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Around the Lab

On to Texas

article spread
by Pat Leonard

The mighty Sapsuckers, the Cornell Lab’s official big-day birding team, are taking on their greatest challenge to date—heading to Texas in a glorious attempt to smash the U.S. record for the most species of birds identified in a single 24-hour period. The big-day record now stands at 261 species, set by the Nikon/Birding America team in Texas in 2009.

The Sapsuckers will be going to Texas soon to spend a few days scouting and taking practice runs before launching their attempt to break the big-day record sometime between April 15 and 25, depending on which day during that time frame has the most favorable conditions for high bird numbers.

“We’re excited to be going to Texas,” says team captain and eBird project leader Chris Wood. “We’ll be challenged to find different birds and map out a new route. We can’t wait to make a run at the national record, showcase this fantastic birding state, and raise money for our bird conservation projects.”

Unlike the World Series of Birding in New Jersey, this record attempt is not a head-to-head competition with other teams on the same day. The Cornell Lab’s student team, the Redheads, will be returning to New Jersey on May 14, to defend their championship in the Cape May County division. They will continue an unbroken string of appearances by Cornell Lab teams at the World Series of Birding since it began more than 25 years ago. Our teams have raised more than $2.7 million over the history of the World Series competition.

Right now, route planning is job number one for the Texas-bound Sapsuckers. “We’ll start at midnight in the hill country west of San Antonio,” says team member Jessie Barry. “Choosing the best time to try for the record will mean picking a day when the weather cooperates and migration is at its peak. If that happens, I think we could get 265 species or more.”

Though the route will be new, most members of Team Sapsucker have experience running big days in Texas and are getting additional insights from long-time birding friends in the state. Meticulous route planning includes engaging in serious logistical discussions about food—a visit to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard appears to be a must during the scouting week. Marshall Iliff is already fiddling with spreadsheets to keep track of species found and yet-to-be-found as the big day progresses. Brian Sullivan’s skills at identifying raptors from a moving vehicle and waterbirds far out at sea will be put to the test. And Andrew Farnsworth’s expertise in migration will help guide the team’s decision about when to launch the Sapsuckers’ big day.

There’s no finish line at the conclusion of this big day and no fancy trophy. What the team will get if (and when) they set the new national big-day record is the thrill of a major accomplishment—and bragging rights to a new record. Most importantly, the Sapsuckers are hoping that the national-record attempt and the excitement of birding in a new state will stir an equal amount of enthusiasm and support for bird conservation. Those who wish to support the team may pledge a certain amount for each species identified on the big day in Texas. To follow both Lab teams as they prepare for their big-day challenges and to make a pledge online visit www.birds.cornell.edu/bigday and help make this big day the biggest and best ever for the birds and conservation.

Living Bird Magazine

Winter 2011

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More About Big Day

Find out more about the 2011 Big Day in Texas and pledge your support to Team Sapsucker.