Sunday, January 31, 2010

Superbowl of Birding Results

The "Superbowl of Birding" is sponsored by the Joppa Flats Education Center of Massachusetts Audubon. This is the 7th year for this competitive event, which is a fun way of getting out and finding birds in Essex County, MA and Rockingham County, NH. A weighted valuation system determines the winner, where the rarity of the species determines the number of points awarded. In other words, each species is given a point value and whoever has the most points wins! The prizes are awarded as follows:

1. The Minox Joppa Cup: Grand prize for the team with the greatest number of points - $100
2. Director's Award: Greatest number of species - $75
3. Essex County Excels Award: Most points in Essex County - $50
4. Rockingham County Rocks Award: Most points in Rockingham County (essentially tied with Essex County Excels Award) - $50

There are a few other prizes for things like most lifers, most birds on Plum Island, etc.

This year Jessie Knapp, Jason Lambert, Ben Griffith, and I formed a new team called "Granite State Bird Watch" (in honor of our favorite whale watch who donated sweatshirts/team uniforms to the cause!). It was both Jessie and my first Superbowl where as Ben and Jason had participated with team "Saw-what owls?" in the past.

We spent every day in recent memory scouting and were thoroughly rewarded by our efforts. In a real team effort we saw a total of 85 species, 83 of which counted for the superbowl (2 were not seen by enough members of the team) and we tallied 164 species. Everyone brought a lot to the table and we hoped that it would be enough to put us on top for the "Rockingham County Rocks" Award but much to our surprise it did much more. We ended up winning the Minox Joppa Cup (1st prize! Which is given for total points everywhere) despite the fact that we never left Rockingham County! We are the first NH team to ever win the Joppa Cup! We had 8 more species than the next closest team, and about 15 more points more than the next closest team!!!

Congratulations to all the other teams for sticking it out and working hard in the cold and on behalf of Granite State Bird Watch I'd like to thank you for the fun competition and the many congratulations.

It was a COLD day started off at 0 degrees (-21 with wind chill) at 4:45 AM from Lubberland Creek where we had a Barred Owl calling. As the competition starts at 5AM we had to wait to see if we could coax it to call again after 5... and to our joy at 5:01 AM we had recorded our first species. From there we picked up 3 other species of owl (including a Saw-whet which flew right past us!) by 5:40. We had over a half an hour in darkness to look for other bird species after our drive to East Kingston to Davis Finch's house. Here our day continued to impress with birds like Pileated Woodpecker, Common Raven, Wild Turkey, cowbird, and blackbird as highlights.

After this we headed to Exeter and Stratham to pick up the inland ducks and the rest of the feederbirds. We lucked out with Cedar Waxwings in Newmarket which we picked up on the way to our Carolina Wren spot. By the time we made it to Sandy Point we had all of the "Bay ducks" and decided to make a run for the Sapsucker in Rye that had been reported. We found the bird in the Cemetery within 5 minutes of arriving and immediately saw that a Pied-billed Grebe had been reported in South Mill Pond. We went searching for it but couldn't locate it, so we checked North Mill Pond (to see if it had been there instead of S. Mill Pond) and then swung around Newcastle picking up Gadwall and Razorbill. We tried one more time for Pied-billed Grebe but it still wasn't there. During our last scan of the pond I looked down and saw that the 4th and Longspurs had relocated it at Albacore Park (which connects to North Mill Pond! Turns out the bird had been mis-reported as having been in South Mill Pond after all!)

After this point we went to pick up American Wigeon and Pintail before trekking North up the coast. We picked up Snowy Owl (see below for a condensed story on this), Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and a few other things from Seabrook before heading north to get all of the sea ducks, Black Guillemot, Northern Gannet, Sanderling, and Purple Sandpiper. At 4:30pm we were still MISSING Barrow's Goldeneye so we decided to give it one last chance at Great Boars Head from the north side and within 5 minutes of arriving at about 4:40 we found it just beyond the rocks in the shallowest part of the water with a group of Common Goldeneye. We rejoiced tremendously and then scoped the marsh behind Little Jacks quickly (only turning up a fire hydrant) before heading down to Newburyport, MA to make sure we arrived on time.

Below is a full list of species seen and/or heard throughout the day with a few notes mixed in.


