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 -



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Hey Bert, you need Least Bittern?"

That's what I asked him when I called him Tuesday afternoon. His response was "where do you have it?". When I told him it was in my car all heard was silence on the other end. Eventually he said he'd be right over. By now you're probably wondering what the heck I was talking about. What happened was I was driving across the Mauricetown Causeway and I spotted an interesting looking bird lying dead along the roadside (I thought it was a rail). I stopped to check it out and found this Bittern, that was still alive. He had a head injury and wasn't looking too good so after I took a picture of him I put him in a canvas bag to recuperate. When Bert arrived the Bittern was a bit more lively, but he couldn't stand and I doubt he will make it. I released him in the marsh near some good habitat just in case. I was amazed at how small he was! He fit neatly in the palm of my hand (note the fly biting me!), they should call them "Pocket Bitterns". The biting insects are out in force in Cumberland County right now.

Seeing, Hearing or BOTH

There's a lot of species I've never seen on the World Series of Birding. Even birds we happen to get most years, we often get them by call or song and never take the time to try and actually see them. One luxury during scouting is I have a little bit more time and sometimes get lucky and see something rare. This male Kentucky Warbler was singing his head off in Bevan WMA and I actually had a nice look (and time for a quick pic) at him. I've missed this relatively rare bird on only one WSB in my 23 years of doing the event, but never got it by sight.

Checking and re-Checking

Finding a field full of singing Grasshopper Sparrows is the (relatively) easy part. Finding a field that stays unmowed until after the WSB is the hard part. This is the same field I had them in last year and the field got mowed right before the event. There were at least 5 birds singing in this small field (one is visible in this picture). I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Where have all the Bobwhite gone?

The last 2 years it's been really tough finding Bobwhite in New Jersey. They have been on a steady decline for years and after the last couple of bad winters they're almost extirpated here in South Jersey. Last year I had only one semi-reliable spot to try for them (we got lucky and heard one there) and this year has been even worse for finding them. Until yesterday I hadn't seen or heard a single quail despite whistling for them everywhere and trying ALL the spots where I'd had them in the past. Yesterday I FINALLY heard one at of all places the exact spot we got one last year (it was my 4th try for them there!) I don't know if we'll get lucky again like we did last year, but that quail may be one of last of his kind in the area and I hope he finds a mate. This sign was about a mile from that spot, I should have looked there first!

Success in the North!

So, Paul (Topless birder) & Zach (Zach Attack) have been helping teams again in North. They have nailed down most of what is needed up here.

I have been on nest patrol which is nearly impossible with the massive leaf-out now, and every tree is in full leaf. I've have had some success with finding a few yet to be identified nests but Zack Attack found the best nest yet! A Broadwing nest that is deep in the woods near Ocquitonk.

I have been managing to keep up with Paul's pace most days but today, I really needed to sleep in until 8:00AM. How strange to say "sleep in" and mean the time I normally get up!

We have been thrilled with the breeders and migrants up in the Sussex county. Cerulean warblers are dripping from the trees in the Gap, the Walpack, Stokes and Highpoint. I've gotten incredible views of Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Blues. I am in heaven with all the songs I have managed to recall with no prompting from Paul! Magnolia, Blue-winged Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos are cooperating more than ever and a few have posed for photos - little show-offs!

I forgot how close I could get to Veery, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! I have been taking photos like mad, and hopefully I've gotten some decent shots.

Something that I'm disappointed about is how few raptors are visible. The later date this year must be the reason. But to make up for that Turkeys will appear out of nowhere suddenly, and make me laugh out loud!

- Anita

The Underlying Purpose!

We cannot lose sight of the fact that the World Series of Birding is designed as a fun event to raise money for conservation causes. Each participating team raises money on their own and it is up to each team to decide the recipient of the money they raise. All money stays local, none goes to the New Jersey Audubon.

This year the DVOC has decided to donate all money raised to the publication of the 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas.

