Year 1, issue 1
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Welcome to the first edition of The Cup, the unofficial electronic
newsletter of the David Cup/McIlroy Award. You're probably asking yourself
why you're wasting your time reading a lengthy ASCII text file when you
could be out looking for Hawk Owls and Gyrfalcons in the nether reaches of
the Cayuga Lake Basin. Well, more than likely, you're at work (during your
lunch hour, of course) strapped to your desk with mountains of paper daring
you to attempt a summit climb. So it's either read this or eat your peanut
butter sandwich and begin your ascent.
You're also scrolling down (as opposed to simply hitting the "Delete" key)
because you want to know where you stand as a bird-loving contender in the
1996 David Cup/McIlroy race, and to do your part as a human being in the
world-wide (or at least Basin-wide) scheme of the birding community. We
hope in The Cup to capture the spirit of fun and friendly competition that
the David Cup/McIlroy Award embodies. We also hope to serve as a forum for
sharing information about birding in the Cayuga Lake Basin. To attain these
goals, we introduce here several columns that will appear regularly in The
Cup, including News, Cues, and Blues, Basin Bird Highlights, Pilgrims'
Progress, Kickin' Tail, Leader's List, Bird Brain of the Month, and Coach's
Corner. Other features will include Cup Quotes, Dear Tick, and the
bestowing of the monthly Pioneer Prize. Of course, we're always open to
suggestions (we're still considering running columns on the medicinal uses
of tree bark and on recent archaeological evidence for intergalactic
skeeball competitions as the cause for El Nino.)
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NEWS and CUES
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WELCOME TO THE DAVID CUP CLAN: Before we go any further, The Cup would like
to congratulate John Bower, Dan Scheiman, and Cullen Keaton Hanks for
hurling themselves face- first into the race for the David Cup. May the
birds be with you.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION: The Cup would like to extend special recognition to
our youngest David Cup/McIlroy participants. These individuals deserve
applause for taking up the challenge of relying on grown ups to drive them
around in search of birds. They are Jay McGowan (age 9), Casey Sutton (age
11), and, maybe, James Barry (20something).
T-SHIRT UPDATE: You T-shirt fanatics will be happy to hear that the
response to our query about David Cup T-shirts has been joyous, and it looks
as though we'll be forging ahead with plans to get some made up. Diane
Tessaglia, graphic artist extraordinaire and owner of Green Heron Graphics,
has seized the brass ring and volunteered to work on the design, with help
from the indefatigable Chris Hymes. We'll be meeting soon to decide upon
the design. Once a decision has been made, we'll make the design available
(somehow) for your perusal, so you can decide that, yes, you'd like to join
the millions who've already committed. To keep this cost-effective, we need
to know before we place the order how many to have made. The Cup's
development personnel is reporting that a one-color design on a solid
colored, 100% cotton (quality) T-shirt will likely be under $10. If you
haven't notified us yet of your interest in purchasing 1996 David
Cup/McIlroy T, please do. We need a minimum of 15 in order to make things
BIRD CUP BLUES: Several of our astute Cuppers caught bluesman Kenny Neal
at the Haunt on Wednesday, Valentine's Day. "It was almost as good as
seeing five species of gull in a single ice flow, bobbing and squawking off
Stewart Park," says blueshead Ken Rosenberg. He's relieved to have snagged
Golden-crowned BEFORE going to the show.
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No doubt many of you were so loyal to job, school, family, and televised
college basketball that you not only missed out on some spectacular January
birding but may in fact be clueless as to what was even out there. Fear
not, we've tapped bird trendmaster Steve Kelling to write a monthly Basin
Bird Highlights column recounting what was seen when and where. Now, though
a couch potato you may be, you'll be able to throw around a little birding
in-the-know at the water cooler at work.
:> :> :> :> :> :>
BASIN BIRD HIGHLIGHTS
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When reviewing the records that I have for the month of January, it strikes
me that the diversity of waterfowl seems a little above average. It was
nice to see the appearance of 2 or possibly 3 RED-NECKED GREBES in the
Central Cayuga Lake vicinity (Sheldrake and Long Point). The appearance of
a scattering of wintering MUTE SWANS this year is a new phenomenon, and
probably indicates that the breeding population in the Great Lakes is
increasing. With the great numbers of COMMON GOLDENEYE present, everyone
should keep a look out for the possible BARROW'S. Winter finches and other
northerly migrants seem to be in good numbers. EVENING GROSBEAKS and COMMON
REDPOLLS are in abundance. SNOW BUNTINGS and LAPLAND LONGSPURS were here in
early January, but most had left by mid-month, a pattern that has been
evident for the past 3 years. Watch for them on their return northward in
March. NORTHERN SHRIKES continue to be seen just about everywhere there's
good habitat for them. The BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS and the NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL
put on nice shows for people who were lucky enough to see them. The
first-winter ICELAND GULL, found by Kevin McGowan, has been relatively easy
to find along the southern portions of Cayuga Lake. Also notable is the lack
of significant numbers of raptors. The dozens of SHORT-EARED OWLS, NORTHERN
HARRIERS, ROUGH-LEGGED and RED-TAILED HAWKS that were in the King Ferry
region last year did not return. Interestingly, there were no SHORT-EARED
OWL reports for the month of January. It is my guess that rodent numbers
are down. Finally, few half-hardies have been reported, indicating the
severity of the snow pack early in the month and cold in the later part.
(Steve Kelling is the field notes editor for the Kingbird, Region 3. He
teaches Cornell undergraduates the mysteries of physics and makes a mean
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< PILGRIMS' PROGRESS
It's February. The first month's totals for the First Annual David
Cup/McIlroy race are in. The results read like a range map for
Black-throated Blue Warbler--widely distributed with some clumping near the
upper regions of the range. This, we think, is a reflection of personal
birding styles. Much like in the New York Marathon, there are those who
sprint out ahead, leaping over small streams, scurrying up towering
embankments, breaking new ground. Then there are others who prefer a more
rhythmic, steady pace in order to avoid mid-marathon cramping and other
obstacles that could thwart even the most stalwart effort. Finally, there
are those who start slow, giving the impression that perhaps they're a tad
out of shape when before you know it, they've crept past those who'd seemed
destined for glory. In other words, we've got some impressive totals so
far, but they're for January--the David Cup/McIlroy races are still
Now, a few of you didn't turn in David Cup totals for January. Many more of
you--obviously, as seen below, most of you--didn't turn in totals for the
McIlroy race. As expected we heard all kinds of outrageous excuses: "My dog
ate it." "It got frozen in the ice at Stewart Park." "I used it to start a
fire when I got lost in Lettie Cook Forest." Someone even thought we'd be
foolish enough to believe him when he shrugged, "I forgot." Fortunately, we
know the real reason is because you were all too darned busy birding to add
up both your David Cup AND McIlroy lists. Perhaps they'll surface, like a
coot with a billful of water-logged vegetation, for the next issue.
Meanwhile, here's what we have...
1996 DAVID CUP JANUARY TOTALS
76 Tom Nix
69 Steve Kelling
67 Karl David
65 Scott Mardis
64 Bard Prentiss
61 Chris Hymes
61 Jeff Wells
59 Ken Rosenberg
51 Allison Wells
47 Martha Fischer
47 Pixie Senesac
45 Meena Haribal
43 James Barry
42 Kevin McGowan
39 Michael Runge
38 Matt Medler
37 Ralph Paonessa
36 Jim Lowe
35 Rob Scott
32 Bill Evans
31 Kurt Fox
30 Jay McGowan
17 Casey Sutton
14 David Haskell
4 Diane Tessaglia
1996 McILROY AWARD TOTALS
44 Jeff Wells
31 Jim Lowe
28 Michael Runge
28 Allison Wells
25 Rob Scott
17 Casey Sutton
LEADER'S LIST LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL
Here are the many, many, many birds Tom challenged the cold to see. Given
his impressive list, we'd say HE won.
Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Tundra Swan,
Mute Swan, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, American Black Duck,
Mallard, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead,
Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead,
Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Bald Eagle,
Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk,
Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, American
Coot, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove,
Mourning Dove, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl,
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern
Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish
Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch,
White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet,
Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Bohemian Waxwing, Cedar Waxwing,
European Starling, Northern Shrike, Northern Cardinal, American Tree
Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Lapland Longspur, Snow
Bunting, House Finch, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch,
Evening Grosbeak, House Sparrow.
! KICKIN' TAIL! !
