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WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING

2001

Team Members - Paul Guris (Captain), Adrian Binns, Mike Fritz, Bill Stocku
Species Seen - 214
Place - Tied for 1st Place
Sponsor - Nikon Sport Optics

Trip Report by Adrian Binns

As with the last several World Series, we (Paul Guris, Mike Fritz, Bill Stocku and I) have pretty much dedicated the 7 days prior to the event to scouting, and since our friends, the Cornell "Sapsuckers"/Swarovski team have been running a similar route to the one we run, basically the western side of the state, the two teams have shared all of our scouting information. The information exchanged has resulted in almost identical totals the last 4 years, but we have been fortunate to come out a species or two ahead of them each time. They are without a doubt the leading fundraisers of the event, with annual pledges in excess of $600 a species. This year they pulled out all the stops and brought with them a team of a dozen scouts in order to cover every possible corner of the state and get the monkey off their backs.

As has been the case in every year that I have participated we began at Great Swamp. One noticeable difference was that there seemed to be fewer teams in the swamp, which along with the wider roads and mild temperatures made it more enjoyable. At the stroke of midnight, a Screech Owl responded to our calls, Great Horned and Barred Owl soon followed. The water levels were low, but a Sora and Virginia Rails were calling and we got a first for us in the swamp, a Moorhen. A White-throated Sparrow chipped. Woodcock began peenting as soon as the ochre moon broke the horizon, and despite the still of the night there were only several Swainson Thrush's flying overhead. We were off and running.....onto the marshes and ponds of Sussex County, where it seemed as though we where constantly surrounded by a chorus of owls. The results were mixed, but we picked up Pied-billed Grebe at Libertyville and American Bittern at Black Dirt Marsh.

By 4:20am we had had made it deep into the Unionville grasslands, having walked up a long hill to where staked Vesper, Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows were. In that order each sang at least once, well before first light, allowing us to get off the hill within 20 minutes. Fate was on our side, as we found out that within minutes of us leaving, a turkey hunter chased everyone off, and Cornell lost out on the only staked Grasshopper spot in the north! We continued with a Brown Thrasher and a Pheasant down the valley, then a Field and White-crowned Sparrow (numerous this year) in a hedgerow and shortly thereafter a 'Chipper' giving us 7 sparrow species before sunrise.

Things were falling into place nicely - at the first of numerous Ruffed Grouse spots half the group picked it up, while a Tennessee Warbler sang beside our vehicle. On track, relaxed, having a laugh-a-minute, we headed into Highpoint earlier than any previous year. As we turned the corner to the tower Purple Finches were calling, and a Raven was roosting on the tower. For the next 3 plus hours we wound our way through Highpoint, picking up Hermit Thrush, Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and at Sawmill, the first of what would be many Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. At Cat Swamp we stopped for Northern Waterthrush, Pileated and Hairy Woodpecker and got our first surprise as a lone Rusty Blackbird flew over our heads calling. At Black Spruce Bog on Ridge Road, the Canada was very cooperative; we 'cleaned up' Ruffed Grouse and picked up an uncooperative Nashville. Our second surprise came at the corner of Deckertown Road - while on a 'pit stop', pishing took on a new meaning, as a male Wilson's Warbler quickly made itself visible fleeing a soaked bush courtesy of Paul!
It was onto Stokes, where we had a staked Cooper's nest and to Culver's Lake, which held a pair of Gadwalls, Snipe, Magnolia and our only Blackpoll Warbler. In the Dingman's Ferry area along Van Ness Road, Blue-winged, Golden-winged and an uncountable Brewster's Warbler, but we missed Alder Flycatcher. Metlar Road produced Yellow-rumped and Worm-eating Warbler as well as Blue-headed Vireo and Red-breasted Nuthatch. The bridge across the Delaware had a Common Merganser. Through the Walpack Valley - first a Hooded Warbler then a Broad-wing Hawk on the wing. We stopped at our scouted Golden-crowned Kinglet spot and also found a singing Mourning Warbler. What a bonus! Luck was certainly on our side, as we were leaving we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk work the ridge top, a species we were unable to find during the weeks scouting.

