World Series of Birding 2009


Early morning at Cape May Point State Park.

    As recounted here, my plan for the 2009 World Series of Birding was a bit different from previous efforts.  I wasn’t on a team, I was going solo, and I was committed to a day of birding without any driving.  All efforts, team or solo, need a name, so I dubbed myself “Outta Gas.”  I hadn’t scouted or made a plan, I hadn’t even ridden my bicycle once all year, so my goal was modest.  I hoped to find at least 100 species of birds, and I also hoped to avoid hurting myself too badly, as I’d begin teaching Elderhostel the very next day.  Most of all, however, I was hoping to raise funds for the medical expenses of young Eli Sturman, the four year old son of dear friends.  Eli’s been in intensive care in Seattle for over two months now, recovering from severe burns.

    I didn’t have the energy to start at midnight, but I set the alarm for 3:00 am and I actually woke up and rose at 2:50.  The plan was to sit out on the back deck for some of the late night hours, listening for night birds and nocturnal migrants, before climbing onto the bike and slowly peddling past a few spots known to harbor night birds.  My friend Vince Elia, also doing a solo effort, stopped by at about 3:30.  We poured coffee and sat out on the deck and listening.  We heard a few honking Canada Geese, many frogs, and at about 3:32, raindrops.  It turned into a steady rain, eliminating any chance of hearing birds.  Vince left, though we would share info a few times during the day.  Competitive teams can’t share info, but since neither of us was on a team, we weren’t held to this prohibition.  I went inside and cooked a big breakfast.  Sorry, I wasn’t about to go riding my bike in the dark while the rain fell.

    About 4:30 the rain stopped, and I was well fed, so I climbed onto the bike and wobbled down to Cape May Point, stopping a few times to fruitlessly try calling owls.  The first hint of dawn was creeping over the eastern horizon.  I walked trails back into Cape May Point State Park as day overtook night, abandoning my bike for the next five hours as I enjoyed a long, leisurely walk through the park and all around the village of Cape May Point.

    This was enough birding for me.  I headed home, showered and changed clothes, and headed to the official finish line to turn in my total.  I exceeded my modest goal with a tally of 123 species.  Oh, if you are wondering, I did not drive to the finish line, I rode the bike here as well -- not a moment in a motor vehicle all day.

    Thanks for reading this far, and special thanks to all who have chosen to make contributions to the Eli Sturman Fund.  To make a contribution, send a check (payable to the Eli Sturman Fund) to me at PO Box 154, Cape May Point, NJ  08212.  If you bank at (or can easily visit) Bank of America, contact me by e-mail for information on how to contribute directly to this fund.

    Special thanks to my friend Vince Elia, who was also birding solo this day.  Vince & I traded notes several times during the day, and thanks to Vince I enjoyed great looks at Roseate Tern and Red Knot at the South Cape May Meadows.

This Indigo Bunting was one of the day’s first birds.

    I found a good number of birds over the next several hours, including the locally unusual Black-necked Stilt that had been around all week and several Great Egrets, including the one shown scratching at right.  After looping through the park I began a meander through the residential community, which had been loaded with migrant songbirds the previous day.  Numbers were way down, alas, yet I still found a reasonable variety.  By about 10:00 I realized I should have gone over to Higbee earlier, as it’s traditionally the best spot for songbirds.  First I had to walk back to my bike, and then I needed to ride over there.  Along the way I heard a few new birds for my list, including a Least Flycatcher right along Seagrove.

    En route to Higbee I stopped at the South Cape May Meadows (new birds thanks to Vince) and then passed the Beanery, where Don Freiday and the Cape May Bird Observatory’s “Century Run” were birding.  I stopped to say hi and Don quickly directed a television crew towards me.  I was sweaty and adorned with my unglamorous bicycle helmet and the camera was uncomfortably close; I’m not sure exactly what I said, but I doubt that I’ll make the final cut!  From there it was on towards Higbee, but I played leapfrog with another team, one led by Lillian Armstrong and Tom Reed.  They were in cars, and would pass me in transit, but then they’d stop for a bird and I’d peddle by.  I noticed particular excitement as I approached them for the last time, however.  I looked up, where they were looking, and enjoyed great views of a Mississippi Kite, which isn’t a common bird around Cape May.  I kept adding birds in transit: it’s easy to hear bird songs from a bike!

