Harriers Play in "The Superbowl"
January 25, 2014
By Cynthia Nichols
On a very chilly morning, the sight of many waterfowl under the Ocean Boulevard bridge warmed our hearts and made us anxious to get going! We were the first-ever Harriers team to take part in this annual challenge sponsored by Joppa Flats Education Center of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The team members were Aiden and Glen for their expertise, Cynthia and Alan as back-up and scribes, and Lynnea, who, with her excellent driving skills and knowledge, took us to all the important places. The objective is to find as many species of birds between 5am and 5pm in Rockingham County, NH, or Essex County, MA. Each species has a point value, and can only be counted once. Rockingham County, with its beautiful Rye coastline, its shuttered motels and restaurants, was our own winter playground. The first sighting of the day was a flock of Snow Buntings in the Hampton Beach State Park parking lot. Shortly after came the first casualty: Cynthia's scope, which just plain broke off the tripod! So – be careful as you carry those scopes around over your shoulder! It was cold – did I mention that? Lynnea kindly brought the warm car closer to wherever we were running, and put up with many twists and turns – one such turn took us down a side street the wrong way and changed our team name from the "Harrier Circus" to the "Harrier Outlaws." A peregrine perched atop a crane must have thought our exploits quite humorous. Close to shore we found a Thick-billed Murre with head tucked, bobbing like a little dory.
Northern Flickers were puffed up in backyards, staying as warm as they could. The farmer at Great Bay Farm kindly allowed us on to the property to meet a gorgeous horse and find a Swamp Sparrow and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Funny thing is, it was the second sharpie of the day, so it didn't count. Only on the Superbowl might you hear someone say, "Oh, just another Bald Eagle." For that was truly a quote! Two eagles in one day is a joy – but only the first one made the list. At the end of the day, two lovely little American Tree Sparrows must have felt very special as we traipsed along following them into a wetland as the dusk crept in – all for naught. Three members of the team need to see each species. It was only our second miss of the day, not bad for a fledgling team. The other was Glen's Northern Gannet skipping along earth's horizon where sky and ocean merge. We learned many tips and tricks throughout. Perhaps the biggest one was from Steve Mirick at the pizza gathering afterward. We were the second-to-last team to check in before the 5:30 deadline. The place was abuzz with red-cheeked folks sharing their day's adventures, stripping off layers of fleece and wool before scarfing down the savory pizza. It was a record crowd this year! I was covered in burrs, feeling like they were a badge of honor- until Steve scoffed at all our traipsing: "There is no walking on Superbowl Day!" Ah well, we know better for next year.
Final Species Count – 56
Total Superbowl “Points” – 98
New Life Birds for Alan – 7
Runner’s-up in the “Youth Birding” category, just 6 points short!
Harriers Have A New Sponsor!
The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, based in Holderness, NH, will be giving their organizational backing to the Young Birders Club. Starting this fall, the Science Center's umbrella will expand to include the club, which will continue to operate by and large independently. The Harriers will have a part in helping to expand the Center's educational outreach efforts to interested students statewide. Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of the Center, was himself, as a young man in Scotland, a member of a Young Ornithologists Club run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “The YOC program was so important in my early birding career. Having an opportunity to spend time in the field with experienced birders, learning field craft and where the bird hot spots were, was so important. I later became a YOC leader and passed on my knowledge to younger kids,” said MacLeod. He added, “I am delighted to help support the YBC in New Hampshire and help shape the next generation of birders and conservation professionals of the future.”
Tracking Event at Stoney Brook (2/23) Canceled
Warm temperatures doom our tracking hopes...we'll hope to return to Stoney Brook later in the year...
Announcing the 2014 Charley Harper Puzzle Contest
Charley Harper was an artist known for his uncanny ability to evoke the personality of birds and other animals with just a few strokes. His pictures are far from what we call "realistic," and yet they do manage to capture something essential about their subject. For the new year, the Harriers challenge you to a little contest: in the Charley Harper drawing above, how many species of birds can you positively identify? Send in your answers by February 15, 2014, and the winner will receive a jigsaw puzzle of this very image! (Must be under 18 years old to win!) Submit your list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join The Harriers!
Do you like the outdoors? Do you like exploring in woods, fields, tidal pools, swamps? Are you interested in seeking out the birds and wildlife that live there, and learning them by name? Do you think you might be half-bird yourself? Join The Harriers and connect with other kids who feel the same.
New Hampshire’s Young Birders Club will open up to you some of the region’s most ecologically rich and diverse habitats. If you’d like to see new birds, learn to identify them by sight and by sound, and understand more about how they fit into the larger web of life around us, sign yourself up!
The Harriers welcome all kids under the age of 18 who live in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, or Massachusetts. You don’t need to pass any test! If you’re interested in the natural world, we’d love to have you. Ask your parents if you can get involved, and have them contact the club's coordinators to find out more about us.
Because the Young Birders Club (YBC) is run by kids, there are plenty of chances to play a leadership role within the organization. Your photographs and writing are needed for the website; your ideas for group excursions make our field trips happen. And by becoming a member, you will become one of your school’s “Lead Birders,” with the chance to be in charge of collecting and recording data about the bird-life on and around your campus. By comparing that information with that of other schools, we can get a more complete picture of what’s happening, year by year, to New Hampshire’s avian species.
Join the Harriers!
Membership in the Harriers lets you attend any and all of our field trips. Annual dues are $25, which help make our events possible. When you become a Harrier, you’ll also receive:
- Your own copy of the brand-new Stokes Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) [$20 list price]
- One "Rite-in-the-rain" notebook for your field notes and observations
- A checklist of New Hampshire’s birds
- A subscription to the YBC’s newsletter, The Harrier
- A membership sticker featuring the Harriers' logo
- Best of all, you’ll be able to participate for free in any YBC event you like: look for nesting peregrine falcons in the White Mountains; watch young loons on New Hampshire ponds; hammer together nest-boxes for wood ducks; learn how to band migratory songbirds…the opportunities are endless! Check out our list of upcoming events to learn more.
What’s a Harrier, anyway?
The Harriers include a number of species of birds of prey (Latin genus name, Circus). At least one type of harrier is native to each continent other than Antarctica. They are long-winged birds with acute senses of sight and hearing. They usually hunt their prey (which includes small rodents, reptiles, or birds) by flying very low over a patch of open ground, such as a marsh or stubble field, looking and listening for any movement beneath them. In New Hampshire, our native harrier is the Northern Harrier, which used to be called the Marsh Hawk. It is a species of some concern, as populations appear to be declining in parts of the country, including New England. Adult males are very pale gray, with black wingtips, colors which give them the nickname “Gray ghosts.” Females are brown above and pale below. A young harrier’s plumage is like the adult female’s, only its belly is a luminous rusty-orange color, making it one of the few species in which the juvenile birds are more colorful than their parents. Birders will do well to take after this gorgeous animal!