None of the money raised by DVOC goes to the team's entrance fee or to the team's scouting and event day expenses. These expenses are covered in part by our sponsor, Nikon Sport Optics, and the remainder is covered by team members. That mean that every dollar you donate to the DVOC's Conservation Fund will go to the conservation cause.

Some people choose to donate based on the number of species seen by our team and some people choose to donate a lump sum. Both ways are good ways to participate and help. We encourage all people to make some sort of donation or pledge

The donation / pledge form is available at

Right now would be a good time to download it, fill it out, and send it in.


-The Lagerhead Shrikes-

Tuesday in the South

Tuesday was a day of checking spots that we will probably never go to. These are location we know about and we think we know what is there but we need to check them in person. While many of the spots are quite birdy we they do not have birds that we cannot get elsewhere. The overall concept it to constantly shorten the route, not expand it.

Wednesday will be a day of rechecking spots we intend to visit and starting to work out the logistics of a route.


- Bert Filemyr -

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Every Species is Equal!

While it natural to concentrate on the rarer species during scouting (Red-headed Woodpecker, Cattle Egret, Common Eider, Marbled Godwit, etc.) we must remember that these species have the same weight in the competition as the common species (House Sparrow, Great Egret, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, etc)

While scouting we note locations of these common birds. That way we always have spots (dots!) for them if we find that we are missing them as the day goes forward.


- Bert Filemyr -

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finding the Dots!

Scouting is really a two step process. The first is to find the locations of the birds that we will want to see or hear on the big day. We think of this as finding and marking the "dots" on a map. The second step is figure out how to create a route to "connect" the dots.

Now, early in scout week, we are concentrating on finding the dots and not worrying about a potential route. Here in the south we are confirming birds in known locations (Brigantine, The Meadows, Two Mile Island, etc), and on locating birds in locations we rarely, if ever, have gone to (Sea Isle City, Cape Island Preserve, Beaver Dam Road, etc).

Sunday was a full day of scouting starting at 8 am at the Meadows and ended after 11 pm at Stipson Island Road. We probably saw or heard over 120 species for the day while visiting seemingly countless locations. We put lots of dots on our map!

In order to maximize our efforts, Mike and I do not scout together but we did manage to meet up at 10 pm to do a little night scouting in the bayshore marshes.

-Bert Filemyr-

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cumberland County Scouting

Today I was scouting all day along the Delaware Bayshore and inland Cumberland County.  It's an area loaded with Shorebirds, Waterfowl, Raptors, and  breeding Songbirds.  Thankfully it was breezy again today and I wasn't eaten alive by biting insects.  I spent the entire day in the area and probably ended up with a HUGE bird list for today.  I was able to locate many of my target birds including Summer Tanager, Kentucky and Prothonotory Warbler, Chat, Blue Grosbeak, etc.  I even found a Kingfisher Nest Hole.  One bird that always amazes me with how abundant it is in that area is the Orchard Oriole.  It's almost impossible to be out of earshot of this beautiful bird, and I think it may be the epicenter of it's abundance.  Cumberland County takes up a lot of my scouting hours every year because it holds so much and is a really big area.  Ironically on the actual day of the World Series of Birding we will probably spend less than 2 hours within the county as we fly through on our way South.  


Jersey Bound!!!!

I am sitting in the San Francisco airport at 5 am (let the sleep deprivation begin) waiting to board my plane to New Jersey for the 28th annual World Series of Birding. I can't wait to get out into the field and find birds. But more importantly I can't wait to re-unite with all the other WSB participants. The week of scouting provides ample time to catchup with old friends and make a few new ones along the way. The plane is now boarding, time to go!!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fwd: Scouting Highlight from Day-1

