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