Tips for Bird-a-thon Birding

To record a large number of species during Bird-a-thon, it is necessary to cover as many habitats as possible and to plan carefully in order to find the more uncommon and more elusive bird species. By using the best birders on your Bird-a-thon team and  deploying them in some of the better birding areas of the state, not only do the less experienced birders who accompany them get to see more birds, but the state is covered more effectively than if all the best birders go together.

Generally, the best strategy is to assign certain local or difficult-to-find species to specific birding teams. In this way, one of each team’s goals is to specifically seek out the less common birds. In a carefully planned approach, the more common bird species will be located while specifically searching for the “target species.” A Bird-a-thon is nothing more than a great scavenger hunt where the objects to be found are living birds!

Another thought is not to spend all your time racing from place to place in a car, or perhaps to try the regional IBA approach. When driving from place to place, not only do you miss a lot of birds but you also miss much of the pleasure of being out birding in mid May. The IBA concept also allows you to maximize the local knowledge of your birding teams.  Don’t send birders into areas they aren’t familiar with. Even the most experienced birders will be handicapped under these circumstances.

Where are the best places to spend time and what special birds should be looked for?

The following are a few basic examples:

Marshes 

Bitterns, ducks, rails, moorhen, snipe, marsh wren—best at dawn

Fields 

Upland sandpipers, bluebirds, grassland sparrows, bobolinks, meadowlarks

Upland Coniferous Forests

Owls, red-breasted nuthatches, a variety of warblers, possibly lingering northern finches

Pine Barrens

Saw-whet owls, fish crows, hermit thrushes, brown thrashers, pine and prairie warblers

Salt Marshes

Egrets and herons, willet, other shorebirds, sharp-tailed and seaside sparrows

Tidal Estuaries and Mudflats

Waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns

Sandy Coastal Beaches & Islands

Oystercatchers, gulls, terns, horned larks

Rocky Beaches & Headlands

Cormorants, scoters, eiders, possibly lingering purple sandpipers

Open Ocean (offshore) 

Gannets, sooty shearwaters, Wilson’s storm-petrels, possibly red-necked phalaropes