Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
This Superbowl is For the Birds!
February 03, 2023
By Steve Grinley
Last Saturday was the Superbowl of Birding XX hosted by Mass Audubon. Twenty-four teams scoured Essex and/or Rockingham Counties (or specific towns or locations) in search of the most species they could find in twelve hours. One such team was led by Steve Mirick of Bradford, MA. Steve shared details o their exciting day:
“Yesterday, Jane and I joined up with Paul Lacourse and Kurk Dorsey for the “Superbowl of Birding” sponsored by the Joppa Flats Education Center of Massachusetts Audubon. This is the 20th anniversary for this competitive event. The event is a fun way of beating the winter cold and getting out and finding birds in Essex County, MA and Rockingham County, NH. Our team name is the “4th and Longspurs”. As we have done in the past years, we participated in the category of “Rockingham County, NH only”. A weighted valuation system determines the winner, where the rarity of the species determines the number of points awarded.
“The winter thus far has been incredibly mild and with very little snow. The day’s weather continued this trend with partly cloudy skies and temperatures starting in the upper 20’s, but rising to about 49F in the afternoon. Perhaps the mildest weather we’ve ever had for this event. Moderate to strong SW winds in the afternoon created some difficulty with trying to get a few late day songbirds and trying to pick out birds in the choppy and wavy ocean.
“We changed things around a bit this year and decided to try for owls in the Great Bay area and this worked out very well with 3 owl species. We managed to hoot in a Barred Owl off the rail trail in Newmarket, and got both Screech Owl and Great Horned Owl in Greenland. My original strategy was to walk the Portsmouth Country Club at dawn, but I changed this at the last minute and decided to work Exeter at dawn. We got to the Vulture roost before dawn, so we waited…..and waited….but could not pick out the Black Vultures. So we gave up and decided to work some neighborhoods.
“This worked out well and we managed to get many of the regulars including Northern Flicker, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a nice flyby Merlin near Paul’s house. Plus we got our scouted Hermit Thrush which hadn’t moved from the bush we saw it in less than 24 hours earlier. The big surprise was when we stopped at a feeder where 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had been reported to us. We missed the sapsuckers, but got a flock of Turkey Vultures accompanied by at least 2 BLACK VULTURES! I’m wondering/thinking that they didn’t use the usual roost site that night.
“Continuing on, we managed Hooded Mergansers and a Belted Kingfisher along the riverfront in Exeter, but dipped on the Great Blue Heron. A quick stop at the Exeter WTP (WHERE WE DID NOT ENTER) yielded an Iceland Gull and Lesser Scaup with a spotting scope from the parking lot. We missed Red-shouldered Hawk in town, but I decided to do a “drive-by” along Rt. 101 and we picked up an adult near the Guinea Road overpass. For some reason, the Red-shouldred Hawks like this area over the years!
“We headed up to Stuart Farm in Stratham where we only managed to get Savannah Sparrows as a new bird, but Chapman’s Landing gave us a quick Bald Eagle and Common Mergansers. At the Great Bay Discovery Center we didn’t get much, but while taking a bathroom stop, I hooted a Barred Owl, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew in!! We headed to the Portsmouth Country Club next, where I had previously warned the team that we were in for a long walk out to the point. This spot (which is open to the public) is currently snow free so easy to walk, but still a long walk and over a 1 hour time commitment for a Superbowl effort. Fortunately, we managed to get both the EURASIAN WIGEON and the Wood Duck that had previously been reported…but we missed the Gray Catbird.
“The Great Bay Farm was our next stop where we picked up White-crowned Sparrow, but the nice surprise was getting the nearby WESTERN TANAGER as a drive-by! Not even needing to get out of the car as the bird was (still) feeding in the big apples along Ocean Road in Greenland.
“Now…the stupid Greater White-fronted Goose. Two teams had already reported it, so we drove around and around (and around) trying to find it. We even went around the traffic circle to the liquor store where there were geese, but no luck anywhere. Then we dipped on the Swamp Sparrows…just too windy. We got permission to view a Wilson’s Snipe in Portsmouth, and coincidentally, THREE teams converged on Stuart Varney’s house at the same time. And we all managed to see the snipe before it ran back into the swamp!
“Heading to the coast, we quickly got most of the basic birds, and also managed a Northern Harrier at Odiorne, THE continuing King Eider, and continuing DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT south of Odiorne. We took a detour to some neighborhoods where we MISSED the scouted Pine Siskin and Fox Sparow, but pulled in a clutch Palm Warbler that had previously been reported at the Hampton Wastewater Treatment Plant. We finished the day at Hampton Beach State Park where we got the Dunlins, Snow Buntings, and Horned Larks, but missed out on the Longspur and Sanderlings.
“We ended up with a new team record of 86 species, beating our previous high of 84 species set in 2014 and 2020. We had FOUR 5-pointers (1 for 8-points) and added THREE new species for our all-time Superbowl list which now stands at around 157!!! We finished with winning the Rockingham County award for the most species reported in Rockingham County!”