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Redheads head for gold in the World Series of Birding

Images by Jay McGowan

It’s been two weeks since Team Sapsucker set the Big Day record in Texas—but that’s not quite the end of the 24-hour birding marathons. The World Series of Birding is next Saturday, May 14, in New Jersey, and in this post and the next we’ll introduce the two teams we’re sending: the Redheads, made up of students and past students; and the Anti-Petrels, our carbon-neutral team.

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The Redheads have been a team since 2007. Though their roster shifts over the years (as students graduate, move on, and new students arrive), their performance is steady. They’ve won the Cape May County division two years running, with 187 species in 2009 and 175 species in 2010.

Anchoring the team this year are captain Jay McGowan, who has been on the team every year, and Scott Haber, who was on the original 2007 Redheads team. McGowan and Haber are now staff members at the Cornell Lab, in the Macaulay Library and on our Merlin bird-identification-tool project, respectively.

New to the team are Hope Batcheller and Andy Johnson, both Cornell freshmen. With the original Redheads lineup now graduated (and many now enrolled in graduate schools from Louisiana to Illinois to Wyoming), we’re counting on Hope and Andy to kick-start a new generation of expert student-birders. Hope is from Petersburg, New York, and Andy hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They first came to Cornell two years ago as high school students attending our first Young Birders Event, and both have competed in past World Series on youth teams.

The Redheads will start their day at midnight, parked in the marshes and listening for rails, owls, and migrant songbirds passing overhead. From there they’ll crisscross Cape May County as they fill out their list.

One of the keys to a successful Big Day is careful scouting—many teams spend a full week canvassing their area, finding “can’t-miss” spots for needed species, then finding backup spots for them, and along the way finding the unexpected species that show up each year (like the Painted Bunting that’s reported to be at Cape May this week).

But the Redheads have final exams to contend with, so they only ever have a few days to do their scouting. That makes their performance on the day of the event that much more impressive. They’ll be arriving in Cape May on Tuesday and Wednesday.

If you want to be part of the Redheads’ big day, you can donate to their cause—all funds go to support student research projects here.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library