We all piled into the car Friday night and camped in Greenfield State Park so we could start our quest for the First Annual Monadnock Area Birding Cup. Bruce got up at 4:00 am to get a fire started and woke the rest of us up at 4:55 so w’d be ready to listen for the owls he’d been hearing when the competition started at 5:00 (we go the Great Horned and Eastern Screech owl by 5:10) . We heard and saw several birds around camp, made a stop at a Powdermill Pond (where we struck out), and then headed to Miller State Park to hike Pack Monadnock. Pack Monadnock was our first stop for two reasons: Fiona and Bruce had hiked this trail earlier in the Spring and really enjoyed the hike; and it is home to the NH Audubon’s Raptor Observatory. We’d heard that thousands of Broad-Winged Hawks had been seen the day before and were excited for a similar coup. On the way up we saw and heard a few birds, including the Golden-Crowned Kinglet, but realized that it might be a slow birding day with the damp, overcast weather. As we neared the summit, the wind and clouds made us realize visibility would be tough for raptor viewing. And while we only saw one American Kestrel in the 25 minutes we spent on the summit, we were able to talk to ornithologists at the Observatory about their work—and they gave us some tips on local hotspots.
As the day went on, the birds were few and far between. While we were all frustrated with the weather and our lack of birds (even the Mourning Dove remained elusive in the rain) we were having fun and pushed through, collecting a few sightings here and there. Not knowing the area very well, we picked a few hotspots, and did our best with wet feet and hungry stomachs. When we’d finally started to give up on our chance of winning the Cup, Fiona spotted a Great Blue Heron through the fog at Hinsdale Setbacks, then she and Jackson called me over to see a Green Heron in flight. This was followed by a Green-Winged Teal, a Great Egret, and a Bald Eagle. This handful of birds lifted out spirits and motivated us to forgo lunch and make one more stop. We decided to end our day at Antioch College, where a number of birds had been seen the day before. We finished the day with a surprising 44 birds and were Runner Up for the Monadnock Area Birding Cup. Jackson and Fiona got to see examples of the careers and educational paths they can follow that intersect with their interests and were impressed with the students at Antioch and their work to make birding entertaining and accessible. We didn’t hit our goal, but we had fun and learned a lot of lessons for our next competition. Look out Super Bowl of Birding and Birding World Series….