On a Saturday morning in the off season at Cape May Point, a lone bicyclist stops and pulls out his smart phone to capture the spectacle before him: Four birdwatchers have abandoned their Prius in the middle of the street to pursue their elusive quarry. The news van following them has been similarly abandoned and a photographer and reporter are scrambling to capture the moment.

The occasion is the World Series of Birding, an annual event in which teams compete to see who can spot (or hear) the most species during a 24-hour period.

WHYY reporter Peter Crimmins and I covered the 30th anniversary of the World Series of Birding by embedding ourselves with a highly competitive team, Zen Zugunruhe. We joined them in the pre-dawn hours and documented their trials and triumphs.

I visited the site several weeks before the event to photograph the birds we were likely to see, rightly suspecting that there would be no time for nature photography during the fast-paced competition.

I crept on my belly through the sand to get close to a pair of American oystercatchers. I crouched in the mud waiting for a great egret to emerge from the reeds. I laid in ambush behind a dune, hoping a piping plover would wander into the range of my lens. Yet I never saw myself as part of the spectacle until I turned around on that quiet street and beheld that the beholder was beheld.

You can see photos from the competition in the gallery below.