Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Easy Early, Harder Later

One thing we've found over the years is that some of the birds that are easily found while scouting a week before the event can be significantly harder to find as game day approaches. A big reason for this is that birds become more secretive once the female is on eggs. It doesn't particularly pay to advertise that your mate is sitting on a nest full of protein rich morsels. There are several things you can do to combat this phenomenon.

First, take note of every one of the early arrivers that you can. Species that fall into this category include Louisiana Waterthrush, Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, Blue-headed Vireo, several species of woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatch like this one trying to hide in my tray feeder.

Second, try to learn their calls. There have been years when we've only gotten Hermit Thrush because we knew where to listen, and we knew their "chuck" notes or their Catbirdesque whine.

Finally, unmated or closely opposing males are your friends. We easily nailed the nuthatch one year because we had found two pairs nesting very close to one another, and the males were constantly yammering at each other to keep to their own side of the line. Several teams missed this species that year, and these were the only ones we heard.

If you won't be scouting all week and there are some species you are worried about, don't hesitate to ask where some of our most reliable birds are. The sharing ethic runs strong these days, and there are plenty of people willing to pass on what they've found.

The 5 Hardest Birds in Northern New Jersey

Every species the Lagerhead Shrikes see on the big day counts equally towards our overall total. However, certain species get extra attention during the week of scouting. In particular are the species I have claimed to be the 5 hardest birds in northern Jersey. The criteria for selecting these species are that they must nest in the state almost every year and be considered a north Jersey specialty.

At number 5 I have chosen Ruffed Grouse. This species has become more and more elusive each year the Shrikes do the event. Local hunters have been quoted saying that “there are no grouse in the High Point/Stokes area and if you find one don’t tell us!”

Coming in at number 4 is Winter Wren. The number of winter wrens on the Lagerhead Shrikes route each year varies from 3 to none. By the middle of May most of the territorial males singing becomes irregular and hard to predict or decide to completely vacate their original territory. It is not uncommon to spend 30 minutes to an hour listening unsuccessfully for a winter wren and then later hear the bird sang 10 minutes later.

[ Photo provided by Bill Hubick]

See if you can guess what the top three species are going to be in the postings to come!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fellowship Before the Start

Some teams compete in limited geographic divisions and some teams (including the Lagerhead Shrikes) compete in the state wide division. Most of the state wide teams begin at the Great Swamp NWR west of New York City.  In fact many of the teams begin on the same stretch of road at the Great Swamp.


Teams begin arriving about 11:30 pm. There is a real sense of camaraderie as participants renew friendships and wish each other luck. About 11:55 the teams start to form individual  groups. A person with a decent watch is designated as the "starter". At midnight an announcement is made and the event is on.  Everyone is silent as they listen for their first bird of the event. Friends become fierce competitors for 24 hours!


This picture was taken at the Great Swamp a few minutes before the start of the 2008 event.


Bert Filemyr

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring vs. Fall

The difference between Spring and Fall is huge. Other than being at opposite ends of Winter, the two seasons are also like night and day when it comes to migration. In the Fall the birds come through over an extended period of time and they are in no big rush to go south. Fall migration really starts in August (actually earlier) and continues at a steady pace through November. Spring migration is completely different! The birds are all in a big rush to get to their breeding grounds and get the best territory, so migration is almost frantic. Spring migration doesn't start in earnest until mid April and is mostly over by the end of May (a total of just 6 weeks). Sometime around May-3 the floodgates will open and everything will come pouring through NJ in one big rush. This is when we do our scouting and it's why the WSB is in Mid-May. The problem is it leaves only a very short window to locate all those birds in the 10 or so days before the event. I consider it a privilege to spend so much time in the field scouting during that intense window of bird migration. In just over a week it will be happening big time, until then I will just have to be happy seeing the first Towhee or Hooded Warbler of the year. MUCH more to come...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Peregrines at Florence

New Jersey has thousands of wonderful places to bird. It would be nice to visit every one of them on the World Series of Birding day. But we only have 1440 minutes on the big day. The goal is figure out how few places we can visit, not how many places we can visit. Each stop consumes valuable time and we need to make each stop as productive as possible.

Pictured above is the underside of the PA Turnpike bridge as it crosses into New Jersey in Florence. For years there has been a pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting there. Some years we have made this location a stop on the big day. But it takes time to get off of Route 295, get to the bridge, see the birds, and then get back on 295. If we can find another location for Peregrines in NJ that takes less time, we eliminate this stop. Minutes saved by eliminating this stop can be used elsewhere.

