The Superbowl of Birding, Really

Greg Keller

Instead of a helmet, Greg Keller, associate professor of conservation biology, grabbed his binoculars to compete in the tenth annual “Superbowl of Birding” on January 26, 2013, at the Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, MA. Held in Pennsylvania and Delaware in years past, this year’s birdwatching competition took place during New England’s arctic season and invited participates to spot as many species as possible in the course of a 12-hour (frigid!) day. Keller—who is also the curator of Gordon’s bird and mammal exhibittook along four students to compete in the day’s various categories: from greatest number of species tallied from a fixed point to the highest number counted of new life birds. Keller expected to see a variety of warblers, sparrows and finches. In all over 300 species have been spotted on the North Shore. 

After the competition, Keller offered these highlights:

“The final tally for the total number of species was 121 for all teams combined. We found over half, and finished tied for 7th, with 62 species (20 species behind the winners). As a group, we had the most life birds (birds not ever seen by our participants), with a total of 106 new species.  Sam Mason (biology major) won the Lifer Award with 38 new species that he had never seen before.

The species that were really great finds for us included Razorbills at Plum Island (flying penguin-like birds of the north), two Peregrine Falcons in Gloucester, Pine Grosbeaks in Newbury (really rare finch that shows up from the north only about every 7 to 8 years), six different gull species, and a Merlin zipping around Appleton Farms (a small falcon). We had two 5-point species (the rare ones that we have to call in if we see them), including the Pine Grosbeaks and a Western Grebe at Plum Island (a very rare western bird that showed up a few weeks ago and stayed around for the competition).

But we also had some significant misses.  We couldn’t find a Wild Turkey to save our lives, even though I had seen two flocks the day before.  And over the course of 12 hours, we didn’t see a single White-throated Sparrow, one of the most common birds in the winter here!  Embarrassing! Considering the temperatures never went above 20 degrees, and the wind was a steady 15 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph, it was brutal. 

Our first bird, which took us 1.5 hours of darkness to find, was an American Crow.  The last bird, after 11 hours in the field, was a Mourning Dove. What a day!”

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