Going from a bird feeder to the World Series may seem like a stretch, but it happened to Deb Smith, who led four students in spotting robins, rock doves, and golden-winged warblers in the World Series of Birding in New Jersey over the weekend.
"I had a bird feeder outside my classroom window," says the middle school life science teacher in Ballston Lake, N.Y. Bird watching has been a passion since.
Smith's team - along with 70 others - combed the state for feathered friends on Saturday's 20th annual World Series of Birding, hosted by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The society aims to raise awareness of the importance of New Jersey's habitat - a stopover for hundreds of species of migrating birds. The World Series has since become the largest bird-watching competition in the US.
The teams are divided into adult, student, and senior categories. The sightings - or hearings - must be witnessed by all members and recorded on a checklist. From midnight to midnight, teams zoom from marshland to seashore with binoculars and field guides, on the lookout for any of the 314 species.
Each team in the World Series takes pledges and donates money to support the conservation organization of its choice.
To date, the event has raised $8 million for projects across the country, according to Sheila Lego, the Audubon Society's marketing director. "It does so much good, and there is a real sense of camaraderie," Ms. Lego says.
Tom Reed, captain of this year's winning team, the Sharpies, from Cape May, N.J., spotted 166 species of birds. To prepare for the event, Mr. Reed and his teammates listened to CDs of birdcalls, read guides, and went on practice expeditions.
Reed has participated in the competition since 2000 and says there isn't another event like it for birders. "There are not that many events that capture the greatness of the spring migration," he says. "It's great to be involved and to spend time outside."
Twenty years ago, the New Jersey Audubon Society never expected the World Series to gain the momentum it has. "We are thrilled," Lego says, "to see all these teams participating and all this money raised for good causes."