Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding competition heats up the winter
January 20, 2007
Steve Grinley

     If you look out your window during the next week and see a car driving slowly through your neighborhood, it is probably not a thief “casing the joint.” It is more likely a Superbowl of Birding participant checking out your or your neighbor’s bird feeders in preparation for next Saturday’s competition.

     Next Saturday is the Superbowl of Birding IV, sponsored by the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center. Teams of birders spend 12 hours, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., searching for birds in an attempt to find the most species in Essex County and/or Rockingham County, NH. Teams try to earn the greatest number of points based on the rarity of the birds recorded. Strategy and planning are essential in order to win this competition and team members are “scouting” days, and even weeks, before the competition. I must admit that I have been scouting the neighborhoods, looking for a wintering grackle, catbird, towhee or oriole and hoping for a pine siskin or dickcissel.

     It has been disappointing to see so many empty feeders. Perhaps now, with the colder temperatures and threats of snow, more folks will put out food for the birds. I always like to check the suet feeders because that’s where some of the more unusual birds gravitate. Any wintering wrens, warblers, kinglets, brown creepers and even bluebirds, orioles and catbirds will eat suet. Some of my customers have been feeding mealworms to bluebirds since last summer, and this is the second winter that I’ve had to continue stocking mealworms.

     I have also found a few good birds at open birdbaths. As the temperature falls and fresh water becomes less available, birds will seek out a birdbath with a heater for water to drink. I found a ruby-crowned kinglet at a heated bath just last week. Bluebirds, hermit thrushes and wintering robins appreciate an open birdbath.

     Last year, in Superbowl III, teams found a total of 133 species of birds. Past Superbowls have attracted participants from as far away as Delaware and Pennsylvania. But you don’t have to be an expert birder to participate, nor do you even have to travel to see the birds. The event consists of activities targeted for all ages and levels of birders. Beginning birders, or those who prefer indoor birding at this time of year, can join Joppa Flats naturalists in the indoor bird blind at the Education Center. More experienced birders can form a team of their own. There is also a Young Birders category for teams with members 18 years of age or younger.

     The Seekers Award is new this year and has its own special checklist. There is also a Sitting Duck Award for the greatest number of species tallied from a fixed point, which could be your yard or anywhere you choose! Last year, we had families participate and it was great fun. Two awards, the NewBies Award for the greatest number of points tallied by any team with two or more members 18 years of age or younger and the Lifer Award for the participant who sees the most new life birds during the competition, are both achievable for families that take part. Last year, a NewBies Award was won by the Martin family of Boxford. They called themselves the Purple Martins (even though it wasn’t that cold last year!).

     And, yes, there are those great team names that help feed the competition. The “Wicked Pishahs” won the Joppa Cup last year. Other winners included the “Molting Jackdaws,” the New Hampshire 4th and Longspurs, and the Hunker Downs, appropriately named winners of the Sitting Duck Award. Then, there is my team, winners of last year’s Directors Award for the most species, and most appropriately named the Raven Loon-atics.

     To create your own team name, to join another team or to get more information, check online at www.massaudubon.org/superbowl or contact the Joppa Flats Education Center 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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply