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Tips from a World Series of Birding Champion

Every year birders from around the country to compete in the World Series of Birding, a 24-hour all-out push to see as many species as possible in the state of New Jersey. This year a local club, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) Lagerhead Shrikes, came in first with 229 species.

One of the remarkable things about the contest is that nearly every year since it started in 1984 the winning teams come up with somewhere in that neighborhood of 200-230 species. That shows it’s a fair competition to measure skill and knowledge. There are always species that non-winnning teams spotted that the winners didn’t. That shows there’s a chance for the moderately skilled to make a spectacular play. Through all the teams in 26 years, the contest has accumulated 328 sightings. Though, it actually may be more species than that. The rules of the contest only allow each team to count one species that isn’t on the official list. And birds recently reintroduced don’t count, either. So there may have been some oddballs that were amazing finds, but that didn’t make the cut.

But I got to email with Bert Filemyr from the Lagerhead Shrikes and he says seeking out the freakish rarities is not a sound strategy. “Each species counts the same,” he says. “Seeking out rare species does not do any good. Getting all the common species is enough to ensure success. We do see Piping Plover that while endangered is possible to find in the right location and habitat.” So, it’s kind of like the strategy for playing Monopoly: just buy everything, don’t hold out for Park Place.

Over the years they’ve noticed some birds getting harder to find. “Gold-winged Warblers are pretty much gone from the areas we cover,” Filemyr says. “Bobwhite are getting harder to locate each year.”

The date of the World Series is chosen to maximize the potential number of migrants found. The Summer Tanager, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler and some others breed in New Jersey. Shorebirds pass through. And ducks are among those who winter in the Garden State.

Their team of four stays up then entire 24 hours, he says. “There are not sleep or rest periods. When we are driving significant distances between stops, some members will doze but sleep is hard to come by considering the circumstances.”

The team scouts out where to see certain birds ahead of time and changes their route accordingly from year to year. In addition to Cape May, where the event is based, they “usually go to Great Swamp NWR, Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, Brigantine NWR and many areas in Sussex, Cumberland and Salem Counties.”

So far the World Series has raised $8 million for various conservation causes. And afterwards, the Shrikes got to celebrate–a little. “We got together in a motel room with all the team, some spouses and some friends. Beers were consumed and stories were told. Lots of laughs and a very good time.” he says. “The awards brunch was at 9 am the next morning so we had to get some sleep.”

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