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Open Mic: Tackling the World Big Day Record, Part 2

The following is an update from Louisiana State University Big Day team members on their progress in scouting for their Peru Big Day, an attempt to break the world big day record while raising support for research on Neotropical birds. The ABA is excited to offer them a platform for promoting their attempt. For more information about LSU and the big day, see the article in the most recent issue of Birding or visit their website (lsubigday.org).

Yes, we know that the actual Big Day took place earlier this week, but if you have yet to hear how they did, you’ll hear very soon right here. And if you already know, you might be excited to hear a recap anyway

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We just completed scouting for our Peru Big Day, and are resting this afternoon in preparation for our first attempt at the world big  day record tomorrow (Oct 14th). If all goes well, we will send an update soon with our results! As mentioned in the previous ABA blog post, our route involves birding both the mountains of Abra Patricia and the lowland habitats of the Mayo Valley. After scouting the Mayo Valley last week, we have concentrated the past five days on scouting in the mountains.

Whereas the Mayo Valley lowland habitats occur in discrete patches, the habitats in the mountains of Abra Patricia change gradually with increasing elevation. Each elevation band between the valley floor at 900 m (3,000 ft) and the pass at 2,300 m (7,600 ft) holds a unique combination of bird species. The key to efficiently birding this area on the big day will be to spend time at different elevations that have minimal overlap in bird species in order to maximize the total number of species observed. Over the course of the past four days, we have worked the length of the road from the pass to the foothills of Afluente and think we have figured out the best spots to visit on the big day. Plus, the birding has been spectacular!

The big day team practices some calisthenics. In the background the mountains of Abra Patricia slope down into the Mayo Valley lowlands.

The big day team practices some calisthenics. In the background the
mountains of Abra Patricia slope down into the Mayo Valley lowlands.

The big day starts at midnight, and we will first look for night birds around Pomacochas Lake and also in the mountains at Abra  Patricia. Scouting for night birds has been successful, and the highlight has certainly been incredible looks at the bizarre  Long-whiskered Owlet.

This tiny owl with long face plumes stunned the ornithological community when it was described by LSU researchers in 1977, and it is
still very poorly known. We were excited to find a new territory with at least two birds, possibly an adult and juvenile, during  scouting.

The Long-whiskered Owlet is a bizarre, tiny owl with long face plumes that was discovered by LSU researchers led by John O´Neill in 1976.

The Long-whiskered Owlet is a bizarre, tiny owl with long face plumes
that was discovered by LSU researchers led by John O´Neill in 1976.

Once daylight hits during the big day, we will start working our way downhill. At the pass itself is the owlet lodge run by ECOAN (a partner of the American Bird Conservancy). This is where we will be at dawn, and the caretakers have graciously offered to fill the hummingbird feeders before first light to help us add those species to our list. Next, we will walk the top stretch of the road down from the pass. This area yielded Chestnut Antpitta, Mountain Cacique, Plushcap, and some good flocks during scouting. We will then drive through a steep-walled gorge while watching the river below for Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers. The gorge opens out onto a plateau covered in peculiar mossy, stunted forest around Fundo Alto Nieva. This habitat holds three species first described in the 1970´s by John Fitzpatrick (now director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, then at the Field Museum): Royal Sunangel, Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant, and Bar-winged Wood-Wren. From here, we will race down to the next elevational band around 1,600 meters, where we hope to get lucky with mixed-species flocks that might include the bizarre little ovenbird called Equatorial Graytail and groups of gaudy Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks at fruiting trees. We will then check in on our stakeout Black-mandibled Toucans and Lanceolated Monklets before finally heading out into the Mayo Valley, hopefully right at 11:30 am.

Taking stock, we feel we have both the morning route at Abra Patricia and the afternoon route in the Mayo Valley pretty well scouted.  We have a carefully planned schedule including a time allotted for each stop. Right now, Glenn and Fernando are out checking the rice fields to determine where the shorebirds are currently. The final pieces that need to come together are the weather and, of course, the birds! We will attempt the big day tomorrow (the 14th), but it is possible torrential downpours or other bad weather will force us to call it off. In such a case, we have set aside a few more days for a second attempt. Hopefully, though, the 14th will be perfect and we will be able to finish on our first attempt!

Rain is frequent in the mountains, and sometimes scouting has to be delayed for the heaviest showers to let up.

Rain is frequent in the mountains, and sometimes scouting has to be
delayed for the heaviest showers to let up.

Visit our website (lsubigday.org) to guess and donate and to find out more about the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science´s research in the Neotropics. Thanks for your support!

The LSU Big Day team (Dan Lane, Glenn Seeholzer, Fernando Angulo, and Mike Harvey)

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]