Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Rare Birds Highlight Superbowl Win
February 2, 2008
Last Saturday was the Superbowl of Birding V that I told you about two weeks ago. Teams of four to seven members searched for birds in Essex County and in Rockingham County, NH from 5 am to 5 pm in an attempt to see the most species and accrue the most points based on the rarity of each species. Species were valued from 1 to 5 points plus 3 bonus points for being the first to see a 5 point bird. Twenty-six teams competed this year for a variety of awards.
Our Raven-Loonatics Team (Phil Brown, Linda Ferraresso, Margo Goetschkes, Sean King and yours truly) was successful in defending our Superbowl title, though it didn’t feel like we were going to as we moved through the day. We started off positive enough, actually hearing an owl call for the first time in years. We made several pre-dawn stops in Ipswich and Essex, attempting to call various owls and hoping for a response. Phil “hooted” for long-eared, great horned and barred owls and Margo “tooted” for saw-whet and whistled for screech owls. At one stop, I attempted to “toot” in a saw-whet with a slide whistle, only to create a garbled jumble of comical notes that had us all laughing so hard that we lost five minutes just trying to compose ourselves. The only owl we did hear, a pair of great horned owls, were calling without any prompt from us at one stop.
Even before sunrise, we were staked out at Phil’s feeders in Essex, waiting for a five point chipping sparrow to show up. At 6:40 it did, and we moved on to another feeder in Hamilton and waited a bit longer for another five pointer, an orange-crowned warbler, to visit suet. Another stop yielded yet another five point bird – pine grosbeak, and an unexpected 4 point raven flew overhead.
Our luck waned a bit as we arrived on Cape Ann. Another feeder stakeout came up empty and cost us some valuable time. A Barrow’s Goldeneye and brant that were at one location the day before were absent. Phil found a beautiful male wood duck in with the mallards at Lane’s Cove. We came up with nothing, however, at Halibut Point. Andrew’s Point was more productive with razorbills and a five point dovekie that was first spotted by Sean. We missed any Bohemian waxwings that had been around, but I was able to improve my “tooting” well enough to call in the rare Townsend’s solitaire in Rockport, another five-pointer.
We went on to Bass Rocks in Gloucester where we found the king eider and some black guillemots. Brace’s Cove produced glaucous and Iceland gulls, ruddy turnstones and a five point American pipit which Linda spotted on the wrack line. Nile’s Pond was frozen except for a small stretch of water in the middle. Studying the gulls on the pond, I spotted the rare, five point slaty-backed gull and I was able to get two other teams members on it before all the gulls suddenly took flight.
It was getting late, and time was against us as we were running well behind schedule. The usually reliable peregrine falcon wasn’t on its perch atop the Gloucester town hall. Two more feeder stops in West Gloucester for ruby-crowned kinglet and pine warblers came up empty and wasted more time.
This early afternoon lull gave us much concern after some huge misses though the day, but finding some targeted birds in the Newburyport/Salisbury area late in the day helped us regain momentum. We found bald eagles, snipe and great blue heron in Newburyport. Key was finding 4 species of blackbirds in one tree: redwings, cowbirds, rusty blackbirds, and an unexpected grackle! A stop at a home in Salisbury rewarded us with bluebirds, spotted at the last minute by Margo.
We missed the tide in the harbor, and several key birds as a result. We rushed down Plum Island and did find our targeted birds: snowy owl, short-eared owl, rough-legged hawk and northern shrike. Still, at day’s end, as we drove off Plum Island, we were very unsure of whether our results would be enough to win. With all the winter finches and other specialty birds reported from Rockingham County the week before, we truly expected a New Hampshire team to win it all this year. In the end, we found 90 species of birds and we did win with the highest point total. The number of five point birds that we found first, turned out to be the difference. Win or lose, it is always a fun-filled day. Exhausting, but fun!
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