Date: 12/31/20 5:29 pm From: Pam Hunt <biodiva...> Subject: [NHBirds] Out with the old, in with the new: County Quest 2020 is a wrap
For the second year in a row, I focused on county birding - this time with Unity joining in the fun. In 2019 (as will soon be available in a story in the winter 2019-20 issue of NH Bird Records), I ended up trying to reach the Top Ten in eBird in all ten NH counties, and came VERY close. I ended at 11 in Coos, but also made it into the top ten statewide. This year, even before COVID slowed distant birding down in the spring, I had a less ambitious goal - staying in the top 20 in each county. This was partially because I didn't want to go crazy two years in a row (that resolve faded as the year progressed!)and partially because I had a lot less field work in 2020 (by design) to take me all over the state. What follows is the story of a year of NH county birding!
The year started with a bang as we joined a rotating cast of a dozen of our closest friends in Rockingham County, finding a Western Tanager to start the day and a Bullock's Oriole to end it (we could've ended with a chat, but left Jim and Katie's house a few minutes too early). We were off to a good start with 47 species in the county, but then our focus shifted inland for the rest of the month. Highlights later in January included an American Woodcock in Dover, a Dickcissel the next day in Concord, and Gadwall in Durham at month's end. By this point, Merrimack was in the lead with 52 species - a position it held until the end of August. February started with a four alcid trip to New Castle on the 2nd, Unity's lifer Black-backed Woodpecker in Bethlehem on the 8th, and later the same day the Painted Bunting in Albany! The day after I heard a screech-owl in Greenland on February 24th, we were on a plane to Florida - getting a fun week of vacation in before the world went to hell in a handbasket.
With shutdown looming, we spent March picking up waterfowl and other early migrants, and bagged our last county of the year with a trip along the Connecticut River in Cheshire and Sulllivan on the 21st. Just after getting home we learned of the Pink-footed Goose in Concord and had a nice bonus bird for the day. April was a slow month, since Unity and I hadn't merged our bubbles (and I dare anyone to find the phrase "merged our bubbles" in any birding story prior to 2020!!). We focused almost entirely on local trips in Merrimack County, and ended the month with 111 and 110 species there (149 and 145 species statewide).
With bubbles newly merged in early May, we ventured farther afield, including our first trip to the coast since mid-February on May 23. A couple of counties were still suffering from lack of visitation since March (Carroll, Cheshire, and Sullivan in particular), but some of that was remedied with strategic camping trips in June and July. A fun variant on keeping track of county lists is to add them all together (aka "county ticks") and halfway through the year on June 30 I stood at 987 - compared to 952 in 2019. By this point, five of the ten counties had surpassed 100, but the absence of spring birding was starting to show in the others.
The peak of fall migration in August and September brought the list of 100+ counties to eight, with only Carroll and Cheshire still languishing in the high-90s. Highlights in these months included the Webster Swallow-tailed Kite, the unprecedented numbers of YC Night-Herons in Hampton, and inland Baird's Sandpiper (Sullivan) and Little Blue Heron (Carroll). Being the ones to actually FIND the latter two rarities was fun, since so often we all end up chasing something that someone else has found.
October and early November saw the beginnings of this winter's finch flight, plus of course rarities like the Deerfield Black-headed Grosbeak and Concord White-winged Dove. The joys of county birding were brought to a larger audience via the first annual "County November Challenge," and the month closed with things slowing down dramatically. On the plus side, all my counties were over 100 now, and Merrimack was at 199. My goal was clear: get my home county over 200. This might seem easy, but extensive searching for unexpected waterfowl had so far met with limited success, and the pickings were getting slim during the final month of the year.
But no sooner had I said that then Becky Suomala found a Clay-colored Sparrow in her Concord Yard on Nov 30, and I was able to find it the next day for Merrimack #200. This and two adds in Hillsborough (Peregrine Falcon and Pine Grosbeak on my birthday!) were my only county ticks in the first half of December, leaving the Christmas Count season as my last chance for clean-up. I helped with five CBCs in five counties (Rockingham, Merrimack, Grafton, Carroll, and Belknap), but these only added two birds. Separate trips to neglected Carroll and Cheshire counties added my final year birds (Canada Jay and Sage Thrasher), and a Barrow's Goldeneye in Concord closed out Merrimack at a quite respectable 201. The final county ticks for 2020 were WW Crossbill and Snow Bunting in Belknap this morning, and darkness set on 2020 with an unsuccessful trip to look for the Townsend's Warbler in Derry.
I haven't looked at "final" county standings for the year yet, but the last time I checked in early December I was in the top ten in seven counties and top 20 in the other three (bet you can guess that two of them were Carroll and Cheshire!). Unity looks to have made it into the top 25 (she can't go birding with me ALL the time!). My total county ticks were 1440, vs. 1411 in 2019, and I think one goal for 2021 will be to get that number to 1500 - a nice average of 150 per county. And I'll see if I can get Merrimack over 200 again (gotta get all these irruptives now!).
Perhaps somewhen in early 2021 we'll add Townsend's Warbler or Sage Thrasher to our year lists, but tomorrow we're sticking to our local patch and seeing where Merrimack stands as the sun sets on January 1st. There are birds out there, and we aim to find them!
And since you're all dying to know the final numbers, here are my totals for 2020 (with 2019 in parentheses):
Statewide: 266 (278)
Belknap 126 (132)
Carroll 117 (122)
Cheshire 117 (129)
Coos 134 (114)
Grafton 125 (131)
Hillsborough 142 (130)
Merrimack 201 (183)
Rockingham 216 (234)
Strafford 147 (132)
Sullivan 115 (104)
May 2021 bring you good health and good birding!
"The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world."