The “Twitchers in the Rye” became the “Twitchers out of the Rye” in the Superbowl of Birding on January 19, 2019. 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 in to headquarters so the sighting can be shared with other teams. The Twitchers have traditionally restricted themselves to just one town in New Hampshire and they also raise money for NH Audubon.
After counting in Rye for ten years, the Twitchers made the big break and changed to Hampton. They had an ambitious plan, which turned out to involve going to twice as many spots as they had time for. They began at 5:00 am hooting for owls at many stops in an attempt to elicit a response. By the end of owling they had only Great Horned Owl and were already behind schedule! “All day we felt like we were struggling and missing species but when I tallied the results on our way to the compilation, we were totally surprised,” said Team Captain Becky Suomala. They had 63 species which ties their record from Rye, and a record high 118 points.
The day began with sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties but in the afternoon it started to snow with a northeast wind off the water. That’s the time of day when the team views the ocean looking for seabirds. “We hung in there, but ocean scanning was not much fun after the snow started,” said Becky. “Visibility dropped, the seas picked up, and I’m sure we missed a couple of species because of it.” With the approaching storm and heavy cloud cover creating very dim light long before sunset, they abandoned watching for a last minute Short-eared Owl and headed to the compilation.
The team was thrilled to win the Townie Award for the second year in a row. They had four species that were totally new for the Twitchers: Glaucous Gull, Thick-billed Murre, Fish Crow, and Chipping Sparrow. The sparrow was a five point bird and when they called it in to the Superbowl Headquarters, they learned they would receive the three point bonus for being the first to call in the species.
As always there were misses and the biggest were Great Cormorant which have been unusually scarce on the coast this winter, Barred Owl which they saw during scouting on Friday afternoon but it would not respond to their hoots the next morning, and Carolina Wren which should be present but the team is still learning the good feeder locations.
The Twitchers also raise money to support two NH Audubon programs, New Hampshire Bird Records and NHeBird. See the website for the full story of their adventures, past years’ results, or to make a donation.