Above, l to r: Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Eastern Kingbird, all tallied in the morning at Cape May Point.

    At Higbee (above), I found most of the birds I expected and a few migrants, but I also ran into Keith & Jordan Rutter, who promptly introduced me to a newspaper reporter and then vanished into the fields.  It’s great to entertain the media, but it definitely slows you down!  I tried to be lucid and entertaining, doubtless failing, before heading back onto my bike for more transient birding.  I wound my way back home to watch for birds in the back yard (and to eat lunch and quaff more coffee).

    After lunch I headed over to the Cape Island Creek Preserve, where I added a few species around the fields, but my march through the soggy saltmarsh was uncomfortable and unnecessary, as I added no new birds here.  I did manage to get fully mud-splattered and I renewed the glossy coating of perspiration that had thankfully vanished during lunch.  As I peddled my bike back onto Seashore Road with a vigorous push, poof, the chain slipped off the sprocket.  As I flipped over the bike to make repairs, a group of four cyclists eased by, offering help but seemingly eager also to keep going.  I knew I could fix this myself, so I thanked them and sent them on their way.  Next a car turns aroound and offers help: it’s Paul & Anita Guris, following the Nikon/DVOC team as a support vehicle.  The next day I learned that the team had also seen me on the roadside, but in the words of Mike Fritz, “No way we were going to stop and help.”  This team, the perennial favorites, was again the winner this year, and you don’t win the World Series of birding by being Good Samaritans!

    After a short stop at the Beanery, adding a few more birds, I mulled whether or not I had the energy to ride back down to Cape May Point and hike out into the state lands behind the old Magnesite Plant, overlooking the vast Pond Creek Marsh (photos at right).  I decided to give it a try, a good choice as I added five species, including the Peregrine Falcon resting on the water tower.

    My final stop was at the South Cape May Meadows, just about six blocks from home.  I parked my bike and headed out onto the trails.  Ominous clouds were gathering to the southwest, and I figured a storm might brew in an hour or two.  I nonchalantly kept birding, but when other birders started to jog back to the parking lot I looked back to see that my timing was more than a bit wrong.  I was at precisely the most distant point from the parking area when the storm hit.  Powerful rain came sideways into my face, and bolts of lightening seemed to be crashing all around me.  This was not wise.  Of course, unlike those with cars, I would have no shelter by simply getting back to the parking area.  I still returned at a brisk pace, and here I found four other birders huddled beneath the meager shelter of the kiosk.  It was the four cyclists who had offered to help me out -- turns out they were another World Series of Birding team, led by NJAS staffers Stephen Bagen & Sean Grace,  choosing to participate by bicycle!  The storm passed, a rainbow emerged, and I snapped the photo at left.

To return to Mark’s web site click here.

Funds raised to date: $4,233.  Honor roll of donors:  John Bjerke, Rene Buccinna, Tim & Charlotte Croft, Geri Drymalski, Mark England, Neal Fitzpatrick, Don Freiday, Robert Garland, Chris & Lee Hajduk, Ann Hobbs & David Livengood, Gregory Kaufmann, Gary Mozel, Monica Nugent, Bill & Ellie O’Sullivan, Gary Pendleton, Pam & Keith Rutter, Bill & Edie Schuhl, Jack Schultz, Marti & Mike Seraphin, Joe & Nancy Silvio, Three Grace Interiors, Frank Vanlandingham, John Whitaker & Wendy Fredericks, Dr. David Wizer, Ben Werner, Bill Wilkinson, Jeff Wneck & Ana Arguelles, Birding Adventures TV.