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Have you ever identified 200 bird species in 24 hours? Anywhere in North America or elsewhere? Forty years ago, a group of birdwatchers thought it could be done – in New Jersey of all places! And so, the World Series of Birding was born.
Do you remember the cards? They were those giant folding, unwieldy paper things that Never fold them back into their original storage. Not too long ago they were essential to any trip to a place we had never been before. Who didn’t love their big old DeLorme Atlas and Geographical Index to connect the dots between cities and counties? I know I did! But now everything is electronic – everything you need to know to get around is at your fingertips.
This illustration by Luke Seitz will appear on this year’s WSB t-shirts. You can read an artist statement at the end of this article.
Forty years ago, a group of experienced New Jersey birders were trying to figure out how someone could break the elusive record of identifying 200 bird species in 24 hours in the state of New Jersey. Huddled over their beers at the C-View Inn in Cape May, an idea was born. They had paper maps, paper checklists, and books like the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America. They could locate with a pencil on their maps the locations of some of the rarer species and draw different routes to try to “get” these species in addition to the more common ones. They already knew that the best approach would be to start from the north at midnight and head south to Cape May – for a full 24 hours of birding.
Then it hit them. And if we introduce the element of competition? There can be shifts, and everyone goes out on the same day during peak migration, regardless of the weather! The rules of the game are fair and may the best team win!
What hatched was the New Jersey Audubon World Series of Birding, which will take place for the 40th time on May 13, 2023. It started with 13 teams of seasoned and highly competitive birders, all traveling non-stop 24 hours. . It’s now a beloved tradition open to birdwatchers of all ages and experiences.
The Birdability Nuthatch team participated in last year’s event. They will be back this year. Photo by Karen Sharp
While more than a dozen teams still embark on 24-hour odysseys, most participants join in other ways, whether it’s birdwatching in the same location, covering their home counties or to go zero carbon, mostly from dawn to dusk or even a bit less. There are also birdwatching teams for young people. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year at New Jersey Audubon and it’s also a major fundraising platform for any wildlife conservation organization willing to pay a small entrance fee and run his own campaign. Be sure to check out fun team names.
And now, when teams leave home to begin their World Series of Birding adventures, all they need is a smartphone. Armed with apps for navigation, group chats to share sightings, online bird identification aids, and an official WSB checklist system hosted on Cornell Lab’s eBird platform Ornithology, there is no need for pen and paper, let alone paper maps. And yes, the teams reach totals of more than 200 species!
But they need snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. And coffee. And the birds, of course. Come join us!
Learn more, participate and/or donate to your favorite team on www.njaudubon.org And www.worldseriesofbirding.org.
Luke Seitz, whose illustration will appear on the WSB’s 40th anniversary t-shirt, wrote this statement about the artwork: “Forty years of World Series of Birding – and forty years of changing populations and distributions of birds. Even since my first World Series (in a youth team in 2008!), the differences are shocking. We used to have to stake out Yellow-bellied Woodpecker territories in the north… now it looks like the most common woodpecker. Don’t forget the Raven’s Nest in High Point! Now they breed in Cape May County. And how not to talk about Ibis Blanc?!
“But with the big increases come even bigger decreases, as we not-so-slowly say goodbye to golden-winged warblers, black rails, salt marsh sparrows… and look forward to the decades of change to come. And after? My hope with this year’s World Series artwork is to show some of the changes we’ve faced over the past forty years, with some birds going greyscale… while hopefully retaining a bit of color, a beacon of hope as we all decide what the future might hold.
Pete Dunne’s plan for a big day
The mystique of Cape May