Today I spent most of the day checking every back bay and lagoon from Sea Isle City to Cape May in search of ligering waterfowl.  It's probably about as boring a day scouting as I could devise, but very necessary.  You check EVERY spot you can access, get out, scan, see nothing, go to next spot, and so on and so on.  I didn't find too much ( Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Bufflehead, and some RB Mergs), but I now have something to watch for over the next week.  One thing I did find today was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nest visible from the road.  Now that's something we can use.  I still decided to check another spot for them even though I had a "gimme" on the WSB since they were on eggs.  What I found was a female YCNH being courted by 2 different males!  It was really intense as these 2 males displayed to her (she ignored them) and tried for her attention.  One of the males finally broke off a branch and handed it to her and she promptly flew away with it!  Here are a couple of pics I took, but it was inside the trees and lighting was terrible, so excuse the photos.   I've only rarely seen this display and they only do it a few days every Spring.

Enjoy (I did)...


The Myth of the Dawn Chorus

One question that I've been asked repeatedly over the years is "where do you go for the dawn chorus?"  The simple answer is "nowhere."  The dawn chorus is a wonderful experience.  If you are up in the High Point area, you might hear loads of American Robins, Wood Thrushes, Ovenbirds, American Goldfinches, and other common local breeders all singing at once. What you probably won't hear is a pile of migrant warblers sounding off to be placed on your list.

Migrants are looking for food, mostly in the form of insects.  At dawn, it can be quite cool.  In fact, it can be freaking cold!  Moisture in the form of dew can also make things very damp.  There aren't a lot of insects moving when it's cold and damp. The time to find migrants is a little later, in places that catch the sun first and warm up early.  The insects will be active here first, along with the migrants that feed on them.

So when you hear a dawn chorus on any other day, by all means enjoy it to the fullest.  Just don't make it part of your big day plans to stand around listening to it for 20 minutes.

"Seen anything interesting out scouting today"

I was asked that today at least twice, and I just told the questioner that I had seen some displaying Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and a couple of Mississippi Kites.  What I didn't tell them was that on Nummy Island I came face to face with the Black Knight!  I could almost hear him saying "None Shall Pass" as he stood guard atop the dredge spoil pile.  I didn't dare go near since I was unarmed except my binoculars and he would have cut me to pieces!  Scouting is NEVER boring even when the birding is slowin a 30mph wind.


Ready to Go! Sleep Deprivation Awaits!

We are in the last throws of pulling together everything we will need up in the North to get the scouting up there started. We'll pick up Zach tomorrow night from the airport and then things will really start to roll. Pillows, extra blankets for car sleeping, and lots of gluten-free snacks for me. I'll be trying to find sleep wherever I can, and hopefully not let it get in the way of the task at hand. Finding birds!

How much can 3-4 days change the game?

The date of the WSB is purposely timed to allow the maximum number of species to be seen in a day. The way it works is it's carefully chosen to allow for lingering Winter birds to overlap with arriving Spring birds and migrants. The actual date usually varies within a 7 day span (May-9 to May-15) and it can make a huge difference in what we find or even how we run our route depending on if it's an "early" or "late" date. If it's an early date, we find and route for more lingering ducks, but if we have a late date (like this year) we concentrate more on late Spring arrivals like Alder Flycatcher and Mourning Warbler to make up for the lack of waterfowl. Last year was a late date and we missed several birds we'd easily get if it was 3-4 days earlier like Bonaparte's Gull and Green-winged Teal. Spring weather can also have a big influence on when birds depart or arrive so that can make a big difference. I can remember years where we had a hot early May and EVERYTHING left over from Winter was gone days before the event. The other side of the coin was when we had a colder and wetter early May and we literally were seeing our "first of season" of several migrants during the actual WSB!

I guess if I had a preference I'd pick an earlier date. It's harder to scout because things arrive closer to the event, but the total count tends to be just a bit higher. Our WSB record total of 231 came on an early date. It's also probably because I scout the Southern portion of our route and that plays a more important role in early years. Over the next week I get to watch all my lingering ducks leave. I can hardly wait...

