The 2018-19 Snowbird(er) Contest came to a close, and prizes were awarded on March 30th. To recap, participants on our free Saturday morning birdwalks received points for attendance between December 1st and March 30th. The colder the day's starting temperature, the more points were awarded, with prizes awarded to the birders with the top three accumulated points.
It was a close one this year with the three winners finishing within one point of each other! Bob V. pulled in the grand prize with the only perfect score of 35 points. He was awarded a TSN-501 50mm spotting scope - valued at $350 - generously donated by KOWA SPORTING OPTICS for the 10th anniversary of our contest. This new, compact and light-weight scope is fantastic for travel or backpacking, and the perfect starter scope.
The runner-up prize was also donated by KOWA - a pair of YF 6x30 binoculars with a retail value of $100. Al D. was the recipient of these with 34 points. These binoculars are a great option for anyone just getting into birding or as a second pair for the car or windowsill.
And, finally, the third prize was awarded to Austin S. for 33 points. He received a t-shirt, courtesy of COYOTE GRAPHICS in North Yarmouth. The talented artist, Michael Boardman, paints his own nature designs and uses them on t-shirts, prints, and notecards. His shirts are all 100% cotton and printed with environmentally friendly ink.
So, how was the weather this winter? We dealt with some ice and snow, but no major storms on Saturdays. The average starting temperature for the birdwalks was 26F. The high was 48F on 12/28, and the low of -2F got 8 hardy souls out for 5 points each on 2/2. Easy compared to last year!
But, it is not all about the prizes (at least we hope not!). There were birds to look at, and a few noteworthy ones at that. Bob counted 70 species on Saturday Morning birdwalks since the start of January alone. Some of the regularly-encountered species include the BARROW'S GOLDENEYES of the Lower Harraseekett River here in South Freeport; a mere 4 was the high count this winter of this rapidly declining species. Large numbers of Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Common Eiders and many others were seen throughout the season, along with smaller numbers of a variety of other waterfowl. One of the highlights was this immature male Northern Shoveler - always uncommon in Maine but extremely rare in winter - that spent the season in the Lower Harraseeket River, as did an almost-as-rare female Gadwall.
December was chock-full of rarities, including a Summer Tanager at Porter's Landing that survived into January and was enjoyed by the group on several occasions. But we may never see a rarity more rare than the inconceivable Great Black Hawk in Portland. Our group went down to see it on the first Saturday of the SnowBird(er) Contest - kicking things off with a bang, and the 243rd all-time species on a Saturday Morning Birdwalk!
But of course, rarities are rare, and it's the usual winter birds that are the real reason to go birding. This winter, we encountered Snowy Owls, a Northern Shrike, Pine Grosbeaks, Purple Sandpipers, and one of the only wintering flocks of Dunlin in the state.
The summary of our last outing of the contest, from 3/30, can be found here as an example of the variety of birds in our area and the fun that was had throughout the season.
Of course, these birds are the real prizes of birding in the winter. As Bob, our winner said, "This is a real win-win. The big prizes to me were 1)getting outside every week and 2) seeing about 70 species of birds in a time of year most people aren't even getting out!"
And this year the winning continues, as Bob pledged to share the scope with Brunswick High School's Environmental Science class to help them "literally focus the kids on the birds." What a great use of this great starter scope, and one that hopefully will inspire the next generation of SnowBirders!