What better way to claim your 15 minutes of fame than by being featured in
an interview exclusively for The Cup? KICKIN' TAIL brings well-deserved
honor and recognition to the Cupper who has glassed, scoped, scanned,
driven, climbed, dug, pinched, and otherwise made his/her way to the top of
the David Cup list. This month's leader, Tom Nix, will reign eternal as the
first-ever monthly leader in the history of the David Cup. For that, may you
savor every word...
THE CUP: Congratulations, Tom, on being the January leader. Were you
actually trying to out-bird the rest of us, was it your goal to have the
fullest David Cup by the end of January?
NIX: No, I wasn't trying to "out-bird" anybody. It's just that lots of the
"regulars" were working on their tans down in the tropics, so (no offense,
Jeff and Allison) there wasn't that much competition. In truth, though, it
did feel REALLY good to have a 30-bird lead on Steve, and have you noticed
how he has been scrambling, birding every morning, every lunch hour, even
evenings, to try to catch up?
THE CUP: Yes, everybody's been talking about it. Apparently he really
believes you've seen or heard all 76 of the birds on your list. Just
between us, have you?
NIX: Excuse me?
THE CUP: Maybe you can just tell us which was your "best" January bird
NIX: Well, if the Thayer's gull was really a Thayer's, then it would have
been the rarest, and the Bohemians were certainly lovely, but finding a
Saw-whet Owl was a real rush. It was only the second one I've ever seen, and
the first was 30 years ago.
THE CUP: Yes, we made it up the lake to see the Saw-whet, what a fantastic
bird! As for the Bohemians, there's a flock that gathers often at the ABC
Cafe. They seem to prefer tofu. Which reminds us--what kind of binoculars
do you have? And your scope?
NIX: I use a battered pair of 7 x 35 Bushnell Customs that I bought in 1976
from a mail order gun dealer. They're old and scratched and I even dropped
them out of a tree once, but they are really dear to me. Many well meaning
friends have urged me to trade them in on something better (pricey), but I
don't think so. They're kind of like my first VW bug, except they still
work. On the other hand, I have a good scope, a TSN-4.
THE CUP: After you've spent hours out there with the wind lashing your face,
whipping the tears from your eyes as you struggle to find that one Common
Loon that's wintering on Cayuga Lake, what's your favorite place to get a
steaming cup of java, and what do you recommend to go with it?
NIX: Who thought this question up?
THE CUP: That came to us from the home office in Sioux City, Iowa.
NIX: Hmm, here in town I favor the Ithaca Bakery, which sells a variety of
food with magical good-luck-charm power, such as Foccacio and Rugelach (I
have no idea if those are spelled correctly). At the north end of the Basin
I have been introduced to a good deli in Seneca Falls.
THE CUP: What's your favorite color?
NIX: Who thought *this* question up?
THE CUP: Oh, Jeff was wondering.
NIX: How about the red on a Eurasian Wigeon's head?
THE CUP: Okay, we can live with that. What was the most exciting thing that
happened to you during your January quest for the David Cup?
NIX: Other than the Saw-whet Owl, and riding to Rochester to see the
in an ice storm with Steve Kelling at the wheel, I'd say finishing the month
still ahead of Steve, definitely.
THE CUP: Some people, and we won't mention names, have said it's possible to
make the big 100 in January. What are your thoughts on that?
NIX: No way, not without leaving the Basin.
THE CUP: What's your game plan for February? Who are the key players
keeping an eye out for?
NIX: My game plan is to try to find the Thayer's Gull. Key players:
Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, LBB Gull, crossbills, Pine Grosbeak. Oh, you mean
human key players? Well, until Kelling gets a real 40-hour a week job, he's
got to be the favorite, since Karl must surely be spent after last year,
and Bill Evans will no doubt be lured out of town during spring migration.
If the lab guys would get out in the field they could be tough, and there
could be lots of sleepers that I'm not familiar with. If this were a Dryden
Lake Basin competition, Bard would have a walk.
THE CUP: Do you have any advice for contenders who have not yet gotten
Black-capped Chickadee for their David Cup list?
NIX: Give up. Or do lunch with Steve.
THE CUP: Tom, you spend so much time chasing birds. Isn't there something
better you could be doing with your life? Watching TV, maybe?
NIX: Hey, I'm strictly a weekend warrior so give me a break. I'd like to
some hoops on TV, but my wife canceled the cable subscription.
THE CUP: Did you watch the Superbowl?
THE CUP: That wasn't too hard, was it? Well, sorry if it was. That's the
price you pay for being a celebrity.
