Window On Nature
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The World Series of Birding isn’t just a boast; it’s the name of an event. The New Jersey Audubon Society sponsors the competition, calling it “The country’s premier conservation event!” Now that’s a boast, but it’s hard to dispute. Birders from all over the United States and several other countries converge on New Jersey armed with binoculars and plenty of enthusiasm, ready to compete in the 24-hour bird find.
The first World Series began at midnight, May 19, 1984, when 13 teams of top birders spread out across New Jersey, each determined to identify the largest possible number of bird species, by sight or sound, during a 24-hour period. The winning team that year included someone with great name recognition “” famed naturalist Roger Tory Peterson.
The 21st World Series will take place on Saturday, May 15. The teams (there were 50 last year) will raise their field glasses to begin the 24-hour treasure hunt. In addition to trophies and glory, participants raise money for the conservation cause of their choice and focus the public’s attention upon migrating birds. All birders will have secured a sponsor and obtained as many pledges as possible from individuals. Thanks to their efforts during the past 20 years, the event has raised millions of dollars for bird conservation.
So, how does the World Series work? There are four levels of competition. The most competent birders sign up for Level I. This isn’t just a sign-up, show-up, and hope for the best event. Level I teams of three or more members spend considerable preparation time birding in New Jersey, checking out the best habitats in order to plot a route and a time schedule.
Level II is open to individuals and non-competitive birding teams who don’t care to compete at the top level. Level III is designed for youth teams. They are split into two groups: Division A (grades 5 through 8) and Division B (grades 9 through 12). The kids get special treatment that day. New Jersey Audubon Society education staff members work to ensure that their event is an educational experience as well as a fund-raiser for youth group conservation projects. That leaves Level IV for the senior teams, aged 55 and older. This group has a certain advantage “” most have been birders all their lives.
A new category, the “Big Sit,” requires the team to designate a 17-foot-diameter circle and to stay within it for the entire 24-hour count. (Fortunately, the rules do not prohibit having a portable potty handy.) Only birds seen or heard while team members are in the circle may be counted. Some wag added, “If you sit in one place long enough, eventually every species of bird will pass by.” Really?
All groups must submit their official bird checklist by 12:00 a.m. Sunday. It can be turned in at the finish line, faxed in, or sent via e-mail to the World Series of Birding Web site. And there is a penalty to ensure compliance. Teams that fail to meet the midnight deadline will forfeit one bird from their official total for every five minutes their list is late.
So why does the The New Jersey Audubon Society have a World Series of Birding? There are many reasons. First, it draws attention to the habitat needs of migrating birds. Second, it gives birders a chance to put their birding skills on the line for a good cause. In addition, the event brings together birders, conservation groups, and businesses that care about the environment and it generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for conservation causes. The World Series also focuses national media attention upon the challenge and adventure of birding. Finally, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Organizers stress the fact that even top competition birders are willing to share their expertise with other entrants. We aren’t surprised, since during our many years of birding, we’ve rarely come home without having heard something useful from another guy or gal with binoculars.
Just how many birds are seen by a given team will vary according to weather conditions, the experience and skill of the team, the complexity of the route, the amount of prior scouting time allocated, and plain luck. During the last 20 years, World Series birders have spotted or heard a total of 314 bird species.
New Jersey residents do have the home state advantage, of course, but that doesn’t keep others away. In this birding event, out-of-region teams actually fare better than in-state teams. Perhaps they spend more time scouting for the best and most varied sites and are more willing to accept help from veteran teams. They also check the official World Series Web site “” www.worldseriesofbirding.org “” frequently and read the entries posted by the online discussion group.
A team from New York’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology has won the out-of-state award more than once. “For the lab, the Big Day is not only about winning; it’s about raising awareness and financial support for birds and their habitats,” said John Fitzpatrick, team co-captain and director of the Lab of Ornithology. The team also includes Ken Rosenberg, the lab’s bird conservation director. Check out their Web site at www.birds.cornell/edu.
As with any competitive event, there are rules the birders must follow. Most involve counting; areas where birds can be counted; and participation. But other rules we found amusing. For example, the World Series of Birding is open to any birders of good character. All vehicles except aircraft may be used. Team members must remain at distances that permit direct, unamplified voice contact at all times (voice contact is defined as shouting distance, but no bullhorns). Of course, all teams must comply with New Jersey highway laws; failure to do so will result in disqualification.
Finally, here are a few tips from Pete Dunne, one of the sport’s top birders and the organizer of the World Series. First, your teammates should include those who are as serious (or as frivolous) about birding as you are. They should be people who don’t mind sitting ham to ham in the backseat of a car for hours on end and don’t get upset by having bags of potato chips upended in their laps. In other words, what you want is a cadre of cheerful, enthusiastic, Teflon-coated Ghandis.
Second, the shortest distance between points is a straight line. The shorter the line, the more time you can spend birding and the less time driving. If George Orwell were to summarize, he might say, “Bird time, good. Travel time, bad.”
Finally, a “Big Day” is not for finding birds. A “Big Day” is for spotting birds that are already found during scouting. So in the days (even weeks) leading up to the event, go out to prospective birding sites and check out the little pockets along your route.
On the World Series Web site, Pete Dunne recommends his own preferred birding sites in New Jersey. Remember what we said about birders loving to help others succeed? As Pete says, “The real purpose to a ‘Big Day’ is having fun. Keep this in mind, and success is assured.” And yes, Pete will be competing this year.
The World Series Of Birding
Window On Nature