The “Twitchers out of the Rye” had record high totals in the Superbowl of Birding on January 25, 2020. This Superbowl involves looking for as many bird species as possible in 12 hours and is run by Massachusetts Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center. Teams can compete in Essex County, MA and/or Rockingham County, NH. Teams look for as many species as possible between 5:00 am and 5:00 pm. Each species has a point value from one point for the most common to five points for the rarest species that must also be called into headquarters so the sighting can be shared with other teams. The Twitchers compete for the Townie Award by staying in just one town in New Hampshire and they also raise money for NH Audubon.
This year the Twitchers were in the town of Hampton for the second time and had their highest totals ever with 66 species (previous record 63) and 119 points (previous high of 118). They also won the Townie Award for the most species in one town. “We began at 5:00 am looking for a Great Horned Owl in the lights of the Hampton toll booth,” said Captain Becky Suomala, “but there was no sign of the owl that was there recently.” They did manage to find a Barred Owl at 5:30 am and later in the morning, after the sun was up, they had a Snowy Owl at Hampton Beach State Park. According to Suomala, someone scared it away by getting too close in their car, so other Superbowl teams did not get to see it. NH Audubon reminds people to give these magnificent birds space and enjoy them from a distance.
The temperatures Saturday were above freezing which was great for the birders, and the rain held off until they were all at the compilation. A strong east wind blew in some alcids (the family of birds that includes puffins) which are usually found well offshore, but the wind also made sea watching more challenging with rough surf.
The team had three new species never recorded before by the Twitchers. The first was a Lapland Longspur with a flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks at Hampton Beach State Park. The buntings and larks are regular winter visitors but the longspur is uncommon and usually only seen in fall. A Northern Harrier was hunting over the Hampton Salt Marsh Conservation Area. The hawk is common in fall and at nearby Plum Island in Massachusetts but can be hard to find in New Hampshire in the winter. The biggest surprise was a Black-bellied Plover on the jetty at the mouth of the Hampton River. This shorebird is very rare in winter, although it is common during migration, especially in Hampton Harbor.
The Twitchers also raise money to support two NH Audubon programs, New Hampshire Bird Records and NHeBird. The full story of their adventures will be posted here, with past years’ results.