Earth Day? In Texas, it's for the birds

A A A

Team Sapsucker sped away in a minivan moments after midnight on Earth Day, ears perked and binoculars in hand, in a race to identify a US record number of bird species in a 24-hour period.

Within minutes the experts with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had several birds in metaphoric hand - a yellow-crowned night heron, a mallard, a barred owl - but plenty more in the bush as they participated in the "Big Day" quest.

The annual challenge raises badly needed funds for research and conservation of America's bird species, many of which are in deep trouble.

What makes this year's event special? It falls by chance on April 22, which is Earth Day, the global celebration of the environment. Suddenly, the Cornell Lab is in the spotlight as part of humanity's broader efforts to do good for flora and fauna, and raise awareness about saving the planet.

Each year the lab chooses a location for its competition and, after assessing migration patterns and weather conditions, determines the day in April when conditions are best for bird-watching.

This year, for the first time, it's in South Texas, and the fact the Big Day coincides with Earth Day gives their challenge greater exposure - and an increased likelihood of meeting their goal of raising $250,000 for the lab in Ithaca, New York.

"There are lots of birds in really serious trouble," said Team Sapsucker member Marshall Iliff.

Migrating bird numbers are declining because of habitat loss, acid rain and climate change, and Iliff says the public needs to know.

By 12:19 am the team members near the San Antonio zoo had six birds on the books, they told followers in a Twitter message. The night looked promising as they sought to break the national record of 261 unique sightings in a single day.

The more species the group identifies, the higher the public pledge of support. The lab suggested a minimum pledge of $0.25 to $1 per species.

Iliff and the other group members - Tim Lenz, Jessie Barry, Andrew Farnsworth, Brian Sullivan and captain Chris Wood - know most of the birds by heart, and rarely have to check ornithology charts or birdwatching guides to confirm their sightings or hearings in the middle of the night.

In past years, bird watching marathons have taken place most often in the East Coast state of New Jersey, but this year marked the first in Texas, the sprawling southern state that borders Mexico.

"Thanks to a huge flood of migration that takes place in April from Mexico, Texas has an especially promising number of birds to see," Iliff said, explaining why they chose the Lone Star State.

Yet shortly after 1:00 am, a sightings slow-down was clearly ruffling the group's feathers.

They tweet via @Team_eBird: "Pauraque easily becomes bird seven just before 1am - at this rate 168 will put us 93 short of the record :-(."

Earlier, at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Iliff heard the red-feathered male calling. He also saw a blue jay and a mockingbird.

Once they finish at midnight on April 23, the group will compile its list of birds encountered along the way, hoping to spur the public into giving more than a tweet about regions of the ecosystem that are home to some of the country's most beautiful birds.

"When a bill comes up to save some forest somewhere, people are more likely to say 'Yes, that would be a good thing,'" Iliff said.

"People want to know that area is protected even if they have never been there. We have to be invested to care about it."

Team Sapsucker is invested for these 24 straight hours. The members will refuse sleep and live on the run, energizing with coffee and fast food as they race against the clock to find more species.

Their spirits were revived in a daybreak tweet: "We have scored with the Blue Jay, Green Jay, Audubon's Oriole trifecta. Yes!"

The team will wind up their challenge in Corpus Christi, a coastal city where they had hoped for rain to keep the birds in place a bit longer.

But South Texas did not oblige, and the ornithologists were welcomed with the usual blazing sun.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee