Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bloggerhead Kingbirds at the Superbowl of Birding - Game Day

I wish I could say that Saturday morning broke bright and warm... but if you haven't picked up on it yet - it was cold... and dark.  Oh, and did I mention that it was cold?

The day started with the alarm going off a little before 4am, where I managed to grogilly brush my teeth and pull on several layers of clothes in preparation for pre-dawn owling with the team.  (Remember Ralphie's little brother in "A Christmas Story" where he was so bundled up he couldn't put down his arms - yeah it was a bit like that.)  I met the guys at 4:30 am and we headed out so that we could start at 5am sharp at our first location - a small corner of a pond in Lynnfield that doesn't freeze over for some reason, even in that morning's 4° f temps.  On that little bit of open water we started out with a number of species of ducks, and a 4-pointer American Coot.  (Catch that temp there?  And that was before taking into account any wind chill!)  Following the good start, the next two hours were a bit more difficult as we struggled to find owls.  Even with Nate's superb calling (not to mention Corey's ability to make sure that owls in other counties could hear him calling them) they were not terribly cooperative, until at last a Eastern Screech-Owl responded.  We continued on to start our daylight birding in the coves and thickets of Nahant, feeling good about picking up species that the team dipped on last year.  (Although there were a few critical species that we missed this year that teams behind us picked up.)  We then headed up to Cape Ann to bird Gloucester and Rockport in search of gulls, alcids, sea ducks, and well, frankly anything else we could spot - this is a competition after all and we were out to find everything we could - and as fast as we could.  And that last point is an important one.  We couldn't spend too much time at each spot.  There is a lot of territory to cover and we had a schedule to keep - and everybody was great about being conscious of time.  It would be easy to spend a lot of time looking for a stunner like a drake King Eider, or to spend plenty of time photographing Harlequin Ducks - but not on this day.  This day we needed to spot the birds and move on.  (You'll notice that this post is not accompanied by any photos)
While traveling from one location to the next, we constantly reviewed what we'd already identified, what we could potentially see at the next stop, what we'd missed, and where we might be able to pick-up the missed ones.
After leaving Cape Ann, we headed across Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, and Newbury, with a few quick stops here and there, not to mention picking a 5-point Turkey Vulture along the way.  Our next stops were in areas around Salisbury then finish the day on the famous Plum Island, for the can't miss Snowy Owls there - not to mention an 11th hour (and 45 minute) Iceland Gull spotted on an ice floe by Nate.   Throughout the day each and every member of the team - Corey, Nate, John, Andrew, and Mike were critical in spotting birds, and making suggestions to keep us on the proverbial ball.  (Never mind unflagging senses of humor which make a long day like this that much easier.)

We would up the day with a respectable 70 species worth a total 127 points - not enough to take the big prize this year, but that won't deter us from returning to compete again next year!  I've said this before, and I'll say it again and again - as much as I enjoy the competition - the camaraderie is really what makes this day so enjoyable each year.

It might seem like this is a pretty abbreviated summary of a 12 hour day of birding - and you are absolutely correct. You might ask why, with this gem of an opportunity, I am ot writing more?  Well, I'll be honest - the other members of this crack team of birders and bloggers are doing an amazing job of blogging the day, and I would be completely remiss if I didn't refer you to them for other (and maybe more expansive) takes on the day:
Corey of 10000 Birds
Nate of the Drinking Bird
John from DC Birding Blog
Andrew, the Birding Dude
Mike from the Feather and the Flower

The posts these guys have put up about the weekend have been great - check 'em out!