Location: Rockingham County, NH, US
Observation date: 1/30/10
Notes: Superbowl effort by team "Granite State Bird Watch": Lauren Kras, Ben Griffith, Jason Lambert, and Jessie Knapp. A new January big day record, a new record high for superbowl species in Rockingham County, and the first time a team from Rockingham won anything but "Rockingham Rocks"!!! 1st place at Superbowl 2010!
Number of species: 85

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall 1 1 Female off of Goat Island, Newcastle
American Wigeon 1 1 female off of Brown Rd. in Hampton Falls
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail 1 1 Male in Seabrook Duck Pond
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup 7 Exeter WWTP
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye 1 Male off of North side of Great Boars Head at 4:40 PM! Last new bird of the day!
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey Called in at 6:20 AM by Jason Lambert when it was still dark out and we didn't know what to do with our time!
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe 1 In Albacore Park/North Mill Pond. THANKS to 4th and Longspurs for figuring out that the bird was here and not in South Mill Pond!
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
Bald Eagle 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 *Only seen by 2 people - therefore not part of our Superbowl total
Cooper's Hawk 6
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon 1 On powerline off of Island Path. Also saw one on the watertower - but probably the same bird
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull 2 One first winter bird in Seabrook Harbor, one dark second winter bird in Rye Harbor
Glaucous Gull 1 In Seabrook harbor...
Great Black-backed Gull
Razorbill 1 From Great Island Common. Life bird for J. Knapp
Black Guillemot 2 One from Little Boars Head, and one from Ragged Neck
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl 2 Calling from Sandy Point, Greenland at approx. 5:25 AM
Great Horned Owl 1 Calling from Kimball Rd., Kingston at approx. 5:40 AM

Snowy Owl 1 Seen in Seabrook Harbor. First picked out by B. Griffith who was unsure whether it was ice or and owl. Within moments of getting on it, L. Kras witnessed it flying confirming that it was not ice but an owl. J. Knapp refound it in the marsh and J. Lambert was able to observe the bird from a distance (to say the least.
Definitely one of the best highlights of the day.

Barred Owl 1 1 Calling from Lubberland Creek, Newmarket at 5:01 AM
Northern Saw-whet Owl 1 1 Calling and seen in Stratham at 5:12 AM
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 1 from Central Cemetery in Rye - thanks to twitchers in the Rye for finding it during a "break"

Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark 15 Most at Hampton Beach SP., but 1 from rt. 1A which crossed in front of the car while we were waiting at the light while discussing that we needed to go to the SP. to look for Horned Lark.

Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch Wiggins Rd. in Stratham
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing 15 One flock in downtown Newmarket, one individual at Exeter WWTP
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2 1 at Exeter WWTP, 1 off of Cushing Rd. in Newmarket
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow 1 1 at Stuart Farm in Stratham
Fox Sparrow (Red) 1 1 off of River Rd. in Stratham, thanks to the Abbotts for the warm break, delicious hot chocolate, and hosting a 4 pointer.

Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
Snow Bunting From Wallis Sands. Scouted regularly by J. Knapp!
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird Heard off South Rd. in East Kingston, seen off of 101 in Hampton.
Brown-headed Cowbird off South Rd. in East Kingston
House Finch
Pine Siskin 1 from Wiggins Rd. in Stratham. Heard by 1 individual only so not counted as part of superbowl total.
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Here's our list of misses:
Sharp-shinned Hawk - One seen by 2 of us but we couldn't refind it or find another to get the crucial third
Lesser Black-backed Gull - we looked a few places and had a possible one on the bay but the heat haze made it difficult to call for sure
Winter Wren - with the cold and wind we decided it wasn't even worth trying or spending time to look although other teams got it
Hermit Thrush - we ran out of time to check for either of the 2 we had locations for. We had this as a low priority as well due to weather
Swamp Sparrow - again, we didn't even check today as it wasn't a priority in the cold and wind which would make them difficult
Purple Finch - Haven't had any all winter in Rockingham
Pine Siskin - heard by 1 of us at a location we had scouted it but we decided to leave after trying to have it call again to chase down the Sapsucker.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009 in Review

And Here is my story:

On January 14th I returned to New Hampshire at 8pm after spending 25 days with my family in Syracuse, NY. By the time I had returned, many had anounced their intentions of doing a “big year”, I was not one of them. I did decide to keep track of what I saw using the excel sheet that Steve Mirick posted. I set an internal goal of 250 species for 2009 and hoped that my efforts would increase my ABA life list from 347 to 400 by years end.

