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Snow owl. Photo by Pam Hunt.




Superbowl of Birding
Local team goes against the grain in birding competition

01/26/17
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Every year, birders from southern New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts gather and form teams to see who can spot the most species of birds and the rarest. 

The so-called Superbowl of Birding XIV will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
David Moon at the Joppa Flats Education Center of the Massachusetts Audubon, which organizes the event, said the way it works is people form teams of four to seven and go out looking for birds. Different bird species have points assigned to them between one and five based on their relative rarity in the area. A majority of the team has to see the bird in order for it to count and when they find the hard-to-find five-pointers, they have to call it in to organizers right away. 
Ultimately, all the teams congregate at a church hall in Newburyport, Mass., to tally their points, eat some pizza and collect their accolades. 
Last year a Patriots-jersey-clad team called the Belichukars won the top prize with 198 points between 88 different species.
“Sometimes the competition in the county for the Rockingham County award is pretty fierce,” said Becky Suomala, a biologist at the New Hampshire Audubon. 
Besides the top prize, there are prizes for Rockingham County and Essex County respectively, where the Superbowl of Birding takes place. There are also prizes for the youngest birder and the most birds found in one spot.
For most folks the 12 hours of running around with binoculars and cameras is a source of fun and bragging rights for winners. But for one New Hampshire team, it’s about something else as well: education and fundraising.
Suomala’s team, the Twitchers in the Rye (twitcher is a British name for an avid birder), will localize their efforts entirely in the town of Rye instead of roaming all of Rockingham County as other teams will likely do to maximize their potential points.
“We decided to limit our area to Rye because we wanted to show people how many different birds you can find in just one town,” Suomala said.
Since they started as a Rye-only team, they have averaged about 59 species and their record is 63.  
Suomala said the one-town constraint does limit their ability to compete, but it also creates an interesting, fun challenge for themselves. Suomala hopes that spectators and amateur birders might be surprised to learn how much diverse life can occupy a discrete area of the state.
Unlike most teams, the Twitchers in the Rye are also raising money through their participation that will benefit the New Hampshire Audubon’s conservation efforts. People can pledge to donate an amount per species or per point by going to nhbirdrecords.org and clicking on the Twitchers link on the right side of the page.
This year, Suomala hopes to find some rare birds, such as a snowy owl or a razorbill, an alcid in the same family as the puffin which has been spotted recently near Odiorne Point State Park. Some early scouting and helpful intel from locals also tipped them off to a four-point ruby-crowned kinglet that has been frequenting a certain bird feeder.
“It’s a really fun way to spend a winter day,” Suomala said.
You can register a team up until the day before the event by calling Joppa Flats at 978-462-9998 by or going to massaudubon.org. The cost is $35 per person.





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