NIX: It was my pleasure.
?????????????????????? PIONEER PRIZE ?????????????????????????????
The editors of The Cup, through statistically significant birding polls as
well as phone taps, have determined that recognition is in order for the
Cupper who has braved wind, rain, ice, and snow in a quest for new Cup birds
for us all to enjoy. Equally weighty in this award category is prompt
notification to other Cuppers of said sightings, be it via e-mail, phone
line, dramatic hand signals, or Western Union telegrams.
We, the editors of The Cup, hereby bestow January's PIONEER PRIZE upon not
one but TWO Cuppers, the dynamic birding duo of Steve Kelling and Tom Nix.
Thanks to Steve and Tom, many of us the rare opportunity to marvel at the
splendor of Bohemian Waxwings, Saw-whet Owl, and a number of other species.
For their courageous efforts, each will receive a much-coveted 1996 David
Cup Pencil. These dapper #2's were specifically designed for easy ticking
and scribbling of field notes. Put them to good use, Pioneers!
< COACH'S CORNER <
< < < <
By popular demand, The Cup will run a little ditty each month designed to
enlighten those Cuppers yet to master the fine art of birding the Basin
month by month. COACH'S CORNER will feature the advice of guest coaches who
are veteran local birders (and who may or may not otherwise get their 15
minutes of fame.) E-mail us your questions about birding the Basin
(including the town of Ithaca, for the McIlroy Award) and we'll pass them
along to the next issue's coach who'll be covering the March to early April
This month's coach is Kevin McGowan. Here's Coach McGowan's suggested
strategy for February to early March:
I'll tell you the absolute key secret to winning The David Cup: spend time
in the field looking for birds. I predict that the Cup winner will be one
of the people who's spent the most time in the field. The reason is simple:
even if you're the world's best bird identifier, you can't find birds unless
you're out looking for them. Beyond that, some birds are simply so rare
that you can't be sure of finding them, but spending more time in the field
will increase your chances. Of course, there are good ways to look for
birds, and there are bad ways. Unless you can spend unlimited time and
effort on The David Cup, you should pace yourself and look for birds in the
most productive ways.
Obviously, not all of the birds that will turn up in the Cayuga Lake Basin
are here right now. You should, therefore, spend time maximizing your
chances of finding birds that are present only now; don't waste your time
looking for things that will be common later. Since this is winter (in case
you hadn't noticed), you should be looking primarily for winter birds. At
this point in the competition, I'm far from being a leader in overall
numbers, but I'm actually in pretty good shape. I have limited birding
time, so I have to martial my resources and not expend any family-good-will
capital now that might be needed in the spring or summer. I haven't seen
Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin,
or even American Goldfinch yet. I'm not worried. Those species are easy to
find at other times of the year. I have managed to see Red-necked Grebe,
Bohemian Waxwing, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull,
Northern Shrike, and Common Redpoll, all of which can be difficult or
impossible to find in some years. Now I'm much more concerned about seeing
Lapland Longspur, Pine Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, and Ross' Goose than anything
that is predictable later on.
So how can you predict what can be seen later? Lots of information is
available to answer this question. First, get yourself a checklist of the
Basin. Look at the species listed there that breed in the area. Those can
be found later. Then look for the ones marked rare or accidental. Anytime
any of these are reported, jump up and run after them. But pay attention to
the entire listing. American Wigeon, for example, is listed as rare in
winter but is common in migration. There are a few on the lake right now,
but don't make a special trip to find them. Of course, if you're out
looking for other things, keep you're eyes open.
Try to get an idea of what is exciting and what is merely interesting.
Check out Bull's Birds of New York and read some of the accounts. Look at
the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State and see what should be here
and what species are on the edge of their range. Ask around about how
common some birds are. Some things used to be common but now are difficult
or impossible to find (e.g., Golden-winged Warbler). Others that are
regionally uncommon are relatively predictable in certain areas (e.g.,
Cerulean Warbler). Others can be locally abundant one year but absent the
next (e.g., Pine Siskin). Know when to take advantage of a local irruption
of unusual species (e.g., Common Redpoll, Northern Shrike).
