Harris Center Kestrels Win the Superbowl of Birding

January 31, 2024

The Harris Center “Kestrels” Place First in Competition

Four people dressed for winter smile at the camera, with a cloudy sky and the coast at their back. (photo © Chad Witko)

The Harris Center Kestrels (left to right): Chad Witko, Will Stollsteimer, Katrina Fenton, and Phil Brown. (photo © Chad Witko)

On January 27, the Harris Center’s “Kestrels” competed for a second straight year in the Superbowl of Birding, a fun and friendly birding competition hosted by Mass Audubon. During this 12-hour event, teams of birders strive to find the most species of birds (and highest number of points, a system that weighs birds according to their wintertime abundance in coastal New Hampshire and Massachusetts). As you may be able to glean, serious strategizing was required. Luckily, the Kestrels — comprised of current and past Harris Center staff — were up for the challenge!

Like last year, the team stayed within Rockingham County, New Hampshire, which includes most of the Great Bay and the entire Seacoast. Late January is not known as a time of bird abundance in the Harris Center SuperSanctuary’s primarily wooded habitats, but the Seacoast is a different story. Their time on the coast paid off, and they ended the day in first place, observing an impressive 88 species valued at 198 points!

Kestrel Team Captain Phil Brown Recaps the Day:

“A detailed plan was punted early on in the game, and our flexibility paid off, as game-day decisions, detailed spreadsheets and maps, and honed in bird-finding were all in tip-top shape this year. Starting the day with three owl species was energizing, and we shared three extra points with another team thanks to the Palm Warbler observed just after sunrise. Our route then took us into Exeter to nab the Black Vulture, miss the Yellow-throated Warbler (for the first of two times), and into Newmarket, where we were the first team to get the Chipping Sparrow, as well as a few other scouted species. At Stuart Farm, we added our fourth five-pointer, American Pipit, by around 10:30 a.m. This was the first year we ever ditched even a glance at the Great Bay and this allowed us to work south again into Exeter and Hampton Falls for more scouted songbirds, adding Red Crossbill, Fox Sparrow, and multiple Northern Flickers. We finally hit the coast by 2 p.m. (with an astounding 70 species before ever looking at the ocean!), quite a bit later than we had planned. We blasted north to some of the key pullouts between Hampton and Rye, before turning around and heading back south for a half-hour of scanning Hampton Marsh as the tide neared low. Of course, we missed several species, as all teams did, but we were happy with the pickups of the more common species plus a few harder to find three-pointers (Glaucous Gull, Razorbill, and Sanderling).”

… And Raise Funds for American Kestrel Conservation

An adult kestrel in the next box, with nestlings on and around her. (photo © Phil Brown)

After last year’s fundraiser, we built, installed, and monitored 21 nest boxes, including the one being used in this picture! In 2024, we hope to install an additional 20 to 30 boxes.
(photo © Phil Brown)

Aside from the competitive aspect of the event, the Kestrels have raised nearly $2,000 to support a second year of the Harris Center’s American Kestrel conservation project in the Monadnock Region. Last year, thanks to the successes of the Harris Center’s first Superbowl of Birding fundraiser, we purchased materials, constructed, and installed 21 nest boxes in high-priority kestrel breeding habitats in a dozen Monadnock Region towns. The nest boxes subsequently fledged 17 young kestrels into the world, all of which were banded to better understand this species in decline. We hope to double the size of this project in 2024, and you can help!

Thanks to all those who helped the Kestrels soar! If you haven’t yet made a gift, there is still time.

Contact Us

For more information on the Harris Center’s kestrel conservation project, please contact Bird Conservation Director Phil Brown by email.