Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl of Birding

So I am finally starting this blog up again after basically a half-year hiatus, so that is definitely good. I hope to update the blog fairly often regarding birding trips and news.

Anyways, I just got back from participating in the Super Bowl of Birding hosted by Massachusetts Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This is the sixth annual event and it takes place in just Essex County, Massachusetts and Rockingham County, New Hampshire (you can go birding in both or just one-each county has a separate award on top of grand prize). Unlike similar birding competitions, teams are scored based on a points system (1-5) based on the abundance/rarity of the bird (e.g.: a House Sparrow would be 1, a Snow Bunting would be 3 and a Common Murre a 5). All 5 point birds/birds not on the official checklist must be called in to Joppa Flats, and other teams can check up on what rare birds have been seen. If you are the first team to call in a five point bird, you get a three point bonus. Also, the competition lasts from just 5 AM to 5 PM.

Our team was sponsored by the New York State Young Birders Club and included four young birders (18 and under) in the club; Eamon Corbett, Jacob Drucker, Benjamin Van Doren and myself (the captain). Our team name was the NYSYBC Razorbills and we birded only Essex County, MA just as we did last year, when we won the NewBies Award (minimum 2 members under 18 on the team). Last year we recorded 61 species and 101 points. This year we were really hoping to top that and break 70 species.

We left our hotel in Amesbury, MA at 4:30 AM and took off for an area near Topsfield, MA on the edges of Bradley Palmer State Park. Unlike waking up to 3 degree temperatures last year with howling wind (a -25 degree wind chill), it was right around 30 and there was no wind-a beautiful calm morning; great weather for owling. Just after 5:00, we arrived at our destination for Owls. As we exited the car, an Eastern Screech-Owl was already calling very close to the parking lot. Soon after, we heard Great Horned Owls calling in a duet. We tried for Barred Owl, but were unsuccessful. We drove nearby in an attempt for Northern Saw-whet Owl but were also unsuccessful. In a final effort for Barred Owl, we tried another road near Bradley Palmer SP, but were still unsuccessful. However, another nearby pair of Great Horned Owls calling in a duet was spectacular to listen to.

Next, we took off for Flax Pond in Lynn, where we were going for a Northern Shoveler (5-point bird!) that had been reported all winter. Some teams had already spotted it in the dark but as we arrived at sunrise, the bird was not to be seen. However, we spotted numerous Hooded Mergansers, two Ruddy Ducks and about four American Coot. As we would find out later, there was actually another opening of water at the pond where the Shoveler was, that we had not known about prior. Despite missing the Shoveler, we went on to Nahant, a picturesque isthmus/peninsula southeast of Lynn. On the causeway, we had many Brant, as well as many Duck species including Greater and Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser and Bufflehead as well as White-winged, Surf and Black Scoters. Next, we went to the Nahant stump dump, where we spotted a few neat songbirds such as Carolina Wren and American Tree Sparrow among other common species. We also checked out the ocean on the north side of Nahant and picked up Common Loon and Common Eider as well as both Horned and Red-necked Grebes.
Brant at Nahant.
A view from the north side of Nahant.
Carolina Wren at Nahant.

After we left Nahant, we checked a couple spots in Lynn and then headed straight to Gloucester on Cape Ann. Here, we went to the Jodrey Fish Pier, where there were already hordes of birders, many also participants in the Super Bowl of Birding. Right away we spotted the Thick-billed Murre that had been previously reported. It was a lifer for many of us including myself (see my life list page-bird # 485). However, our highlight here included a Common Murre swimming out in the middle of the harbor. This was also a lifer (bird #486!) and was our first rare/5 point bird of the day. We called it in and realized we were the first to do so, gaining our team the 5 point bonus. Here, we also spotted the Peregrine Falcon in its normal roost spot on the Gloucester Town Hall, as well as our third Alcid species, a Black Guillemot. The Guillemot was doing something, it probably rarely does, and was sitting up on a log/tipped over piling over near the docks. It was our first of many Guillemots on the day. We then took off for Eastern Point in Gloucester at the mouth of Gloucester Harbor. Here, we spotted some Purple Sandpipers on the breakwater clinging to the narrow brick edges on the wall. They were all packed very tight and some even had trouble holding on, sometimes slipping off and flapping on the surface of the water before flying back up. Here, we were also able to spot a couple of Gadwall and our first Great Cormorant. Our next major stop was at the famed Elks Club at Bass Rocks, the site of the adult male King Eider. When we arrived, a very kind local birder pointed it out to us way off in the distance, not the best looks compared to the bird putting on a show at point blank range the day before. They are such beautiful birds and the colors are just amazing. Also of note here was a raft (!) of Red-necked Grebes, not something you see very often.
Common Loon at Jodrey Fish Pier in Gloucester
Harbor Seal at Jodrey Fish Pier in Gloucester.

We headed up to Rockport after birding in Gloucester and first went to Penzance Beach on Loblolly Cove, where an adult male Barrow's Goldeneye had been previously reported. Fortunately, we spotted the Goldeneye right away. We also had our first Harlequin Ducks of the day and were able to enjoy such a beautiful and ornately patterned duck. Next we went to the Granite Pier in Rockport where we had more good looks at Eiders, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and Great Cormorant. Then, we went to Andrews Point, where it was much less windy, cold and blatantly unbearable than last year. Here, we had another Alcid species, and our team mascot, Razorbill. We had tremendous looks at 16 of these birds straight out from where we were looking. The other highlight here was (finally) our first Long-tailed Duck as well as our second King Eider of the day, a first-year male close to shore. We had excellent looks at this bird as well as many more Harlequin Ducks and Scoters and a few more Black Guillemots.
The view from Andrews Point in Gloucester.

After Andrews Point we, went up to Newburyport, picking up both Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks on the way, and stopped at the Sunshine Farm, where a flock of field birds had been reported for the past few weeks. We had a large flock of Horned Larks and had some great views of two Snow Buntings and a Lapland Longspur mixed in. Next, we went to Joppa Park along the Merrimack River in Newburyport where we were surprised, yet relieved, to find the sought after Shoveler that we had missed in Lynn early in the morning. We called the bird in and got our second 5 point bird of the day. Here, we had hundreds of Mallards and American Black Ducks but failed to find much else mixed in. Next, we took off across the river for Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Here, we spotted a beautiful adult Bald Eagle eating a fish on a mudflat fairly close to the parking lot. It was a tremendous sight.
The adult Bald Eagle at Salisbury Beach.

With not much else of note here, we went back across the river to Plum Island's Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. On the way over we stopped by Joppa Park in Newburyport again and spotted a 2nd year Iceland Gull out on the river. At the refuge, most of the fields and marsh had turned into a desolate, snow covered tundra, making birds very scarce. We failed to even find a Northern Harrier, typically a numerous bird on Plum Island. However, towards the southern end of the island we were treated to great looks at a female Rough-legged Hawk sitting on an Osprey platform. However, our best find was at North Pool Overlook, where we were trying to find a previously reported Wilson's Snipe along the last remaining wet spot. There was no Snipe, but Jacob quickly pointed out a Brown Thrasher along the edge of the water. It was our third 5 point bird and we also got the bonus points for being the first to call it in. Unfortunately, our looks were short as a Northern Mockingbird flew in and scared the Thrasher into the thickets across the road. A stop at parking lot 6 at the refuge yielded nothing new but provided looks at 2 more Razorbills as well as a few more Purple Sandpipers. As it was getting towards 5:00 and sunset, we headed over to a Blackbird roost spot in Salisbury, where we finally picked up Northern Harrier as well as a few Red-winged Blackbirds.

It was now 5:00 PM and the competition was over. Our final tally counted 71 species of birds (10 more than last year!) and a total of 140 points (39 more than last year!), a dramatic improvement. However, it was not enough to win the NewBies award although the winner had only two youth members and four adults. We came in 11th overall and 5th in Essex County (I believe) marking an outstanding and exhilarating day of birding. All in all we missed a couple easy birds (we missed House Finch last year!) including Mute Swan and Dark-eyed Junco.

The list:

Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
King Eider
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Murre
Thick-billed Murre
Black Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow.

Thanks to my dad, Fred Lawrence, and Ben's dad, Dan Van Doren for driving, the New York State Young Birders Club for sponsoring and funding the team and for Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center for another great Super Bowl of Birding.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up for a great day! How do you call in a Shoveler? With an I-phone I suppose...