By Pat Leonard
Collectively known as The Redheads, three student teams sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology took part in the annual World Series of Birding, a 24-hour birding marathon, sponsored by New Jersey Audubon, on May 10. Each team tallied long lists of birds and raised more than $50,000 for undergraduate research and conservation projects. The total received a boost from a $25,000 matching gift from a generous donor. The Redheads team entered in the statewide division captured the championship. The Cape May County team finished third in their division. And the “Big Stay” group of Redheads tied for the win in their category.
The state Redheads team, along with 75 other teams, covered the entire state of New Jersey, tallied a whopping 218 species, and took home the overall championship. Their day began in the northern part of the state, where the team checked off Common Gallinule, Barred Owl, and a few nocturnal migrants. It ended in the south, with two nightjar species and the final bird of the day, an American Coot. Team members included Hope Batcheller, Ben Barkley, Benjamin Van Doren, Brendan Fogarty, Andy Johnson, and Luke Seitz.
“Simply put, it was the best team I have ever birded on,” says Barkley. “We were all in, sprinting at almost every stop, adjusting travel times when we fell behind schedule or hit traffic. Our team chemistry could not be beat! All in all, it was the best birding day any of us had, had. It was the highest single day total for everyone on our team and we finished feeling on top of the world. ”
The Cape May County Redheads team finished third in their division after having identified 158 species—another great result, as they faced really stiff competition in this category. Team members included Eric Gulson, Graham Montgomery, David Weber, Tim Healy, and Teresa Pegan.
“We had an odd mixture of good and bad luck,” says team co-captain Teresa Pegan. “We picked up a lot of great species for Cape May County, but many of the birds that we staked out during scouting just weren’t present at our planned locations on the day, and with such a tight schedule we couldn’t take the time to go looking for them.”
The student Redheads competing in the “Big Stay” category included Drew Dreelin, Eric Sibbald, Mary Margaret Ferraro, and Nathaniel Hernandez. They tied for first place with 94 species! In this category, teams do all their birding in one location within a 17-foot radius. First bird of the day was a Mute Swan that decided not to live up to its name just after midnight. Their final bird was a Cliff Swallow. Team member Nathaniel Hernandez says the day’s challenges included high winds and loud ocean waves at night as well as fast-flying waterfowl and shorebirds.
“Our biggest highlight came at 2:48 a.m.,” says Redhead Eric Sibbald. “Suddenly from across the water we heard someone singing Cornell’s Alma Mater! Tom Johnson, a Cornell alumni and former Redhead sang it for us and that really got us fired up again!” (Johnson was competing with another team.)
“We’re so proud of our talented, dedicated student team,” says says Professor Irby Lovette, the Cornell Lab’s Director of Academic Affairs. “The fact that we could form three teams this year speaks volumes about the growing interest in ornithology and conservation among Cornell students.”
You can still support Team Redhead by donating at www.birds.cornell.edu/wsb/gift.
(Image at top by Louise Zemaitis)