Bird proactively, not reactively. Think about where you are going birding
and why. Don't just go out hoping to find birds. You might find some
interesting species, but you'll have better luck if you know when to bird
the hills and when to bird the lake. Look at migration dates in Bull or in
Beardslee and Mitchell's Birds of the Niagara Frontier Region and be
prepared to go look for unusual things at the best times. Go to Montezuma
when the ducks or shorebirds are migrating, not in the heat of the summer
when little is moving (unless you need some of the breeders). Haunt the
viburnum thickets for Lincoln's Sparrows in mid-May and mid-September, but
don't expect to find them there at any other time. The more you know about
the habits of birds in the area, the better you can spend your time when
you're out looking for birds.
If you have unlimited time, then by all means go find those American Robins.
You never know when you'll find Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, or
Northern Shrikes instead. Anything that gets you to spend time in the field
is worthwhile and increases your chances of finding birds. But if you are
time-limited, make sure you spend your time in the field wisely.
(Kevin McGowan is Associate Curator of the Cornell University Vertebrate
Collections. Kevin has put together a list that ranks species of the Cayuga
Lake Basin according to the likelihood of finding them. This list can be
obtained by e-mailing him at email@example.com. And yes, he really can play
harmonica with his nose.)
To help birders who are uncertain about which species are wise choices
to look for in the next month or so, we've listed our opinions along with
some ideas on how to find them. It should go without saying that species
that are accidentals (like Ross' Goose) should be pursued whenever they're
found, so we haven't mentioned such species here. Our comments pertain
mainly to finding species for the David Cup, since in general, the
for McIlroy Award birds will be similar.
Species which may be extremely difficult to get the remainder of the
year (even next December) so you'd better find them now include:
BOHEMIAN WAXWING--The only place in the Basin where this species has been
seen more than once or twice this season is at the pipeline cut on Mt.
Pleasant Rd. in Ithaca. Unfortunately, few (perhaps no) birders have had
any luck finding them in the last week or so. They may well be somewhere in
the vicinity, though. If you don't get them in the next month or so, you
probably won't get them this year. Like many northern irruptive species,
Bohemian Waxwings usually don't appear two seasons in a row.
PINE GROSBEAK--Again, a species that is unlikely to be around next December.
Try to get them now. Unfortunately, the only spot in the Basin where any
have been seen is at Lettie Cook Forest in Union Springs. Recent checks by
many birders there have been unsuccessful. Still, if they're in one place,
they're likely to be in others. Search for them wherever there are lots of
fruiting trees (particularly apples and crabapples) and listen for their
mellow, yellow-leg-like call notes.
COMMON REDPOLL--We'll bet 100 Pine Grosbeaks and a Bohemian Waxwing that
there won't be a single redpoll in the Basin next winter. This species has
been shown to exhibit a predictable pattern wherein the species appears one
winter, then is absent the next. This winter has been very good for
redpolls; most of you already have them. If you don't, you should make an
effort to get them now--it will be your last chance. Many birders have
reported them at feeders throughout the Ithaca area, and small numbers
continue to occur regularly at the feeders behind the green trailer at the
Lab of Ornithology (2 on 2/14).
EVENING GROSBEAK & PINE SISKIN--These finches are less predictable in their
year-to-year abundance patterns, though they tend towards following the same
2-year pattern as redpolls. Grosbeaks are abundant at feeders at higher
elevation sites in the outskirts of Ithaca. They have been frequently
reported from the Caroline area. A number of flocks of grosbeaks were seen
flying over and feeding in hemlocks and spruces at Connecticut Hill on 2/10.
They may be around next December, but why take a chance? Pine Siskins are a
bit of an enigma this year. Except for unreliable singles at feeders, there
have been almost none around. Very few Cuppers have them on their lists so
far. We may get lucky in March and early April and have large numbers of
siskins (and grosbeaks and redpolls) pass through on their way back north.
It is often during such a passage that the largest flocks of northern
finches are seen. The best bet may be to keep checking large conifer
plantations like the one on Dodge Road in Ithaca and Lettie Cook in Union
Springs as wells as high elevation areas like Connecticut Hill (best bet).
NORTHERN SHRIKE--Although a few of these show up every year, this winter has
been the best in recent memory. There won't be as many around next
December, it'll be much tougher (who knows, maybe impossible) to find one
then. If you haven't seen one yet you should probably post a message on
CAYUGABIRDS asking where people have seen shrikes recently and get over
there as quickly as possible (the most recent we've heard of were at
Connecticut Hill and Irish Settlement Road.)
RED-NECKED GREBE--This can be a pretty tough species to get some years.
