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264: A new North American Big Day birding record

The Big Day is over and Team Sapsucker has set a new record for the most bird species seen or heard in a 24-hour period in North America. By birding nonstop from midnight to midnight on Friday, April 22, Chris Wood, Marshall Iliff, Brian Sullivan, Jessie Barry, Andrew Farnsworth, and Tim Lenz amassed a total of 264 species—three more than the previous record.

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It was fun, it was hard work—and it was a conservation fundraiser. Pledges received so far total nearly $200,000, and there’s still time to make a pledge to help us break that mark. All the raised funds go directly to support conservation work at the Cornell Lab. Thank you to everyone who has supported the Big Day and Team Sapsucker so far.

The Big Day run ended a grueling week of scouting during which the team searched out key birds on their list of more than 300 possibilities. As new sightings came in, the team meticulously revised and streamlined their route to connect as many hotspots in as short a distance as possible. Aiding them in scouting were other Cornell Lab staff who came down for the event, as well as legions of Texas locals who offered advice about patches they’ve been birding for years. Local landowners were generous as well, granting access to private marshes and rich woodlands in a state where public land is scarce. Team Sapsucker is especially grateful to all the Texans who welcomed them and aided their cause.

The day began at midnight with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and a Barred Owl in a fashionable riverside section of San Antonio. In what the team later described as “perfect night birding,” the Sapsuckers found about 15 species before dawn, including a Cinnamon Teal on a moonlit wastewater treatment plant, as well as five owl species and three nightjars: Chuck-will’s-widow, Common Poorwill, and Common Pauraque.

At dawn their Toyota minivan was parked at Cooks Slough, a riparian zone near Uvalde, west of San Antonio. Desert birds such as Chihuahuan Raven, Cactus Wren, and Verdin were the draw in the Uvalde area, along with southern specialties such as Green Jay and Audubon’s Oriole. Alas, the Say’s Phoebe that had been hanging around the same fencepost all week seemed to have chosen Thursday night to migrate—it was one of the team’s few misses.

An arc through the Texas Hill Country centered around Neal’s Lodges added two endemic species, the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, along with Hutton’s Vireo, Canyon Wren, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and others.

Under Big Day rules, everyone on the team must see 95% of the species on the final list. The remaining 5% are can be seen by fewer than the entire team—Big Day competitors call them “dirty birds.” An example from this year’s Big Day was the Monk Parakeet, a bird the team picked up as they sped through San Antonio on the interstate. Five of the six Sapsuckers raised their binoculars to spot the bird sitting on its nest while the sixth—Marshall Iliff—kept his hands on the steering wheel.

From San Antonio the team headed for the coast for migrants: raptors, shorebirds, and warblers from Victoria’s agricultural fields and Corpus Christi’s barrier beaches. The three-hour drive was an opportunity to refuel on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (As part of a new space-management plan in the cramped van, the team had reluctantly agreed on only one sandwich type for the day’s meals).

On the way east, the team’s raptor expert, Brian Sullivan, looked out the window and selected a promising-looking kettle of hawks. It turned into one of the day’s highlights, with 400 American White Pelicans soaring among a group of Swainson’s Hawks and Mississippi Kites. A few moments later, Andrew Farnsworth spied a dark fleck moving far above the kettle—a Swallow-tailed Kite only barely within binocular range.

Wetlands and rice fields around Victoria held American Golden-Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Phalarope. These migrants, here to refuel on their way to Arctic breeding grounds, brought the Sapsucker shorebird total to 31 species. Warblers proved harder to find as the week’s hot weather and strong south winds carried many migrating species farther north. Still, by working the coastal woodlands the team pushed the day’s warbler list to 19 species—plus both forms of Yellow-rumped Warbler (eastern Myrtle and western Audubon’s), just in case they are once again split into separate species, as they were for much of the twentieth century.

With daylight fading the team found their 260th species, Eastern Wood-Pewee. If the Sapsuckers were going to set the record, it would have to happen in the dark. The tying species came with a whistled “bob-white!” from a pasture outside Port Aransas, and the go-ahead bird—#262—came with its own applause: a calling Clapper Rail. Two more rails, Virginia and Black, rounded out the day’s list at 264.

With 90 minutes left, the Sapsuckers tried for 265 by staking out a Tropical Kingbird nest Chris Wood and Jessie Barry had found earlier in the week. A few days ago they had confirmed there was enough ambient light to see the bird on its nest even at night. But the day’s high winds had the bird hunkering down over its nest and out of view, and so the record stands at 264.

As midnight struck, the plan was to celebrate with a pizza dinner, but apparently all the pizza places in Rockport, Texas, also close at midnight. And so it was with one more PB&J that the team toasted their victory.

Keep reading for the full list of species the Sapsuckers recorded on the Big Day and their locations (listed in taxonomic order) and see more discussion of the hits and misses on the eBird site:

1  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  Breckenridge Park–Tuleta Dr. (San Antonio)
2  Fulvous Whistling-Duck  Copano Bay–south end LBJ causeway
3  Snow Goose  Riverside Park, Victoria
4  Wood Duck  Cooks Slough
5  Gadwall  Sabinal WTP
6  American Wigeon  Sabinal WTP
7  Mallard  Breckenridge Park–Tuleta Dr. (San Antonio)
8  Mottled Duck  Riverside Park, Victoria
9  Blue-winged Teal  Sabinal WTP
10  Cinnamon Teal  Sabinal WTP (male)
11  Northern Shoveler  Sabinal WTP
12  Green-winged Teal  Dupont Wetlands
13  Redhead  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds
14  Greater Scaup  Oso Bay Bridge (distant)
15  Lesser Scaup  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds
16  Bufflehead  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds (*late; two females)
17  Red-breasted Merganser  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds (*late; male and female)
18  Ruddy Duck  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds
19  Northern Bobwhite  Port Aransas–Murphy’s Pasture (heard; third to last bird of day)
20  Wild Turkey  Cooks Slough
21  Common Loon  Copano Bay Causeway SP (alternate plumaged)
22  Least Grebe  Dupont Wetlands
23  Pied-billed Grebe  Sabinal WTP
24  Eared Grebe  Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge
25  Neotropic Cormorant  Dupont Wetlands
26  Double-crested Cormorant  Nueces Bay Causeway (scarce this late!)
27  Anhinga  Cooks Slough (Not seen by all
28  American White Pelican  DeWitt County
29  Brown Pelican  Copano Bay Causeway SP
30  Great Blue Heron  Cooks Slough
31  Great Egret  Dupont Wetlands
32  Snowy Egret  Dupont Wetlands
33  Little Blue Heron  Rt. 316 fields
34  Tricolored Heron  Dupont Wetlands
35  Reddish Egret  Nueces Bay Causeway Island
36  Cattle Egret  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane field
37  Green Heron  Cooks Slough
38  Black-crowned Night-Heron  Cooks Slough
39  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  Breckenridge Park–Tuleta Dr.
40  White Ibis  Dupont Wetlands
41  Glossy Ibis  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
42  White-faced Ibis  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
43  Roseate Spoonbill  Dupont Wetlands
44  Black Vulture  Concan–Cielito Ridge
45  Turkey Vulture  Concan–Cielito Ridge
46  Osprey  Rt. 35–Guadalupe River
47  Swallow-tailed Kite  DeWitt County (pick of the day by Andy)
48  White-tailed Kite  Aransas grasslands (near probable nest site)
49  Mississippi Kite  DeWitt County (up to 50 seen on drive)
50  Northern Harrier  road near Bird Seed Factory
51  Cooper’s Hawk  Towhee Church
52  Harris’s Hawk  Tyler Rd.–mp 3.1 (on nest; ATLAS
53  Red-shouldered Hawk  Cooks Slough (ad)
54  Broad-winged Hawk  DeWitt County
55  Swainson’s Hawk  Uvalde quarry (ad)
56  White-tailed Hawk  Sikes Road Catfish Ponds (ad)
57  Red-tailed Hawk  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
58  Crested Caracara  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
59  American Kestrel  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane field (on fence)
60  Merlin  Oso Bay Bridge (Not seen by all
61  Peregrine Falcon  Mustang Island mangroves (on tower)
62  Black Rail  Cape Valero
63  Clapper Rail  Port Aransas–Murphy’s Pasture (singing)
64  Virginia Rail  Port Aransas Birding Center (second to last bird of day)
65  Sora  Cooks Slough (flushed from pond edge)
66  Common Moorhen  Dupont
67  American Coot  Sabinal WTP
68  Black-bellied Plover  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
69  American Golden-Plover  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
70  Wilson’s Plover  Coast Guard Base
71  Semipalmated Plover  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
72  Piping Plover  Coast Guard Base
73  Killdeer  Dupont Wetlands
74  American Oystercatcher  Indian Point causeway (on nest)
75  Black-necked Stilt  Dupont Wetlands
76  American Avocet  Dupont Wetlands
77  Spotted Sandpiper  Cooks Slough
78  Solitary Sandpiper  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.) (flying over car)
79  Greater Yellowlegs  Copano Bay Causeway SP
80  Willet  Copano Bay–south end LBJ causeway
81  Lesser Yellowlegs  Dupont Wetlands
82  Upland Sandpiper  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane Ranch (private)
83  Whimbrel  Coast Guard causeway
84  Long-billed Curlew  Indian Point causeway
85  Marbled Godwit  Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge
86  Ruddy Turnstone  Nueces Bay Causeway Island
87  Sanderling  Nueces Bay Causeway Island
88  Semipalmated Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
89  Western Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
90  Least Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
91  White-rumped Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
92  Baird’s Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
93  Pectoral Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
94  Dunlin  Dupont Wetlands
95  Stilt Sandpiper  Dupont Wetlands
96  Buff-breasted Sandpiper  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
97  Long-billed Dowitcher  Dupont Wetlands
98  Wilson’s Phalarope  Dupont Wetlands
99  Laughing Gull  near Bloomington Landfill
100  Franklin’s Gull  near Bloomington Landfill
101  Ring-billed Gull  Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge
102  Herring Gull  Oso Bay Bridge (SY)
103  Least Tern  Indian Point causeway
104  Gull-billed Tern  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
105  Caspian Tern  Nueces Bay Causeway Island
106  Black Tern  Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge
107  Common Tern  Mustang Island–crossover 1A beach (ad)
108  Forster’s Tern  Copano Bay Causeway SP
109  Royal Tern  Copano Bay–south end LBJ causeway
110  Sandwich Tern  Coast Guard causeway
111  Black Skimmer  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
112  Rock Pigeon  Uvalde (town)
113  Eurasian Collared-Dove  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
114  White-winged Dove  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
115  Mourning Dove  Cooks Slough
116  Inca Dove  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane Ranch (private)
117  Common Ground-Dove  Rt. 2690 (Not seen by all
118  Monk Parakeet  San Antonio (Not seen by all
119  Yellow-billed Cuckoo  Cooks Slough (Not seen by all
120  Greater Roadrunner  Cooks Slough
121  Barn Owl  TX-2690–large open field (sitting on fence)
122  Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s)  TX-127–wash west of TX-2690 (whistled up; photos; short whinny call heard “weeow”)
123  Great Horned Owl  TX 400–mp 2.5 (young on nest found by KVR)
124  Elf Owl  TX-400–mp 1.1 (whistled up in same spot where first found (as first Uvalde Co. record?) three days earlier)
125  Barred Owl  Breckenridge Park–Tuleta Dr. (San Antonio) (heard calling pre-dawn; flew in in response to hoots)
126  Lesser Nighthawk  TX-2690–southern portion
127  Common Nighthawk  Port Aransas–Murphy’s Pasture
128  Common Pauraque  Mitchell Lake–entrance (whistled up at night)
129  Common Poorwill  TX-2690–bend to right
130  Chuck-will’s-widow  TX-2690–bend to right
131  Chimney Swift  Cooks Slough
132  Ruby-throated Hummingbird  Blucher Park
133  Black-chinned Hummingbird  Neal’s Lodge–Cattle Guard feeders
134  Buff-bellied Hummingbird  Blucher Park
135  Belted Kingfisher  Cooks Slough (MJI, JHB, and TCL only)
136  Green Kingfisher  Cooks Slough (MJI, CLW only; ‘dzzrrt’ call heard)
137  Golden-fronted Woodpecker  Cooks Slough
138  Red-bellied Woodpecker  Riverside Park, Victoria
139  Ladder-backed Woodpecker  Cooks Slough
140  Downy Woodpecker  Riverside Park, Victoria
141  Pileated Woodpecker  Riverside Park, Victoria (in nest hole)
142  Eastern Wood-Pewee  Paradise Pond (Not seen by all
143  Least Flycatcher  Cooks Slough
144  Black Phoebe  Concan–Sabinal River bridge
145  Eastern Phoebe  Towhee Church (heard singing)
146  Vermilion Flycatcher  TX-2690–southern portion
147  Ash-throated Flycatcher  Cooks Slough
148  Great Crested Flycatcher  Riverside Park, Victoria
149  Brown-crested Flycatcher  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
150  Great Kiskadee  Cooks Slough
151  Couch’s Kingbird  Cooks Slough
152  Western Kingbird  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane Ranch (private)
153  Eastern Kingbird  Packery Channel (flyover)
154  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  Cooks Slough (flyover)
155  Loggerhead Shrike  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane Ranch (private)
156  White-eyed Vireo  Cooks Slough
157  Bell’s Vireo  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
158  Black-capped Vireo  Concan–ridge to east (Not seen by all
159  Yellow-throated Vireo  Concan–Pecan Grove
160  Hutton’s Vireo  Concan–HUVI bend (singing)
161  Red-eyed Vireo  Concan–Cielito Ridge (singing)
162  Green Jay  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
163  Blue Jay  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
164  American Crow  north of Victoria (flew across road)
165  Chihuahuan Raven  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
166  Common Raven  Concan area
167  Horned Lark  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane field
168  Northern Rough-winged Swallow  Concan–Sabinal River bridge
169  Purple Martin  Cooks Slough
170  Bank Swallow  duck pond off Rt. 35
171  Barn Swallow  Cooks Slough
172  Cliff Swallow  Sabinal–bridge to north
173  Cave Swallow  TX-400
174  Carolina Chickadee  Riverside Park, Victoria (heard singing)
175  Black-crested Titmouse  Cooks Slough
176  Verdin  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
177  Cactus Wren  Cooks Slough
178  Rock Wren  Uvalde Quarry
179  Canyon Wren  Concan–Cielito Ridge (heard singing)
180  Carolina Wren  Cooks Slough
181  Bewick’s Wren  Cooks Slough
182  House Wren  Cooks Slough
183  Sedge Wren  Copano Bay Causeway SP
184  Marsh Wren  Dupont Wetlands
185  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  Cooks Slough
186  Black-tailed Gnatcatcher  TX-400–mp 1.7
187  Ruby-crowned Kinglet  Cooks Slough
188  Eastern Bluebird  Concan–Pecan Grove
189  Swainson’s Thrush  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
190  Hermit Thrush  Concan–ridge to east (giving mew call)
191  Wood Thrush  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
192  American Robin  San Antonio Botanical Gardens (on nest)
193  Gray Catbird  Blucher Park
194  Northern Mockingbird  Sabinal WTP (singing)
195  Brown Thrasher  Blucher Park (*late; continuing bird in park seen well)
196  Long-billed Thrasher  TX-127–wash west of TX-2690 (singing at night)
197  Curve-billed Thrasher  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo (calling at dawn)
198  European Starling  Cooks Slough
199  Sprague’s Pipit  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
200  Cedar Waxwing  Concan–Cielito Ridge (flock seen)
201  Tennessee Warbler  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
202  Orange-crowned Warbler  Cooks Slough
203  Nashville Warbler  Cooks Slough
204  Northern Parula  Riverside Park, Victoria (singing)
205  Yellow Warbler  Packery Channel (male)
206  Chestnut-sided Warbler  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
207  Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  Cooks Slough
207  Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  Cooks Slough
208  Golden-cheeked Warbler  Concan–Cielito Ridge
209  Black-throated Green Warbler  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
210  Yellow-throated Warbler  Towhee Church
211  Blackpoll Warbler  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond (female)
212  Black-and-white Warbler  Towhee Church
213  American Redstart  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond (yellow start)
214  Ovenbird  Blucher Park (Not seen by all
215  Northern Waterthrush  Blucher Park
216  Common Yellowthroat  Port Aransas–Paradise Pond
217  Hooded Warbler  Blucher Park (female)
218  Wilson’s Warbler  Cooks Slough
219  Yellow-breasted Chat  Cooks Slough
220  Olive Sparrow  Cooks Slough
221  Spotted Towhee  Towhee Church (female feeding along edge of fence)
222  Rufous-crowned Sparrow  Concan–ridge to east
223  Canyon Towhee  Concan–ridge to east (MJI, BLS, AF, TCL only)
224  Cassin’s Sparrow  Cooks Slough
225  Chipping Sparrow  Cooks Slough
226  Clay-colored Sparrow  Cooks Slough
227  Field Sparrow  Concan–Pecan Grove
228  Vesper Sparrow  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
229  Lark Sparrow  Cooks Slough
230  Black-throated Sparrow  TX-400–mp 1.7
231  Savannah Sparrow  Sabinal WTP
232  Grasshopper Sparrow  TX-400–mp 1.1
233  Le Conte’s Sparrow  Copano Bay Causeway SP
234  Seaside Sparrow  Mustang Island mangroves (heard singing)
235  Lincoln’s Sparrow  Cooks Slough
236  Swamp Sparrow  Hans Suter (Not seen by all
237  White-crowned Sparrow (Eastern)  Cooks Slough
238  Summer Tanager  Concan–ridge to east
239  Northern Cardinal  San Antonio Botanical Gardens (calling at night)
240  Pyrrhuloxia  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane (south)
241  Blue Grosbeak  Cooks Slough
242  Lazuli Bunting  Neal’s Lodge–Cattle Guard feeders (CLW only; female)
243  Indigo Bunting  Blucher Park
244  Painted Bunting  Cooks Slough
245  Dickcissel  Cooks Slough
246  Red-winged Blackbird  Cooks Slough
247  Eastern Meadowlark  TX-2690–mp 5.8
248  Yellow-headed Blackbird  Uvalde–Dunbar Lane Ranch (private)
249  Brewer’s Blackbird  Sabinal Feedlot (female)
250  Common Grackle  Tyler Rd.–mp 1.5
251  Boat-tailed Grackle  TX-1289 ricefield (Calhoun Co.)
252  Great-tailed Grackle  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
253  Bronzed Cowbird  Sabinal Feedlot
254  Brown-headed Cowbird  Cooks Slough
255  Orchard Oriole  Tyler Rd.–mp 0.5
256  Hooded Oriole  TX-400–mp 1.7 (female)
257  Bullock’s Oriole  Cooks Slough
258  Audubon’s Oriole  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
259  Baltimore Oriole  Blucher Park
260  Scott’s Oriole  Concan–Cielito Ridge (female and male)
261  House Finch  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo
262  Pine Siskin  Neal’s Lodge–Cattle Guard feeders (calling flyover)
263  Lesser Goldfinch  Neal’s Lodge–Cattle Guard feeders
264  House Sparrow  Uvalde–4th and Cenizo



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