November Challenge: Sullivan County

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Dec 1, 2023, 5:24:11 PM12/1/23
So the month is over, and what a month it’s been. First and foremost, I want to thank Pam Hunt for creating this birding challenge. What a great idea. A perfect month to do it as it is right at the cusp of when the later summer/fall birds are leaving and winter birds arrive. The sudden and dramatic drop in available species as time goes on makes it extra desperate and exciting. Not only that, but it’s made a ton of birders, including myself, get out and bird in a month where we otherwise might just accept that winter is here and let it fall by the wayside. 

At the inception of this challenge, Sullivan County enjoyed the spoils as it was a notoriously underbirded region in the state to begin with. After taking the title for the first two years, it has since fallen into obscurity. It’s really interesting to see as this plays out how the playing field is slowly leveling out. For example, remarkably, it looks like Merrimack, of all counties, is going to finish last in this year’s bout. But I think as this challenge continues on, it’s only going to get more fun and competitive. So keep your foot on the gas, Pam!

This year Sullivan County remained true to its nature in being pretty underbirded compared to the other counties. Let me recoginize the efforts of some other local birders including Jen & Brendon Armstrong, Bo Hopkins and Jack Swatt. These four definitely put in a lot of effort and did as much as they could to help contribute, but alas, none of us had the time to really give it our all. There were plenty of others who contributed as well but I wanted to extend a tip of the hat to those I felt put in the most effort. I did the best I could to help and feel like I did so with some success. Of the 87 species reported in the county, I was able to contribute 74. I was surprised to see that Sullivan was the only county not to hit the 90’s for species total. We need some help next year! The following are the highlights for Sullivan County:

As far as waterbirds, the Connecticut River Valley was a huge help. Jen Armstrong was able to add Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall and Horned Grebe on the list in the valley and Greater Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser were added to the list there as well. As far as waterbirds go, Ruddy Duck was a very cool addition and a first November county record with two birds I had in Sunapee Harbor on the 9th. Bittersweet in that new records will only make next year’s competition more of a challenge. 

Shorebirds were the least expected additions, but luckily, like in many other counties, Dunlin was added to the list. I had four at the the Charlestown WTP on 11/4 and there was another bird that hung out on the Merrimack/Sullivan County line on the northeast shore of Little Lake Sunapee in New London/Springfield. At the same location there were a pair of Bonaparte’s Gulls which also made it on the Sullivan County list.

As far as raptors go, the county tallied about every species to be expected. Jen Armstrong was able to add Great Horned Owl and American Goshawk, both species I struggle to find in the county. Notably, Red-shouldered Hawk was reported frequently throughout the month which is interesting as in past years they really tend to only be reported in spring and summer and clear out in the fall. I still see some around between Sunapee and Claremont as recently as today, December 1st. Perhaps they will spend the winter here for the first time I’ve seen in my birding career.

Quite a few lingering birds made the list as well. Richard Garrigus and I both had Blue-headed Vireo’s on the 4th, his being in Sunapee and mine in Charlestown. Both Eric Masterson and Jen Armstrong brought in Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to complete our Woodpecker sweep. Surprisingly, I found the only Ruby-crowned Kinglet for the month and Danny Castriotta picked up the only Hermit Thrush, both of which were in Sunapee.

For winter birds, finches essentially stole the show as Shrike, Redpoll and Rough-legged Hawk refused to make an appearance. Jen Armstrong did add Bohemian Waxwing and White-winged Crossbill in Claremont and Jack Swatt added Evening Grosbeak in Lempster. Other than that, Purple Finch showed up a few times but both Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin were abundant throughout the month. 

Finally, warblers were the highlight of the month for the count. In total, there have been nine species of warbler in Sullivan county in the month of November overall, and after this year I believe five species have been documented during the November Challenge years. I had an Orange-crowned Warbler on the 4th in Charlestown, my first in the county since 2015! That same day I had a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Charlestown WTP which is expected but notable as most “butter butts” are out of the area by Halloween in my experience. Finally, the MacGillivray’s Warbler I found in Charlestown takes the cake as the best bird of the county for the challenge for Sullivan. It represents NH’s second record ever (according to eBird) and is the rarest bird I’ve ever found in my birding career. 

Overall, I can’t be upset about this year’s challenge. While no one seemed to have a chance at catching Belknap County from the get go, there were valiant efforts to be had around the state. Sullivan enjoyed the glory of the early years but it was only inevitable that time would catch up with her. I’m happy that Sullivan can finish this year in the middle of the pack and I’m even happier that the incentive of the challenge brought me a bird of caliber I’ve been seeking for over a decade. Thanks again to Pam Hunt for creating this event. It’s an absolute blast and I can’t wait for next year already. 

-Dylan Jackson

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