Day 55: 24 Hours of Birding

Noah does a Big Day in northern Peru.

February 24, 2015, Tarapoto, Peru — Gunnar hatched a crazy idea a few days ago: What if we watched birds for 24 straight hours? Would we survive? How many species could we find?

The thought was intriguing enough that today Gunnar, Carlos, Glenn, Julio and I decided to try it. At midnight this morning, we were standing in the cloud forest near Abra Patricia, calling for a Long-whiskered Owlet (the same one that Glenn and I had seen just a couple of hours before). It finally called back at 12:18 a.m., and went down as bird #1 on our 24-hour list.

We’ve been getting up early and staying up late anyway, so a big day wasn’t too much of a stretch. A team of ornithologists from Louisiana State University did a serious big day in this same area a few months ago and set a world record by finding 354 species of birds in 24 hours, so it seemed like a good opportunity to see a lot of birds in a hurry (I only have seven days in northern Peru, where birdwatchers usually spend two weeks, so I have to pack ‘em in!). We didn’t have much chance of beating that record today, given our lack of preparation (the LSU team spent two weeks scouting the route before their big day) and my unfamiliarity with Peruvian bird sounds, but it was fun to think we were following a world-record birding itinerary.

Progress was slow during the wee hours. With Carlos’ help we spotlighted a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar at 1:20 a.m., then heard a White-throated Screech-Owl and a Rufous-banded Owl at Abra Patricia around 3:30 a.m. At 5:10 a.m. we had amazing spotlight views of a Cinnamon Screech-Owl near Huembo (where I saw the Marvelous Spatuletail yesterday). Finally, when dawn broke, birds began waking up and our daily list started to grow quickly.

Gunnar had typed up an hour-by-hour daily schedule to keep us on target, and we spent the first few hours of the morning literally sprinting around various birding spots, calling out IDs by sight and sound. We drove up to a lake, ran to the end of a boardwalk, scanned the water, and sprinted back to the car, while some locals watched with confused expressions. 

As the day wore on, though, so did we; and it became clear that our species total wouldn’t exactly break records. We fell behind schedule, then ditched it entirely. The day gradually slowed until, by afternoon, we were birding at a more normal pace and taking naps between stops. What started as a big day ended as a long one. Hard rain in the evening dampened further owling after dinner, and, when Gunnar, Glenn and I crouched by a guardrail at 9:30 p.m., huddling under umbrellas while trucks hurdled past, we were able to spotlight a couple of Oilbirds for day bird #182 (and my 1300th bird in 2015). So, it wasn’t a 350-bird day, but it was still the biggest day I’ve had so far this year, and an interesting adventure!

New birds today: 42

Year list: 1300

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