Your best bet is to stop by the Sheldrake waterfront sometime soon and seek
out the 1 or 2 birds that have been hanging out there.
MISCELLANEOUS--There are a few other species that may well show up next
December so that you could have another chance to get them then. It may be
less critical to get them now but finding them in December could be
problematic. Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have been spotted at Stewart Park
and Myer's Point. Both species will probably be scarce in December--best to
get them now. Normally, it would be easy to find Short-eared Owl during
this period. Unfortunately, the species has been in dramatically lower
numbers than in recent years. Maybe next December will be better. So far
this winter, the best places to look seem to be on the west side of the lake
from the Sheldrake area north to Seneca Falls. Short-eared's have been
spotted near the Seneca Falls airport. Speaking of owls, if you get the
opportunity to see or hear a Saw-whet or Long-eared now, it would be smart
to take advantage of it. Many banding stations had record-high numbers of
Saw-whets pass through in the late fall and early winter. These birds
should pass back through in the early spring (March) and looking and
listening for them in likely spots could well prove fruitful. Lapland
Longspur is another one that will probably occur next November and December
and may, Steve points out in the Highlights column, even be easier to find
then. If someone finds them regularly somewhere in the next month or two,
though, it would be a good idea to zip out and take a look yourself.
Longspurs were seen in early January on or near Center Road in King Ferry
but have not been seen since. Don't worry about Snow Bunting--you can get
them next November and you'll probably run into some (not literally, we
hope) when you're looking for the longspurs (unless you're trying to get
them for your McIlroy list. If so, look near Freese Road).
BIRD BRAIN OF THE MONTH
For those of you wondering if the David Cup was named for the Biblical David
who brought down the giant Goliath because he refused to participate in the
Breeding Bird Survey, well, no, that's not where the title comes from. The
David Cup is, in fact, named after the one and only Karl David, whose
contribution to Basin birding was recently summed up eloquently by Steve
Kelling, who suggested the title: "Karl's determination over the years in
seeing how many birds you can find in the Basin has been inspiring. Each
year, more and more of us joined in, so last year we decided to make it an
'official' event by coming up with some guidelines and giving it a name.
'The David Cup' came immediately to mind." Some of you know Karl only
through his frequent postings on CAYUGABIRDS. Here, we unveil the REAL Karl
Karl's interest in birds started when he and his brother received some
beginning bird books as a present one year when he was about twelve. "They
were four little books with differently-colored covers entitled the Red,
Green, Yellow and Blue Books of the Birds of America. As field guides, they
were TERRIBLE, and I didn't find any knowledgeable adults to guide me, so my
interest simmered at low heat until I got into my 30's." At that point his
life list was 150 or so species, with no warblers, he says, besides
Redstart, Yellow Warbler and
Yellowthroat. Then, when teaching at Middlebury College in Vermont, a
birding colleague in the math department recruited him for Christmas Bird
Counts. "This still didn't leave too much of an impression on me--except
for the -20 degree temperature on the first one!" he says. "Then one spring
day in 1982 I decided to do a 'Big Day' all on my own, and I remember, at
the end of that day, figuring out the ID for Least Flycatcher all on my own
and feeling 100% certain of it and suddenly realizing, 'Hey, I can do this!'
My list for the day was 56, and I've never looked back."
On January 1, 1983 Karl threw away his old life list so he could begin anew.
"I wanted to have a precise date and location for every new bird on my
list--information I hadn't recorded up to then." Thus, he says, his life
Black-capped Chickadee is dated January 1, 1983, seen in Barre,
Massachusetts, "just as my life Ruff is dated August 21, 1995, seen at
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, New York." The last bird on Karl's old
list to be re-entered on his new one took 10 years to see. "It was
Gyrfalcon, the one at Cayuga Marsh in 1992." At the same time that he
discarded his old life list, Karl began keeping state lists for Vermont,
where he was living at the time, and Massachusetts, where he and his wife
usually went on vacations and breaks.
Fortunately for the Ithaca birding community, Karl moved to Aurora in 1984,
where he'd taken a job teaching math at Wells College. "I joined the Cayuga
Bird Club, visited the Lab, and learned that there was a birding entity
called the Cayuga Lake Basin. So an omnibus Basin / New York State list
joined the others." To this day, he says, the latter exceeds the former by
only 11 birds: 280 for the Basin, 291 for the state. "I'm saving trips to
the Adirondacks, Long Island and pelagics in New York waters for the future
as something to look forward to," he says.