Michael Fritz
Seaville, NJ

Sent from my iPad


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Questions, Comments, Thoughts?

As you read this blog, if you have any questions about the World Series of
Birding event, big day strategies, the Lagerhead Shrikes Team, Nikon Sport
Optics or other similar topics, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We
are always glad to answer queries either publicly or privately.
Just send an email to
And keep in mind that our main website is at

- The Lagerhead Shrikes -

The Night

The event is 24 hours long starting at midnight on Friday night May 13 and
continuing to midnight on Saturday night May 14th. That means we have part
of one night, a full day, and then part of the next night.
Let's see how it breaks down into usable hours of daylight and darkness.
Beginning on Friday night (or Saturday morning if you prefer) we will do
night birding until about 4:45 am. Experience tells us that by that time
there is a glow in the sky and sunrise will be not that far away. On the
other end while the sun will set a little after 8 pm, there will be a glow
in the sky until about 8:45 pm.
So out of the 24 hours of the event we only have about 8 hours of darkness
compared with about 16 hours of daylight. During the first period of
darkness we need to bird the Great Swamp and a few special locations and
then drive up to the High Point area to be ready for dawn. During the second
period of darkness we need to bird the Delaware Bayshore marshes and then
get to the finish line in Cape May.
There is so much to do at night and so little time to do it!

-Bert Filemyr-

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dealing with the Weather

One of the things the Shrikes cannot control on the Big Day is the weather. However, over the years the Shrikes have learned to make the best of what Mother Nature gives them. With the aid of modern technology the Shrikes are able to get accurate minute-to-minute weather updates. Given this information we can make snap decisions to alter our route when it makes sense. A classic example of this occurred 2 years ago when the Shrikes were presented with a blanket of fog over Culver’s Lake in the early morning. This is one of the locations we hope to find migrants, swallows and lingering waterfowl, but finding these species would be nearly impossible in the dense fog. Instead the Shrikes opted to hit the next scheduled stop and double back 20 minutes later (hopefully after the fog had burned off by the rising sun). This route change worked out perfectly netting several key species without wasting any time on the route.

So what is the worse weather the Shrikes can face on the Big Day? That all depends on when and where in the route, personally I believe that howling wind is the worse. Wind makes it difficult to hear birds singing, which the Shrikes rely on to get species as fast as possible. Additionally, I find the overall bird activity really decreases if the wind is howling birds just don’t like to sit out in the open for very long while their perch sways back and forth.

Will the Shrikes have to agonize over the weather come May 14th? Only time will tell, but hopefully not!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


As I sit here writing this blog entry the World Series of Birding (WSB) is
only 15 days away!

I took some time this morning to go over notes from past events to help plan
on how to use the next 15 days efficiently. As the route has evolved over
the years our team now scouts only two major areas. We no longer scout or go
to birding locations in the central part of the state (Florence, Riverwinds,
Mannington, etc.) as we have come to concentrate on just the northern and
the southern parts of New Jersey. Paul Guris and Zack Baer scout the
northern part of our route. Mike Fritz and myself south the southern part of
our route.

I made of quick list of the major locations Mike and I need to check in
Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May Counties as serious scouting begins. The
list has 57 locations. Many of these are major locations, such as
Heislerville, Brigantine and the Cape May Meadows, which contain multiple
specific smaller locations to check. And many of these 57 locations will be
checked several times in the course of scouting. As migration occurs and
teams share scouting information many more locations will be added to our
lists. There is no way we can get to all possible locations on the WSB but
all possible locations need to be checked during scouting and species noted.
Then it is the matter of going over what is where, and figuring out how to
go to the least number of locations and still record the maximum number of

Scouting involves checking as many locations as possible. The actual WSB
involves trying to figure out how few locations we need to go to!

