Within a Gnatcatcher's Eyelash
I finally beat Blogger into submission (this post only took about three hours to complete--don't worry BWD colleagues, it's after working hours!)
The Big Sit crew in the Indigo Hill Birding Tower, working hard at hardly working. photo by Ric MacArthur.
As I said in my first post on Sunday, halfway through the Big Sit, we got off to a thundering start: sweeping the thrushes and woodpeckers, grabbing a handful of warblers, all three likely owls and some early "gift" birds such as American woodcock, house wren, and gray catbird. Our good luck continued into mid-morning with tree swallow, chimney swift, swamp sparrow, scarlet tanager, and cedar waxwing--all species we could easily miss. We got some early winter arrivals, too, including white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow, and dark-eyed junco.
Then we hit a wall.
The weather was simply too nice for the birds to keep moving. We had all the migrants we were going to get and the crystal clear blue skies meant we'd have a hard time picking out a common loon, double-crested cormorant, or osprey flying high overhead. If they were up there, we didn't see them. Better weather for a Big Sit day is clear, sunny morning for the post-dawn feeding frenzy of songbirds. Clear mid-day for raptors to get up and soar, then a fast-moving cold front and cloudy skies, ideal for pushing birds south (front) and for spotting them as they move past (clouds). We had one or two tiny puffy-white clouds and pure blue skies until sunset. It was perfect picnic weather and we enjoyed it. But a front might have given us a few more birds.
By the time the afternoon was hot and still, the tower top was surrounded by thousands of non-aggressive wasps and hornets. The Asian ladybugs were swarming into our house. We sputtered forward with a female rose-breasted grosbeak. We visually confirmed the hooded warbler chip as coming from an actual hooded warbler (Jimbo, we were spot-on on that one). As dusk's curtain began to drop on the day, Steve McCarthy, royal Meteorologist for the Whipple Bird Club and die-hard Big Sitter, spotted a flock of foraging turkeys on a hill so distant we had to squint into the scope just to see them. That was species #63 and although we'd continue for another two hours, scanning the skies and emptying the cooler of beer, our 2006 species list was finished.
Here are some points of reference.
Birds we missed that were seen the day before AND the day after the Big Sit:
Lincoln's sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird.
Birds we SHOULD have gotten if they'd been thoughtful enough to stay just a day or so longer:
brown thrasher, eastern wood pewee, common yellowthroat, palm warbler, pine warbler.
Birds seen outside the circle by people coming and going or taking walks on the farm:
Eastern kingbird, pine siskin, ovenbird.
Birds we missed for no apparent reason:
Red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, red-breasted nuthatch, Canada goose, great blue heron, killdeer.
Bird that appeared and sang and showed-off just to torture us on the day after the Big Sit:
As the day drew to its inevitable end, we talked, as we often do, of holding our own Big Sit-like event in September, when it's far birdier in SE Ohio than it is on the second Sunday of October (always the traditional date of the official Big Sit). Who know, maybe next year we'll do just that. I'd even like to hold a Big Sit in our tower in each month of the year, just to chart the annual pattern of "birdiness."
This year was especially fun because we had so many friends join us--too many to list here. I asked everyone to sign their names on the wall of our tower hatch, so when I enter the official results on the Big Sit website, I'll be able to remember all of our 2006 participants.
My mom always says I never want the party to end. She's right and that applies to The Big Sit. Twenty four hours may seem like a long time to spend watching birds, but when you've got your birding pals around you, it passes in a blink.
So here's to all you Big Sitters out there. And to all of our friends near and far who joined us, and who could not be here this year. We love you, and we'll see you next year! Get a pen and mark it down NOW! Sunday, October 14, 2007: The Big Sit!