- The YMOS Mighty Merlins (left) won the high school division and tied fro top overall score with 190 species found on a day highlighted by limited migration and evening storms. Captained by Jake Cameron and coached by Jim Brighton, the team included Eli Anders, Claire Wayner, Sam Miller, and Matt Addicks. Sams’s report of their day is included below.
- The YMOS March Gigglers, although all in middle school, placed 2nd in the high school division with 188 species. Captained by Daniel Irons and coached by Mike Irons, the team also included Kevin Ebert, Jonathan Irons, and Patrick Sullivan.
- The YMOS Live and Let Fly team won the middle school division with 154 species found. Captained by Jack Pearse and coached by Stacy Epperson, the team included Kojo Baidoo, Cameron Darnell, and Josie Kalbfleisch.
- The YMOS Carbonated Swamp Warblers, another high school team, recorded 146 species on a day when the birds seemed to completely disappear by 2 PM. Captained by Chris Barry and coached by Harvey the Bear, the team also included Joshua Heiser and Jasper Merry.
Sam Miller’s 2016 Report
We started our Big Day at Great Swamp in central NJ. We made sure to get there early so that we would be at our desired location by the time midnight came around. We first heard a Willow Flycatcher, but this was unfortunately 5 minutes before midnight. We ultimately missed this species on the day. However, this spot was very successful for the team as we picked up a good amount of marsh birds (Least Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail) as well as some owls (Eastern-screech, Barred, Long-eared) in our 1 hour stay. We constantly kept our ears peeled for nocturnal migrants and tallied our first Savannah and White-throated Sparrows by their nocturnal flight calls (NFCs) here. With 23 hours left on the clock, we bee-lined up to our northern NJ marshes.
At our northern marshes, we added on some more nocturnal birds such as American Bittern and Great-horned Owl. By around 4:00 am, we were at the Wantage Grasslands waiting for the Grasshopper Sparrows to wake up. We knew that they would be singing shortly after our arrival based on our scouting data. We had timed their first song at 4:04 am during scouting and scheduled this stop in compliance with that data in order to save as much time as possible. Before 4:15 am, we tallied both Grasshopper Sparrow and American Woodcock at Quarry Rd with ease. Saving time at this stop, we drove to a place called Vesper Hill to listen for some more NFCs. At this great vantage point we were able to hear a Gray-cheeked Thrush flyover among other nocturnal migrants such as Indigo Buntings. By the time it was 5:00 am, the forest was starting to awake and the locals started to sing. At this point, we drove back to our grasslands spot for our scouted Ring-necked Pheasants and Eastern Meadowlark. We quickly added these birds to our lists and then drove a little out of the way for another scouted bird, a Golden-winged Warbler. We had already verified the bird by sight earlier in the week so we were able to tally it by its song on the big day. Shortly after sprinting into the scouted location off of Clove Rd, we heard the bird, and sprinted right back out spending only 2 minutes at the stop.
By now, the sun had just risen and we returned to our motel for our first driver swap. We decided to do the swap here because we had a singing Cape May warbler in the surrounding trees of the motel for two days before. The bird didn’t disappoint and was singing for us upon our arrival. From our motel, we set off for our first day spots.