-Bert Filemyr-

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Top 10 Worst Big Day Birds

I make this list to highlight species that are usually considered common/expected during an average day of birding in appropriate habitat but are nightmares for Big Day teams (the Lagerhead Shrikes included). If not for the great report already submitted by Bert Cattle Egret would have easily made this list as well.

1 Kingfisher – This is a bird that deserves at least 5-6 different locations and even then it’s no guarantee one will be sitting on a favorite snag come the big day. Some years we are “fortunate” enough to find a nest hole but these sites are rarely visited by the parents before the chicks have hatched. Finally the habitat for this species is usually widespread and Belted Kingfishers can have massive territories. All of these factors make finding Belted Kingfishers a high priority during the scout week.

2 Red-headed Woodpecker – The Lagerhead Shrikes have run through so many campground sites to tick-off this elusive and gorgeous species. Most years the Shrikes actually have a nest hole and the bird pinned down to a quarter acre patch of woods. But this cryptic species rarely lingers around the nest hole and almost never calls.

3 Cedar Waxwing – If the World Series of Birding was a week later then this speces would be no problem for the Lagerhead Shrikes, since they become abundant in Northern Jersey. Additionally, the best place to look for this species is in urban areas, which typically don’t contain a high diversity of bird species.

4 Hairy Woodpecker – I have done many big days in the east and Hairy Woodpecker is always a challenging bird to lock down for the day. These birds are highly cryptic, living in large stands of mature forest, which usually contain lower than normal bird diversity.

5 White-Breasted Nuthatch – Most years the Lagerhead Shrikes are able to find a few nest holes for this species. However, by mid-May none of these nests have hungry young and the parents rarely linger around the nest hole for very long.

6 Purple Finch – These birds nest in a few locations every year in Northern Jersey but locking them down some years can be very challenging for the Shrikes. To increase the odds of running into this species on the big day the Shrikes keep track of nearby bird feeders.

7 Hermit Thrush – As the days get closer and closer to the actual big day this species will become quieter and quieter making it exceedingly difficult to rely on. The only way to increase your chances of finding this bird is to be on the breeding grounds right at first light and that is exactly what the Shrikes try to do every year

8 Tricolored Heron – There is a lot of marsh between Cape May and Brigantine for these elusive herons to hide. The best way to see them is during the dawn and dusk heron flights, which makes it essential for the Shrikes to stay on schedule throughout the big day.

9 Pileated Woodpecker – This species can be a nightmare for most of the same reasons as Hairy Woodpecker. Additionally, there are no Pileated’s in all of Cape May County making this species a priority during scouting in the Northern Jersey.

10 Green Heron – Last but not least is the very common but also very elusive green heron. Over the years the Shrikes have learned, which green herons to rely on and which to not. Much like the cattle egret this species can wander around a lot from watering hole to watering hole. This is why scouting for multiple days to try and understand the birds habits is crucial to running an efficient big day.

(All of the photos for this post were kindly provided by Bill Hubick from

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lousy Picture, Great Story!

May 10, 2008 - 5:45 pm / Cape May Point, New Jersey

Take a look at this picture. What do you see? At first glance you see team
member Mike Fritz in front of a building looking at the camera. But take a
closer look! You will see Mike's hand, beside his head, pointing at a dot in
the distance. And that dot is sitting on a wire. Yes, Mike is pointing at a
bird on the wire as he looks at the camera!

The story behind this picture.
It was the 2008 World Series of Birding. The Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes
had been birding hard since midnight. We had traveled the length of New
Jersey and now we were in Cape May. Every species was important! Every
minute was important! We knew what species to expect at various locations
and we were scrambling to get to all our locations in the short time left in
our birding day. We parked our van on Lake Drive beside Saint
Peter's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in Cape May Point and ran out to the
beach for a quick sea watch. After our allotted time we ran back to the van.
Scopes were stowed, seated reclaimed, doors closed, and our attention was
shifting to our next location and the next set of birds. Just then a bird
quietly flew in and landed on a wire on Ocean Avenue across the street from
where we were parked.

