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WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING - May 13, 2006


The Four Loons Team:
Bill Reaume (Captain), Scott Fraser, Mike Lyman, Art McMorris

Account written by Art McMorris (AKA Arctic Loon, Gavia arctica)

Splash! Thud! Pfffssst! That’s the way our World Series of Birding started this year. Not a welcome sound at the start of a race around the state of New Jersey to find as many species of birds as possible during a 24-hour period, midnight to midnight. Five minutes before the start of the event, our van bottomed out in a hole on a rain-soaked gravel road in Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in northern New Jersey, breaking an engine coolant pipe and leaving us with a dead van.

Refusing to let that deter us, we pushed forward with our quest, but with a severely altered game plan. We birded Great Swamp for the next 2 hours, as had been our original plan, getting such great birds as King Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, American Woodcock, American Bittern, Gray-cheeked Thrush and Willow Flycatcher; but then we had to spend the next five hours nursing the van out of the swamp and onto a paved road, getting a tow, and finding a replacement vehicle, which was (in the words of Bill Reaume, our team Captain), a “very tiny little” Volkswagen GTI. Nevertheless, it had 4 wheels and an intact engine, and we were on our way.

We then proceeded with the northern portion of our planned and scouted route. We first went to the Wantage Grasslands for sparrows, Ring-necked Pheasant, Brown Thrasher and many other grassland and edge species. Our next spot was High Point State Park where we added such goodies as Common Raven, Cooper’s Hawk, Least Flycatcher, Brown Creeper and White-crowned Sparrow, followed by the nearby Stokes State Forest where we picked up Broad-winged Hawk, Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler and Cerulean Warbler, among many others. Our next stops at Culvers Lake, Van Ness Road, and a few other locations netted such targets as Golden-winged Warbler, Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

We had now completed the northern portion of our route in the allotted length of time and had found most of our target species, in spite of the fact that we were doing it five hours late, after the critical pre-dawn and dawn hours when many species vocalize for the only time during the day. But the time was now 3:00 PM rather than 10:00 AM. It was obvious that it would be impossible to make the long run down south for our carefully-scouted specialty habitats and southern birds. Determined to make the best of the situation, we decided to go to the less-distant Sandy Hook and to DeKorte Park at Hackensack Meadowlands. We had not scouted either area, but they would give us the ocean and saltmarsh habitats that were now out of reach down south. Sandy Hook yielded such birds as gulls, terns, Brant, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant and Clapper Rail, whereas DeKorte, with the last rays of the sun, yielded Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, Common Nighthawk, Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Black Skimmer, among others. With darkness now upon us we returned to Great Swamp (probably the only time in World Series of Birding history that a state-wide team has started and finished in the same place!) to try again for Least Bittern and Eastern Screech Owl, but alas, neither chose to make its presence known.

In the end, we didn’t do badly. We found 150 species, including 24 species of warblers and all but one species each of the rails, woodpeckers, vireos, swallows and thrushes; and we had some lucky finds, such as unscouted Common Merganser and Brant. Our total of 150 species was far below our original goal of 200, but considering that we lost a huge chunk of our day, and at a very critical time too, and that we had to scrap most of our planned route, we were quite pleased to pull a successful day out of the jaws of disaster.


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