But we still need to scout this location to confirm that the birds are there, and to scout other possible locations for this species. The decision to visit or not visit this location is often made went we are heading south on the big day.


Bert Filemyr

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The hardest thing about any Big Day

If you haven't guessed the hardest part of a Big Day is staying mentally and physically sharp throughout the 24 hour gauntlet. As elegantly depicted by Eric in the photo above this can be grueling for even seasoned World Series of Birding members. So how do the Lagerhead Shrikes coupe with sleep deprivation? Well each member has his own strategy some stick to coffee and soda, others put down enough energy drinks to wake the dead, and some commit the cardinal sin of sleeping during the ride south. However, after each World Series of Birding the Lagerhead Shrikes stay true to their name and enjoy a few cold ones before dozing off.

Zach Baer

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good Luck Charms!

These little sculptures of our Lagerhead Shrikes logo have graced the dashboard of our World Series of Birding vehicles for many years.

We feel they bring us good luck!

Who knows if they do, but we are going to continue to have them with us on the big day.

It is better to be safe than sorry!


<<Bert Filemyr>>

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Preparing for Every Possibility - 2009

Yes, that is an 8' 2x10 Mike Fritz is loading in our vehicle about 2 hours before the start of last year's World Series of Birding.


In 2009, we knew that the Great Swamp NWR, where we would spend the first two hours of the event, was extremely wet. Some roads were muddy and some roads were covered by standing water. We were worried about two things - (1.) getting our vehicle stuck and/or (2.) another team's vehicle getting stuck in a position that blocked us from getting out of the refuge.


So on the way to the Great Swamp we stopped in a Home Depot and bought a board that we could use to get us out of a problem or get a vehicle that was blocking us out of a problem. Luckily we never needed the board. We were glad that we had it and we were glad we never had to use it. Needless to say it really took up lots of space in the van the rest of the day.


Just an example of preparing for every possibility.


<<Bert Filemyr>>

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sharing of Scouting Information 2010

The sharing of scouting information has taken a huge leap forward in the past decade or so. People who are not familiar with the spirit of the World Series of Birding may find it amazing that teams that are in direct competitors will share scouting information right up to the midnight start of the event. Teams understand that a rising tide floats all boats, and any help they give or receive is reflected in the bottom line of fund raising. Additionally, it helps level the playing field for those teams that cannot dedicate an entire week to scouting. In particular, it has provided a tremendous boost to the totals of the youth teams, whose school obligations limit their scouting ability.

In the past three years teams have sent scouting information to the DVOC team and we have posted the information on this website. While on the whole this procedure has been very successful it has had problems. These "problems" were:

1. The reports came in during scout week and needed to be processed and posted as quickly as possible. While most of the submissions were in formats that could be quickly transferred to the website, some submissions required considerable interpretation. There is never enough time to scout during the week before the event and that is the week that required the most work on the scouting notes.
2. Some teams have never participated in this initiative. Furthermore there are probably some teams that take scouting information and never contribute to the scouting reports.
3. All the scouting efforts were not archived in a way that provides a clear historical record.

In an effort to address these issues the DVOC this year is working with the Cornell team to strongly urge all teams to use eBird ( for WSB scouting. eBird is a major initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and it is hoped that each WSB team will create an account for their team. Further information is available at

Bert Filemyr

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scouting Some Roads / Raising Conservation Funds

                Migrant birds are just starting to arrive in our area and many of the resident birds are beginning their breeding sequences. It is tough to nail down species and locations this far in advance of the big day but there is still plenty of scouting work to do. I spent a couple of hours today driving roads in the central part of the state that we traditionally have used on our route. I was interesting in seeing if there was any major road construction projects that could affect our choice of roads. There were no major surprises and it was good to revisit a few of our traditional birding locations.

