The 14th Annual June Challenge begins on Thursday. The June Challenge, for those new to Alachua County birding, is a friendly competition in which individual contestants try to see as many species of birds in Alachua County as they can from June 1st to June 30th. It has expanded a bit since 2004, when Becky Enneis came up with the idea. That first year fewer than ten birders participated. Last year 42 Alachua County birders submitted lists, there were 64 additional submissions from 23 other Florida counties, and out-of-state birders sent three more, one each from Maine, Kansas, and Kentucky.
The ultimate purpose of the Challenge is to inspire birders to keep going through the heat of June – to have fun, to get out in the fresh air and sunshine and to see some beautiful birds – but there are other reasons to do it. In addition to the 100 or so breeding birds we expect here, very late spring migrants and very early fall migrants have been found in June, as have coastal strays like Sandwich Tern and Willet, and unexpected wanderers like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Reddish Egret, and Snail Kite. So there are discoveries to make – and not all of them are birds; June mornings can be beautiful and lively, full of butterflies and wildflowers, and much milder in temperature than you’d expect.
As with all contests, there are rules:
- All birds must be seen within the boundaries of Alachua County between June 1st and June 30th. (You non-Alachua birders are challenged to participate within your own counties.)
- Each bird on your list must have been SEEN. Heard-only birds do not count; you’ve got to actually see those Chuck-will’s-widows and Eastern Screech-Owls. Consequently, don’t trust eBird with your June Challenge list, since it lists heard birds the same as seen ones.
- The question of whether this bird or that bird is “countable” toward your total has created some confusion. Any free-flying bird is countable for the purposes of the Challenge, but keep track of how many ABA-countable and non-countable species are on your list (“ABA” is American Birding Association). Report them in this format: Total number of species seen, followed by parentheses containing (number that are ABA countable / number that are not), e.g., 115 (112 / 3). The Black Swans and domestic Graylag-type geese at the Duck Pond, for instance, would be on the “uncountable” part of your list, while wild-plumaged Mallards and Muscovy Ducks at Red Lobster and Home Depot Ponds would be on the countable part. If you have any questions about a specific bird, ask me.
- You’re competing with other Alachua County birders to see who can amass the longest individual list – BUT send me an email if you find something good so that I can alert the other contestants and they can go out and look for it. It is, after all, a friendly competition.
- EMAIL YOUR LIST TO ME BY MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY, JUNE 30TH. There will then be a June Challenge party at TJC creator Becky Enneis’s house in Alachua, probably on July 8th, at which a remarkably handsome trophy and other prizes will be given out.
To help you keep track of your sightings, I’ve attached an automatic checklist that Phil Laipis created several years ago. Type in the date you saw each species in the row headed “First Seen,” using the format “6/1” for June 1st, “6/2” for June 2nd, etc., and the checklist will automatically add everything up for you (you can also use “1” or “x”). If you don’t have Excel, or you prefer keeping track on a paper copy, we’ve got some card-stock trifold checklists that you can use. Just send me your mailing address and I’ll drop one in the mailbox for you.
Trey Mitchell of Miami has created another option for keeping track of your totals. He’s put together a web site for the Challenge on which you can enter everything you see and compare yourself to others doing the Challenge across the state and across the country: http://junechallenge.com/
You can do the Challenge on your own, of course, but I’ll be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6:15 a.m. on Thursday to jump start it with Common Nighthawk and (hopefully) Bachman’s Sparrow, and you’re welcome to join me, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder. From Longleaf we’ll go to Newnans Lake and then either La Chua or Sweetwater Wetlands Park ($4 admission for La Chua, $5 for Sweetwater). You should be home by lunchtime with 40-50 species on that checklist! Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. Measuring from Waldo Road, at 4.4 miles you’ll pass Powers Park, and shortly thereafter you’ll cross the bridge over Prairie Creek. Three and a half miles after that, turn right onto County Road 325 and proceed 2.3 miles to the Longleaf parking lot on the right. (If you want an idea of what such a morning would be like, I described 2015’s “jump start” in a Gainesville Sun blog here: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/347/the-june-challenge/ )
Anyway, if you win, you get The June Challenge trophy, two and a half feet tall and lovingly crafted from the finest wood-like material. Your name and your accomplishment will be engraved in the purest imitation gold and affixed to the trophy, a memorial that will last throughout all eternity, or until someone drops it onto a hard surface. You keep the trophy at your house for a year, contemplating the evidence of your great superiority to all other birders, and then the following June you either win again or you sadly pass the trophy on to the next June Challenge champion and sink back into the common mass of birderdom.
Hints for new Challengers: Bird as much as you can during the first few days and last few days of the month, to get late spring and early fall migrants; eight migrant warblers and twelve migrant shorebirds have been recorded here in June, mostly at the beginning of the month. Check the big lakes repeatedly (especially Newnans and Lochloosa) for coastal strays like gulls, terns, and pelicans. Check your email inbox to learn what other people are seeing and for tips on where to go. I apologize in advance for the many birding reports you’ll get in early June…
Please join us for The 14th Annual June Challenge. Good luck to all!