I just returned from a winter birding trip to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island Mass, I thought I would share my experience with you. I was there last weekend in the snow and cold but was rewarded with a sighting of the Snowy Owl. This weekend the temperature was a good 25 degrees warmer and I was hoping to get another look at the Snowy Owl plus see more of the many migratory birds of the refuge.
When we arrived early we were surprised to see the first parking lot almost full. We pulled in thinking there must be something interesting to see to draw all these people. It's kinda like mooseing in Pittsburg NH, when you see cars pulled over, you stop to see what everyone is looking at. Often I feel kinda weird walking around with my binos hanging from my neck and my birding bag with bird book handy slung across my shoulder, I get some strange stares. But not today! Today the parking lot was full of fellow birders with backpacks, bird books, binos and spotting scopes. John even mentioned all the different license plates, there were cars from Maine, Rhode Island, Conn, Penn, NY, Vermont. I knew it was big news to hear that there were three Snowy Owls spending the winter on the refuge, but wow some people are sure serious about adding to their life lists. People were jumping out of one car and piling in together in a single car then rushing off down the refuge roads. There was a strange vibe going on that I would understand later on.
We pulled over at a cleared area along the salt marsh, I could see a few birders set up with scopes and walked up to see what was there. I said hello to a man set up with 2 pairs of binos around his neck, a spotting scope and a video camera set up. I asked him if he had seen anything interesting, he gave me a stare, then moved to in front of this equipment and says..."everything is interesting to me". I didn't get it, do I look threatening or something, did he think I was going to steal his equipment? Usually, birders are such a friendly group his reaction to me didn't make sense.
I walk further along the trail and come upon a man with a spotting scope talking on a cell phone. He is calling out coordinates..."I'm to the east...flock heading towards you at 6 o'clock... you got them? Great! Competition is incredible this year there are teams from the whole northeast here....meet you at Hellcat...Out." I say "Hi" and walk on, he says nothing back to me, he gives me this deep stare. I'm getting confused. I climb the observation tower, there are 4 guys set up with spotting scopes talking. It's a small platform I can't help but listen. They are writing on a clipboard, the conversation I overhear goes like this..."How we doing? Not bad I think we are catching up on the female team...I think we should get extra points for spotting rare species....yeah but the rules don't go that way you only get one point for each different species we see...damn here comes the biker team!" I turn and see 4 guys on mountain bikes pull up.
OK, now I'm gonna figure out what's up here, there is obviously a competition of some sort going on. There is a refuge ranger parked on the side of the trail, people are walking past him and showing him papers. I'm tempted to talk to him but he is busy so I move on. We stop at a few more sites and this craziness continues. We hike out to a salt marsh blind and the "biker team" is also there. One has a spotting scope and the others are looking thru binoculars. The guy on the scope calls out "Buffleheads at 3 o'clock"...got it the others call out..."Redhead in the reeds at 7 o'clock"...got it they call back. I walk right up and say "Hi, I'm not on any team, I'm just trying to enjoy the birds, what have you spotted out there". Finally, some friendly birders, once they understood I was not any competition to their team they shared their spotting scope and I got to see a Redhead and a Northern Pintail.
It was a great day of birding, the weather was unbelievable for January, temps in the high 40's and sunny. It was fun to be among so many enthusiastic birders. I admit I would have joined in on the bird count competition if I had known it was going on but at least the strange behavior of my fellow birds made sense now. There was some stiff competition on the island today. I myself added three more new species to my life list as well as another sighting of the Snowy Owl.
Happy Birding All