Contests & Special Counts

Township BirdingUpdated 7/30/09
2009     2005    

Here we go again!  Sullivan County Audubon is known as one of the more active bird clubs statewide.  We are admired as a fun-loving, competitive group, always dreaming up some kind of race to keep us out there on the edge.  In 2005 we added another chapter to our book entitled Township Birding.  Your goal is to find as many species of birds in as many townships as you dare to cover. Example:  if you find an American Robin in Mamakating, you also need to find one in Thompson, and one in Tusten, etc.  There are 15 townships in Sullivan County to choose from, whether it is the one you work in, the one you live in, or the one you visit the most.  Choose one or all, there’s something for everyone in all of them.  Awards will be given at the end of the year to each person with the highest numbers in each of the 15 townships and for the highest collective total of species in all 15 townships.

So come on out and join the fun.  I have county maps showing all the townships and I have checklists of birds for Sullivan County.  If you find a bird not listed on our checklist, you must call someone else to help verify this record.  If you need more information, please call me at the number listed in Warblings any evening. Get out there and good luck!

— Renee Davis


“Township birding” was a year-long effort in 2008 to see how many different kinds of birds could be found in each of the 15 townships in Sullivan County. John Haas and Arlene Borko spent more time than anyone else working on it, and they ended the year in a tie for number of towns they led, each finding the highest number in six towns. They each found the same numbers of species in Highland and Cochecton, and Renee Davis had the most in her home Town of Callicoon. Valerie Freer also participated with smaller numbers in 4 towns.

However, John and Arlene worked on a “big year” in the County at the same time. John found 221 different kinds, tying his 2007 big year record for the County, and Arlene found 216 kinds, a second place record. Congratulations to both!

We had done this before in 2005, so we had a target number in each town based on that experience. We assumed that many of those numbers might be exceeded this time, but we were wrong. In spite of the remarkable effort by Arlene Borko and John Haas, only four towns showed increases from 2005 to 2008: Mamakating by 28 kinds, Neversink by 9, Lumberland by 8 and Fallsburg by 2.  The other eleven towns showed decreases, led by Liberty which decreased by 25 species, and Rockland  which decreased by 20.

The decreases are likely due to the steep rise in gas prices in 2008 leading to fewer participants in the project and probably to fewer trips by those who did participate. Another factor contributing to lower numbers was the lack of shorebird habitat at Swinging Bridge Reservoir.

As in 2005, Mamakating had the greatest diversity of birds of all Sullivan County Towns. John found 204 kinds there, and Arlene was not far behind with 195. This remarkable variety of birds can be attributed primarily to the Bashakill but also to the variety of other habitats within the Town. The hawks migrating along the Shawangunk mountain, the fields and shrubs along McDonald Road and the Canal towpath, the higher elevations of Gumaer Falls Road, and the airport habitats all contribute to the wonderful avian diversity in Mamakating. 

— Valerie Freer


This year-long contest revealed the perseverance and willingness to travel by our local birders. Many more started the contest than finished it. Four fanatic birders submitted a birdlist for each of the 15 Towns (AB, RD, VF, JH) and Russell Scheirer kept records of birds in nine Towns. (Several others kept a list for only one or two Towns, which was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.)

The number of kinds of birds to be found anywhere depends upon the variety of habitats present, a concept well illustrated with the 2005 Township Birding contest. Towns having the most varied habitats yielded the most birds, and it was tough to find as many in the Towns that are mostly forested.

The top Township for finding a rich variety of birds in Sullivan County, is by far, the Town of Mamakating. The famous Bashakill WMA is found there, of course, but so is the D & H Canal Towpath between Hornbeck's Basin and McDonald Road, another outstanding birding location; and the Summitville Hawkwatch as well. Add to that the rest of the towpath, the Wurtsboro and airport fields, the wet area at Phillipsport, and the steep forested slopes of Gumaer Falls Rd and Pine Kill Rd, and you have some very fine birding indeed. Three birders each found over 150 kinds of birds in Mamakating in 2005, led by John Haas with 176 species, the top number for this contest.

The Town of Thompson ranked second, with a high count of 154 species also by John Haas. It has fine birding in several locations: the landfill for up to 6 kinds of gulls, Kiamesha Lake and other lakes for waterfowl, and (this year) the temporary mudflats of Swinging Bridge Reservoir for a dozen or so kinds of shorebirds. Thompson also includes portions of the Neversink River, scattered dense woodlands, some open fields, and much mixed rural and village habitat.
The next four Towns were very close in the number of species found over the year: Liberty edged out Bethel, and Neversink and Fallsburg were not far behind. Each one has a variety of accessible habitats (though not as much variety as the top towns), and each received a substantial amount of birding effort in 2005.

Over 100 kinds of birds were found by each of the top three birders (AB, JH, RD) in each of the top six towns. However, it was much harder to find 100 species of birds in the remaining towns. (For example, Arlene Borko and John Haas each found over 100 in Forestburgh, but Renee Davis was the only birder to break the 100 species level in both Callicoon and Rockland.) No one found over 100 species in Tusten, Lumberland, Highland, Fremont, Delaware, or Cochecton.
The towns that had the smallest lists of birds (Fremont, Lumberland, Cochecton, and Highland) have the least variety of habitat (or habitat that is accessible). Woodland birds are common enough, but marsh birds, shorebirds, and birds of fields and farms are hard or impossible to find. It may well be that a birder who could spend more time in those townships would be more successful, but that remains to be determined.

The following list ranks the 15 Towns of Sullivan County according to the highest number of species found there in 2005 by one of the top three participants:

1. Mamakating
2. Thompson
3. Liberty
4. Bethel
5. Fallsburg
6. Neversink
7. Forestburgh
8. Rockland
176 sp (JH)
154 sp (JH)
135 sp (RD)
129 sp (JH)
126 sp (AB)
124 sp (JH)
112 sp (JH)
106 sp (RD)
9. Callicoon
10. Delaware
11. Tusten
12. Fremont
13. Lumberland
14. Cochecton
15. Highland
103 sp (RD)
98 sp (RD)
92 sp (AB)
87 sp (RD)
83 sp (AB)
81 sp (AB)
80 sp (AB)
Key to observers:  AB - Arlene Borko; RD - Renee Davis; JH - John Haas
Others who completed the contest:  Russell Scheirer, Valerie Freer

When the number of species found in each of the 15 Towns was totaled, Arlene Borko had the highest Grand Total of 1594, demonstrating remarkable energy and persistence.

Among the many benefits of this contest, three new species were found in the county (Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Stilt Sandpiper), bringing the total number of species ever documented in Sullivan County to 283.

The challenge is hereby thrown out. If you can find more species in any one of these Towns over the course of a year, keep a careful list (including dates) and send it to .