The Other North American World Series

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Keeping watch over a New Jersey lake. Photograph: Victoria Bekiempis

Thanks to Victoria Bekiempis for this inside look at the other North American world series:

130 species, 187 miles and lots of energy drinks: Inside the World Series of Birding

As the clock struck 12, the Meadowlands Marsh Hawks set out into the New Jersey night. But could they tally enough birds to beat their rivals?

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The Meadowlands Marsh Hawks look for their next target. Photograph: Victoria Bekiempis

A white SUV ground to a stop near a sliver of New Jersey marshland, tires snarling against the gravel and sand access road. Three men – Christopher Takacs, David Bernstein, and Michael Wolfe – bounded out. Brine lingered in the moist air as they rushed forward on foot, traveling below an overpass. Reeds lined the lane, which was somewhere along the Hackensack River. Midges and ticks lurked in the dark as the trio waited for midnight. Takacs’ phone alarm chirped. It was finally midnight. As if on cue, something trilled in the near distance.

“There’s a shorebird calling!” one of the men said.

“And there’s his friend calling!” another said.

The trio swiftly matched this semi-squeak to a species. It was a spotted sandpiperAfter they identified the brown-and-white bird, they moved on to the next one. Bernstein whistled, ooh-eeh-ooh. Takacs clapped his hands. It was likely too dark to make visual IDs, so they needed birds to call back – and fast. Because the clock was ticking: they only had another 23 hours and 50 minutes to log as many bird species as possible.

Takacs, Bernstein, and Wolfe, who form the Meadowlands Marsh Hawks team, were competing in the World Series of Birding. Every year, hundreds of birders from across the United States flock to New Jersey for what organizers call the “country’s largest and most prestigious birding competition.” (A note on avian language in this article: while some ornithophiles don’t believe there’s a significant distinction between “bird watching” and “birding,” others do. Writer Julia Zarankin says “the two verbs, ‘birdwatching and birding’ refer to vastly different experiences and states of mind. Birdwatching is a passive pursuit. Birders, on the other hand, are slightly more obsessed versions of birdwatchers. The birder is actively, sometimes even compulsively, pursuing birds; they are in it for the chase … In a sense, birding is about our human impulse to hunt, but without the blood.”)

Participants had 24 hours from midnight on Saturday 11 May to see and hear as many bird species as possible. The annual contest, put on by New Jersey Audubon, started 36 years ago in response to regional birdwatching enthusiasts expressing interest in tallying as many species as possible in a single day during spring migration. Pete Dunne, who recently retired from New Jersey Audubon, thought that a competition could get them into gear. The rest is history…

Read the whole story here.

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