The past year was an historic one for birding in Vermont. From January 1 to December 31, 2011, hundreds of birders scoured fields and fens, mountains and meadows, lakes and lawns to discover as many species as possible during a single calendar year. The Vermont 2011 County Birding Quest pitted county versus county, birder against birder — all engaged in a friendly rivalry for top honors of the highest species count. The main idea behind the year-long Quest was simply to get people out birding, promote camaraderie, and better document bird life across the state, using Vermont eBird. With nearly 18,000 eBird checklists submitted and over a half-million birds tallied, there is no doubt it was a huge success!
On January 22 the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, North Branch Nature Center and the Montshire Museum of Science co-sponsored a unique gathering of Green Mountain birders to celebrate the 2011 Quest’s accomplishments and share tall tales. Birders of all ages, skill sets, and levels of obsession convened from around the state to learn which of Vermont’s 14 counties claimed top honors statewide, which individual birders tallied the most species, and who submitted the most eBird checklists. Although this “competition” was entirely friendly, it ignited the competitive fire among many birders. Most importantly, it amassed a remarkable amount of information on Vermont’s birdlife and sparked a surge in birding. Several first state records were discovered, including Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Slaty-backed Gull, and Marbled Godwit.
Final results were based on a carefully calculated “par” system, realizing that not all Vermont counties are created equal in terms of avian diversity. Par scores reflect the number of species that a given county should find in a year with consistent birding effort. Although Addison and Chittenden took top 2011 honors in absolute numbers of species tallied, with 250 and 245, respectively, Windham and Windsor counties shared the 2011 Quest Cup, with pars of +31, and respective species totals of 230 and 213. Many birders ventured outside their home counties, and the statewide leaders in total species observed were Jim Mead (257), Ian Worley (239), and Craig Provost (237). Ian Worley submitted a remarkable 1,144 eBird checklists, while Jim Mead (858) and Sue Elliott (836) took home very respectable silver and bronze in this category.
The January 22 gathering at Montshire Museum featured the unveiling of these and other impressive statistics, as well as presentation of the County Quest Cup and awards to individual county winners. Birders who identified 150 species or more in a county will also be inducted into the prestigious (and brand new) “150 Club“. Mainly, however, the event showcased an historic and extraordinary effort to catalogue the birdlife of Vermont, led by a cadre of dedicated and spirited people. The conservation benefits of this ongoing friendly rivalry, now well underway for 2012, will increase with each passing year.
The County Cup
Presented to the county with the highest number of species found under the par system mentioned above. The winner will keep and display the cup until the next winner is announced after the following year.
County Species List
Awarded to the county with the highest raw total of species found.
County Checklist Award
Given to the county that submits the most checklists to Vermont eBird in a calendar year.
The Vermont eBird 150 Club
Awarded to each Vermont eBirder that has 150 or more bird species in a county reported to Vermont eBird in a single calendar year. Finish one or go for all 14 counties!
County Bird Champs
Given to the birder with the highest species count for each county. No par or weighting necessary for this one! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology presented each winner with a 1-year subscription to the Birds of North America Online, internet access to in-depth life history information for over 700 species of birds that regularly nest in the United States and Canada. In addition to text, photographs and videos of the species of interest, there are also recordings of selected vocalizations from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library.
County Checklist Champs
Awarded to the birder with the most eBird checklists for each county.
State Bird Champ
The individual with the highest number of species found in the state during the year.
State Checklists Champ
Awarded to the birder that enters the most eBird checklists in the state.
Birds & Beans Coffee Spring Arrival Awards
Vermont County Quest sponsor, Birds & Beans coffee, provided a free bag of coffee to the birder in each county who first spotted each of Birds & Beans’ iconic birds this spring. For each of Vermont’s 14 counties, the birder who initially reported on Vermont eBird the local arrival of Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Baltimore Oriole received a corresponding 12-oz bag of Smithsonian independently certified Bird Friendly® coffee.