ITHACA, N.Y. -- Five top birders on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Team Sapsucker completed a marathon 24-hour blitz through Texas on April 27, tallying 264 bird species seen or heard. That total equals the U.S. record the team set last year.
This "Big Day" effort is expected to bring in about $250,000 for bird conservation through donations and pledges in honor of the team's efforts.
"We started our Big Day at midnight with a Yellow-crowned Night Heron at Brackenridge City Park in San Antonio," team member Chris Wood said.
The next few hours unfolded according to the team's meticulous plan. At daybreak, the Sapsuckers were in Uvalde, an area rich in Mexican birds. Though an expected Ringed Kingfisher refused to show, the team did check off a Rufous-capped Warbler, one of very few records ever in the state.
"Then we made the fateful decision to go for a Chihuahuan Raven at the Uvalde City Dump," Marshall Iliff said. "We didn't find the bird but picked up a nail and got a flat tire. Kudos to Garza's Radiator Shop in Uvalde -- they got us up and running again!"
On the drive to Houston, Andrew Farnsworth was watching for high-flying hawks and kites.
"When we pulled over to confirm a flying formation of Franklin's Gulls, my next ID call was 'Fire ants!' We were standing right on top of an ant nest and some of us got bitten. But we got the bird!" Farnsworth said.
The Sapsuckers persevered through Houston traffic jams, dried-up rice fields normally teeming with birds, and evening winds that kept the birds quiet and aloof. The team checked off the final bird of the day, a Purple Gallinule, at just four minutes before the midnight deadline.
The Sapsuckers are already thinking about trying to top the record again. As Farnsworth said, "We'll definitely be coming back to Texas again next year."
Thanks to sponsorship by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, LLC, all donations go directly to advance bird conservation. Those who wish to support conservation can still make a donation at www.birds.cornell.edu/BigDayGift