Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Shovelered, or a Return to the Superbowl of Birding

We rose early on Saturday morning in order to be at our starting point for the Superbowl of Birding. We had two goals for the pre-dawn hours: find sleeping water birds and listen for owls. Our first stop, at Flax Pond in Lynn, produced a few hard-to-find waterbirds like American Coot and Ruddy Duck. Unfortunately it did not produce our main target, a Northern Shoveler, even though another team reported the bird on the same pond at the same time, but in a different patch of open water. Our owling was more productive, as three quick stops produced the expected three species of owls – Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl, and Great Horned Owl.

After a quick stop at a Dunkin Donuts (our only coffee break of the day), we visited several yards with feeders in quick succession. They produced a variety of landbirds, such as Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Unfortunately we missed some birds we hoped to find around the feeders, such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pileated Woodpecker, and Red-shouldered Hawk. We also blew a chance to redeem our shoveler miss when a Northern Shoveler flew overhead and only three of the six team members saw and identified it in time.

Our focus then shifted to waterbirds. We made several stops along coastal beaches and coves and found all three species of scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, and Common and Red-throated Loons. We made our way through Gloucester to Jodrey's Fishing Pier, and spotted the Peregrine Falcons on the clock tower along the way. The fishing pier is an excellent birding location because it attracts multiple species of gulls, including Iceland and Glaucous, as well as rarer ones. Many species of seabirds come into the harbor and often linger there, close to the docks. We picked up the expected gulls and ducks. It was hard to pull my eyes away from the fantastic looks at Common Eiders, but in doing so I was rewarded with views of three alcids – Black Guillemot, Thick-billed Murre, and my life Dovekie! Not only was the Dovekie a life bird for Mike and me, but it was also a five-point bird, with a three-point bonus for being the first team to report the species on the competition day. Sadly, it would also be our only five-point bird of the day.

Moving on from the pier, we explored the rest of Cape Ann. At Eastern Point, we dipped on Wild Turkey and the moribund Common Murre found by another team, but we did see an adult Iceland Gull and the Purple Sandpipers that we had hoped to find. The Elk's Club at Bass Rocks produced an adult male King Eider, a bird that Corey initially described as a Guillemot with an orange bill. Loblolly Cove produced my life Barrow's Goldeneye, a bird we had missed last year. The neighborhood nearby featured a large flock of American Robins, as well as smaller numbers of other songbirds, including Cedar Waxwings and a Gray Catbird. Granite Pier had a raft of Harlequin Ducks. Unfortunately the rest of us could not find the Northern Gannets that Christopher spotted (see Corey's video for this moment). Andrews Point was less productive than last year, but we still found an immature male King Eider and a Razorbill. Unfortunately we did not see Black-legged Kittiwake, one of my favorite sightings from last year's run.

One more stop at the fishing pier produced a Glaucous Gull, and then we hit the road to explore the northern end of Essex County. Along the way we were supposed to look for a Turkey Vulture, but we were not able to spot one. What we did spot was a large flock of songbirds in one of the farm fields. Stopping and getting out of the van, we found that the vast majority were Horned Larks (140 by my count). Among them were a Snow Bunting and a Lapland Longspur. The latter was my third life bird of the day.

In the afternoon, we drove around Newburyport and Salisbury to look for birds that we had missed earlier in the day. We quickly found Common Mergansers and Bald Eagles along the Merrimac River. A visit to Salisbury Beach State Reservation produced an "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow and a distant Northern Shrike, but we had a big miss when only three of us saw a Merlin flying low along the water. Suburban neighborhoods continued to be productive for songbirds, as we found a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds at the Old Eastern Marsh Trail on the north side of the Merrimac. The same area produced a Sharp-shinned Hawk, our second accipiter of the day.

Last year we had to race through Plum Island because we had run late at earlier stops, and as a result we missed some good birds that had been seen there. So this year we made sure to schedule plenty of time. However, our results were not much better. The only bird species we added in an hour on the island was Hermit Thrush; we did not even pick up Yellow-rumped Warbler or Golden-crowned Kinglet despite searching thoroughly for them. Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers were nowhere to be seen.

We closed out the day with 73 species and 142 points. These were the best totals yet for the Bloggerhead Kingbirds, but they were not enough to win the Superbowl or any of the lesser achievements. We did not even win any of the 43 door prizes offered at the post-Superbowl social event. Despite not winning, the six of us had a lot of fun together, which is the most important thing.

Corey has a post at 10,000 Birds with more photos and video of the day.