YMOS: World Series of Birding 2019

On May 11, 2019, 22 Maryland youth competed in the World Series of Birding in Cape May, NJ, winning every youth division. The High School Division YMOS Marsh Gigglers won their division with an amazing 209 species found in 24 hours, topping the 2nd place team by 48 species. Their score was also the top score of the day, adult teams included.

The Middle School YMOS Scope Owls won their division with 155 species found in their 3 AM – 10 PM time frame, actually getting all their species without even leaving Cape May County. The Elementary Division was a runaway for the YMOS Peakakapo Kites as they found 105 species in their 5 AM – 8 PM time frame. Team captain Nara’s essay on their experience is found below.

YMOS had 2 teams competing in the Carbon Free Division (using only pedal and foot power), and they tied for 1st with 135 species found, a new WSB record for that division. Their efforts would not have been possible with the efforts of parents, drivers, and coaches and without the generous donations of many MOS members who supported the group in the March Birdathon.

The World Series of Birding 2019: The Peakakapo Kites

By Nara, Harford County, Age 10

How We Discovered the WSB:

On a birding trip Mr. George (our mentor) talked to my parents about the World Series of Birding. It sounded really cool and my brother and I decided to form an elementary school team. Before we knew it we had a team with me, Nara (10) as the captain, Alina (10) as the co-captain, my brother Tyme (7), Annie (6), and Rodney the Bear (an honorary member-he’s a stuffed bear, what he says and does is made by another team member). Our team was called the PeaKakapo Kites as a combination of a Peacock, a Kakapo, and a Snail Kite. It was a combination of beauty, rarity, and adaptability respectively. We set a goal for 100 species and before we knew it, scouting day was approaching.

 Scouting Day, May 10th:

On scouting day, we woke up at 4 am, and we were out of the motel rooms at 4:30 am. As we stepped out, I heard this conversation going on.

“I want cheeseburgers!” exclaimed Rodney and he chased Alina and Annie around the car.

“AHHHH!!! We don’t have any cheeseburgers, Rodney!” replied Alina.

I decided that I had to stop Rodney from chasing Alina and Annie.

“Rodney, STOP!!!” I bellowed.

Rodney looked at me and stopped.

“You will get cheeseburgers later,” I explained to Rodney.

Rodney sadly replied “Okay”

With that we got into the car and started to drive.

We started to bird at around 5 am. We started at a marsh. We heard and saw waterfowl and marsh songbirds. As we were driving to the next location, which was the Seawatch, we heard Alina cry out something.

“Chicken, big Chicken on the side!!” cried Alina.

“That’s too big to be a Chicken,” replied Annie, suddenly curious about what the mysterious creature was.

My brother looked back and said, “I think it is a Turkey in the middle of the road.”

I looked and pointed out “I agree.”

We all agreed it was a Turkey which became one of our first birds we found that day. At the Seawatch, we didn’t see many migrating shorebirds and we decided to go down into the sand. We played run away from the waves, just like the Sanderlings. That was one of our favorite games to play when we were near the water as a team.

We came to a field called the Beanery and we entered a pond and discovered a sad fact.

“You just missed a Barred Owl,” said one of the adults.

“Really!?” I replied back.

He showed me a picture, and we were sad we missed it. Even though we missed the Barred Owl, we still had some great finds like the Prothonotary Warbler and a couple of hawks and raptors flying overhead.

At a long stretch of road surrounded by woods called the Belleplain St. Forest, we found and heard a bunch of songbirds. We stuck our heads out of the sunroof and listened for loud and soft bird calls over the roar of the engine.

“I don’t hear any birds,” complained Annie.

“Shh, if you stay quiet, we can hear the birds,” I told Annie.

My dad stopped the engine at a spot where there seemed to be many birds and we could finally hear their calls.

That was really worth it because we found 20+ songbird species on that stretch of road alone.

One of our last stops was the Wildwood Wawa where we found Yellow-crowned Night Herons nesting in birch trees just across the street. We saw them in their nests and took a quick break to eat and use the bathroom.

Scouting day was a success! Now we know where most of the birds are and we got about 75 species of birds. That might sound bad compared to our goal of 100, but migration was bad on scouting day.

We went to the house where the high school teams slept and had a pizza party. It wasn’t a very long one though as we had to go to sleep at 8 pm so we could wake up early for the big day.

