Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Superbowl of Birding Is Fun for All Participants
January 07, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     The 9th annual Superbowl of Birding is coming up in a few weeks, on January 28th, and I thought that I might try to stimulate your interest in participating in this fun event. In addition to the top challenging awards, there are other awards requiring less skill, knowledge, travel, and duration. These include: a “Parker River Refuge Award” for those just birding Plum Island, a “Sitting Duck” for those teams that want to view birds from any single location, a “Newbies Award” which gives you a list of 25 birds to find, and a new “Fledgling Award” that goes from just noon to 5 pm and where 2 team members must be under 12. Fledglings try to find a list of 25 common birds during that period. These are smaller scale challenges, but can be as much fun as the grueling one that I first described to you six years ago:

     The alarm went off at 2:45 A.M. It was time for weeks of planning and scouting to come to fruition. We were little more than two hours away from the start of the Superbowl of Birding III. This twelve hour marathon of birding would challenge us to see as many species as possible in Essex and Rockingham Counties, and score points for each bird based on its rarity at this time of year. Twenty-five teams, of four to seven members each, would compete for the [Nikon Joppa] Cup, and test their birding skill and endurance. It’s not THE Superbowl, but it brings out the “sport” of birding for those who participate. It is put on by the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Center which does a superb job of organizing and executing the event.

     Our team of five met at the Hope Community Church, where the day’s ending tally and awards ceremony would take place, to carpool to our starting point. What was different this year is that it wasn’t below zero degrees at the start. It was a balmy twenty -six degrees, a temperature that we never experienced, even as a high, in our previous two Superbowls. It would top off in the high forties.-great birding weather.

     We were five seasoned birders strong: Phil, from Essex; Sean, our skilled driver; Linda, our “Fraulein” keeping us on schedule; our new addition, Margo, to help us find those nemesis birds; and me. We started at Flax Pond in Lynn, along with four other teams, to put American coot on our list. Coot is a five point write-in bird and being first to call it into the Joppa center earns three bonus points. The five teams jointly called the center to start the day with eight points at 5 AM. In addition, there were mallards, mute swans, ruddy ducks and hooded mergansers on the pond, visible through the ambient light that was available. We had sixteen points in less than fifteen minutes at Flax Pond, a good start by any measure.

     From Lynn, we went “owling” in Boxford and a few other stops without success. We missed barred, great horned, saw-whet and screech owls in the hour and a half that we had before dawn. At dawn, we positioned ourselves at a feeder in Beverly where an orange-crowned warbler, another five pointer, was visiting a suet feeder. Though another team showed up just before the bird did, our team got on it first (the majority of the team has to see and identify the bird) and we called it in for three more bonus points. We then headed for Gloucester where we had a flock of wild turkeys and a previously scouted pine warbler coming to another suet feeder. Though the pine warbler was worth only four points, we headed for another five point warbler visiting a feeder, a black-throated blue. We found the bird after ten minutes or so, but another team had been there before us to call it in for the three bonus points.

     From there, we made the loop around Cape Ann. We were lucky enough to get king eider, harlequin ducks, greater scaup, black guillemot, purple sandpipers and Barrow’s golden eye on our first tries. We had Iceland, glaucous and black-headed gull at the Jodrey State Pier. The rare eared grebe, that has been visiting Niles Beach for eleven straight years, gave us a problem. We couldn’t find it on our first pass, but we decided to go back and Margo located the bird and added five points to our list. but it cost us some extra time. For land birds, we found waxwings, catbird, Lapland longspur, horned lark, and a scouted pheasant, but we missed the resident peregrine falcon on city hall, towhee, hermit thrush, fox sparrow and two screech owls previously scouted.

     En route to Newburyport we tried for raven, flicker, bluebird and brown creeper without success, but we did see a turkey vulture and found a red morph screech owl sunning himself in his tree hole. Once in Newburyport, we headed up river where we found bald eagle, great blue heron and common mergansers.

     We raced down Plum Island, arriving there almost an hour behind schedule. We found a snowy owl far out from the Maintenance Area., and a peregrine, missed earlier, perched far out in the marsh south of the Pines. We headed for Stage Island Pool where we found pintail and lesser scaup. Looking ocean side at Emerson Rocks, we located brant, which we missed at Cape Ann, and a flock of dunlin. Heading back, near Cross Farm Hill, a short-eared owl was sitting on a rock. As we watched it, an American bittern flew past-great timing! An immature northern shrike was teed up along the road on our way back and we finally got three of us on some yellow-rumped warblers that were flitting around the winterberry to add our last three points for the day as the 5 PM conclusion approached.

     We made it back to the church by the 5:30 deadline, and our 88 species earned us the Director’s Award. It was also a state record for January for the most species seen. We missed the Swarovski Cup by four points, one or two birds. The Cup was won by the Wicked Pishahs, who scored 195 points with 86 species.

     By the way, our team is the Raven Loon-a-tics. An appropriate name, we think, for rising at 2:45 AM, putting ourselves through twelve plus hours of non-stop birding and bladder control, for the sole purpose of seeing birds. But it was great fun, for us, and for all the hundred and thirty team members that participated in the event.

     For more information or to sign up for Superbowl of Birding IX, contact Mass Audubon Joppa Flats at 978-462-9998.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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