The Anchorage Big Day Wrap-up!
another Audubon Cutthroat Competition!!
TEN teams squared off to see who could find the most avian species in the 24 hours between 5:00 PM on Friday and 5:00 PM on Saturday. Strategies varied widely. Some teams headed for Girdwood at 4:00 PM on Friday so the hour of driving wouldn’t eat into their legal birding time. Others headed for Girdwood before sunrise on Saturday for the same reason.
Some teams looked for owls around town, and some spent the night prowling from Girdwood to Portage listening intently every quarter mile. The Twisted Listers said, “We’ll never try to owl in Portage again—it was a complete waste of time.” But then there was Arlene and Daria who said, “Yeah, we found a Great Horned Owl just sitting by the Portage Road in the middle of the afternoon.” You just never know what you’re going to find.A total of 44 species were found by the groups, and the winning team chalked up 36. This means that the winners only saw 82% of the daily total for all the teams. It also means that the winning team missed nearly one out of five of the species seen. Skill is required to win, but you can never discount the luck of the draw—you HAVE to be in the right place at the right time.
The Dumpster Duck was driving past the Weigh Station on the Glenn Highway when a Gray Jay flew across the road only feet from his windshield at 55 mph. That was one of only three Gray Jays seen during the entire day. Several teams ventured up Arctic Valley Road and none saw a ptarmigan.
Ten species were seen by Every Team: Mallard, Bald Eagle, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, and unfortunately, European Starling.
Seven species were seen by Only One Team: Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Northern Shrike, Northwest Crow, Townsend’s Solitaire, White-crowned Sparrow, and Hoary Redpoll.
The search for the Northwestern Crow was a Herculean Task. The birds are almost always visible at the Girdwood gas station, but every team combed the area and came up blank. Most teams made numerous passes around the station looking and listening. Recordings were played, but there were no results. Teams birded the rest of Girdwood and returned to the gas station, but there was nothing. Late in the day, the Dumpster Duck tried one more pass and heard the squawk in a tree. Never underestimate the power of birding near a donut shop.
Almost all teams saw a species that no one else saw, or that only one other team saw. “The right place at the right time” is always the rule of the day.Early in the afternoon, all Hell broke loose. The winning team was looking at a feeder in front of a Girdwood Hostel when Thede yelled, “There’s a HOUSE FINCH!” The car emptied and there was the bird. This was not only an Anchorage world record, but it was maybe only the 8th time the bird has been seen in Alaska. All other previous sightings were in the Southeast part of the state.
The bird went from feeding on the ground to singing high in the cottonwoods. Minutes later, a second team arrived to check out the hostel feeder. They later said, “We knew something big was happening. A car was parked blocking the whole road, all the doors were left open, and nobody was near the car. It was a giant sign that birdwatchers had found something great.”
Now there was an ethical dilemma—Do you alert other birders that a world record bird had been found, or do you wait until the competition is over so you assure yourselves of being the only team to see a potentially prize-winning bird? The team opted for the sportsmanlike approached, but did change their team name in mid-competition to “The Atticus Finches.”
At this point, birders dropped everything because of the Finch. Several teams had already birded Girdwood, but turned around to drive 45 miles back because of the sighting.
In addition to the House Finch, three teams were on site at sunrise where a Hawfinch has been seen on the Hillside for almost 3 weeks. This native to Eurasia was the second bird of the Big Day count that is not even on the Anchorage list because it is so rare.
The final tally showed The Atticus Finches in first place with 36 species. In a tie for second place at 29 were the Dumpster Duck and Sonya & Cole. Fourth place was also a tie at 27 between Pat & Eric and The Twisted Listers.
Special recognition for “Most Improved” team goes to Daria & Arlene who tripled their count from last year. Their last year’s performance, however, will remain hard to beat for years because they sighted not only an Anchorage near-record Eurasian Collared Dove but also a WOLVERINE!
It was a crystal clear Spring Day that proved once again, “You have to be in the right place at the right time.” The cash prize of $1 per species would have netted each member of the Atticus Finches a whopping 50 cents per hour of birding. They donated the money back to the Anchorage Audubon Society where it will be used to help finance the Porta-Potties at next month’s Hawkwatch Weekend. It’ll be a great weekend, and hopefully, this donation will be enough to supply two-ply paper in the Rent-A-Cans.