It was a dove. We had seen doves all day and there was no purpose in
pointing out another dove on the wire. But a shout rang out "Look at that
bird"! Who made the initial shout (probably Mike) is not something we
remember but in an instant all of us looked at the bird. It was not the
usual expected dove species, which would be a Mourning Dove. It was
something different - an Eurasian Collared-Dove! Sitting there for all of us
to see! It had just flown in! Tick! Another species was added to our list.
And this one very easily could have been missed. Quickly, for grins and
giggles, Mike pointed at the dove, Bert snapped the picture, we all high
fived each other and off we went. Four very happy birders.

We knew an Eurasian Collared-Dove had been reported once or twice in the
general area for about two weeks. But for all the scouting in the area, no
teams had seen it during scouting. And we later found out no teams, besides
ourselves, saw this species on the big day.

It pays to look at every bird. And it pays to be lucky!


Monday, April 18, 2011


Every species counts the same on the World Series of Birding. If it is a common bird that can be seen many times during the day (like European Starling), it adds one species to the team total. If it is a rare bird and is lucky to be seen and identified (like Eurasian Collared Dove), it still only adds one species to the team total.

There are about 150 species that are common enough in the habitats we cover that we have an excellent chance of identifying them and adding them to our species list. We still have to work and make sure we identify them but they are hard to miss. It is on the rest of the 70 or 80 species that we focus most of our scouting efforts. On the big day, these are the species we really work on!

Here is the background on one of the tough species - Cattle Egret. This species was originally native to parts of Southern Europe, tropical and subtropical Africa and humid tropical and subtropical Asia. Before 1877 there were no reports of this species in the New World. The species first arrived in North America in 1941 (these early sightings were originally dismissed as escapees), it bred in Florida in 1953, and has spread rapidly throughout North America. It is a migratory species that appears in our area in early April and is here until early October. It is most commonly associated with field and pastures, especially those with grazing cows and cattle, where they follow the mammals and feed upon the insects they stir up.

This species used to be much more prevalent in New Jersey that it is now. That causes problems for World Series of Birding teams. We only need to see one of them on the big day but it is hard, if not impossible, to predict where they will be on the big day. There are two areas they frequent in New Jersey, one is the Compromise Road area in Salem County and the other is a couple of locations in Cape May County. For several years our team swung through Salem County and routed in several locations the egrets frequent. Scouting allowed us to know where they were during the week preceding the big day but that was no guarantee. We would figure out a route that went past all the locations they had been seen and we hoped we would find one. Most years we saw one or more Cattle Egrets at the horse farm on Compromise Road. One year there were none there on the big day but we did see one flying across a field as we were leaving the area - whew!

Over the past couple of years our route has evolved and we have made a strategic decision to remove all Salem County locations from our plan and concentrate on Cumberland and Cape May Counties in the south. So we need to have locations for Cattle Egret in Cape May County. The good thing is that Cattle Egrets are big and easily identifiable. So during scout week they are rarely overlooked and with the sharing of information among teams we all know where Cattle Egrets are being seen in the days up the big day. One traditional spot for them is on the front lawn of a nursing home on Route 9. There are no cattle there but the field seems to attract and hold them. One year we drove by on the big day and there were several along the road. One year there had been several hanging out all week on the lawn but the nursing home mowed the lawn the Thursday before the event and the birds disappeared to parts unknown. We knew they had gone but we were driving by there as part of our route so we slowed down and looked. Nothing. But we also knew there was a little patch of suitable habitat behind the home so we pulled in, drove around the back and sure enough there was one there! Two years ago we drove by the place and there was one feeding on the front lawn. This was the first time any had been seen there that year.

Last year (2010) we checked the nursing home lawn everyday during scouting and never saw a Cattle Egret, but there was a small flock of six birds hanging around Cape May Point. During scout week we tracked these birds and we knew the three locations they frequented. Unfortunately one of the locations has several fields that were not visible from the road and the owners are not birder friendly. During scout week Cattle Egrets were often seen from the road but they often walked over the rise to the back fields where they disappeared from view.

