Sunday, May 11, 2008

World Series of Birding Results

Yesterday was the 25th World Series of Birding. Like last year, I acted as co-leader on the Sandy Hook Century Run. Unlike a traditional 4-man team, the Century Run allows anyone to sign up and donate towards Sandy Hook Bird Observatory. This year, we had 32 participants - the maximum limit we could accommodate and not go nuts.

The day started at 5:30 AM and the weather was quite cool. Participants donned jackets, warm hats, and gloves to explore the bay-side area known as Plum Island. Here we encountered some of the expected species like Gray Catbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles, Laughing Gulls, Willets, and Clapper Rail. A less-expected species we heard, but did not see, was a singing Seaside Sparrow. Unfortunately, we saw very little evidence of a good migration. Warblers and other migrants were few and far between. Could this be a harbinger of a slow birding day?

We then jumped from the far south end of Sandy Hook to the far north end. We explored the "Locust Grove" where we again encountered little to no migrant birds. A small pocket of warblers including Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-rumped raised our hopes a bit. We also saw our second Kingfisher of the day and our first raptor - a Sharpie. Part of the group had split off and called us by walkie-talkie to tell us they had a Cape May Warbler (!) - a great bird to find anytime and very tough to find in spring on Sandy Hook. We rushed over to where they were and after a few moments of "Where did it go?", we were all able to get amazing looks at a male Cape May Warbler. A long walk out to the "salt pond" yielded a Meadowlark, some Cedar Waxwings, and a few shorebirds.

Next, we did some woodland birding hoping to scare up some more migrants. Several hours of birding added species like American Redstart, Broad-winged Hawk, B&W Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole. The local Barred Owl was also very cooperative. He called unprovoked quite a few times. Overall though, it was evident that migratory birds were few and far between and that we'd have to work to have a high species count.

We spent lunchtime at the Spermaceti Cove enjoying the cloudy, but decent weather. This is always a favorite part of the World Series for me since you never know what will show up. We had Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Merganser, several egrets, and Great Blue Heron, among others. Extra bonus points go to Laura's husband delivering Dunkin' Donuts coffee and Munchkins to the group. Bravo!

We then scanned the ocean for a bit, but didn't see much of anything despite it being extremely calm. A move to the bay side yielded one of our more interesting finds - two Surf Scoters.

Back to the north end we went for a visit to the hawk watch platform. Raptor movement was light, but the Munchkins were tasty. I picked out our only Forster's Terns of the day flying overhead. We could see hundreds of other terns flying over the bay in the far distance, so another "death march" out to the salt pond was in order. We made our way out the trail on soft sand where we found 13 Piping Plovers loafing about and a few sitting on nests. Guess who didn't have his camera? My excuse is that I have no excuse. The Piping Plovers were calling and chasing each other around. It was quite a show. All of the terns were Common Terns and we had the pleasure of seeing them display to each other and attempt some mating. It's hilarious seeing the males stand on the backs of the females.

After a grueling walk back to the cars, dinner was in order. Dinner was at the Sandy Hook book store where we had great views of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks on the feeder, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding, and an Indigo Bunting. I also tasted gluten-free beer for the first time, which was surprisingly good. It's made with sorghum.

We closed out the day back at the north end of Sandy Hook waiting for night birds to appear. A lone Bank Swallow and a long Kestrel added a few birds to our tally. We struck out on Least Bittern which nests here. We did get to see and hear Common Nighthawk and a few Black-crowned Night Herons flew over. Complete darkness approached and a last effort for nightjars and owls proved fruitless.

Despite a lack of migrants, we ended with 117 species for the day which isn't bad at all. The weather held up. We had no rain. I got to see some old friends and make some new ones. We had good food. Heck, we even had beer. I went home and got a wonderful night's sleep. Congrats to all who competed! I can't wait to do it all again in 2009!


corey said...

117 is pretty darn good for one park, even one as big as Sandy Hook.

And that is one heck of a shot of a Cape May Warbler!!!

John said...

Great photo of the Cape May!

It's amazing how much bird diversity can crowd into such a small island. My impression was that not a whole lot was moving yesterday.

P. Ollig said...

I agree. Nice job with the trip and the photo! Mmmmm...munchkins.

Patrick Belardo said...

I'd put this little blob of sand and trees up against most any other place in the US for a Big Day. It's easy to navigate, easy to get to, and has tremendous diversity. It's a bit weather dependent, but on the right day, it's magic.