Thursday, February 04, 2010

Scoping for Seabirds

 At several stops during the Superbowl of Birding, other birders would ask us what we were seeing. According to the contest rules, teams may not receive assistance from people who are not on the team during the competition, except for a few sanctioned sources. This means, in part, that teams cannot give each other assistance. Even without such a rule, it would be unwise to tell other teams where good birds are located because that could make the difference between winning and losing. So we had to coldly rebuff such requests. After several such encounters, Christopher expressed his frustration that he wanted to get back to talking about birds instead of keeping quiet.

On Sunday morning, we had a chance to do some normal birding (without a veil of secrecy) before all of the team members had to go their separate ways. We chose to return to Cape Ann, to look for the King Eider we all missed and the Dovekie that Mike and I missed. We also hoped that some of the unusual gulls might have returned to Gloucester Harbor or Niles Pond. Unfortunately we missed all of the desired birds, but the coves at Cape Ann provide ample opportunities to view and photograph some gorgeous seabirds such as Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers. I was also glad to spend more time at Andrews Point, which became my favorite birding location from the trip.

Mike had brought an extra spotting scope when he drove from New York to Massachusetts, so I had use of a scope throughout the competition and during the next day. On the competition day it was very helpful to be able to scan the ocean and marshes because I was able to find birds faster than I would have otherwise. On Sunday I took advantage of the scope to take a closer look at some species (such as a Black Guillemot) and try my hand at digiscoping.

The bird above is an immature male Common Eider that was swimming in the bay near East Point. Unfortunately the focus is a little soft; I am not sure if that was a result of how I focused the scope or what the camera picked as a focal point. The birds below are Harlequin Ducks from Andrews Point.

I tried digiscoping a few other birds as well, but the results are not presentable. I will need a lot more practice before I can produce images on par with someone like Mike McDowell or Kevin Bolton.

As I mentioned in my second post on the competition, our team won the Essex County Excels award for accumulating the most points in Essex County, Massachusetts. We received gift certificates for a nature store in Newburyport, and since we were all (except Christopher) leaving the area that day, we needed to cut short our birding time if we wanted the opportunity to use them. I used mine on a lens pen and two insect guides: Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies and Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Those books should help me to identify insects faster and more accurately – and post photos of them on the blog more quickly.

Having said our goodbyes, we went our separate ways. I was very happy to meet and bird with Corey, Andrew, Nate, Mike, and Christopher, and I hope to bird with them again, hopefully sooner rather than later. You can read their own versions of the weekend's events on their blogs; I'll post links here to the individual posts once everyone is done posting.