Local family competes in World Series of Birding

When the Dunn family of South Williamsport began planning their weekend excursion to Cape May, N.J., and the World Series of Birding, nothing could dampen their enthusiasm – not even the torrential rains and blustery winds that ended up accompanying them on May 11.

“There was beautiful weather on Friday and beautiful weather on Sunday, but on Saturday – the day of the event – there were waterfalls of rain followed by gusting winds and then it would break. It was just over and over again. It hailed, even,” Jim Dunn said a few days after he, his wife Kellie and their son, Sean, returned.

The World Series of Birding was created in 1984 by the New Jersey Audubon Society, which challenged birders to criss-cross the state for 24 hours and try to identify as many species as they could by sight or sound.

At least 100 teams participated this year.

“The really competitive teams have drivers and maps and go scouting. They start at 12:01 a.m. and end at 11:59 p.m. It’s like a military operation,” Dunn said.

His family’s take was much more subdued. Instead of putting on the miles in a vehicle, they biked or walked to different sites.

“It was pretty interesting. We saw 10 more (species) than I expected to see,” Dunn said. “I think we’re going to double that number next year.”

The series isn’t just about recording the kinds of birds one sees. There’s a fundraising aspect, too.

“They raise money for charities,” he said. “Ours is for Keep It Wild, a land conservation group. Rock Run is the most notable project they’ve been working to preserve.”

The Dunns asked people to sponsor them.

“We’re asking for 25 cents per bird species that we see,” Dunn said.

That’s a donation of $12.50 for Keep It Wild.

“The fundraising isn’t as important as the awareness,” he said. “Land conservation is a big thing right now. We’re here for Rock Run.”

Avian surprises

Initially, Dunn expected his family would be able to identify about 40 species, a far cry from the top teams, which he said likely would record at least 180.

“But, we’ll be having some fun, spreading awareness for birding,” he said. “It’s great to just get out in nature and stimulate your mind.”

The family has been to Cape May before but never to participate in the series.

“A lot of species we saw in the fall weren’t there,” Dunn said. “We saw 15 types of ducks in the fall, but this time we only saw three.

“We also saw some things we didn’t expect to see. We saw a glossy ibis, a little blue heron – that’s one of our favorites – and a couple of blue grosbeak,” he added.

Family activity

Jim and Kellie began focusing on birding when their son, Sean, was little. They put bird feeders outside and bought him a field guide. Before long, Sean “knew every bird in that book. It was kind of … pretty impressive,” Jim said.

Sean, now 12, can mimic the sounds of some birds, such as the mourning dove and the screech owl.

One of his favorite birds is the American kestrel.

“It’s very bright and colorful,” Sean said, “and we have them here in our neighborhood.”

The family strolls on the Susquehanna RiverWalk, which Jim said is “an incredible place to see birds … peregrine falcons, loons, warblers, cormorants, eagles. We’re always out looking for something.”

Early in their marriage, Jim and Kellie traveled around the country. Of all the places they’d been, the Dunns decided to settle in Lycoming County.

“It’s beautiful here,” Jim said. “We don’t have to go anywhere. All this wilderness is right here at our doorstep, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

The family likes a variety of outdoor activities and holds memberships to several organizations related to the environment and nature, including the county chapter of the Audubon Society.

Return trip

Jim anticipates returning to the World Series of Birding next year, and for as many years as he is able. “It was quite the adventure,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s thinking of working with the local schools to create a youth birding club. Perhaps, he said, the city known for the Little League World Series could send a youth team to the World Series of Birding.