Bird watchers to compete in World Series of Birding competition on Saturday
On one Saturday in May every year since 1984, New Jersey has become the center of the bird-watching world, with thousands of birders coming to the Garden State.
News 12 New Jersey’s Brian Donohue visited Johnson Park in Piscataway to join Patrick Belardo and his father Joe Belardo as they prepared for the Audubon’s World Series of Birding competition.
“It’s the greatest sport in the world. It truly is,” says Joe. “I do all kinds of sports and things like that. But birding is No. 1.”
The Belardos came to the park as a warmup ahead of the competition.
“It’s my favorite day of the year,” says Patrick. “Next to, of course, Christmas and my wife’s birthday.”
At midnight on May 8, teams with names like the Bearcat Bird Nerds, and the Beasts of Birdin will begin crisscrossing New Jersey from the Highlands to Cape May to see who can spot the most species of birds in 24 hours. It is arguably the biggest birding event in the United States, if not the world.
COVID-19 travel restrictions changed things last year giving birders the option to compete in other states along the Atlantic flyway - the migration route which New Jersey sit smack in the middle of.
Patrick Belardo and his team the Middlesex Merlins will be competing in a category in which teams scour only their home county. With a smaller playing field, preparation becomes even more important. Getting out in the days before the competition can let them know what species are hanging out where and give them a boost when the competition starts.
“To know where there’s a nest for one could be helpfully tomorrow,” Patrick says.
The four-member team has been doing this for about 10 years. But they have not won just yet.
“Hopefully this will be the year we can win,” says Patrick.
In past years, they've spotted more than 150 species just in Middlesex. Teams competing statewide have spotted as high as 229. Those numbers underscore why this is held in New Jersey to begin with. The huge variety of habitats all crammed into one little state in the middle of a major bird thoroughfare.
Over the past 30 plus years, the World Series of Birding has raised over $10 million for conservation efforts.