My year started with a trip to Coe Hill Rd. where I logged my first species of the year: Northern Hawk Owl. I’m sure I saw birds on the way there, or even heard them in my yard, but I never noted any of them. It was my 348th life bird.

On January 19th I spent my second day birding in 2009 down in Gloucester, MA on a mission to see the Ivory Gull with Ben Griffith. Ben showed me lifer #349: Thayer’s Gull, which was found by Jeremiah Trimble. Within an hour the Ivory Gull appeared for #350. Before the end of the day I also added Harlequin Duck and Black-headed Gull to my life list.

My third trip out in 2009 was to the NH coast on January 21st. I quickly added the usual sea-ducks, Razorbill, Guillemot, and to my surprise King Eider. The lack of any report of King Eider for 19 days caused some doubt of the validity of the sighting; however, later in the year, when I opened up the Winter Issue of NH Bird Records, I learned that Len Medlock reported King Eider on the same day at the same location!

In an effort to spend some more time birding together, Ben and I headed up north twice (joined by Jason Lambert on one occasion) where we saw Pine & Evening Grosbeak, Hoary and Common Redpoll (the three of us also saw both species in Keene, NH), Gray Jay, Bohemian Waxwing, and other northern specialties.

I went birding approximately 4 days a week with Ben throughout February. We spent time in Plymouth-MA, Keene, Rochester, Dover, Durham, Exeter, and the coast. Admittedly, some of my motivation was not “birding related”.

Ben left for California to work with Island Scrub-Jays. We tried the long distance thing… but that didn’t work out so well for us. However, despite his absence I realized that “being a birder” was who I was, with or without him; I really began to find myself and began to feel more and more comfortable in who I was.

On March 15th I headed out on the Spring Pelagic trip. Conversation on the boat focused on who would be at the lead at the end of the year: Steve? Len? Jason? Eric? Len Medlock and Jason Lambert were in the lead followed slightly by Steve Mirick who was followed by Eric Masterson’s. On the trip I realized that my list was right in the middle of everyone else’s totals and I was frustrated that no one mentioned my name in the debate of who would finish the year on top. Then again, I had to remember that when Ben first met me, he “took it easy on me” due to someone’s suggestion to do so. However, by the time Ben left, “taking it easy” wasn’t in my vocabulary and motivated by the conversations on the boat I went on a mission to show others that I had grown and changed and was just as capable/dedicated as anyone else when it came to ending the year on top.

From that day forward I knew that if I was to end the year on top I would have to aim to break the 280 species that Mike Harvey saw in 2003 as 280-290 was goal for Eric and others. I knew others had the advantage of having years of expertise behind them, yet I knew that I had the advantage of having a never say die attitude, a flexible schedule, and a job that required my “work” time be spent in marshes throughout the coast. My strategy from that day forward was to see things as soon as they showed up in the state, and to spend any free moment I had in the field searching for migrants, breeding birds, and rarities.

March allowed me to add an abundance of waterfowl including Gadwall and Greater White-fronted Goose. April was a weird month beginning with a Great Gray Owl in Durham and ending with a flood of 22 species of warblers in the state including Yellow-breasted Chat and Hooded Warbler. I tallied 21 of the 22 species of warbler seen that month and shared a remarkable total of 17 warbler species in a day in April with Jason Lambert!!!

May proved to be even MORE productive as I added Harlequin Duck, White-eyed Vireo, and Gray-cheeked Thrush (thanks to Steve Mirick!) and Sandhill Crane thanks to a random whim to stop and pish for warblers in Newmarket. The Mississippi Kites returned and so did Ben. Before long we were back together and looking at a Lark Sparrow found by Steve in Exeter. We spent time birding migration where I logged my 400th Life (though not ABA) bird in Tennessee Warbler. Ben became my coach and his “orders” sent me to the coast on May 29th where I logged Black Tern and Red-necked Phalaropes.

June started off with a Royal Tern found by Eric Masterson, followed by a trip to Mt. Jefferson with Jason and Len to see Bicknell’s Thrush for Jason’s Birthday. After the trip I came down with mono and found out that a family member had cancer. To reflect and get away from work for a bit, I took a trip with Ben up north and added Spruce Grouse, Red Crossbill, Boreal Chickadee, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. When I returned to Dover, I made preparations to head home to NY to help out the following week. Ten minutes after I cleaned out my car I received a phone call from Ben who had just heard from Steve, that Mike Harvey had found a Sabine’s Gull near Pulpit Rocks.

