Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
An Awesome Birding Day in Rockport
February 06, 2021
By Steve Grinley
While you enjoy the Superbowl from the comfort of your home this weekend, think about the poor souls that spent twelve hours in sub-zero wind chill weather participating in last weekend’s Superbowl of Birding. Actually, this year’s event was termed the “Semi-Superbowl of Birding” as it was modified to promote local birding and social distancing. Ten of the twenty one “teams” birded just one town this year. Our friend, Strickland Wheelock, birded just Rockport and posted the following report:
“Way back I signed up for the Semi-Superbowl of Birding to do the Big Sit (where you count the birds seen from a 25′ radius where each bird species has a point value from 1 – 5 pts – object is to see what team can rack up the most points) and also the Townie competition to see which team can see the most species in a town. So I chose Rockport to combine the Big Sit species from Andrew’s Point along with the Rockport species.
“Little did I know how painfully cold it was going to be when I signed up with gusty cold winds, wind chills below zero – the seas were pounding when my team “Mission Possible” arrived at Andrew’s Point at 6:20 am. Always loving challenge, Ursula Collinson and I decided not to be deterred by the pain factor. My positive outlook was that the pounding seas & wind would kick in many seabirds especially alcids & other surprises.
“First tried to stand at my normal spot just below the parking lot…and quickly realized that no way anyone could survive the pain factor. Then I packed up the gear and walked down the side street where there is a wall that was blocking the biting wind – still very cold but survivable.
“Instantly you could see all the non-stop movement of ocean species going by the Point plus all the expected Harlequins, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks in the water. Many Black and a few White-winged Scoters were flying, plus a few alcids (many further out to sea but not all). Other non-alcid species that were flying or in the water were a few flocks of Purple Sandpipers, a flock of Brant, and many gulls – with the highlight a stunning adult Iceland Gull. There were also Red- breasted Mergansers, several Common Loons, a Peregrine Falcon ripping over the rocks, and several Great Cormorants. But no grebes or Gannets.
“The alcids were the main draw for me to deal with the elements and not to be disappointed. We found one Dovekie, several Razorbills, a Common Murre and, to my shock, a lone Atlantic Puffin sitting in the ocean just off the Point. Many other alcids were flying out a little further but no Guillemot at this point. Finally at 9 am the flights slowed down, we were really cold and headed out to find some passerines in Rockport.
“Starting point was Halibut Point SP and to my surprise again we found [many birds] in the thickets and at a feeder at the corner house. Many species were actively feeding on the berries and seed at the feeder – many Robins, Bluebird, a Catbird, Juncos, 3 species of woodpeckers, a Palm Warbler (a surprise), Pine Siskin, Goldfinches, Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches and all the other expected species.
“We then headed to the Granite Pier to fill in missing ocean species not seen at the Point. We found a Common Goldeneye, several Surf Scoters, and Buffleheads. Plus we re-found a Pacific Loon in the same area where I found it last week when scouting.
“From here to some fields off Rt 127A where we walked the trails to find a large flock of Canada Geese, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, a Mockingbird, Red-tailed Hawk, and a Northern Flicker to add to the list.
“Back to the Andrew’s Point spot around 2 pm as seabirds were moving again and quickly added a Black Guillemot flying by, plus more Razorbills & distant alcids. We decided (fortunately) to head back to Halibut Point and were rewarded with our only Red-throated Loon, a Bonaparte’s Gull, a Bald Eagle, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and White-throated Sparrows along with many Robins & the expected seabirds.
“At 4:45 pm, we called it a day, a day which was full of surprises. making the brutal weather conditions all worth it. In the end, we found 57 species in Rockport, 29 species off the Andrew’s Point 25′ radius circle. I always love a fun challenge to compete, to enjoy the outdoors, and to witness the beauty and sounds of the pounding surf. An awesome day in Rockport!”
Strickland’s Mission Possible Team’s species total was enough to win them the Essex County Award!