                We need to remind everyone that the major focus of the World Series Of Birding is raise funds for conservation. The DVOC has chosen to use all funds it raises for a partnership with the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and PA Audubon to stimulate public awareness of window strikes and create more demand for window solutions. Please be generous in your support. More information and a pledge sheet is available at


Bert Filemyr

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nikon Youth Team Program (An insider prospective)

It seems like only yesterday when I wrote my first e-mail to Paul Guris suggesting the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes support a youth team in the World Series of Birding. In actuality that was over 6 years ago and I was purposing something that had never been done by a youth team; bird the entire state with the hopes of breaking the 200 species mark. This was a big change in strategy since most youth teams would bird strictly in Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties. I was able to assemble an amazing team of youth birders seen front row in the picture above (left to right): Andy Bankert from Florida, myself (Zach Baer) with a little more hair than I currently have, Ross Gallardy from Western PA, and Tom Johnson who now goes to Cornell for his undergraduate studies and is a member of the Cornell Redheads, but we won’t knock him for that! It wasn’t until our 2nd year of competing in the event that we were able to finally break the 200 species mark, totaling 212 species in just 24 hours and tying the Adult Zeiss Team for 3rd place overall. Sadly, this was the last year that I could compete in the youth division; I was heading off to college in the fall.

The Nikon youth team has continued to excel bringing in new faces each year and never falling short of seeing/hearing 200 species on the Big Day. Being a part of the Nikon youth team provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will not soon forget. Tragically, due to the struggling economy Nikon cannot sponsor a youth team for the 2010 World Series of Birding, but that will not stop these kids from competing this year! The Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes are doing everything possible to accommodate the youth team (sharing hotel rooms, lending vehicles, paying for registration, etc.). As a former youth team member I am so thankful for the generosity shown by the Lagerhead Shrikes.

Zach Baer

Sunday, April 4, 2010


                There are some things a World Series of Birding team can control. Items like the route used, team birding skills, team membership, etc. are items that can be planned in advance and controlled. But there are things that a World Series of Birding team cannot control. Things like the weather, migration and the length of the contest.

                The contest runs from midnight Friday night to midnight Saturday night, twenty four hours. Breaking it down further, each team has 1440 minutes to find and identify as many species as possible. At first glance 1440 seems like a huge number but it is not. If a team "gets" 220 species for the day, it means it has to average a new species every 6.5 minutes. Factor in that a statewide team will spend about 11 hours driving between locations. A few species will be identified while driving, but most will not be. If you subtract the 11 hours of driving from the 24 hours, at best there is only 13 hours for birding - 780 minutes! To "get" 220 species in 780 minutes, a new species has to be identified every 3.5 minutes. Keep in mind that 220 species has not been a winning total since 2004! Last year 220 species would have resulted in a 4th place finish.

                The 1440 minutes is something that cannot be changed. Once a minute passes, it cannot be recovered. In the weeks before the contest teams constantly refine their routes to maximize the minutes spent birding and minimize the non-birding minutes. (Bert)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April WSB Blues

I have always found the month of April to be tough on me from a World Series of Birding perspective.  There are signs of Spring everywhere and newly arriving birds almost daily, but there's almost nothing I can do to prepare for the event  this early.  It's probably for this reason that we often discuss changes to our route at this time,  mostly because we have little else to do.  In actuality any major route changes would be done only if we found a concentration of "tough" birds somewhere that we needed to include or we're missing some important birds along our established route.  Both of these scenarios wouldn't happen until the week or two before the event, so we're mostly just killing time. This is probably why most of us go away on birding vacations in April.

Here are several helpful things we CAN do in April:

1) Touch base with members of other teams that we will be scouting with.  This helps establish a good relationship   with other teams and encourages the sharing of information.

2) Work out scouting logistics and plan on what each of our team members will cover.   It's a big state and we need to be able to cover it efficiently.

3) Take care of paperwork.  Anita does most of this though, but we need to get it all taken care of so we can compete as an official Level-1 teamwith a sponser.

4) Poke fun at your teammates (and ex-teammates) via email.  What are friends for?  We don't get to bird together very much and it helps us bond as a team.  It's also fun to do.

5) Actually scout!  Accipiters and several other raptors/owls start nesting early and it's much easier to find their nests before the trees leaf out.

6) Check out some of the spots we often include in our route to check on conditions.  This year a lot of places will be flooded and some places that aren't usually wet can be holding good birds.  An example would be the West Cape May impoundments that have had a Black-neckedStilt recently.  That spot has been dried up for years, but may be good this year.

7) Get out and bird!!!  Every year we have to practice our birding skills and hone our skills since we get rusty over the  winter.  Even if we can't use the birds we find it pays off later when you're sharp as a tack on game day...  This is the fun part.