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Announcing the 1st annual Earth Day Birding Classic at Penn State Altoona

The 1st annual Earth Day Birding Classic at Penn State Altoona will be held on April 22 and 23, 2016. Registration is free. The goal is for teams in six different categories to count as many species of birds as possible in the 24-hour-period beginning at noon on April 22.

The 1st annual Earth Day Birding Classic at Penn State Altoona will be held on April 22 and 23, 2016. Registration is free. The goal is for teams in six different categories to count as many species of birds as possible in the 24-hour-period beginning at noon on April 22. This non-profit event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program at Penn State Altoona and Juniata Valley Audubon Society. Pledges that team members garner will support bird conservation and education in central Pennsylvania. Teams of 3 or more (2 or more for Senior citizens) will count birds in Blair and surrounding counties, and prizes will be awarded during the closing ceremony. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place at the Slep Center on the Penn State Altoona campus immediately prior to and following the event. Registration deadline is April 15 – to register and for more information, please contact Catherine Kilgus at [email protected].

→ Download the Registration Form

→ Download the Pledge Sheet

→ Download the Rules & Guidelines — or see below.

Earth Day Birding Classic 2016

Date and Time. Tallying of species commences at 12:00 PM on April 22 and concludes at 11:59:59:59 AM on April 23. The (optional-attendance) opening ceremony begins at 10 AM and ends at 11 AM, leaving attendees ample time to get to their first counting locale by noon. The opening ceremony takes place in the Slep Center, Penn State Altoona Campus. Visitor parking (free) is provided in the Misciagna Lot and the Ivy Lot. Please contact the organizers if you need exact directions. Dr. Mark Bonta: [email protected] -or- Catherine Kilgus: [email protected]

Pre-registration is required, and free. Registration deadline is April 15th. Penn State student deadline is 9 AM on April 22 (a table will be set up in Slep Center).

The closing event will occur in the Slep Center on Penn State Altoona campus beginning at 1:00 PM on April 23. All teams must arrive and submit their checklists and pledge forms no later than 1:30 PM. Winners will be announced and prizes awarded at 2:00 PM. Lunch as well as organic shade-grown Honduran coffee will be provided. Teams that do not have a majority of their members present at the closing event will not be considered contestants. Teams should arrive no later than 1 PM, check in, and turn in their bird checklist. Please note that certain species require additional documentation to be considered valid (see Checklist). This means a detailed written report, and if possible, photo evidence or sound recording.

Teams are HIGHLY ENCOURAGED but not required to utilize eBird to report their records. They may do this on their phones as they go from place to place, and data can be temporarily hidden if desired (though checking others’ eBird lists is not allowed during the event). For this reason, it is necessary to keep track of numbers of individuals seen for each species.

Count Area: The geographic area covered by this Birding Classic is Blair County and all counties that border it: Centre, Clearfield, Cambria, Bedford, and Huntingdon. All wild bird species recorded from within the county borders are valid; counters, as well as birds, must be physically located within one of the counties. It is helpful to have a smartphone to track exact location, in case your team is at the edge of the count area.

Count area for Penn State Altoona campuses: a separate map will be provided to teams covering only the campuses, which include all contiguous (connected) land owned by Penn State on the Ivyside Campus and on the Downtown Campus, as well as in the Seminar Forest. Teams restricting their counting to the campuses can only count birds seen from within the physical boundaries of the campuses, but these may include species perched or flying outside campuses. Teams may not count birds seen when teams are traveling between campuses. Study maps are available at

Team Categories:

Prizes will be awarded to the highest number of species counted and verified in each category. Teams can compete in only one category other than Ruffed Grouse, which they are automatically entered to win (teams can choose to enter ONLY Ruffed Grouse category, if they wish).

