On Saturday (1/30), Hope, Scott, Greg, and I participated in the Superbowl of Birding, a 12-hour birding event in NE Massachusetts and SE New Hampshire. We, the NYSYBC Ninja Nighthawks, decided to only bird Essex County, MA. I wish I could give a detailed description of everything we saw and every place we went, but during a Big Day everything kind of blurs together…so here are the highlights.
We woke up at 3 am on Saturday morning, got ready, and left for our owling spots (~1 hour away) at around 3:45. Boy, was it cold. 5 degrees on the car thermometer, and, according to weather.com, -14 F with wind chill factored in.
Whether it was the cold, the wind, the full moon, or just our bad luck, we didn’t find any owls before sunrise. Our first birds in the low dawn light were Mallards, Black Ducks, Crows, Robins, Hooded Mergansers, and an American Coot that we had been tipped off on. It was a four-point bird (during the superbowl, each species has a point value depending on how rare it is — the higher the better, with the max being five points), and we felt better after finally seeing some actual birds.
Next was a stop along the water, where we found Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and Song Sparrow. In some nearby thickets there were American Tree Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, and other common songbirds. After some brief stops, we headed to the Gloucester/Cape Ann area.
A stop at a fishing pier got us Peregrine Falcon, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, and Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. A drive along the coast, stopping at different areas, yielded many more species, such as Gray Catbird, Wild Turkey, Gadwall and all three Scotors. We stopped at the Elk Club, where a King Eider had been reported, but we could not find it. We did, however, see a Black Guillemot, a lifer for me. Unfortunately it was just a brief look.
Continuing on our way, we picked up Purple Sandpiper and Harlequin Duck. We stopped at Andrew’s Point on Cape Ann, which was dubbed “HELL” by Hope and Greg, who scouted there the day before in brutal gusting winds. It was surprisingly pleasant, though, and we commenced scanning the waters. After a couple minutes, Greg said he had found an alcid (a group of much sought-after seabirds that are normally far out at sea). My first impression was that the bird was lying down on the water — it had basically no neck. The bird had a dark cap, a white throat, a grayish back, and a light patch behind the eye. We decided that Dovekie was the only possible choice. All of us were very excited — it was not on the Superbowl checklist, meaning it was a five-point bird, and we could get an extra three points if we were the first team to call it in. While Greg called the bird in to Joppa Flats (the organization running the Superbowl) HQ, other birders arrived. The Dovekie picked that time to disappear, and we frustratingly couldn’t get anyone else on the bird. Time was ticking, and we left the group. Later we would find out that another team had seen the Dovekie from the same spot.
If I remember correctly, our next stop was a Wastewater Treatment Plant in Newburyport. We finally saw an Iceland Gull there, the first adult of that species I had ever seen. Next was Plum Island. Driving south and then back north got us many new birds, most notably two owl species, Snowy Owl and Short-eared Owl. It was kind of ironic that we saw two owl species after 2 pm, and none at night…
At Plum Island we also saw several Northern Harriers and a Long-tailed Duck, Our last birds at Plum Island were two Red-necked Grebes, another life bird for me. There were a couple seals on the beach, which was cool. It was getting late, so we decided to head for a blackbird roost in Newburyport we had been told about to try and catch them as the came in for the night. On the way there, we lucked into a flock of Horned Larks by a small airport, our 60th bird species of the day! At the blackbird roost we saw several Red-winged Blackbirds descend onto a tree. Success! With a mere 15 minutes to spare before the 5 pm cutoff time, we drove around town, hoping to see a House Finch, which was the only 1-point bird we missed. We didn’t see one.
At the compilation there was great pizza, and 3 out of the 4 members of our team (everyone but me) won door prizes in a raffle. We won the Newbies Award, given to the team with at least 2 members under 18 that scored the the most points. We all got $25 gift certificates to the Joppa Flats store. I guess now I’ll have to come back soon in order to use it…