Monday, January 26, 2009

The Superbowl of Birding VI 1/24/2009

For the 2nd consecutive year we did Joppa Flat's Superbowl of Birding with the 5-sum of Dan Berard, Chuck Caron, Rod Jenkins, Paul Meleski and I (aka: "The Burger Kinglets"). The basic route, within Essex County, was more or less the same as previous years, with some tweaks. Starting in the south, Nahant/Lynn, Owling in Ipswich/Essex, Cape Ann, with strategic stops along Rte 133 as we move toward Salisbury/Plum Island and finishing along the lower Merrimac River.

This has proven to be a consistant route, over the past 3 years we've tallied 83/172, 88/191, and 82/168 ... species/points respectively.

We started at the Nahant causway for Brant, visible by street light at 5am, then hitting Flax Pond in Lynn for American Coot (again the street lights provide ample light to pick out coot, Hooded Mergs, Mallard, Black Duck and Canada Goose). This costs some time on owls and as dawn arrived we only had screech. While in route to Gloucester, Dan yelled "Wild Turkey on the telephone wire" we stopped quickly thinking of leaving Dan off...but sure enough, there was a turkey balancing on a wire (we let Dan back in)!

The first day-time stop nets us a few key birds Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper and Pine Siskin. At Halibut Point we got a "Chawink" out of an Eastern Towhee and added a few more common birds. At Andrew's Point were several Razorbills, a Black Guillemot, a few Black-legged Kittywake, Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Ducks and uncountable fly-by Thick-billed Murres only seen by 2 of the 5 team members. Purple Sandpipers made it on our list at Catherdral Ledge, but the previously reported Bohemian Waxwings had moved on.

We missed the King Eider at Goodharbor Beach, but got Belted Kingfish on a wire as we drove toward Atlantic Drive. At the Elks Club (Atlantic Drive) my old scope, it might be older than Dan, was good enough to help pick out the drake King Eider up against the far side of Salt Island. The Ivory Gull seemed long gone from Eastern Point but one team seemed intend on walking the Dog Bar jetty, flushing most gulls off it. We manage Iceland and Glaucous Gull before they're spooked.

Rod picked out the bird of the day, a 1st year Thayer's gull, at Brace Cove. We spent several minutes studying this bird and I digi-scoped a few poor shots, as an offering to the judges (I will post here later, my son hijacked the cord for my SD card reader). As we left Cape Ann about 10:30AM, Chuck was reminding us we were already 77 minutes behind schedule, typically we are about ...77 minutes behind at this point...we had 60 species and 112 points. We make a schedule each year, down to the minute, its generally "shot" by 9AM...but that frame work keeps us moving with a purpose.

1st cycle Thayer's near 1st cycle Great Black-backed
1st cycle Thayer's zoomed in, these 2 poor quality shots were the best I could do.

Between Cape Ann and Salisbury we have a series of back road stops and manage to pickup Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Red-breasted Nuthatch on Comono Road. A previously reported White-crowned Sparrow shows nicely on Island Road (Essex), a few dozen Horned Larks are visiting a feeding station (and walking on the roof) at the adjacent house, and a Bald Eagle passes over.

Further into Ispwich we pickup Eastern Bluebird but missed the Flickers and American Kestrel that Chuck and I had seen the previous day on Labor in Vein Road. Near Stackyard Road we miss a few more key birds, seen the day before, Northern Shrike and Eastern Meadowlark but they are replaced by a Cooper's Hawk and Merlin. We'd see 4 accipitors during the day, all Coops:(

On Dock Lane, in Salisbury, we miss the previously reported Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissle but add Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Redpoll (on our 2nd visit). We also have the good fortune of crossing paths with Wayne Petersen, Rod and Wayne had worked together years ago at Monomoy Island (Chatham, Ma.) and hadn't seen each other in some time.

Salisbury Beach State Park works out well for us, with great looks at several White-winged Crossbills, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Red-throated Loon, Black Scoter and what turns out to be our only Northern Harrier of the day.
Male White-winged Crossbill at Salisbury

Off to Plum Island, with 78 species, there are no shorebirds in Newbouryport Harbor but 3 Snow Geese, near Joppa Flats, is a nice exchange. The conditions on Parker River Refuge at 3PM are miserable with temps in the mid 20's and a NW wind between 20 and 30 MPH. NO Rough-legged hawk, NO Harrier, NO Short-eared owl, NO new birds on the ocean side, NO shorebirds and NO landbirds. As we are leaving the refuge its apparent this will be the first time, during 6 "Birdbowls" , we will add NO new birds on Parker River, we are 100 feet from the gatehouse and No Snowy ..... wait.....Snowy Owl a hundred yards out!! Thankfully, it was a very dark individual that showed just enough contrast with the ice and snow to be seen from the moving vehicle. We leave Plum island with 80 species, 168 points and 45 minutes to go.

