A team of LSU ornithologists identified more birds in a single day than anyone had before, setting the world “big day” record.
On Oct. 14, the bird-watching team identified 354 species in the mountains of northern Peru, breaking the record of 331 set in 1982 by late LSU ornithologist Ted Parker, who died in a plane crash in 1993.
“It’s something I’ve heard about and thought about, and for that reason it was super exciting to have a chance to break it,” said Michael Harvey, 29, a doctoral student at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and a member of the team. “To actually break it was a dream come true.”
The team consisted of doctoral students Harvey and Glenn Seeholzer, museum research associate Dan Lane and Peruvian ornithologist Fernando Angulo. They scouted locations in the mountains of Peru for two weeks before trying to break the 24-hour record. They decided on a region that rose from a lower elevation up 6,000 feet into a mountainous area. Different species lived in the higher elevations.
During the scouting period, the team stayed in inns, camped and were able to drive on many paved roads, an easier trip than the expeditions they often take to remote, under-explored areas of South America.
“Compared to normal expeditions, this was pretty cushy,” Harvey said.
Meant as a fundraiser for the LSU Museum of Natural Science’s research expeditions in under-explored tropical locations, much of the team’s trip was paid for by Peruvian sponsors. Supporters can still donate at the website, LSUBigDay.org.
They planned to try to break the record on Oct. 16, but because of a rainy weather forecast, they moved the attempt up to Oct. 14, allowing for make-up days if they failed.
On the 14th, weather cooperated, except for a hot, sunny period between 9 a.m. and noon, when fewer birds appeared. They drove their route on schedule, stopping at pre-scouted locations to look and listen for bird species, then on to the next spot. While they kept a running count, the team did not realize they had broken the record until sunset, when they totalled their lists and found they had 335, breaking the record by four.
“That was the moment when we were totally the most excited and jumping up and down,” Harvey said. They found a few more night birds like owls, and at the night’s end, the team tallied their official list at 354.
“We celebrated with a couple sips of whiskey and a long, long sleep,” Harvey said. “After being up for 24 hours, it really took two solid, good nights of sleep to recover.”
After announcing the new record on Faceboook, Twitter and some birding sites, the bird-watching community responded with excitement, Harvey said. But the new record probably won’t last for 32 years.
“There’s been a lot of noise in the birding community about people trying to break it,” Harvey said.