The June Challenge originated in Alachua County, and is a pretty well-known birding “competition” throughout the state of Florida. I think it’s ten or eleven years old now, and perhaps it’s time to consider a few changes to the “rules”.
First, let me say I think the friendly competition is a great thing because it motivates people to bird during the deadest part of the year in Florida, which can also be the most miserable in terms of heat, humidity, summer showers, and biting insects. In the Northeast Florida area, the Challenge has led to the discovery of some great records, particularly in St. Johns County where Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Purple Gallinule, and the legendary Variegated Flycatcher were all recorded as a direct result of birders being in the field for the competition.
My main beef is the rule about having to “see” each species. I continue to see some rather reprehensible behavior in a birder’s effort to either see the bird or the compulsion to photograph the bird to have “proof of sight”. For example, again this year there are eBird checklists being submitted of fledgling Eastern Screech-Owls with full flash photography at close range. The birder is not documenting a rare sighting, nor is the birder participating in the Breeding Bird Atlas, so I can only presume such a photo exists just to prove the observation for the Challenge. I don’t want to think about the efforts made to call the owl chick in close enough for the picture.
June is a month for breeding birds and in accordance with the ABA’s birding ethics, we should all be good stewards of our passion and not start harassing birds for the sake of the competition. Unfortunately, many birders lose their minds and go out into the field playing their “tapes” to get one of these treasured species to become alarmed and show their feathered faces. I hear about it every year, and every year it angers, disturbs, and disappoints me. Why would we want to go out and repeatedly display this behavior? I’ve heard stories about playing tapes for species like Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, and even the more rare-in-region Hairy Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow.
I say it’s time to give the birds a break and change the rule to allow for “heard only” species. It astonishes me that the one time a year we seem to lose our minds is during one of the more critical times of year for the birds that we all love and enjoy.