Every fall, the Monadnock Region is strictly for the birds — quite literally.
Each September, during the peak of fall migration, countless waterfowl, raptors and songbirds flock through the area, joining the vast variety of species that make their home here. More than 180 species of birds have been described here during this month, including 14 species of waterfowl, 12 species of shorebirds, 17 species of raptors and 27 species of fall-plumaged warblers.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, avid birdwatchers will congregate for the first annual Monadnock Region Birding Cup, where they will fan out across Cheshire and western Hillsborough Counties to tally as many bird species as possible from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event, which is sponsored by the Antioch Bird Club, is intended to foster appreciation for the region’s rich bird life and to raise funds for ornithological research grants.
“This really started a couple of years ago, when Steven Lamonde and I founded the Birding Cup at the Antioch New England campus,” said Chad Witko, co-founder and organizer of the event. “The bird-a-thon was a fundraising event and was a direct inspiration for us to change that event into a bigger birding competition that would be open to the whole community.”
Although this is the first year for the Monadnock Birding Cup, Witko stressed that the actual practice goes back over several decades.
“The World Series of Birding really started up in New Jersey, back in 1984, run primarily by New Jersey Audubon,” he said. “There have been birding competitions ever since across the country. These are team-based, and there’s usually a set geographic area that people have to work in set geographic constraints. Around here, we have the Superbowl of Birding, which takes place in Essex County, Mass., and Rockingham County, New Hampshire, which is a 12-hour competition.”
Witko said that the money raised from this event, from entry fees and sponsors, will go to conservation efforts to protect birds and identify species that might need help.
“In 2016, I founded the Antioch Birding Club at Antioch University,” he said. “This is a student-based club, involved with the Department of Environmental Studies. Basically, it was a way to get people together who were interested in exploring the bird species prevalent in this area.
“This year, Steven Lamonde and myself decided to develop this event to bring awareness to the public of just how good the Monadnock Region is for bird watching. We decided to hold it in the fall, when there aren’t a lot of bird-watching competitions going on. The ultimate hope for this is that we can raise money which will be pooled together to create a scholarship for anyone who is doing bird research in this region.”
The event is divided into six basic categories. First, there is the main event, as points are awarded to the team that counts the most bird species between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Then there is the “Carbon Footprint Challenge,” where teams cannot use any fossil fuels during the survey, but are permitted to hike, canoe or skateboard. For beginners, there’s the “Fledgling” category, where each team must have a maximum of five years of combined birding experience.
The “Big Sit” is a stationary bird count, where the team will create or imagine a 17-foot circle and bird watch from within. Then there’s the “Townie” category, where participants have to count as many birds as they can within the boundaries of one town within the Monadnock Region. Finally, there’s the “Youth” category, restricted to participants under 18 years of age. Mentors are allowed to drive underage participants and verify identifications of team members but cannot point out or identify birds themselves.
“You don’t need to range far and wide to participate in this event,” Witko said. “We encourage people who are older or less mobile to join in. Apart from that, we want to point out that the participants don’t have to be expert birders.
“This is for all skill sets, from beginners right up to experts. We want this to be a community event, where everyone can share in the beauty of the fall migration and help out ornithology students in the area, whose research is really critical to the future of the species in this region.”
The Monadnock Region Birding Cup will be held Saturday, Sept. 14, rain or shine, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information or to register a team, go to monadnockregionbirdingcup.com. To join the Harris Center’s team, contact Eric Masterson at 525-3394 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The post-competition awards celebration will be held at Antioch University New England, 40 Avon St., Keene. Pizza, beverages and goodie bags will be handed out starting at 5:30 p.m. and the awards ceremony will commence at 6 p.m.