The Big Day, May 11th:

After going to sleep very early, we woke up at 3 am when it was still pitch-black outside. We were all so sleepy even Rodney couldn’t ask for cheeseburgers. We could only hear snoozes from him. That’s a first.

We started birding at 4 am in Pond Creek Marsh. A ½ mile hike through swampy ground stood between us and the birds awakening with the morning sun. We chose to face it and tread through the mucky ground. We heard many birds and met with another YMOS team, one of the high school carbon free teams which were biking. Their mentor was Dr. Bell and we decided to cheer him on because he was behind the high school kids.

“Go Doctor Bell! Go Doctor Bell!” We all shouted at the same time.

We found Chuck-will’s-widow, Yellow-Breasted Chat, Eastern Kingbird, and the Field Sparrow just to name a few.

We went to the Seawatch again and found many more species such as the Merlin, a Northern Gannet, many gulls and terns, a lot of migrating shorebirds and some songbirds.

Suddenly we heard Annie scream “DONUTS!”

Everybody turned and suddenly we were distracted from birding. We ate our fair share of donuts and shared them with the other teams. We saw the YMOS middle school team and both carbon free cycling high school teams.

“Can we go down and play in the sand again?” Tyme asked Mr. George.

“We shouldn’t play in the beach because there is a lot of scientific research happening, and we shouldn’t disturb them,” replied Mr. George.

“Awwwww! Will we get to play Sanderling at another beach?” inquired Alina.

“Yes, we will,” reassured Mr. George.

At the Beanery, we went into the same pond and discovered that a Barred Owl had just come through again. What bad luck we had. After that sad note, a Mute Swan came swimming in, and we got to see one close up!

“That made up for not seeing the Barred Owl yesterday and today,” I said.

“It sure did,” replied Tyme.

By early morning, we had about 75 species! That day was a great day for migration.

At Heislerville we found Plovers and other shorebirds condensed into groups. There were so many we couldn’t count them all; we could only count the species, which was good.

On the way to our next stop, we found a pond next to a car dealership and we thought there was a bird there.

“Is that an Egret right there?” shouted Tyme as he pointed at the pond.

We got out of the car and found that Tyme was right! We found a Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, and best of all, a Killdeer with babies!

At the Belleplain Forest headquarters, we found 3 water snakes in a lake beside the center.

“What is that in the water? Is that a snake?” asked Annie.

“I think it is, wait, there are 2 more!” exclaimed Mr. George.

“I wish we could add the water snakes to our bird list,” I added.

Nearing the end of the day, we went to a spot where you could see a Peregrine Falcon underneath a bridge. As we were looking for the Peregrine Falcon, a heron flew overhead. It was a Green Heron! After that, we were looking through our spotting scopes looking for the Peregrine Falcon. We found the Peregrine Falcon on one of the bridge supports. It was an amazing success at that stop.

While we were driving and were almost crossing the bridge to Nummy Island, we saw a game bird crossing the road. It was a Clapper Rail! It went halfway across the road and then retreated into the bushes because of an approaching car. Then, it went ¾ of the way across the road until it saw a predator! It tried to run but realized it couldn’t outrun the predator. It flew off. That is a very rare sight to see a Clapper Rail, much less see it fly.

At Stone Harbor Point, we found an amazing bird! We found a Purple Sandpiper and that was really rare. Because of that great find, we were able to play sanderling in the waves for a while.

At the Wawa’s we saw the nesting Yellow Crowned Night Herons, and we had some delicious ice cream!

As we were driving to our last stop, the marsh, we were thinking about how we didn’t find a Pigeon.

“It is so weird that we didn’t find a Pigeon yet,” I pondered.

Alina replied, “We are in the city right now; we should look for Pigeons near houses.”

“What is that,” shouted Tyme, “I think that is a Pigeon!”

Everybody craned their necks to look out the window and there it was! A Rock Pigeon sitting on a roof!

“YAY! We found one!” We all screamed.

There was a celebration in the car. I wondered if the people outside could hear us, and if so, what they could think of some kids inside a car shouting we found a Pigeon. I wondered about that thought for a little until I returned to celebrating.

Our last stop was the Meadows. As we were walking down the path, we saw a scary monster!

“Ahhhh, it is a scary monster that will eat my cheeseburgers! RUN!” shouted Rodney as he ran back to the safety of the car.

“It is okay Rodney; that is just Annie in Mr. George’s coat,” I said trying to calm down Rodney.

“It’s just me, Rodney” explained Annie trying to help.

We found some waterfowl there as Rodney cowered inside the car.

We saw Dr. Bell and his high school team.  “GO Dr. Bell, GO DR. Bell!” we chanted.

We saw some Swans and a mysterious duck-like creature.

“What is that duck-like creature?” I asked to my teammates.

“It looks like a Wigeon!” exclaimed Tyme.

“I agree,” said Alina. “Yes, I wish we could find one more bird.”

Suddenly a Chimney swift swooped overhead.

“Well, I guess your wish was granted,” exclaimed Tyme.

“You only have 2 minutes left,” said Mr. George.

“We can’t find any more species,” I replied.

“Are you sure, did you check the ducks over there?” suggested Mr. George.

We looked at the duck, and Alina shouted, “It’s not a Mallard!”

As the clocked ticked down to 1 minute left, we were closely inspecting the duck while the light continued to fade making it harder to identify the duck species. As the last bit of light continued to fade, we heard someone shout ……

“It’s a Gadwall!” Tyme was the one who said it.

I added it to our list just as 8 pm hit its mark.

We found 105 species! That was past our goal of 100!

“We found 105 species!” Annie told some WSB people as they were walking past.

The light got dimmer and dimmer as we walked out of the marsh and into the parking lot. We got into the car ecstatic at our accomplishment.

We were anxious as we walked into the finish line. We walked in all connected as a team. The WSB volunteers had trouble pronouncing our name.

“Welcome the Pea-kak-opo kites!” they said when it was supposed to be pea-kak-o-po kites. It was close enough; so, we were fine with it.

We looked at the score board and we found out that we had 60 more species than the other elementary school team! We won 1st place!

Something that mattered more than winning 1st place at that moment was the food! There was some actual food just a wall away from us. We went to grab some of it and used the bathroom.

We saw the middle school team there, and they only got about 50 more birds than us.

The carbon free high school teams came in and there was a big surprise for them. They were tied! Both carbon free teams had the same amount of species. The look on their faces was priceless.

After diner we headed back to the motel still happy about 105 species.

Awards Brunch, May 13th:

On Sunday, we could finally sleep in. We slept in until 8 am, and we were ready to get our trophy.

They let us eat a brunch before announcing the winners. Mr. George told me that I needed to make a speech about our team and our experiences. I had little bits in my head and then the Peakakapo Kites were called up to the stage. I made the first speech, and I think I did really well. Mr. George said that someone behind said that I would be the future president. Then the YMOS middle school team was called because they also won 1st place. Then both YMOS high school teams because both won 1st place. They actually started out as 1 big group and separated, and it was ironic that they got the same score. There was a group from Guadalupe that came, and we got to hear every team’s speeches.

Overall it was a great experience as a first time at WSB. Even though I wish we could celebrate more, I had to drive back here, to Maryland because there was another day of school ahead of me, on Monday. With a lot of makeup work from Friday (scouting day) I was still happy as we drove back.

What Birds Show Me:

Birds from the World Series of Birding taught me many important life lessons and why we should save them. Some of us know that there is a mass extinction going on right now and some scientists even call it the 6th extinction. One man, named Joel Sartore (a national geographic wildlife photographer) is out to save them. With what? You may ask. With Photos! He is creating the photo ark which documents the world’s animals. Why? Because he said “You won’t save what you don’t love” I think we should all make an action to save the birds because all birders love birds and we should have a strong desire to save them. He is very inspiring, and I think he is doing many great things to change the world. No matter how small a conservation effort it is, it will make a difference.

WSB also taught me many important life lessons. We were taught teamwork because we had to work together as a team to succeed, and we learned how important it is to communicate to your teammates. For example, if someone found a bird and they are trying to show other teammates where that bird is, they have to say which tree and where on the tree. Sometimes this may be difficult because he/she is so excited that they found that bird, however we learned how to communicate fairly well. One of the most important life lessons we were taught is that we should never take anything for granted. As I explained about the Rock Pigeon story earlier, we took the Rock Pigeon for granted, but when we saw one, we were so happy. Even something so insignificant like the Rock Pigeon can help you achieve your goals.  We would like to thank our drivers (my parents), our mentor Mr. George, and other parents for supporting us, buying us snacks, and teaching us many important life skills. The WSB experience wouldn’t have been possible without them.