(Sent from my cell phone.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We have finished.

We have turned in our form. 221 species. Now we are waiting to see how we did!

Towards the end.

We are out listening in the marshes for species we have missed
There is no rain but It is windy.


(Sent from my cell phone.)

To Brig!

We are leaving Sea Isle and heading to Brigantine NWR. We have not totaled up our list but we feel we are doing very well.


(Sent from my cell phone.)

In the meadows

In Cape May County

We have arrived in Cape May County.

(Sent from my cell phone.)


Mike prepares for driving the southern birding route

Drive by Snow Goose!


We are wrapping up our birding in the north and heading south. We are on schedule and our species total is a hair below average.
Not many migrants up here.
Having a great time.

Making good time!

Dawn approaches

We are on schedule and doing well.


(Sent from my cell phone.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Waiting for midnight

Getting caffeine

Almost time to start!

Scouting is over even though some additional reports will come in throughout the evening. Paul and Zack have left their base in northern New Jersey and are in Pennsylvania preparing the vehicle for the event and getting a little (very little) rest. Mike and I are in Cape May also trying to get some rest. I will go to Mike's house about 6 pm for the traditional final southern strategy session, pizza and a beer.

By 9 pm all of us will meet at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway. This is the first time the four of us have been together since the awards brunch last year. Between 9 pm and midnight we will travel some miles, gas up the vehicle, buy lots of coffee, tell lots of stories, exchange good hearted insults, and end up standing in the dark on a dike beside an impoundment in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

This will probably be the last blog post from a regular computer until after the event. But using cell phone cameras and e-mails from phones we will update where we are and how we are think we are doing as the day progresses.

At midnight the game is on!



Swapping Information

One of the traditions in this competition is the sharing of information. Sharing levels the playing field for all teams. Most teams do not have the resources to put scouts in the field for multiple days at multiple locations. This is especially true of youth teams. Since many teams raise conservation money based on the number of species seen, we all want all teams to have high species counts on the big day.

Some sharing is done electronically (eBird, emails, text, etc) and sharing is done face to face (meals, impromptu roadside meetings, etc).

And on Thursday evening teams assemble at the CMBO Goshen center for a swap meet. Each potential species is mentioned and locations are shared. This sharing speaks to the true spirit of the event.

Bar-tailed Godwit Again!?

Last night while scouting Forsythe Refuge on a VERY high tide I ran into Jim Danzenbaker.  We were in the NW corner of the "Danzenbaker Pool" appropriately named after his late father.  It's also know as the East Pool and we had a Breeding plumaged male Bar-tailed Godwit there!  We sent out word, but unfortunately no other birders showed up in time.  It flew at 6pm only 50 minutes after it was located.  It headed due North and it was the only shorebird to leave.  I'm hoping it returns, but I'm not so sure.  The one I found last year was within 2 days of this one and it's likely the exact same bird returning.  Last year bird stayed about a week, so we'll see...


Last Full Day Scouting in the South.

Thursday was a VERY long day of scouting down here in the South.  I left the house at 5am and got back in around midnight.  This weather forecast for Saturday afternoon has me worried.  Cloudy, showers and SE winds of 15-20mph do not make for fun and easy birding.  It will be really tough for land birding, but we can use the wind and high tides to our advantage because it concentrated the birds on the few unflooded areas,  I spent the entire morning trying to get the best land bird spots because we're going to need them.  I followed a female Summer Tanager around for 45 minutes hoping to find her nest (I didn't).  The good part is that we know that females attract the males (works in humans too) and she had at least 2 males singing for her attention.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Everything we do costs..............

In the World Series of Birding we are forced to confront the situation that "Everything we do costs time". Time is the currency of the event. We only have so much available and it us to us to figure out the best place to spend that time. There are only 1440 minutes in the event and nothing we can do can change that. We maximize those 1440 minutes by planning and strategizing. We have notes from previous years that help us accomplish that but every year presents new challenges

An example is Piping Plover. Last year we were able to see and identify a Piping Plover rather quickly. There was a nesting Piping Plover in a easily accessible location. This year, because of the locations of the known nests, it looks like it will take more time to get to any one of the nesting areas. The picture above is an "exclosure" set up by a state agency around a known nest. It is called an exclosure because it is designed to keep predators out, not to keep anything in. (Yes, there is a bird in that exclosure. See if you can find it!) We like to deal with Piping Plovers on nests because they are predictable locations. A question is, how close do we need to get to the exclosure to properly identify the species with our outstanding Nikon optics? And is there even a place where we can get closer? Or is there a better exclosure somewhere in New Jersey to serve our purposes? Or is there a nest that is active but not in an exclosure? If we need an extra 10 minutes for Piping Plover this year that 10 minutes needs to come at the expense of another location or species. Part of today will be spent trying to find a better location than what we already have for viewing Piping Plover and also trying to figure out where we can get the extra ten minutes from if we need to have them. That 10 minutes has to come at the expense of something else.

Also Gadwall, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Red Knot, Tri-colored Heron, Carolina Wren, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Cormorant, Blue-winged Teal, Cooper's Hawk, Royal Terns, etc. need my attention today. And that is just part of my list. Each member of the team has a similar list to work on today!


- Bert -