World Series of Birding 2016

CMBO Monarchists Results


    The 2016 World Series of Birding saw the Monarchists team competing for the seventh consecutive year.  Once again we competed in the “Carbon Footprint” category, meaning we searched for birds while traveling solely by foot or bicycle.  As in previous years we worked to raise funds for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.  Many of you reading this report have supported our team, and for this we are most grateful.  If you haven’t, it’s not too late: see this page for information about how you can still make a contribution to support research and education programs about monarch butterflies.

    The World Series of Birding is an annual event sponsored by the New Jersey Audubon Society, with teams competing to see or hear the greatest variety of birds in a single spring day.  This year it was May 14.  All of the teams are working to raise funds for a conservation or environmental education project of their choice.  The Monarchists team, unchanged for the past six years, is shown below.  Left to right, the team is Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis (Captain), Mark Garland, Meg Walker Hedeen, and Lu Ann Daniels.

    Shortly before midnight Michael, Meg, and Mark met up with two other teams to try calling an Eastern Screech-Owl right at midnight.  Louise and Lu would meet us at four, by rule the latest time for joining in.  It was a calm night with a bright moon, and Great Horned Owls were calling everywhere.  These big owls are a threat to the little Screech-Owls, so it wasn’t a surprise that the “Screechies” stayed quiet.  We were happy to also hear the calls of Chuck-will’s-widows, Northern Mockingbirds, and Yellow-breasted Chats. 

    We had started with a plan, but the plan was soon abandoned.  We figured the bright moon might encourage birds of the marsh to be vocal, so we headed off toward the edge of a big marsh, riding our bikes through the night.  We had a lot of success here, with Least Bittern and three kinds of rails among the birds that sounded off for us.  The moon set just after 2 am, and the Great Horned Owls got quiet.  Time to try for the Screech-Owl again, and one responded to our whistled imitation of its call.  For over an hour then we listened for migrating birds passing overhead at night, trying several interesting locations (see right), and happily hearing a number of species, including four species of thrushes (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Veery).  The night was going very well.

Above: Michael & Meg listen for birds while cycling through West Cape May.  Below: Mark, Michael, & Meg listen near Sunset Liquors at 3:00 am.

    Promptly at 4:00 the full team assembled, and after a short jaunt to listen for a few other night birds we paused for our first meal.  Our friendly chef Ron Rollet (left), who has baked two kinds of scones for our early meal each year, outdid himself this year and presented us with three kinds of freshly baked scones, plus fresh café au lait.  We finished up our meal and headed toward the South Cape May Meadows as the first hint of dawn crossed the eastern horizon.  Birds were waking up and singing like crazy, and our tally grew rapidly.  We were especially happy to hear an American Woodcock calling as it made display flights.

    The first few hours of the day are crucially important -- you’d want to be everywhere all at once!  We decided to ride over to the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area early in the day, with a few stops to pick up resident and migrant songbirds along the way.  We found a good variety of birds in the woods and fields, but down on the beach a few birds that we expected didn’t show.  It’s the nature of this birding game, there are always a few no-shows.  No time to worry, we had to keep going!

    The next few hours were a bit like a blur, as we stopped at the Cold Spring Campground, the “SPCA Woods,” and a few other spots on our way back to our first lunch spot, along Stevens Street next to the Rea Farm.  We had some success scanning the skies for raptors while we enjoyed food and beverages.  After a rest room break at Michael & Louise’s house we discovered that Meg’s bike had a flat tire!  Next-door neighbor Chuck Pritchard saw our dilemma and offered his bike as a replacement, saving us the time and trouble of patching and repairing the tire.  Thanks Chuck!

Michael enjoys the scones baked by Ron.

Above: Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area.

Below, l to r: Louise, Lu, and Michael at Higbee.

    We knew we couldn’t linger too long at the Point, however, as we needed to reach the South Cape May Meadows at high tide.  Shorebirds spread out through hidden marshes all over Cape May at lower tides, but many come to roost at this freshwater wetland when a high tide covers up their saltmarsh feeding areas.  Last year we messed up the timing, and missed a bunch of shorebirds we should have found.  We weren’t going to let that happen again!  The plan worked, as we found a terrific assortment of shorebirds, including Stilt Sandpipers.

Prairie Warbler

Meg watches and listens

Yellow-breasted Chat

It was almost noon by the time we reached Cape May Point, where there was much to do.  Our friend Kashi joined us for a while.  She couldn’t help us search for birds, that’s against the rules, but she could keep us company and lift our spirits!  We visited forest patches to search for more songbirds (such as the Cape May Warbler, at left).  We climbed the dune to scan the sea for ocean-loving birds.  We wandered through neighborhoods where songbirds often lurk, checking the ocean views from several vantage points.  We dashed into Cape May Point State Park, ticking off a few more songbirds (such as the Blue Grosbeak, below) and some water birds on the ponds.  We even stopped at the Red Store (below left) long enough for Michael to get a cup of coffee.  He and Louise had only been back in Cape May for about 24 hours prior to the beginning of the event, so a little afternoon coffee provided an important burst of energy.

Left: A team of youth birders.  Above: Stilt Sandpiper.

    Our plan then had us leaving the South Cape May Meadows to visit Pond Creek Marsh, with another stop deeper into the trails at Cape May Point State Park.  But we had been watching the weather forecasts all day, and heavy storms were predicted to arrive late in the afternoon.  We didn’t want to get caught out in a lightning storm with no shelter, so we decided to stay atop the dune at the Meadows through the late afternoon hours.  From here we could scan for birds over the ocean, for gliding birds overhead, for water birds in the freshwater marsh and ponds, and for songbirds along the dune and in the coastal shrubs.  We could also get out to safety quickly when the storm arrived.  Our team portrait, at the top of the page, is from this time of the day.  We added a few new birds, but many we hoped to find eluded us.

