LATROBE, Pennsylvania – For the third consecutive year, a contingent of Saint Vincent College students will take part in the World Series of Birding in Cape May, New Jersey, on Saturday, May 11.
Now entering its 36th year, the World Series of Birding is the largest birding competition in the United States. Starting at midnight on May 11, participants will be given 24 hours to locate and identify as many different species of birds as possible.
After sending four people to the 2017 World Series of Birding and eight to last season’s competition, Saint Vincent will be represented by 13 at this year’s event. Led by Dr. Jim Kellam, associate professor of biology, the Saint Vincent students will be divided into two teams, the Saint Vincent Bearcat Bird Nerds and the Saint Vincent Wimmer’s Whimbrels.
“There are different divisions of competition,” Kellam explained. “Some teams consist of middle school students, some are adults, some teams compete in a single county of New Jersey and some teams travel the entire state of New Jersey to find birds. The two Saint Vincent teams will spend our day only within Cape May County.”
Members of the Bird Nerds include Kellam; sophomore Alyssa Baker, a biology major from Thurmont, Maryland; Rachel Dudek, a sophomore environmental science major from Spring Grove; Nicolena Girvin, a junior biology major from Fayette City; Theresa Vanden Berk, a junior biology major from Latrobe; and Emily Young, a junior biochemistry major from Frederick, Maryland.
Comprising Wimmer’s Whimbrels are Jared Ackerman, sophomore biology major from North Huntingdon; Maggie Hines, a sophomore biology major from Pittsburgh (15236); Michael Kardos sophomore biology major from Vandergrift; Joseph LaForest, a freshman public policy analysis major from Shaker Heights, Ohio; Irina Rusanova, a sophomore English major from Germantown, Maryland; Rachael Sarnowski, a sophomore biology major from Bridgeville; and Jym Walters, women’s lacrosse coach and assistant director of campus life and student recreation.
This will mark the third trip to the World Series of Birding for Kellam and the second for Baker, Dudek, Ackerman, Kardos and Sarnowski. Girvin, Vanden Berk, Young, LaForest, Rusanova, Hines and Walters will all be making their first trips to the event.
“There are several reasons people compete,” said Kellam. “First, there is scientific value in the data we are collecting. The event is held at the same time in the same place each year, so biologists can use the presence/absence data for each bird species to determine whether the species are becoming rarer or more common over time and whether the migratory behavior has changed over time.
“Secondly,” he continued, “each team is required to raise funds for a conservation organization of its choice. There are many teams from New Jersey, and they often support the New Jersey chapter of the Audubon Society. For teams like ours, who are from outside of New Jersey, we choose organizations closer to home. This year’s fundraising effort will support Powdermill Avian Research Center. We have already received pledges exceeding $400 toward the new bird-banding lab facility that is in the works there.”
While the scientific and philanthropic aspects of the World Series of Birding are certainly notable, Kellam emphasized another big purpose and benefit of the event.
“It promotes the hobby of birdwatching,” said Kellam. “There are scout groups, school groups and college students who participate on teams. There are amateurs of every age, and there will be professional ornithologists, too. Birdwatching is a lifelong hobby that promotes environmental awareness, outdoorsmanship and friendship.”
Over the duration of the semester, Kellam has held regular meetings and practice sessions for his students in preparation for the New Jersey event.
“My teams met with me once a week to practice bird identification through pictures and sound files,” he recounted. “We have a list of 200 species that we need to be familiar with and each week I select between 10 and 15 to concentrate on. We use computer software to build our skills, while I also led weekly bird walks on campus to give team members practice in the field.”
This preparation also included a pair of practice runs at Moraine State Park on March 30 and April 13. Beginning at 6:30 a.m., the students spent upward of 12 hours actively birding, and their results were fruitful.
“The two trips were nearly identical in several respects,” Kellam said. “They were the same length of time, we traveled the same distance over the course of the day and found nearly the same number of bird species. However, the make-up of the species was different because the two-week difference in the dates led us to catching different migrants. For example, on March 30, we had nine species of waterfowl that we did not find on April 13. Meanwhile, on April 13, we spotted a number of species that had not been passing through on March 30. All combined, we found 68 species over the two trips.”
Since its inception in 1984, a total of 330 different species have been spotted at the World Series of Birding, with an average of 165 per team each year. Organized by the New Jersey Audubon, the event has raised more than $9 million for bird conservation and other environmental causes over the past 35 years.
For more information and to place a donation to Powdermill on behalf of the Saint Vincent participants, contact Kellam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO: Front (left to right): Emily Young, Rachel Dudek, Michael Kardos, Alyssa Baker, Irina Rusanova. Middle (left to right): Nicolina Girvin, Jared Ackerman, Theresa Vanden Berk, Joseph LaForest, Rachael Sarnowski, Maggie Hines. Back (left to right): Jym Walters, Dr. Jim Kellam.
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