COOT. Senior Citizens (65 and over) only

OSPREY. Penn State students only

TOWHEE. Limited to a single county

MALLARD. Limited to the grounds of Penn State Altoona, including the Seminar Forest

PIPIT. On foot only – team members may not use any other form of transportation

RUFFED GROUSE. Most species recorded anywhere in the region; winner receives Grand Prize for the Classic

All teams must register for one category only, but it is possible for a single team to win its own category and the RUFFED GROUSE prize.

All teams must stay together at all times (within earshot) during the 24-hour period or during the two periods that they are counting species, if a break is taken for sleep and participants go to different locations before meeting again in the morning. No species may be counted or scouted during the off period when the team splits up. If the team does not split up for the night, then all species encountered during the 24-hour period can be counted. Teams may count for as little time or as much time as they wish within the 24-hour period, but in a maximum of two contiguous periods.

Teams must consist of at least three members, of any age (except the COOTS; see below). 75% of team members must ID each species. With three members, all three must ID each species for that species to count, though not necessarily at the same time during the 24-hour period. With four members, 3 of the four must record each species for it to be valid; for 5 members, four must ID; etc.

COOT category: Seniors teams may have two or more members. All members must be 65 years of age or older by the 22nd of April. 75% of members must ID all species, as above.

OSPREY category: all Penn State student team members must be currently enrolled Penn State students (from any campus including World Campus), and will need to present student IDs at the closing.

MALLARD category: the campus teams can be comprised of anyone, not just students.

PIPIT category: for the on-foot teams, no non-foot (or non-wheelchair) transportation may be used at all during the counting period, unless the team breaks up at night. If the team breaks up at night, members must return to the exact spot they ended the prior night to begin counting in the morning. Otherwise, no transport via motor vehicle or non-motor vehicle, including horse, bicycle, canoe, etc., is allowed, period.

TOWHEE category: for the single-county teams, any county in the Count Area is valid. All birds recorded in or from the chosen county are valid.

ETHICS: please follow the American Birding Association’s Code of Ethics if in doubt. In general, do not unduly disturb birds, though “pishing” is allowed. No playing of tape to coax out birds is allowed, though calls may be identified using online resources. Calling for owls or other birds using solely team member’s vocal chords is allowed.

DO NOT enter private property except with explicit permission. Birds on private property seen from public rights-of-way are valid.

Be very careful on highways; use flashers if necessary, and do not block traffic.


Birds must be seen or heard to be considered valid.

Domestic species do not count.

It is not permissible during the count period to solicit information on species locations from non-team members.

It is not permissible to track others’ records on eBird, or to access rare bird alerts or other means of finding out where species have been found. This should be done during the scouting periods prior to the 24-hour period, and may be done up until just prior to the start of the event.

It is not permissible to scout for birds during the night rest period (if the group takes one), and it is not allowable to count birds recorded during that period (an owl, for example), unless the group has stayed together as per the rules.


It is expected that teams will garner as many pledges as possible to make this event a success. Pledges can be per species or per team. Event organizers will follow up with each pledged donor after the event is concluded, so be sure to include correct information so that organizers may contact the donors. All money pledged will go to support bird conservation and bird education in central Pennsylvania.

Validity of Reports:

Contestants accept, on the registration form, that the judges of the Classic (Laura Jackson, Mark Bonta) may rule impartially on species reports that require validation, and that they are fully qualified to do so. This will be done after checklists are turned in and prior to deciding of winners, in the case that decisions on validity would affect the outcome.

The judges pick the species that require further validation, based on accumulated frequency data and other data in eBird. It is necessary to fill out a Rare Bird Report for each record and to have these reports prepared prior to turning in the checklist. Accompanying documentation such as digital photos can be shown to the organizers.

Tips for Beginners: While we highly encourage birders with little experience to take part in this Classic, we urge them to consult with organizers ahead of time if they are unclear about the basics of eBird that will allow them to have a good idea of species to expect in certain habitats. We have no way of checking misidentification of common species not needing validation, so we hope that first-time birders will be slow and careful in their identifications.

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