On the big day we drove by the nursing home - nothing. We drove by spot number one in Cape May Point - nothing. We drove by spot number two in Cape May Point - nothing. We drove and stopped at the third place, the fields where they were seen most frequently - nothing. We checked every white bird flying around - nothing. That was it. We had run out of spots to check. We moved on. We did not see a Cattle Egret in the World Series in 2010. That miss has been the subject of considerable good natured discussion among team members in the months since the 2010 event. Many other teams also missed Cattle Egrets but some teams were lucky and were in the right place at the right time. We were not.

This year Cattle Egrets will again be a problem. There was a report of one seen on the nursing home lawn about two weeks ago. There was another report of a couple of them in another Cape May location. Lots of time will be spent trying to nail down a good location for this species during the scouting this week.

If you know of any good locations for Cattle Egrets in Cape May, let us know.

-Bert Filemyr-

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding Southern Breeding Birds During the Afternoon Doldrums

I've often been asked by other WSB teams how we manage to find the necessary Southern breeding birds during the WSB when we're trying for them at 2-3pm when it's often 80 degrees, sunny, and windy. Conditions are often about as tough as they get for songbirds when our route finally takes us to the Southern forests and fields. Lucky for us we don't need to get too many birds down here! We get as many as we can in the North when everything is singing, and we sometimes go out of our way to get a bird up there rather than risk looking for it later in the day when it's not calling. Some birds just don't occur any where else and we're stuck with trying in the heat of the day. Some birds we have to get down here include White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Chickadee, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prothonotory Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Horned Lark, and a few others.

Here are my tips for finding target birds in the heat haze:

1) Scout for the birds at the time of day you'll be looking for them. It won't do you any good to know where a Yellow-throated Warbler has a territory if he only sings in the mornings.

2) Learn the birds call notes! They often won't be singing, but some creative pishing/screech owling can often get a bird to call in alarm. This works particularly well with Kentucky and Prothonotory Warblers and is often how we get them.

3) If possible, try to find an actual nest. It takes a LOT of scouting, but sometimes you get lucky and it saves you some time.

4) Find as many possible territories for the target birds right along our route as possible. Sometimes you have to visit multiple spots until you hear or see the bird. I often have 5-6 Kentucky spots and up to 15 Prothonotory spots lined up along our route and it can be scary how many we stop at before we get our quarry. It only takes a minute to make a quick check at each spot as long as it's along the way.

5) Keep your eyes open too! It's easy to get so keyed in on listening that you forget to look for the birds. We spend a lot of time in Blue Grosbeak habitat and probably see them as often as we hear them.

6) Look for birds on territory that are unpaired or have lots of established neighbors close by. These birds are the most likely to be singing at any time of day because they're still trying to attract a mate or carve out a territory (ie: desperate!). If you spend a lot of time scouting you'll see patterns to when birds sing and learn to pick out these individuals. It's particularly valuable for Summer Tanager which can be spread out pretty thin. Birds that have already attracted a mate and are starting their nest cycle are the least likely to bother with singing.

7) Make a mental note of every spot where you find your target birds. you never know which ones will decide to sing the afternoon of "game day". Sometimes a spot where you hadn't had that bird for over a week will for some reason hold an individual in full song that afternoon?! I'll take it, and it happens.

Mike Fritz

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sponsored by Nikon!

The DVOC World Series of Birding Team has been sponsored by Nikon Sport Optics since 1990. We are proud to be associated with such an outstanding company and are proud to use Nikon optics during scouting and on the Big Day. Nikon's sponsorship of our team covers registration fees and various miscellaneous expenses related to the competition. This means that 100% of ever dollar raised by DVOC goes to conservation efforts! On behalf of all club members we say - Thanks Nikon! Visit the Nikon's Sport Optic website at and check out the outstanding products.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Experience Counts!

