I’m sure you are reading this and are going ‘What the heck is he talking about? Spring training ended almost 3 weeks ago!’ That would be true if I was playing baseball, but the spring training I’m talking about has to do with bird watching.
Last year was my rookie season in the realm of competition bird watching. Last season I participated first on the first ever New York City Birding Challenge sponsored by the NYC Audubon. The goal was to form a team of between 2 and 4 people and try and find as many birds in a 24 hour period as possible. Only a handful of teams participated and fewer still put 100% effort in. The rules are tough, no tapes to call in birds (like rails and owls) and all members of the team have to see the bird to count it. Not all at the same time, but all must see a bird once in the day for it to count. Also you could not leave the five boroughs of New York. But the results were close, the winning team, my team, the Forgotten Boroughing Owls out of Staten Island, won with 141 species. The second place team was the Wandering Talliers, led by blogger Rob Jett who had 140 species. Our reward was simple, a nice cup which has been on display at the Staten Island Museum for some time now and some nice press coverage. I of course being the only member of the team not living in New York City missed out on all the fun. However I will admit that I was over my head in that competition. I had never birded the City of New York before and being significantly further south, I had many new species to contend with that I was not familiar with. Mostly I followed around like a lost puppy, getting slightly injured an ripping my pants after tripping and falling in the woods trying to rouse up the Chuck-Will’s-Widow on Staten Island.
Despite my victory downstate, there would be no rest. A week later I was invited to join a Century Run team here in Albany from two people I had never met before who sent me an e-mail one day. I agreed and I’ve been quite happy with the results. The first time I ever met Corey and Tom was at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in the town of New Scotland, New York at 2 am. After a brief few moments of introductions, we were off playing owl tapes (we can use them on the Century Run) and within seconds we not only had the Eastern Screech Owl respond, but the bird flew right in next to us. We knew then it would be a good day. We finished with 123 species that day, which would have been the published winner, if Corey had gotten the paper work in on time (send it out the next day this time OK?) After 48 hours of birding in a week, I was exhausted (oh yeah, I had to work between the two events), but happy that my rookie season was over.
The last year I’ve spent honing my birding skills, chasing (and mostly missing) rare birds and finding new locations to birds and meeting lots of new people. I’ve spent a lot of that time with Corey, with whom I’ve logged thousands of miles with looking for birds. But despite winning both events last year, I want to do it again this year. As I look at the collection of belly fat I’ve acquired from a long winter and those triple meat breakfast sandwiches at Stewarts while birding with Corey, I realize I have a lot of work to do. I also have to get familiar with close to 200 species of birds as well as get lots of practice in the field. This year the Forgotten Boroughing Owls are out to defend their title, with a new member from last year. We also plan to only bird Richmond County (Staten Island) as opposed to the mad dashes we did last year. The goal is not only to win the Cup again this year, but to break the big day record on Staten Island. The same goes for the upstate Century Run, where we are looking to add 2 new members this year and also expand our efforts to start at midnight. Last year I had a great Rookie season, but now I’m looking not only to become and all-star at birding, but also to make it into the hall of fame, some day.