Working the Merrimac River toward the chain bridge has always been kind to us, even late in the day when its difficult to add new species. We decide to hit the chain bridge, we already have Bald Eagle but need Common Merganser (there were 50 yesterday), Great Blue Heron (we've gotten it nearly every year and one was there yesterday), Red-winged Blackbirds (we've "Caught'em" going into roost across the river in the past) and maybe a Barrow's Goldeneye (they don't seem as common here as 10+ years ago).

At the Chain Bridge there is only 2 or 3 Common Mergs, we only need 1, a moment later one of our team gets us on a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying over head (3 points). But, no Great Blue Heron, we look up, down and across the river even under the bridge, we've missed it. With little time remaining we head to Cashman Park and are fortunate a pair of Ring-necked Ducks decided to end their day here too. So the 3 point Great Blue is replaced by the 4 point Ring-necks and still about 10 minutes to go.

We decide to race to the Newburyport seawall, famous for THE 1975 Ross' Gull, today we'd be happy with the previously reported Black-headed Gull or even a Mute Swan. Our last effort is a good one, but we come up empty and end the day with 83 species and 176 points. We were very pleased with the effort but ended up falling 2 points short of the winner (David Bates' team "Return of the Great Auks") who finished with a fine total of 87 species and 178 points.

Our list:
Sepcies (points)
Red-throated Loon (2)
Common Loon (1)
Horned Grebe (1)
Red-necked Grebe (2)
Great Cormorant (1)
Snow Goose (4)
Canada Goose (1)
Brant (3)
Gadwall (2)
American Black Duck (1)
Mallard (1)
Ring-necked Duck (4)
Lesser Scaup (3)
King Eider (4)
Common Eider (1)
Harlequin Duck (2)
Surf Scoter (1)
White-winged Scoter (1)
Black Scoter (2)
Oldsquaw (1)
Bufflehead (1)
Common Goldeneye (1)
Hooded Merganser (2)
Red-breasted Merganser (1)
Common Merganser (1)
Bald Eagle (2)
Northern Harrier (1)
Cooper's Hawk (3)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Merlin (4)
Wild Turkey (3)
American Coot (4)
Purple Sandpiper (2)
Ring-billed Gull (1)
Herring Gull (1)
Thayer's Gull (5 + 3 bonus)
Iceland Gull (2)
Glaucous Gull (3)
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Black-legged Kittiwake (3)
Razorbill (3)
Black Guillemot (2)
Rock Dove (1)
Mourning Dove (1)
Eastern Screech-Owl (2)
Snowy Owl (3)
Belted Kingfisher (3)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (5 + 3 bonus)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Blue Jay (1)
American Crow (1)
Horned Lark (2)
Black-capped Chickadee (1)
Tufted Titmouse (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
Brown Creeper (3)
Carolina Wren (2)
Eastern Bluebird (3)
Hermit Thrush (3)
American Robin (1)
Northern Mockingbird (1)
European Starling (1)
Cedar Waxwing (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (3)
Eastern Towhee (4)
American Tree Sparrow (1)
Song Sparrow (1)
White-throated Sparrow (1)
White-crowned Sparrow (4)
Dark-eyed Junco (1)
Lapland Longspur (3)
Snow Bunting (3)
Northern Cardinal (1)
Red-winged Blackbird (3)
Brown-headed Cowbird (3)
House Finch (1)
White-winged Crossbill (4)
Common Redpoll (3)
Pine Siskin (3)
American Goldfinch (1)
House Sparrow(1)


Christopher said...

Hey Tom,
Nice summary of the competition - you guys did a great job! The Thayer's Gull was a great find. It was a rough day out there.
It's certainly interesting to note that many teams follow the same general route, but everybody has their own little variations, and that can make the difference between winning and losing.
Looking forward to competing again next year!

Owlman said...

Sounds like you guys also had a blast during the competition. You were much closer than we were although we were rookies and hopefully we learned a lot from our first outing.

Tom Pirro said...

There are certain places that MUST be visited. Then it becomes important have targeted species by location and make sure hit all or most of those spots. We were fortunate the Thayer's showed nice and sat tight for good study, so we got that but missed your Dovkie....and so the game goes.

Tom Pirro said...

Owlman, you guys done good! We ALWAYS have fun, with lots of colorful commentary mixed in with the fast paced birding. I read the various blogs of you and your team mates and it was nice to see some out of staters participate.

Patrick Belardo said...

Great summary Tom. I was part of Christopher's team and we had a blast.

Tom Pirro said...

Thanks looking at my blog, I enjoyed reading your team's respective summaries. After all the birding its usually the laughs and good company that linger the longest.

Owlman said...

Tom, we plan on being back and maybe we'll even give you guys a run for money ;-) Hopefully the competition trarts drawing more out of state teams.

Tom Pirro said...

It would be nice to have a few more team, this year the number off about 4 teams. Hope you guys are back next year.