In the previous post we listed, in alphabetical order, the 25 DVOC members who have been on "official" DVOC WSB teams. Below is a list of the same 25 individuals in the order of the number of the years on a DVOC team. Looking at the list you will see how experience is a major reason for the success of the DVOC teams over the years. Keep in mind that this list only reflects years on a DVOC team. Many of these people also participated on other teams in the World Series of Birding.

  • Guris, Paul - 23 years

  • Fritz, Mike - 17 years

  • Stocku, Bill - 13 years

  • Binns, Adrian - 9 years

  • Mellon, Rick - 9 years

  • Filemyr, Bert - 7 years

  • Pilotte, Eric - 6 years

  • Brendel, Erica - 5 years

  • Miller, Johnny - 5 years

  • Sherman, Sandy - 5 years

  • Walters, Chris - 5 years

  • Fingerhood, Ed - 4 years

  • Russell, Keith - 4 years

  • Baer, Zach - 3 years

  • Edwards, Megan - 3 years

  • Brady, Alan - 2 years

  • Brethwaite, Kate - 2 years

  • Danzenbaker, Mike - 2 years

  • Danzenbaker, Chris - 1 year

  • Dooley, Chris - 1 year

  • Hill, Armas - 1 year

  • Hough, Julian - 1 year

  • Murphy, Bill - 1 year

  • Ridgley, Bob - 1 year

  • Windfelder, Frank - 1 year

The DVOC and the WSB

The 2011 World Series of Birding is the 28th time the event has been held. The first year was 1984 and the DVOC has entered a team every year with the exception of 1986. In 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991 two DVOC teams were entered. There have been 25 club members on "official" DVOC teams over the years.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of the members of "official" DVOC teams in the World Series of Birding

  • Baer, Zach

  • Binns, Adrian

  • Brady, Alan

  • Brendel, Erica

  • Brethwaite, Kate

  • Danzenbaker, Mike

  • Danzenbaker, Chris

  • Dooley, Chris

  • Edwards, Megan

  • Filemyr, Bert

  • Fingerhood, Ed

  • Fritz, Mike

  • Guris, Paul

  • Hill, Armas

  • Hough, Julian

  • Mellon, Rick

  • Miller, Johnny

  • Murphy, Bill

  • Pilotte, Eric

  • Ridgley, Bob

  • Russell, Keith

  • Sherman, Sandy

  • Stocku, Bill

  • Walters, Chris

  • Windfelder, Frank

Can you figure out which members have participated the most years? Watch for that information in a future post.

Further information is at

Thursday, March 31, 2011

DVOC Supports the 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas

The 2011 DVOC Conservation Grant will be awarded to the 2nd PA Breeding Bird Atlas.


DVOC members were a part of collecting the data for the atlas.  Now we will be contributing toward its publication.  This atlas will be the best yet.  It will contain two full pages on each species.  One page will contain distribution maps with comparisons to the last atlas, an invaluable conservation aid.  The second page will have a picture and narrative analysis of population habitat and trends.


Money for this grant is primarily raised by pledges and donations related to the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes Birding Team participating in New Jersey Audubon's World Series of Birding event. A pledge/donation sheet is available at


Please pledge or donate generously to support this great conservation effort.  Contributions are tax deductible.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Announcing the 2011 Nikon / DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes

Long-time Captain Paul Guris has announced the members of the 2011 World Series of Birding Team. Paul is thrilled that the team from the 2010 World Series of Birding  will return intact.

Zach Baer, Mike Fritz and Bert Filemyr are all experienced WSB competitors and each team member brings a unique set of big day skills to the event.

It should be another great year!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A New Year Begins..............

While the Delaware Valley is wrapped in ice and snow, thoughts are turning to the 2011 World Series of Birding. Check here for announcements and updates…………….