The Harriers Take On The "Superbowl of Birding"

 Thick-billed Murre  Photograph by Cynthia Nichols

Thick-billed Murre
Photograph by Cynthia Nichols

The Harriers Take on the Superbowl of Birding
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! 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. 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 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 Harriers 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!

 The Harrier Outlaws on the prowl...  Photograph by Cynthia Nichols

The Harrier Outlaws on the prowl...
Photograph by Cynthia Nichols