Another world record coming up?

Some time this week a team from the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology will attempt to beat the world record that they set last year of seeing the most North American bird species in a day.  Last year they set a record of 264 species in Texas and that’s where they are based now.

It’s not really putting it in any sort of context but I saw 283 species of birds in six weeks in the USA last spring crossing the continent from Atlantic to the Pacific – so I clearly didn’t have my eyes or ears open.

I met two of the team, Chris Wood and Jessie Barry when I visited Cornell in late May last year and was very pleased to see them both again at the Bird Fair last August. I wish them and their team-mates well.  And if you’d like to contribute to their fund-raising you can do so here.

I should think that there are many years when I have seen fewer than 264 species of birds but I’ve never been to Texas in April (or any other month) and so I’ve clearly not had the right opportunities.  One of the things that was brought home to me in the USA was the reliance I put on my ears to ‘spot’ birds.  About 40% of the birds I identify on my local patch of Stanwick Lakes are first recognised by sound and in the USA I felt severely handicapped by not knowing more than a handful of songs.  Maybe I should have spent lots of time listening to tapes before I set off – although I’m really not sure whether that would have worked.

I must admit that I’ve never been on a bird race and I quite fancy the idea although I am possibly more attracted these days to something called a bioblitz – have you heard of them?  Bioblitzes are 24-hour events in a location such as a park or nature reserve where expert scientists and members of the public like you and me get together and try to find and identify as many species of plant and animal as possible.  They are a mixture of fun and useful recording.

I’ve often wondered how many species of animal could be found in my garden through the whole year – maybe 30+ bird species and half a dozen butterflies (at least) and one bee-fly to start with but how many earthworms are under the lawn? and how many flies and spiders are there?  I wonder.

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9 Replies to “Another world record coming up?”

  1. Setting a great example re carbon emissions via a pointless excercise.

    Similarly, why do people from Cornell need to attend a Bird Fair in Rutland Water? Looking for large woodpeckers? The Bird Fair itself is now a festival of mass consumption and promotion of global travel via airplane. Not exactly the way things ought to be going.

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  2. Bioblitz here on 3rd June http://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Blackpool-Pond-Trail/134299693340980

    Even got a worm expert coming along to help!

    Everyone welcome

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  3. Yes, I'm with Steve on this. Bird Fair at least has a valuable funding-raising function, but I'm far from certain about the merits of such sport birding! Still, there are other far more pointless carbon emitting sports - such as Formula 1 racing for starters...

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  4. Jennifer Owen studied the wildlife in her garden in Leicester over a thirty year period and identified over 2600 species including just under 2000 species of insect. By her own account the garden was not particularly remarkable and the total was reached by dint of years of close study and recourse to a number of experts to help with identification of those taxa which she was not herself expert in. The results of her studies of her garden are recounted in two books Ecology of a garden: the first fifteen years and Wildlife of a Garden: a thirty year study. . Her bird list for the garden over the period came to 54 species.
    Not everyone has the tenacity or the expertise to run malaise traps and pit-fall traps systematically for year after year (although if you have the tenacity you will probably end up with the expertise!) but it is clear that with a bit of determination and a willingness to look at the invertebarates as well as the big stuff, an impressive number of species can be found in most gardens.

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  5. Mark (and others)

    Gardens can be a fantastic biodiversity resource; and in urban areas, perhaps the largest continuous and contiguous habitat for a wide range of fauna and flora. Jennifer Owens' study of her Leicestershire garden (as mentioned by Jonathan Wallace) is well known; she even captured a new species to science (a parasitic hymenopteran if memory serves me correctly; and offered English Nature (as was then) the opportunity to declare it a SSSI - they declined).

    But there has been a series of more recent studies in Sheffield (the Biodiversity in Urban Gardens (BUGS) Project - see http://www.bugs.group.shef.ac.uk/BUGS1/bugs1-index.html). The results, including scientific papers and newsletters are available here: http://www.bugs.group.shef.ac.uk/BUGS1/updates.html.

    It would be particularly interesting to host a bioblitz in gardens, say a particular street and including the nearest park if enough volunteers were around. This would be interesting as it would provide a snapshot of garden biodiversity at a given time; one of the reasons why Owens' study was so speciose was that it was carried out over many years (decades) and recorded one-offs and irregular visitors, i.e. probably those that were 'lost' or had blown in on the wind and could therefore not be considered as 'resident'.

    As for my specialist group (spiders - see http://srs.britishspiders.org.uk/portal.php/p/Yorkshire+Spiders for some information), they can prove to be a particularly interesting group to study and perhaps are an indication of a garden's health, being a predator group? In my garden, I have recorded just shy of 40 species (there are 658 species in the UK) but a friend of mine, based in Luton, Bedfordshire; and who has been recording spiders in his small garden and terraced house in a very urban area, has recorded 143 species (approx. 22 % of the British list) at the last count since the 1960s (see http://www.buglife.org.uk/News/newsarchive/newsarchive2010/The+most+spider-ific+street+in+Britain and http://www.luton-dunstable.co.uk/News/Luton-News/Luton-street-weaves-its-way-to-UK-record-for-spider-sightings.htm). As he says, why bother going out if they come to me?! This probably reflects spiders' ability to disperse (e.g. ballooning) as well as the genuine residents.

    And in Sheffield, a new species of harvestman to the UK was recorded in June 2010 (see http://srs.britishspiders.org.uk/resource/SRSNL68.pdf); so you never know what could be lurking amongst the shrubbery and petunias in your back garden!

    Best wishes

    Richard

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  6. Important points about carbon emissions and the glories of non avian wildlife.....but I have to concede that birds remain, for me, the thing above all things - and since I do hope doing fun, ridiculous and unecessary things is still occasionaly both possible and permissible, I'd love to be involved with something like Cornell's record attempt. I also wish them well, and hope they raise a lot of much needed cash for conservation whilst they're at it.

    I am also slightly biased by relatively frequent visits to America (visiting family - I try not to be too profligate with the carbon otherwise!) Mark, I've often attempted to latch onto songs in the US by recalling what old world species they sound like - try willow warbler for indigo bunting, or blackcap for warbling vireo. Might be asking for trouble but it works for those two at least!

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