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The Redheads: Student Birding Teams Place High in 2016 World Series of Birding

the Redheads 2016
The Redheads: (from left to right) Logan Kahle, Gates Dupont, Omyia Damaj, Lauren Flesher (co-captain), David Weber (co-captain), Liam Berigan, Andrew Dreelin (co-captain), Sarah Dzielski, Nathaniel Hernandez (captain), Sarah Toner, Tiffany Wu (scouting partner), Alex Wiebe, Menachem Goldstein (scouting partner), Reid Rumelt (co-captain)


2016 Results: Redheads teams placed 1st (Cape May County), 3rd (Cape Island), and 3rd (Big Stay) in their respective categories.

Recap of the day: After a night sprinkled with the calls of migrating songbirds, the sun rose in Cape May on one of the biggest migrant pushes of the season. Blackpoll Warblers were the stars—males were dripping from the trees—but Bay-breasted and Canada were among the many other species stopping over on their way north. A Chuck-will’s-widow chanted for the Big Stay team for 6 straight hours, to be replaced later by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that perched above the platform. The Cape Island team found a Red-throated Loon during a seawatch and the Cape May County team pulled in a Gull-billed Tern while scanning the waters off Stone Harbor. Severe thunderstorms dampened clothing but not spirits in the late afternoon—the Big Stay team vacated their observation platform as lightning approached. Upon their return, they found a Bonaparte’s Gull had dropped in for a visit. Serendipity—part of the magic of a Big Day and of birding in general—had struck again.

Pre-event scouting report (May 11): On the same day that the world goes birding for Global Big Day and Team Sapsucker aims for the Colorado state Big Day record, 14 Cornell students will be brandishing their binoculars in New Jersey at the 33rd World Series of Birding.

They’re members of the Redheads, the Cornell Lab’s student birding teams, competing in three separate divisions of the World Series. But besides seeing as many birds as possible, their main object is to raise money to support undergraduate research here at the Cornell Lab.

The Redheads may be a young team, but the members already have years or decades of birding experience behind them. Here’s a rundown of the members of each team and the areas they’re competing in:

Cape May County

Cape Island Redhead team: Lauren Flesher (co-captain), Gates Dupont, Logan Kahle, and Reid Rumelt (co-captain). Kentucky Warbler by Ryan Schain via Birdshare.
Cape May County Redheads team: Alex Wiebe, David Weber (co-captain), Andrew Dreelin (co-captain), Menachem Goldstein (scouting partner), and Sarah Toner. Their most wanted bird is Kentucky Warbler. Team photo by Andy Johnson; warbler photo by Ryan Schain via Birdshare.

The Cape May County team will be scouring all of Cape May County, New Jersey, and are up against some of the best birders in the country (and even former Redheads alumni!). Andrew and David have competed with the Redheads in past years. Alex and Sarah are freshmen—but Alex has participated in the World Series even before coming to Cornell, and Sarah has birded competitively in Texas. These four Big Day fanatics will be scouting every last patch in the county to find birds for the day, from shorebirds at Nummy Island to warblers at Higbee Dike.

Last year, with thick fog and high winds keeping totals low across the board, the Redheads placed third in this division with 148 species. This year they’ll hope for better weather and more birds, including their “most wanted species”: Kentucky Warbler. It’s a scarce breeder in the county that they’ll have to very carefully monitor throughout the scouting period to make sure it’s singing for them when they come through!

Cape Island

Cape Island Redhead Team: Lauren Flesher (co-captain), Gates Dupont, Logan Kahle, and Reid Rumelt (co-captain). Roseate Tern by annmpacheco via Birdshare.
Cape Island Redheads team: Lauren Flesher (co-captain), Gates Dupont, Logan Kahle, and Reid Rumelt (co-captain). Their most wanted bird is Roseate Tern. Team photo by Andy Johnson; tern photo by annmpacheco via Birdshare.

The Cape Island team will be competing in the southern extreme of Cape May County. Lauren and Reid both competed in last year’s Big Stay, while Gates and Logan are new to the World Series (but not Big Days!). While the Cape Island contest area doesn’t allow them to explore the diverse northern reaches of the county, they’ll be right in the heart of the migration spectacle throughout the day.

This is the first year the Redheads have entered the Cape Island division, so they’ll have some work to do optimizing their route plans for the day. Their biggest challenge will be reading the weather and conditions correctly to find difficult migrants like Roseate Tern (their most wanted bird), which they hope to pick up on their dawn seawatch.

Big Stay

Big Sit Redheads team: Omyia Damaj, Nathaniel Hernandez (captain), Liam Berigan, Tiffany Wu (scouting partner), and Sarah Dzielski. Parasitic Jaeger by Glenn Bartley via Birdshare.
Big Stay Redhead Members: Omyia Damaj, Nathaniel Hernandez (captain), Liam Berigan, Tiffany Wu (scouting partner), and Sarah Dzielski. Their most wanted bird is Parasitic Jaeger. Team photo by Andy Johnson; jaeger photo by Glenn Bartley via Birdshare.

A “Big Stay” is a fun—and very challenging—variation of the Big Day concept. Instead of racing from one habitat to another to build a list, Big Stay competitors are restricted to a single location. They spend all day (and much of the night) at a chosen spot, straining their ears and eyes to pick up fleeting silhouettes and faint chip notes.

The Redheads Big Stay team will spend their day on the hawkwatch platform at Cape May Point State Park. The team is composed of veterans Nathaniel Hernandez and Sarah Dzielski, plus enthusiastic newcomers Liam Berigan, Omyia Damaj, and Tiffany Wu. This legendary platform situated right at the southern tip of the cape provides a window into a wide variety of habitats and migratory species.

Although the Stay team won’t have to scout as many species, they have their own set of challenges: once a bird is gone, there’s no chasing after it! Their most wanted species is Parasitic Jaeger, an uncommon pelagic species that can sometimes be seen from the cape as they chase gulls and terns to steal their food. Last year the Redheads won the Big Stay division with 71 species.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library