MA Birders' Big Day Almost (But Not Quite) Hits Jackpot: 200 Species in 24 Hours

May 28, 2014

Blackpoll Warbler
Credit Vern Laux

The Memorial Day Weekend just past was fabulous despite the weather forecasters being wrong about the weather for the entire weekend. The Cape and Islands had OK weather, throngs of people were everywhere and the familiar traffic patterns of summer reasserted itself for a short while. As always the birding was hard to beat and the last push of migrant landbirds arrived on the morning of May 25th as well as good numbers of shorebirds. Spectacular numbers of birds were seen at North Monomoy and off of Chatham all weekend long.

One group of intrepid, also known as crazy, birders ran a Big Day around Massachusetts on May 24 beginning at midnight in the Berkshires then proceeding around the state with stops in the Berkshires, the Springfield area, Plum Island, Newburyport, Rowley, Cape Ann, Manchester by the Sea, Revere, south thru Boston to Plymouth and then onto the Outer Cape and back to Plymouth covering some 600 miles in the state within 24 hours attempting to see and hear as many species as possible from midnight to midnight.

The running of and participating in a Big Day requires a large commitment of time, money and effort. The more planning the better but as always happens “birds have wings and they use them” so that even though they were there the day before, the birds can be gone on the Big Day. Sadly, this happened with many species of lingering waterfowl that picked the day or evening before to leave where they had been,  ruining the best made plans.

At any rate, despite a brilliant plan of execution and staying with the program, many of the birds did not cooperate. The grand total of birds heard and seen during the 24 hours within the state of Massachusetts ended when the clock struck midnight on June 26. The group of 4 managed to find 195 species of birds which broke the old Massachusetts record by a whopping 2 species. Trying to get 200 species in 24 hours here has been a struggle, close but no cigar.

The group was hoping to break the 200 species barrier, a milestone as yet unreached but Big Day participants continue to inch closer and closer. For Birders it is analogous to attempts to break the Speed of Sound until Chuck Yeager rocketed his way through it. This barrier has not yet been broken in any New England state but remains tantalizing close. Certainly it is possible and I predict the barrier will fall next year with the core group that went this year which is a younger group of hardcore birders who can take this brutal exercise in sleep deprivation. Plus you have to really want it. These gung-ho, tech savvy, organized young men seem to have the “Right Stuff” as Tom Wolfe would have written and some year in the not too distant future will break the 200 species barrier.

The route will get tweaked, advance scouting will get better and the 200 species barrier in 24 hours will fall. It is not easy and this was the first serious attempt to go after the record in 3 years. Certainly it will not be the last. The weather and traffic are all important to this endeavor. Having a window of opportunity, waiting for good conditions near the end of May is also important. Some Big Day everything will align and the total will shatter 200 species perhaps getting to 210.