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WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING
(This article originally appeared in the Summer 2005 edition of Larus)
2005 World Series of Birding Run: A Tale of Scouting,
Sharing, and Chris Rock
by Paul Guris
All top level teams that compete in the World Series of Birding know that scouting is the key to a successful big day. You search, you check, you re-check, and you re-re-check. You note every Hairy Woodpecker, every Cerulean Warbler, every Carolina Wren, and every individual of every other species that has smoked or nearly smoked you in the past. I have done this event for 21 of the 22 years it has existed, and I have built up a storehouse of paranoia that would make Oliver Stone squirm.
Our team consists of myself and club members Mike Fritz, Eric Pilotte, and Bert Filemyr. Mike is also a long time participant and has long shared my belief that some species are simply evil, but only in some years (except for Belted Kingfisher which is always evil). Bert and Eric have only been on our team for two years each, but we have managed to brainwash them into the same state of fear and mistrust of all things feathered. For just one week each year, we trust the avian world of New Jersey about as much as a 2002 Bush administration report on Iraq’s nucular capabilities.
In the long, long ago of the WSB, circa 1980s, scouting was a furtive and solitary endeavor. Teams did not discuss where they went or what they saw. Good finds were meant to be hidden and secret, only to be uttered to your team mates, and then only if they knew the password, secret handshake, and bore the mark of your coven. It was indeed a dark time for new teams and those not experienced in the ways of both northern and southern New Jersey birding.
As time passed, however, some of the teams realized that by sharing their scouting information with other teams, all of the teams would increase their totals. On top of that, it was a great way to give to conservation without having to dig into your wallet. The web of teams willing to swap information grew.
In 2005, we witnessed a new high water mark for sharing. All I can say is thank heavens for the cell phone! Teams called each other regularly. We met in the field. We met in front of the High Point Country Inn. We even scouted together. We swapped sightings, we swapped sites, we swapped strategy, we even swapped long, sultry glances (but that’s another, albeit more interesting, story). All in all, it was a vast improvement over the olden days. This sharing also allowed something new to occur; two youth teams broke 200, a feat that would have been unthinkable without this constant flow of information.
From our own team’s standpoint, having all our members putting a lot of time in the field was certainly key. Eric and I scouted the whole week up north, with Eric braving the killer attack mouse in the motel. (That’s a story for another time, but let’s just say that if you need to clear Eric from the room, all you have to do is squeak!) My wife Anita joined us, taking a break from her team logistics duties. Mike managed to jam both scouting and work into the week, leaving sleep as a distant third in the priority list. Having help from the likes of club members Jeff Holt, Connie Goldman, Chuck Hetzel, Karl Lukens, Art McMorris, and Chris Walters was another big boost. Thanks gang! We swapped information with a number of teams, but we would particularly like to thank the Connecticut Audubon, Virginia Ornithological Society, and Cornell teams and, of course, the Nikon Space Coast Coastal Cuckoos youth team.
Finally, we unleashed Bert, who took the organization of scouting information to a new and very Zen level. Think Hairy Krishna, Tai Chi-kadee, Trans-wren-dental Meadowlarktation, and Kestrel Sutra all rolled into one. Then chant “Owa - tagoo - sightick”. For those of you both old enough or young enough to remember “Alice’s Restaurant”, all you have to think of is “27 8x10 color glossies with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one to be used as evidence against us” … or in this case for us. Bert actually provided pictures of the best Peregrine perches, Red-headed Woodpecker nest hole, and the Piping Plover exclosure with notations so we could find them faster. Sketches of the location and shape of the American Wigeon at Bivalve were also part of his arsenal. It was awesome!
So we’ve discussed the scouting, why we felt the need to do so much, how we divided the duties, who else helped us out, and how we organized the information we had. Now it’s Friday before “game day”. We’ve prepared as best you can, but when the big day comes we have to be mentally prepared to face a grueling day of sleep deprivation, fast movement, and lightning fast IDs of over 200 species. Just like getting ready for a final exam, those last hours before midnight are crucial, and require a little something special (and yes, QUITE legal) to give that edge.
So what was our secret preparation this year? It can be summed up in two words; “Chris Rock”. The van had a DVD player, and we had several of Chris Rock’s standup comedy specials. Oh, yeah. It’s tough to be uptight after watching an hour or so of classic Chris. By midnight we were wide awake, loose as a moose, endorphins soarin’, and ready to, well, Rock! Boosters were required on the long run from northern Jersey down to Florence, and after nightfall near the end of the day.
Our final tally came to 222 species, enough to once again win the event and bring the cup back home to DVOC once again. For general interest, here are some facts and figures about our day:
Be sure to check out the PowerPoint presentation that Bert gave to the club. It has maps of our route, results, and even some of his visual scouting aids. It’s available on DVOC’s web site. To get to the presentation: Click Here
NOTICE: No birds, animals or participants were harmed in the making of this big day.
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