A Big Day for seeing and counting birds

At least 405 bird species have been verified in Georgia (not counting those that are extinct, like the passenger pigeon). Of those, 322 can be expected to appear in the state at least part of the year.

Some, like cardinals and bluebirds, live here year-round. Some, like warblers and tanagers, are here only during spring and summer. Some, like kinglets and cedar waxwings, are here during fall and winter. Some, like bobolinks and bank swallows, only stop briefly during spring and fall migrations.

Of all these species, how many could you see or hear if you took a non-stop, day-long birding expedition across the state in early May, hitting well-known bird hot spots along the way?

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Three Atlanta Audubon Society teams—each consisting of four expert birders—recently accepted that challenge as part of a fundraising effort. Audubon calls the marathon birding excursions Big Day events, in which birders try to tally as many species as possible during a day.

Participants can choose their starting times and routes for a Big Day.

The three Audubon teams were trying to beat Georgia’s Big Day record, 193 species, set in 2004. However, the highest tally, 166 species, among the three Big Day teams fell short of that.

Atlanta area birders Lindia DiSantis, Mary Kimberly, Joy Carter and Bob Johnson, who named their team “Egrets? I’ve Had a Few,” tallied 131 species.

They met at 3:30 a.m. at Kimberly’s home in Decatur, where they heard their first bird of the day, a great horned owl. They then sped north as far as Bartow County, where they tallied a barred owl, a whip-poor-will and several other nocturnal birds.

Around daybreak, they were heading back south. By late afternoon, they were on a Jekyll Island beach to count sandpipers, terns and other shorebirds. Total miles driven: 876. "It was a bit grueling, but fun; our team raised $4,000 for Audubon," said DiSantis, Atlanta Audubon president.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be last quarter on Thursday. Mercury and Venus are low in the east just before dawn. Mars is very low in the west at dusk. Jupiter is high in the east at dusk. Saturn rises out of the east around sunset and will appear near the moon tonight.