Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bald Eagles Highlight Winter Birding
January 31, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     The sixth annual Superbowl of Birding took place last Saturday. One hundred and thirteen participants in twenty-one teams scoured Essex County, MA and Rockingham County, NH to find the most species of birds in twelve hours. Teams accumulated points for each bird, depending of the rarity of the species. Common birds, such as a rock pigeon or starling, are worth one point, while rarer species such as a wintering Baltimore oriole or turkey vulture are worth five points. Prizes were given out in 9 categories.

     Though I did not participate on a team this year, I did encounter several teams in the field that day, and I was there for the wrap-up meeting at the end of the day. The top award, the Joppa Cup, went to the Return of the Great Auks, led by David Bates, who tallied 178 Points. The Director’s Award for the most species seen went to the Burger Kinglets (don’t you love the names?), and Captain Paul Meleski, who saw 83 species. The Essex County Excels Award was won by the Glassy-eyedbis team, led by Scott Santino who totaled 146 points. The Rockingham County Rocks Award was won by the 4th and Longspurs, led by Steve Mirick, tallying 152 points.

     Two uncontested wins went to the Plum Island Plovers, led by Steve Sutton, for accumulating 89 points on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and to the Joppa Sitting Ducks, led by Hilda Dorgan, for amassing 55 points to grab the Sitting Duck Award.

     Those that started the day at 5am encounter relatively mild conditions, in Superbowl standards, but the day turned cold and windy, making birding more difficult as the 5pm deadline approached. Fewer than usual five point birds were found and only three write-ins to the checklist were discovered this year. Though a tough day in the field, it was, again, great fun for all who participated.

     Most teams were lucky enough to see a bald eagle that day. But it was back in December, after that terrible ice storm, when Bob, the eagle man from West Newbury, came into the store dejected because last year’s eagle nest in his backyard was destroyed by the storm. He was really down because the top limbs supporting the huge nest were also gone. Non-the-less, I told him to have faith – that eagles have high fidelity for their nest sites and they may, indeed, return.

     A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Bob saying that the two adult bald eagles had, indeed, returned to the same tree with large sticks and began building a new nest! They continue to make progress rebuilding, and needless-to-say, Bob is thrilled. It is great news that another eagle family is possible again this year!

     The frigid weather has caused the Merrimack River to become mostly frozen from the Chain Bridge up through Amesbury and West Newbury to Haverhill. Besides these nesting pair in West Newbury, most eagle sightings have been on the lower Merrimack, where there is a little more open water. Adults and immature birds are being seen from Cashman and Joppa Parks.

     Tomorrow, Sunday, there will be a program, for adults, to search for bald eagles along the Merrimack from the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education center from 9am to noon. Preregistration at the Joppa Flats Center is required for this excursion.

     There is also a family “Fly-by” program at the Joppa Flats Audubon Center tomorrow from 10am-2pm titled Eagles, Owls and Hawks, Oh My! All kinds of children activities will take place. Just drop by and have fun – no sign up needed.

     The annual Newburyport Eagle Festival takes place in two weeks, on February 14 this year. There will be bus trips to see eagles or you can visit various venues along the river where birders will be stationed with spotting scope to help you see eagles. In addition, there will be programs at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center and at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, as well as the ever poplar eagle program at the Newburyport City Hall. These events are for the entire family and all events are free.

     If you haven’t had your fill of eagles by then, I will be leading a free bird walk on Sunday afternoon, Feb 15th to see eagles along the Merrimack and to look for owls at Salisbury or Plum Island. We meet at the Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle at 1pm. Families are welcome, no preregistration, just mark your calendar and be there!

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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