Twenty-four hours, 619 miles, and a lot of coffee add up to 159 bird species. That’s the final tally for the incredible number of bird species seen during the NC State Birding Big Day by graduate student Paul Taillie, undergraduate students Sam Jolly and Lucas Bobay, and faculty member Chris Moorman, all from the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology (FWCB) Program at NC State University. The day started at 12:01 AM on May 6th, with the team taking over the College of Natural Resources instagram account (@NCStateCNR) and the FWCB Facebook page and posting updates throughout the 24-hour period (if you missed it, check out #NCStateBirdingBigDay). The day got off to a great start with 53 bird species, including 3 owls and a Cape May Warbler, detected at the NC State Hill Forest, site of Forestry and Wildlife Program Summer Camps. The students never had been to Hill Forest and were skeptical of Dr. Moorman’s claims of its potential, even jokingly naming it “Magic Mountain”. But as the morning went on, the students conceded that the property’s new unofficial moniker was appropriate. Being a little bit ahead of schedule, the team was then able to pick up a few key birds at Schenck Forest (Blackpoll Warbler and Yellow Warbler) and at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Lab (Bobolink and Grasshopper Sparrow).
The weather conditions during the day were not ideal; light drizzle at dawn and high winds on the coast contributed to some expected bird species being missed, notably Yellow-billed Cuckoo and American Coot. Yet, the team picked up some unexpected species, including a lingering Redhead duck in a drainage ditch, two Red-necked Phalaropes at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and a Parasitic Jaeger seen offshore from Coquina Beach. Moorman summed up his feelings, “The three students are unbelievable birders and I learned from them during the day. It was a bucket list experience for me and one I’ll never forget.
The places we visited and the birds we saw highlight the incredible biological diversity of North Carolina.” At 11:59 PM, the final number was 159, which was well below the extraordinary North Carolina Big Day record of 184 reported by a 5-person team in 1987. The 2017 tally is posted on the American Birding Association website as the modern record for birds seen in a single day in North Carolina, but the NC State team looks forward to using the lessons learned from this year’s effort to help top their own mark in 2018 or maybe even match the mythical number from three decades ago.