April 17, 2018
Six Saint Vincent College students of associate professor of biology
and ornithologist Dr. James Kellam
will be competing at New Jersey Audubon’s 35th
annual World Series of Birding
in Cape May, New Jersey, on May 12.
“I started recruiting students for this event last fall, and we started meeting in earnest in January to study birds and quiz ourselves on bird songs and calls,” Kellam commented. “Bird identification is a lifelong skill so these students will also benefit from the many weeks of planning and working together as a team.”
Last year there were 52 adult teams that participated in the event, about four of which were affiliated with a college or university including Cornell. “The Bearcat Bird Nerds team identified 96 species in 2017, our first year of competition. We came in last in our division, which consisted of teams focused exclusively on Cape May County. Saint Vincent does not have a big birding culture and we can’t practice identifying seabirds, so this year’s team probably won’t improve much from last year. However, I have five freshmen on the team, and if they join the team again next year, we’ll be much more experienced and competitive!” Kellam observed.
The World Series of Birding is organized and hosted by New Jersey Audubon, an independent membership-supported organization. The event is endorsed by the American Birding Association, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and sponsored by numerous environmental, conservation-minded businesses and individuals.
Teams of three or more people compete with one another to find the most bird species they can identify in one 24-hour period. Teams count as many bird species as they can identify by sight or sound within the state of New Jersey. Each species seen or heard counts as one. Teams will be able to submit their sightings using an app for iPhone and Android throughout the day and then submit their final list from their phones. Via the app, various species will be flagged for time and location and the rules for rarities will apply and may be submitted via the app.
How many birds will be seen? Totals vary according to weather conditions, cold fronts, the experience and skill of the teams, the complexity of the route, the amount of scouting and luck (good and bad). In the past, competing team totals have ranged from 48 to 229 with an average of 165 species. The total cumulative number of species tallied by all teams in a given year ranges from a low of 245 to a high of 270. The cumulative total since 1984 is 330 species.
The Saint Vincent group plans to depart from Latrobe on Wednesday afternoon, May 9, do some scouting of good birding locations on Thursday and Friday mornings, May 10 and 11, and then participate in the competition on Saturday. They plan to join all of the other teams for brunch on Sunday morning before heading back to Latrobe. They will travel together in a 12-passenger van. Kellam plans to tweet updates throughout the weekend using the college’s Twitter account, @StVincentHawk.
Student participants include Jared Ackerman of North Huntingdon, a freshman bioinformatics major; Alyssa Baker of Thurmont (Maryland), a freshman (major undeclared); Rachel Dudek of Spring Grove, a freshman biology major; Michael Kardos of Vandergrift, a freshman biology major; Devon Long of Virginia Beach (Virginia), a freshman physics major; Rachael Sarnowski, a sophomore biology major; and Anthony Schaefer, of Severna Park (Maryland), a junior environmental science major.
The team completed a trial run on April 14. They met at 5 a.m. on campus, drove to a location north of campus, scouted out the habitat there for about 2.5 hours (finding 36 species, including a couple Eastern Meadowlarks, a Savannah Sparrow, a Pileated Woodpecker and a Black-throated Green Warbler, which is unusual to see this early in the season. They then travelled a short distance to Moraine State Park where they observed an additional 28 species (for a day’s total of 64). Their best finds at Moraine were Caspian Terns, Ruddy Duck, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Barred Owl and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. They returned to campus after dinner, a little sunburned and very tired, but also energized for the upcoming trip to Cape May.
The students’ participation is being funded by a special gift from James Wilson, a 1972 graduate of Saint Vincent College, who lives in eastern Maryland and has been active in the annual birding event. He suggested Saint Vincent participation to Kellam.
Kellam pursued his undergraduate study at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, earning a bachelor of arts degree in human ecology and continued to graduate school at Purdue University where he studied with two nationally-known ornithologists. He completed a Ph.D. in biological sciences and wrote a dissertation entitled, Downy Woodpecker pair bond maintenance in winter. He completed internships at the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center (now called the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) and at the University of California at Berkeley.
“No matter what the final tally, everyone wins and nobody loses and we’ve helped the environment,” Kellam concluded. “The best prize is the satisfaction of knowing that we have done something positive for the environment by supporting conservation.”
Photo: The Saint Vincent Bird Nerds include, from left, Michael Kardos, Jared Ackerman, Theresa Vanden Berk, Rachael Sarnowski, Alyssa Baker and Devon Long.
Follow us on Twitter: @MySaintVincent
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/saintvincentcollege