By 9am we had picked up pretty much all we could have hoped for in the north, only missing Bay-breasted Warbler, Willow and Alder Flycatcher. Feeling on top of the world we skipped Worthington for the first time and made for one last stop in the north to pick up Cliff Swallows, before crossing I-80 at 9:45am with 141 species, 3 minutes and 2 species behind Cornell. The previous year we were an hour and a half and 10 species behind. What a difference a year makes!

Heading south we overtook (for the first time) a seemingly surprised, shocked and stressed out Cornell team on Rte 31. They knew that they had the edge in the north and we owned the south! The one and a half hour journey to Florence, is by far the longest uneventful (birding wise) stretch of the event, but we pick up Black Vulture and clean up Starling of all things!

Swinging into Florence, a Kingfisher crosses the Delaware; a scan of the gulls eventually produces a first winter Lesser-black Backed Gull. Cornell hot on our heals shows up - trying to keep them guessing and to retain the upper hand, we move on - as it turned out it was just before the gun at the dump sent all the gulls into the air, so that they could tick Iceland. It's ok though, as that scenario was reversed last year. The Peregrine was on the turnpike bridge but the stop for Great Cormorant produced only their cousins until.......a raptor came heading towards us. Peregrine (a logical choice), but clearly not. An accipter? Someone calls Cooper's, and then all hell breaks out, as the field marks do not add up. It is large, buteo size with a gray back, very light underneath, a glaring red-eyed, white supercilium.....though none of us wanted to believe it, it was a very out of place Goshawk. How lucky can we get?

Through Salem County we picked up American Widgeon at Birch Creek, Bobolink and Snow Geese at Featherbed Lane, Bald Eagle and Caspian Tern at Mannington. Next up was a Barn Owl roost, and with some luck a Cattle Egret on the way. No farmers were ploughing and white plastic bags didn't count, but as we pulled into the barn we scared one from behind the barn. Better yet, an American Kestrel hovered across the street as we waited our minute to count the owl under the raptor rule. Three species at one stop! Luck plays a big part yet again.
It's now early afternoon, we are in Cumberland County and the winds ahead of the on- coming front have picked up. This does not bode well for our plans; our goal is to wrap up the passerines before reaching the bay shore. Mike's invaluable scouting has produced numerous spots for the next species. Searching the Dividing Creek area a Summer Tanager cooperates right above the car as we pull up. We get the Yellow-throated Warbler on the first crack, but it takes six tries before a Prothonotary obliges. Our last possible warbler a Kentucky, calls almost immediately. A time check shows it's 2:20pm and we have totaled 32 species of warblers plus a hybrid. Life is good.

We wind our way down the bay shore, picking up Green-wing Teal at Bivalve and Bobwhite, Red Knot at Cook's Beach, before swinging across to Hereford Inlet. Here we come across our fourth Peregrine of the day, but the highlights were a Red-breasted Merganser, followed by a Brown Pelican, distant Gannet and then a Great Cormorant. Mike shouts that he has a Tri-colored Heron, but it disappears before anyone gets onto it. This was the only species that we couldn't count, prompting Paul to say at the brunch "To the Tri-colored Heron that we missed, may you and your offspring roast in the fires of hell for all eternity".

Brant and Whimbrel seemed numerous around the Stone Harbor and Cape May marshes this year, and a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron put in an appearance in an unusual spot next to motel car park, but not to Mike who knows every nook and cranny in the south. At Poverty Beach a nesting Piping Plover and Royal Terns on the pilings. With daylight fading fast, we headed to the Meadows for the Blue-winged Teal and just as we were leaving a Least Bittern flew into the top of the reeds and proceeded to do the splits! Our last daylight bird was Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, before heading to our reliable Chuck's and Whip spot. Right on time at 8:25 pm, they called and we moved on.

A reported Black Rail at Jake's Landing was our next stop, but all we got were no-see-ums by the pound. Off to Tyler Road for a King Rail, and lo-and-behold, it responded to Paul's Sora imitation! It was now 9:30 pm, the wind had picked up, and it was back to give Jake's Landing one more go. This time it was far more pleasant, but still no Black Rail.

At the finish line the two teams that had shared the most, showed that with a great deal of scouting and some luck thrown in, that they would come in with very respectable scores once again. But this time it was with identical totals - 214 species. We couldn't have been happier for the Cornell team. With all the hard work that they put in, they finally got to take home the "Urner Stone Cup' to go along with the title of undisputed conservation fundraisers that they have held for so long, raising over $ 150,000 this year alone.

 

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