Karl's excitement for list-keeping came out of a lifelong interest in
gathering, comparing, and analyzing statistics. "As a boy," Karl says, "I
think one reason I loved baseball so much was because it was so rich in
statistical lore, and that seems to have carried over into birding. As I go
through the year in the Basin, for example, I compare myself constantly to
where I was at that point in previous years. It just adds to the
In 1990, Karl moved to Ithaca and that same year became president of the
Cayuga Bird Club. Karl's commitment to the club's ideals is exemplified by
the fact that he continued to serve until 1995.
Karl's annual Basin lists have ranged from a low of 201 to last year's high
of 246. "1992 was the most enjoyable year because Bill Evans, Ned Brinkley,
Adam Byrne and I were all listing." For him, the camaraderie that develops
among fellow birders "is perhaps the chief joy of such a competition."
Like many birders, Karl is creative about finding time to bird. "I'm always
birding when I'm driving," he says, "and even in my busiest times I probably
squeeze in 2-3 hours, 2-3 times a week. Having January and summers 'off,'
I do put in quite a bit of time then. I'm afraid to
keep track, actually; I might be dismayed at how much time it really adds up
How does Karl feel about having the David Cup named in his honor? "Well,
what can I do but shuffle my feet, look down at the dirt and say, 'Aw,
shucks, you really shouldn't have!' Seriously, it's an honor, so let's take
collective aim at that 254 mark and have fun going for it!"
Because birders suffer so many unique trials and tribulations--and now with
the added strain of intense competition brought on by the David Cup/McIlroy
Award--The Cup has graciously provided Cuppers with a kind, sensitive and
intuitive columnist, Dear Tick, to answer even the most profound questions,
I had a Varied Thrush in my dream the other night. Can I count it in the
--Sleepy in Ithaca
No. And as I understand it, the David Cup committee didn't even address the
issue of "dream" birds in the rules because, while they could name a few
Cuppers who might be tempted to include the frozen fowl at Wegman's under
the guise of Mandarin Duck and Peking Chicken, they were hard-pressed to
think of anyone who would be so preposterous as to try to sneak in a few
"dream" birds. Shame on you. My advice: spend less time sleeping (3-4
hours a night should be sufficient) and you'll have more time to bird in the
I have only 45 species. Is there a prize for the person who has the lowest
count? If not, can I get some points for my Texas trip, where I saw nice
birds like Whooping Crane and Harris' Hawk?
--Texas Two-Stepper at
Dear Texas Two-Stepper:
Yours is the voice of desperation, but not because of your January total,
which is respectable enough. You deserted the Basin for Texas; clearly, the
Ithaca winters are getting to you, and now, in the icy competition of the
David Cup, you've retreated to natal memories of warmth and sunlight rather
than face the adult realities of the race for the Cup. My inside sources
tell me that the rest of the hard-nosed Cuppers will take no pity on you.
They may continue to be so cruel as to tell you when certain unusual birds
have been spotted on the frozen, wind-swept desert of Cayuga Lake, thereby
forcing you to face this unresolved personal conflict. Perhaps you should
consider forking out a little cash for some thermal underwear.
""""""""" CUP QUOTES """"""""
"The singers are certainly warming up in the woods. I was recently treated
to a lovely piece for wood, winds, and a chorus of Red-breasted Nuthatches."
"Personally, (the David Cup) is making me much more aware and interested in
the dynamics of bird movements through our area. Fun, educational, and no
calories! What more could you ask for?"
"I'm not planning on winning nor even being a close contender, just hoping
that the losing player gets a grand prize, like *two* pencils or
"We had a screech owl peeing from a Wood Duck box in Union Springs."
"Last year at the end of January my total was 80, including more
"In 12 years of doing this, my January range has been 57 to 86, with 67 now
the modal class. This is the third time I've ended the month there."
"I wait with rapt anticipation the first edition of The Cup."
"My goal is to make everybody else feel better about their lists!"
"Count me in for 14 species (including a 1/4 thesis-bird.) I'm happy to
have my name associated with this impressive total in the newsletter."
"I was a Rough-legged Hawk flying over Sapsucker Woods."
"The name of the game is discovery and sharing."
May Your Cup Runneth Over,
Allison and Jeff