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This winter, the nonprofit Friends of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge will be sponsoring a birding contest in which teams of up to four people can compete to see who can spot the most species in the refuge. Winning teams will receive $200 in gift certificates to a local birding supply store. 

We talked to Bill Gette, president of the organization, to learn more.

What is the event and who does it benefit?
It’s a challenge to see how many species of birds a team can see, either on one day or during the entire week. There are two reasons for doing this event. First, to encourage people to come out during the winter and see the birds in the refuge and on Plum Island. The other reason is to raise funds for our internship fund. It provides opportunities for somebody who’s interested in education or conservation to have first-hand opportunities to work with refuge staff. 

Why launch a new event in such a chaotic year?
Being shut in is pretty terrible. We can get people outside, doing an event, which we think can be conducted absolutely safely. Nature in winter is spectacular and we’re just trying to get people out there. For our mental health, we should be outside. 

Why brave the cold to go out birding?
In the wintertime, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, with the salt marshes and maritime forests and sand dunes, is spectacularly beautiful. The refuge is one of the best year-round birding destinations on the East Coast. We get birds from the far north like snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, Northern shrikes, Lapland longspurs. Down here you can’t see them any other time of the year. We just really want to encourage people to get outside in the winter and enjoy and appreciate the wildlife the refuge protects.

What cool bird experience might a very lucky contestant get to have?
To be able to find a snowy owl at this time of year, that is the highlight bird for people. For most birders, finding a snowy owl is very thrilling. 

What is your personal favorite bird sighting in the refuge?
If we stick to the wintertime, seeing a short-eared owl hunting. They fly back and forth over the salt marshes hunting for small mammals. When it flies it reminds me of a big moth flying. To see one of those near twilight, hunting over the fields or over the salt marsh, that’s always a big thrill.

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