After setting a new North American record for the number of species identified in a 24-hour birding marathon in Texas last year (294), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Team Sapsucker is taking on another big challenge. In early May, the team will head to the American Southwest following a new birding route they call "El Gigante." Their goals are to focus attention on environmental pressures in this key region and to raise a record $400,000 for conservation work at the Cornell Lab.
"After three successful Big Day runs in Texas, we're right now planning our route through Arizona and California," says Sapsucker captain Chris Wood. "It's a brand-new route for us, with new challenges and lots of unknowns. It'll be fun to see how many species we can find. We'll be looking for some really great birds, such as the Elegant Trogon, Phainopepla, and Mountain Quail."
The Sapsuckers' route will take them through areas where habitat for birds and other animals is under heavy pressure from changes in land use and severe ongoing drought. In Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains, forests of oaks and pines rise up from dry desert. But the desert is now moving higher and the mountains are getting hotter, threatening survival for the species that live there.
"The Cornell Lab is using science and cutting-edge technologies to find answers to some of the biggest environmental threats," Wood says. "We use models from data collected through eBird to help federal agencies and landowners determine the best ways to target bird and habitat conservation. These same techniques are helping us identify the most important times and places to provide habitat for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway."
To learn more about the Sapsuckers' Big Day in the Southwest, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/BigDay
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