The World Series of Birding was started 37 years ago by South Jersey celebrity birder and author Pete Dunne. It has drawn competitors from around the world, raised millions for conservation causes including host NJ Audubon, and raised awareness globally that urbanized New Jersey also has surprising natural riches.
Usually it involves teams of four to six birdwatchers driving to avian hotspots, competing to see or hear the maximum number of bird species in the state from midnight to midnight.
Not this year. That would violate several aspects of state emergency orders for people to remain distant from each other and reduce travel to a minimum.
Rather than cancel this year’s competition, the clever people at New Jersey Audubon turned it into an opportunity for those new to birds and birding to find fun and the wonder of nature beyond confinement. Last week’s 2020 World Series of Birding Special Edition opened participation to everyone in 18 states along the Atlantic Flyway carrying migratory birds north right now.
People had to stay within 10 miles of home, observe social distancing rules and report their sightings online. Teams, however, could include members anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard, reaching more birds than any previous event.
Participants in Maine, for example, found birds absent from New Jersey at this time (and always rare) such as boreal chickadee and red crossbill.
As a result, Birding’s Biggest Day this year broke records for most species recorded by a team (274) and the total found by all teams — an amazing 328 species. Not bad for one day’s birding.
The experience proved especially delightful for participants this year, when many have found that birds and birdwatching offer a fulfilling, enriching escape during weeks or maybe months of home confinement.
While many are enjoying outdoor walks and gardening more now, others are discovering the pleasure of finding different birds and the wow factor of their breathtaking beauty in spring mating plumage.
In March and April, downloads of bird identification apps from the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology were double the prior year period. And sales of products to feed birds, binoculars to see them close and clear, and camera accessories to snap their pictures are surging.
Time in the outdoors often improves health and mood. If people can continue to make that part of their lives after this pandemic passes, they’ll have gotten an important benefit from it.