I grabbed my gear and ran to my car. Sabine’s Gull was one of my “most wanted” species. I knew it would be a GREAT species to have on a big year list. I won’t tell you how fast I drove, but I’m sure you can imagine. On my way I found out that it had moved down to the Seal Rocks area. I pulled in and parked about 3 cars in but didn’t care. I’m pretty sure I left my car running as I dove out and saw JoAnn and Mike standing there looking through their scopes. JoAnn let me take a look, and I frantically spoke. I’m pretty sure Mike was convinced I was crazy at this point. I moved my car to a spot that had opened up and set up my scope dedicated to watch the bird until others got there. Birders arrived over the following few hours and it was one of the craziest times that I can remember.

A more detailed Sabine’s Gull recap can be found here: Sabine’s Gull was ABA bird #400 and #263 for the year.

A few days later I headed home to help out and missed an American Oystercatcher. I was a bit bummed but knew I was needed at home more than anything. Luckily, shortly after my return I was rewarded with one of the most memorable birding excursions of the year on July 4th. While I was patiently awaiting Ben’s arrival to the coast in order to go on an afternoon whale watch, text messages from Jason trickled in with the word “Jaeger”. Frantically I texted him back trying to figure out the details. Frustrated I left a rude voicemail and scanned out over the ocean from Pulpit Rocks in vain. Later I learned he was on a whale watch and had all 3 species of Jaeger with some other birders (later this was dropped down to 2 as one was a mis-id).

Ben and I boarded the boat and were rather tense as the pressure was high. Before long a first summer Pomarine Jaeger (the least expected Jaeger species in July) bombed right past the boat after a shearwater, and then… the boat went into “No-man’s Land”, the area in-between NH and MA that doesn’t count for either state (grrrr!!!). We had beautiful looks at bubble feeding humpbacks, but felt time slipping away. On the way back in to Rye Harbor we frantically scanned from the bow of the boat and then suddenly in the distance we spotted a first summer Parasitic in the distance!!! After celebrating, I headed to the wheelhouse and begged that we swing by the Isles of Shoals where a Long-tailed Jaeger had been seen earlier that day by the other group. Pete (the captain) obliged and just outside the Isles Ben picked out a beautiful adult Long-tailed Jaeger with streamers!!! A different individual than the other group had!!!

July 4th was the second of over a dozen whale watches this summer and was the first of 3 trips where I viewed all 3 species of Jaegers! It was a truly spectacular summer for pelagic birds in NH, or so I am told, as it was the ONLY summer I’ve ever experienced in NH! On behalf of all of the NH birders who took a Whale Watch with Granite State - Thanks to all of you... Lindsay, Pete, Melanie, Will, Katie, Jonathan, Jodi... and of course Beth!

Perhaps the only thing more ridiculous than seeing all 3 species of Jaeger in a day was the “over-summering?!?” Sabine’s Gull which was seen on occasion in Hampton Harbor! July actually proved to be a great gull month with sightings of Black-headed Gull and Little Gull as well! The month capped off with July 29th sighting of my second Little Blue Heron and first Baird’s Sandpiper!

In August things picked up as shorebirds started to move through again and I added Western, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Hudsonian Godwits appeared in Hampton Harbor, and more notably, Steve showed up to the Coast in a tank-top. On August 7th I was sitting at 279, 1 away from tying the record and 10 species ahead of Steve when I stepped onto Granite State (the whale watching boat) with Jason and Ben. We were hoping for some Phalaropes on the trip and were not disappointed. In fact, the first Phalarope we saw was a Red Phalarope!!! I had tied the state record!

I began to get antsy but it was 17 days before I saw my next species for the year. But it was worth the wait! On August 24th I was doing my laundry when I got a call from Steve informing me that Mike Harvey had just found a Franklin’s Gull at the Rochester WWTF! I threw my damp laundry in a bag and bolted for my car. I was so frantic that I even left my iced coffee on the top of my car and wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been stopped at train tracks. When I arrived, I ran over to Mike. In some symbolic way I’m glad it was he who found what turned out to be #281.

September was marked with fond memories including large numbers of American Golden-Plovers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers (including one ADULT (not photo below)! Found by Ben and me).

October was the time of one of my few trips outside of the state as I headed to Wellfleet, MA with Jason L. and Mike T. to see the Fork-tailed Flycatcher (aka “spotting Brazilian wildlife”). On our way home, we received a call about NH’s 3rd record of Bell’s Vireo, found by Len Medlock, Jane Mirick, and Steve Mirick. October never cooled down as additions kept pouring on including: Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Moorhen, Caspian Tern, Clapper Rail, Eurasian Wigeon, and Pacific Loon. The month ended with beautiful looks at a Common Murre inside Rye Harbor.

November was a time of many trips to the coast searching in vain for CAAVVEEE SWALLOWWWS!!!! But you have to miss out on something! I made up for it by finding a Yellow-headed Blackbird in Greenland and seeing a Black Vulture in Newmarket, NH which was seen a day prior by Denny Abbott and a month prior by Phil Brown. Tundra Swan, found by Bob Crowley, was my closest “almost miss”, and also occurred in November. I arrived with Ben, Steve, and Jane in Chatham, NH where 8 Tundra Swans were just over the ME/NH line. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, a boater approached the birds which then flew across the line into NH and out of sight.

I got a lovely birthday present from Pat Watts who found a Western Kingbird (#306) on November 13th (the same day I saw Pink-footed Geese in Maine). However, I did not see the bird until November 15th but then saw it for 6 days straight.

On November 30th and December 2nd I saw my 307th year bird in the form of a very interesting Thayer’s Gull at the Rochester WWTF. On the 30th Ben and I felt good about the ID. Unfortunately photos didn’t really resemble the bird so we had a few unanswered questions about the bird. Luckily, on December 2nd I re-found the bird and in better light all question really disappeared.

My last bird of the year came in the small and adorable form of 4 Dovekie on the Winter Pelagic (seen again on the Seacoast CBC) where I also had my closest actual miss of Puffin which was only seen by 3 individuals on the boat before it dove out of sight never to be seen again.

The year ended with 3.25 CBC's in NH (Pittsburg, Seacoast, Lee-Durham, and about 2 hours worth of Errol before my car had had enough and required an $835 fix). It was remarkable to reflect how far I had come in one year at the Seacoast CBC. Highlights of the CBCs included an "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and, a Dovekie in Portsmouth East, not to mention 462 Purple Finches, 444 Black-capped Chickadees, 8 Boreal Chickadees, and the 3rd ever Tufted Titmouse on the Pittsburg CBC. Lee-Durham had the highlight of the CBC season though as Ben and I turned up 12 Pink Flamingos of the "plasticus" subspecies (Oh yeah... I almost forgot, we had 2 Red Crossbills too).

My final "chase" of 2009 was on 12/31/09 when Ben, Jason, Denny, Davis, and I all searched and successfully found the "Sooty" Fox Sparrow in Barrington. While not countable, it is easily the "best record" I saw all year. Just proves that birding should never be just about a number.

I ended the year with 64 lifers in NH and 308 species. I saw 305 out of the 308 species. I only heard Clapper Rail, Least Bittern, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Some people may criticize and say that trying to set a number is more about the number than the birds. In some cases I’m sure this is the case; however, when ever allowed the chance I made an attempt to both study field marks and behavior of any bird seen this year. Some of my fondest moments with birds such as the Western Kingbird did not occur within moments of seeing it, rather, they occurred throughout the week as I would observe its behavior from across the treatment plant while also scanning through the gulls. I will never forget setting the NH Big Year record (which will be broken sooner or later) and ending 2009 ahead of everyone else. But more importantly, I will also not forget each and every single one of my species seen, whether life birds or not.

Many people may take note of my nh.birds post and see “308 species in NH in 2009” and think wow that’s a lot of birds. But for me, the year was about much more than just 308 species. It was about birding every single day and enjoying everything I saw. It was about being inspired to learn and improve my skills as a birder to a point that I would be able to earn respect and actually deserve it. It was about finding myself and making memories that are truly unforgettable. Finally, and most importantly to me, it was about getting to know a group of people who I now count as my closest friends: Steve, Jane, Len, Jason, Jessie, JoAnn, Mike H., and of course, Ben – I couldn’t have done it without you all.

Have a great 2010!