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Open Mic: Tackling the World Big Day Record

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).

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We are halfway through two weeks of scouting in preparation for our attempt at setting a new World big day record just one week from now. Our route will take us through the hyper-diverse habitats of the Andes Mountains and Mayo Valley in northern Peru, and scouting is essential in order to determine the most efficient way possible to observe a cross-section of the 800-plus bird species in the region.

A view of Morro de Calzada, a mountain rising in the middle of the lower Mayo Valley, from the hill above Waqanki Lodge.

A view of Morro de Calzada, a mountain rising in the middle of the lower Mayo Valley, from the hill above Waqanki Lodge.

With such a large pool of species, the strategy for our Peru big day is a bit different from many big days in the United States and elsewhere. There is no chance we can see all of the species here because of the sheer number of species, the difficulty of birding in tropical forest, and the fact that many species are present at low densities. Unlike many big days in the United States, which target each possible species individually, in Peru we will focus on visiting as many distinct bird habitats as possible. As a result, scouting focuses on creating a route which takes us to the best possible patch of each type of habitat that can be birded quickly.

Big Day team members Seeholzer, Lane, and Angulo try to sneak a look at Rufous-capped Nunlets in the white sand forest of Aguas Verdes.

Big Day team members Seeholzer, Lane, and Angulo try to sneak a look at Rufous-capped Nunlets in the white sand forest of Aguas Verdes.

In the last week of scouting, we have been scouring the lowland habitats near the town of Moyobambo in the Rio Mayo river valley. We’ve found that the best rice field habitat is north of the town of Rioja, where flocks of northern migrant shorebirds like Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson’s Phalaropes mix with Snail Kites, Limpkins, Paint-billed Crakes, and Wattled Jacanas. The best marshy areas are near a conservation area known as Santa Elena, and host Least Bitterns, Black-billed Seed-Finches, and Pale-eyed Blackbirds. Grasslands, home to Cinereous-breasted Spinetails and Wedge-tailed Grass-Finches, are best visited just west of Moyobamba. The best white sand forest, a scrubby habitat that is highly restricted in Peru, is next to a town at the base of the mountains called Aguas Verdes. Here, Zimmer’s Antbirds, Várzea Thrushes, and Burnished-buff Tanagers are found and feeders attracting Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail and hummingbirds. Some of the best forest is at Waqanki Lodge, where we have found recent arrivals from the North like Swainson’s Thrush and Cerulean Warbler alongside tropical species like Chestnut-throated Spinetail and Fiery-throated Fruiteater. All of these are close to our route, which follows the main East-West road in northern Peru. Unfortunately, the best oxbow lake, a key habitat for waterbirds like Sungrebe and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, is well out of the way and will necessitate a lengthy side-trip.

Overall, we are very happy with our scouting so far. We are confident we have found good sites in the May Valley that can be easily strung together into an efficient route for the afternoon portion of the big day. Plus, we have seen a huge diversity of amazing birds (over 300 species)! Many of the highlights of the past week were birds that were first discovered by Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science expeditions. It was a dream come true to see Ash-throated Antwren, whose scientific name (Herpsilochmus parkeri) pays homage to the late Ted Parker, famed Neotropical ornithologist and Louisiana State University researcher. Of course, Parker is also famous for setting the current world big day record (331 species) with Scott Robinson in 1982 in Peru. We have even seen some species that are still being described by LSU researchers (stay tuned for news on these)! The Mayo Valley certainly deserves a reputation as a world-class birding destination, and the spectacular mountain scenery and gorgeous climate are an extra bonus! In the next week, we will ascend to those mountains to scout the Abra Patricia area within the Alto Mayo Protected Area. We expect the scouting there to be equally productive!

An undescribed form of manakin, currently being investigated by LSU researchers, is one of the target species for the big day (although we probably can´t count it yet!).

An undescribed form of manakin, currently being investigated by LSU researchers, is one of the target species for the big day (although we probably can´t count it yet!).

If you haven’t yet, there’s still a week before the big day to donate and to guess the number of species we will find on the big day. The goal of the LSU Peru Big Day attempt is to raise awareness and support for research on Neotropical birds and to raise funds for ornithological research by Louisiana State University ornithology students. Visit lsubigday.org for details or to donate and stay tuned for more updates!

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]