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Montezuma Muckrace: NY State's most competitive bird-watching event

This year's 20th Muckrace is Sept. 16-17!

Original story published by New York Upstate
September 6, 2016 by David Figura

It's most competitive event for bird-watching enthusiasts in the state.

It's the Montezuma Muckrace, and this year's 20th edition of the competition is set for Sept. 16-17 at the 242-square mile Montezuma Focus Area, which includes the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca County.

What is the Muckrace?

Teams bird together from 7 p.m. Friday Sept. 16 until 7 p.m. Saturday Sept. 17, trying to locate as many bird species as possible. Winning teams over the past several years have identified as many as 148 species, and collectively, as many as 192 species have been seen by the 15 to 28 teams, in a single day. The winning competitive team in 2015 logged 121 species. 

What does the event benefit?

The Montezuma Muckrace, is an annual fundraiser put on by the Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Audubon New York and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Money raised by the competition goes toward improving habitat and bird-watching opportunities in the area. Last year's event, which included contributions from corporate sponsors, raised more than $11,000. 

 What's the boundary for the competition?

The competition is limited to the 242-square-mile Montezuma Wetlands Complex, which is also referred to as the Montezuma Focus Area. It includes federal, state and Nature Conservancy-owned lands, with the largest tract being the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. 

According to the Friends' website: "This 50,000-acre region at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, known for its abundant wetlands is a major migration stopover for waterfowl, shorebirds, and land birds and provides breeding habitat for several species of conservation concern, including bald eagles, black terns, and Cerulean warblers. Designated as an Important Bird Area of global significance in 1997, the Complex is a hub of bird conservation activity and research – past, present and future-- that has benefits extending far beyond it boundaries."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation adds: "Montezuma is situated in the middle of one of the busiest bird migration routes on the Atlantic Flyway. More than 240 species of birds can be found on the Wetlands Complex, along with 43 species of mammals,15 species of reptiles, and 16 species of amphibians."

Are only expert birders allowed to enter? 

Birders of all ages and experience join in on the fun under the various categories, including Competitive, Youth, Low Carbon, Photo (where participants count only the birds they can identify and photograph), Family/Mentor and Recreational.

New this year is a Collegiate Division. Students from universities throughout the region will compete for bird bragging rights and the opportunity to display the new Muckrace Collegiate Cup at their school.

The deadline to enter was Sept. 4. Teams in the competitive division pay $100; all others, $50. This year's event features a total of 30 teams, with more than 110 entrants from across the state and beyond. 

What do the winners get? 

The teams must  turn in their tally sheets at the Montezuma Audubon Center, 2295 Route 89, Savannah, by 7 p.m. Pizza and soda will be served at that time at the center. The winners will be announced at about 8 p.m., after all the tally sheets have been reviewed.  The winning teams in the Competitive and Collegiate divisions will get trophies and a chance to pick items from "the prize table," which will include a variety of items donated by sponsors and other contributors. Winners in the other categories will also get a chance to pick from the prize table. 

For more, see the Friends of Montezuma Wetlands Complex website.