At the nearby AT&T Tower, we were hoping for a Nashville Warbler that had been present the day before but instead got a Swainson’s Thrush. At Sawmill Rd in High Point State Park, we pulled off to hear the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse. Claire picked out some Common Ravens calling here as well. We then continued to our first major day location: Ridge Road. Here we easily tallied over 50 species while just driving through with our windows down. Some of these species included Cerulean Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireos, Blue-headed Vireos, Least Flycatchers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The team checked Broad-winged Hawk off the list with a quick stop at a known nest. We also heard a Canada Warbler at a staked out location, a great bird for the day. After the State Park, we made a quick stop where we had Alder Flycatcher the day before, but the bird was a no show. Breezing by some more parks and stops, we added a lot of northern birds that we knew we could not get anywhere else. Hermit Thrush, Brown Creepers, and Blackburnian Warblers being among those specialty breeders. After getting many of our northern targets, we headed to Culvers Lake to see what was around. We picked up a few Blackpoll Warblers at this stop along with a surprising 2, possibly 3 Tennessee Warblers. After Culvers Lake, we went west to Dingman’s Ferry where we expected to find some Common Mergansers. To our surprise, we found a Hooded Merganser instead of the expected Commons. Next, we drove to a spot where we had scouted out a Red-breasted Nuthatch as well as a Golden-crowned Kinglet. We heard both of these reliable birds shortly after parking. After hitting the always reliable Pompey Rd for the Worm-eating Warblers, we checked the DOT barn where the usual breeders, Cliff Swallows, had been absent this year. However, Matt and Eli picked out two flying by which we marked down as a 5% bird. We left the north with about 125 species and picked up about 10 more throughout the ride south including a stop at Round Valley Reservoir where we tallied our scouted Lesser Scaup along with some Bonaparte’s Gulls.
With a storm on the way, we needed to rearrange our route in order to get as many species as possible. Disregarding our original plan, the team drove all throughout Belleplain State Forest in search of some woodland birds that we missed up north. Our coach, Jim Brighton, was vital in this section of the competition. Through his many years of birding experience at Belleplain, he helped us plan our stops to find the most species possible. At this point we were missing Kentucky Warbler. Jim had a historical spot where he had Kentucky Warblers 8 years ago. We drove to this exact spot where 8 years after he first had them, a Kentucky Warbler was still present. Here throughout Belleplain, we also picked up Acadian Flycatcher and Prothonotary Warbler. We booked it from Belleplain to a nearby field where we heard our first and only Horned Larks of the day.
We then bolted over to Heislersville where we had timed our arrival to coincide with low tide. This way, we could get the most amount of shorebirds possible. While driving around the impoundments, we tallied birds such as Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Both Yellowlegs, Least Terns and Black Skimmers. We tried to pick out the recently reported Curlew Sandpiper, but were unsuccessful in the time we had allotted for it. After Heislersville we went to Jakes Landing. Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows were both present along with a Northern Harrier and a few Glossy Ibis. We made our way to Reed’s Beach which turned out extremely successful. We picked out a few flyby Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones among the other shorebirds. We also saw some Boat-tailed Grackles and our first Purple Martin of the day. Off the jetty, we pulled out a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a far out Northern Gannet. The biggest surprise though was a Black Scoter resting on the beach! After Reed’s, we pin-balled around Cape May to multiple scouted out birds like Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Cattle Egret and Red-headed Woodpecker. We checked some local beaches for Piping Plover, but only found Sanderlings. A quick stop at the Wetlands Institute proved unfruitful as the storm was just starting to hit. We all caught some sleep during our drive to Coral Avenue. Despite the rain, here at Coral our Seawatch went off without a hitch. The tern flock offshore was active and we got some good birds here. Some flyby Purple Sandpipers were new to our list. Matt picked out a Parasitic Jaeger far off shore and I called out a flyby Black Tern. We noted a few Royal and Common Terns as well at this location. After our Seawatch, we drove to the Meadows for our last day stop.
At The Meadows, we picked out Blue-winged Teal and Gadwall in one of the ponds, along with a Mute Swan. At the beach here, Matt and Claire showed us a pair of American Oystercatchers, the first ones of the day. As the sun was setting, the team saw two common nighthawks flying up over the tree line. Before we left, we gathered for a quick team meeting. As we were talking we all noticed something zipping by us and called out “Wilson’s Snipe!”.
Leaving The Meadows with some confidence, we debated the next part of our route in the car. We tried for King Rail at a local marsh but did not hear anything. We tallied Chuck-wills-widow at a powerline cut but did not hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will. We drove all over the place for the next few hours looking for Whips but eventually called it a day around 11:00 pm.
We ended with 190 species and won the youth division. Though we technically could not compete with the adult teams, we tied the winner of their division and ultimately ended up tied for the most species overall in the competition.