World Series of Birding Takes Flight

Cindy Ferguson, Director of Development

New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding (WSB) is the country’s largest and most prestigious 24-hour birding competition—providing participants and financial contributors with a fun and interactive way to raise money for conservation projects.

The 37th annual WSB took flight at 12:01am May 9th in a special edition—a re-imagined format to assure the health and safety of everyone involved. Participants were not allowed to travel more than 10 miles from their homes and were instructed not to bird with anyone other than members of their household and to observe social distancing requirements. For the first time in 37 years, participants were not confined to New Jersey, but could search for birds throughout the 18 states within the Atlantic Flyway migratory route.

On the coldest May day since 1977, my husband Norm and I were one of 88 teams that took on the challenge of late season frigid temperatures and blustery winds to find as many bird species as possible in a 24-hour period to raise money for bird conservation.

Our team—PA Sparked by Osprey—set a modest goal of finding 60 bird species. We began and ended our day at our home patch—where Bucks County borders Philadelphia by the Poquessing Creek at the Delaware river.  The area’s habitat includes trees, a patch of wetlands, and riverfront that attract a diversity of birds who call it home. Osprey—our team’s namesake bird—was one of the first birds we ticked off the list (an easy feat with three nests in view).

Scouting and logistics planning, as well as birding while traveling, are essential for the WSB and we were lucky to spot one of the Bald Eagles that nests down the road from our home patch. Our next area for exploration was Pennypack Park, which produced wood thrush, warblers and other forest species with its greater tree density and a meandering creek. Our count was quickly growing, but the best was yet to come.

We spent the next several hours at Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust—a valued PEC partner. The Trust protects 852 acres of open space that includes a healthy and diverse habitat of meadows, Pennypack Creek, and forest—including a patch of old growth forest.

It was here that we spotted a Great Horned owlet—a nestling that we had been watching for the last month—as he peered out of his nest cavity in a towering tree. The owlet had grown from a little puff ball to a still fluffy version of a Great Horned Owl, with talons that meant business. It stood tall as it perched on the edge of its nest cavity, sizing up its new world and nearby branches.

Our time at the Trust produced additional warbler species, swallows, bluebirds, a variety of woodpeckers and more. With some good luck and areas protected from the gusting winds, we approached our 60 species goal by early afternoon.

Returning home, we continued to add species for a new total of 67 and raised our goal to 70 species. We made a last attempt after dinner to add three species to our count.  The birds were hunkered down and silent, due to the cold and gusty conditions. As the light began to fade, we found our species #70—the Killdeer—a species that had eluded us all day.

What a day it was—despite the weather challenges! We were keenly aware of and grateful for the gifts of the natural world—including the wild pockets in the places that we call home. Most importantly, we collectively raised with our fellow birders nearly $250,000 for conservation.

Cindy Ferguson is a veteran birder and blogs occasionally about birds and birding. Find more of her posts via the links below: