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Anti-Petrels pedal for the medal in the World Series of Birding

By Hugh Powell

Along with the Redheads, the Cornell Lab’s other team in next week’s World Series of Birding is the Anti-Petrels. They’re competing in the “Carbon Footprint Cup,” which means they do all of their traveling on the day of the event by bike. Last year they rode 101 miles to win their category with 150 species—but this is a growing category with lots of potential for improvement. We’re expecting a larger field and some fierce competition this year.

I say “we” because I’m on the team, along with All About Birds web developer (and team captain) France Dewaghe, and visitor center manager Charles Eldermire. Last year we entered on a lark—France is a World Series veteran, having twice won the Digital SLR photography category, but I had never been to Cape May before and am nowhere near the top echelon of birders.

But we soon realized that, competition or not, spending an entire day on a bicycle in one of the birdiest parts of the country at peak migration is a blast. We didn’t get any extraordinary sightings—couldn’t reach the Bar-tailed Godwit or even the Harlequin Ducks that car-powered teams scored—but we racked up most of the “normal” species, our list’s consistency aided by the slow and steady progress of our bikes across the landscape.

I’m sure there’s room for optimization in route strategy—one carbon-neutral team got 125 species last year without leaving Cape May, covering only 11 miles in total, and a team that’s good at night calls could really stretch the list. But whatever happens, bicycling is a refreshing change from most birding extravaganzas, most of which feature long hours inside a vehicle.

From Wednesday onward, we’ll be camping under the stately pines of Belleplain State Forest, pedaling slowly over the rough back roads and listening for Kentucky Warblers, revisiting the “can’t miss” Blue-winged Warbler that eluded us last year, eating one-pot spaghetti, and praying for sunny weather.

If you’d like to support the Anti-Petrels, you can donate to our cause. All funds go toward the important conservation work that’s being done at the Cornell Lab—and anyone who donates gets a commemorative Anti-Petrels sticker!

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library