Displaying Red-winged Blackbird at

the South Cape May Meadows.

    Shortly before 6:00 pm the storm clouds started rolling in, and the weather radar showed severe storms about to arrive.  The forecast called for the rain to continue until after dark.  We headed out to safety, and decided that there wouldn’t be much point trying for any more birds.  We ended our day early, each of us heading home for a shower and a clean set of clothes.  We then gathered to double-check our sightings list and then head to the finish line at Cape May Point State Park.  We were happy to have seen a lot of beautiful birds during the day, such as the Scarlet Tanager at right, but there was a long list of unseen and unheard birds that we had hoped to find.  We went through the list a couple of times to be sure everything was right, and then made the tally.  Our team’s best year was 2012, when we found 155 species.  Our worst year was 2015, when we only found 111.  We were a bit surprised when we learned that our total was 145 species, our second highest tally ever.

    We were totally surprised when we headed outside to go to the finish line.  The storm had finished early, leaving behind a brilliant rainbow at the end of Lighthouse Avenue and a dramatic cloudscape out over the ocean.  Maybe we should start birding again and try for a few more?  Oh no, several of us drove to our meeting point.  No more birding once we’ve been in a car, those are the rules of the carbon footprint category.  Since we were done, however, we could take our time and enjoy the gorgeous evening.

    Our total didn’t bring us victory -- friends with youth and vigor who cycled more than 50 miles won the prize -- but we were very satisfied with our total.  More importantly, we broke our previous record for fundraising.  Thanks to the many wonderful supporters listed at right our efforts have resulted in over $11,000 to fund the Monarch Monitoring Project.  We are overwhelmingly thankful for such amazing support.

    If you haven’t supported our team, it’s not too late!  You can make a contribution online by visiting our team page on the World Series of Birding website.  You can also send a check if you prefer -- write the check to “NJ Audubon” and send it to the Monarchists c/o Mark Garland, PO Box 154, Cape May Point, NJ  08212.  If you pledged a certain amount per bird species, multiply that amount by 145 for the amount of your pledge.  If you also pledged support for each species of butterfly that we found, that number was 9.

    Thanks for reading this far, and thanks to all who supported our team, either with a contribution, with cheers of support, or (in the case of our great support team, below) with food, beverage, and encouragement when we needed it the most.  We’ll be competing again next year, perhaps getting closer to a championship again, and we hope we’ll receive your support again for the 2017 World Series of Birding.

Monarchists’ Support team, left to right:

Paige Cunningham, Ron Rollet, & Kashi Davis.

        Thanks to all who contributed to the Monarch

            Monitoring Project in support of our team:

Linda Attoe

Ana Arguelles & Jeffrey Wneck

Barb Bassett

Kim Beard

Ann & Roger Bird

John Bjerke

Barbara & Hugh Blair

Frank Boyle

Mary Beth Brandt

Erik Bruder

Megan Carroll & Michelle Price

Ethel Cebra

Chalfonte Partners

Chandler - Shreve Family Fund of the

    Community Foundation of New Jersey

Mary Ann & Mike Cola

Tim & Charlotte Croft

Susan Csia

Ania Curbelo

Carol Daugherty

Cathy Davidson

Kashi & GD Davis

Cecilia Deemer

Rita Dennis

Phil Eager

Jim & Debbie Easton

Mark England

Michael Erb

Suzanne & Mark Eveland

Larry Felton

Neal Fitzpatrick & Roxane Kaufmann

Dutton Foster

Maureen Gallagher-McLeod

Robert Garland

Matthew Garvey

Barbara Gilmore

Tom and Judy Gire

Pete Givan

Karin Rossi Gleason

Barbara Gordon

Danielle Gradante

Peter Grannis & Dianna Wentink

Chris & Lee Hajduk

Rebecca Hamilton

Anne Harlan

Kathy Hedeen

Michael Hennahan

Ann Hobbs & David Livengood

Roger & Kathy Horn

Marianne Hosford

Samuel Hough

Caroline Huber

William Hutcheson

Holly Ireland

James & Teresa Knipper

Tamar Krichevsky & Mike Rosen

Jane G. Kurtz

Susan Laudeman

Lynn Lee

Bev Linn

Madeline Magee

Thomas Maresca

Pearl Marks

Eileen Mathers

Leigh McBride

Michael McCabe & Evelyn Lovitz

Bob & Karen McClennen

Susan McMahon

Holly Merker

Susan Merriam

Gary Mozel

Patricia & Tony Nastase

Jay Nichols

Martin Nott

Barb Nuessle

Paul & Barbara O'Brien

John & Katharine Patterson

Maureen Phair

John R. Pine

Paul Pisano

Todd Pover

Tim Ray

Elizabeth (Libby) Ross

Betty Ross

Jewel Rufe

Nat Rushin

Bobbye Samdahl

Margaret Scaglione

Margaret Schmelz

Bill & Edie Schuhl

Jack Schultz

Marti & Mike Seraphin

Michael “Daytona” Seraphin

Joseph & Nancy Silvio

Hugh Simmons

Chuck & Mary Jane Slugg

Charles O. Slugg

Brooke Smith

Gayle Steffy

Kate Swett

Karen Thompson

William Thompson III

Mary Ann Toscano

June Waller

Dick Walton & Patsy Eickelberg

Bennett Werner & Michelle Uhl

John Whitaker

William Wilkinson

David Wizer

William Zemaitis