Plum Island ranked America's third 'hottest' birding spot 

Bryan Eaton/File photoBirders check out a barred owl at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, though they were looking for snowy owls that had been spotted there. Plum Island has been ranked the third “hottest” birding site in the nation on an online birding service.

NEWBURYPORT — Birding is not known as a competitive sport, and yet a national birding service has ranked Plum Island as the third “hottest” birding site in the nation.

A list of the largest number of birds reported is kept by an online site called eBird to which birders report sightings. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides basic information on bird abundance and distribution.

Organizers say that eBird’s goal is “to maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers.”

In May 2015, participants reported more than 9.5 million bird observations across the world, according to eBird’s website.

In a recent assessment, Cape May Point in New Jersey was ranked No. 1 with 369 species sighted (over a period of time). Aransas, in Austwell, Texas, ranked No. 2 with 366 and Plum Island was third with 365.

Members of the local branch of MassAudubon on Plum Island Turnpike appear interested in the statistics, but indicated they will not be launching a campaign to overcome Cape May Point.

“The list is interesting as citizen science, but we have no plans to try to lead the list,” said David Larson, science and education coordinator at the Joppa Flats Education Center. “Most of us think Plum Island is a great place to see birds, but we’re not into the rah-rah stuff of competition.”

The eBird list came to light recently when a birder named Curt Morgan, of Albany, N.Y., wrote to managers at Joppa to point out that Joppa is currently in third place. Morgan suggested that with effort and a plan, it could move up to first.

“I have noticed that Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge has risen to be in the top three hot spots for birding in America. I enjoy a good contest as I am sure you do,” said Morgan, a frequent visitor, in an email to the Audubon officials at Joppa.

He suggested that Plum Island (Audubon) and the National Wildlife Refuge (a separate listing) work together, and perhaps the numbers would increase. “Plum Island could become the ‘hottest hot spot’ for birding in America, and what a great advertising that would make for Mass Audubon.”

eBird documents the presence or absence of species, as well as bird abundance through checklist data. 

Its web-interface has inspired tens of thousands of participants to submit their observations or view results via interactive queries into the eBird database. 

Other top birding “hot spots” include Bosque del Apache (Texas), Laguna Atascosa (Texas), Sandy Hook (New Jersey), and South Padre Island (Texas), according to eBird’s top 10.

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