Thursday, February 7, 2013

Superbowl of Birding

Instead of a helmet, Greg Keller, associate professor of conservation biology, and four of his students grabbed their binoculars to compete in the tenth annual "Superbowl of Birding" last week. This year's birdwatching competition took place at the Joppa Flats Education Center during New England's arctic season and invited participants to spot as many species as possible in the course of a 12-hour day. Though his students said Keller could have easily taken first place in the competition if he had brought a more advanced crew, their professor invited a sophomore marine biologist, a junior mammalogist, and a senior environmental philosopher--all with limited birding knowledge--because he wanted to give them a new opportunity.


Though the temperature was frigid, Dr. Keller's enthusiasm kept the students engaged. "One moment you're sure that the abusive cold has sapped all motivation from you, and the next you've forgotten the freezing temperatures because Dr. Keller is darting to the scope, having caught a glimpse of a Western Eider hidden in the rough ocean," shared Sam Mason '15.

The competition included various categories. As a group, the Gordon team identified the most life birds (birds that a participant is seeing for the first time), with a total of 106 new species. Mason, a biology major from Maine, won the Lifer Award at the competition recording 38 new species that he had never seen before.

Dr. Keller's knowledge about birds is evident. "There was one point in the day when he identified half a dozen species by their song during a two-minute walk through the paths of Halibut Point," said Mason. "While he obviously wanted the Gordon team to do well, he was never in such a hurry that there wasn't time to explain why what we just saw was a Bonaparte's Gull and not Herring Gull. He struck a balance between making our efforts worthwhile and ensuring we were enjoying ourselves while learning something."

Looking back on the day, Mason added, "I think what makes Dr. Keller's off-campus field trips so unique is his evident love for sharing his interests with his students." 

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