No Place Like Home for a Big Day
Last Saturday was International Migratory Bird Day. Here in the eastern half of the continent, the second weekend in May is typically the peak of spring bird migration. It's when birdathons are scheduled, bird club outings to the best migrant traps are run, and the World Series of Birding is held in New Jersey.
Instead of accepting any more invites for this spring, I planned to conduct my own simple Big Day here in Washington County. As a young birder, way back in the late 70's, I could not wait for our "Century Day" as Pat Murphy, our birding mentor called them. We'd try our best to see 100 species in a single day--no small feat for southeastern Ohio. I don't remember our totals form those birding days of yore, but I do remember being thrilled at the volume of colorful migrants we'd see and hear. Pat was an amazing birder and she taught my family a lot about birds.
Julie and I, and our pal Steve, have done a few Big Days over the years, and our best ever total was 108 in 2004. We normally start out at our farm then roll around the county trying to see the max number of birds. Typically we run out of time and daylight before we get to 100.
This year the prospects for breaking the century mark looked grim. Julie was out of town at a festival in Western Pennsylvania. Steve was busy with work and his son's sports activities. I was hosting a sleepover for four of Phoebe's friends, so I knew that it would be a late night and probably not an early morning.
The Big Day started at midnight as I was cleaning up after the Wild Chiquitas' s'mores-eating contest by the fire circle. I heard, in quick succession: an American woodcock, a black-billed cuckoo, and a flyover eeek! from a Swainson's thrush. An Acadian flycatcher did his night song, then an ovenbird. Hmmm. Not a bad start. I went to bed hoping I'd wake up early.
I jumped out of bed at 7:56 a.m. bummed at the birds I was missing. The girls were up having slept exactly 2.5 winks. They wanted pancakes and bacon. Start the bacon. Make coffee. Step outside. Take a quick load of gear to the car. Clean up the yard. Do the dishes. Step outside for a few more birds. Redtail overhead. Kentucky warbler! Worm-eating! LEAST FLYCATCHER--a new arrival.
Blackburnian! Baltimore oriole! Warbling vireo! Make the pancakes. Call the girls. Common yellowthroat. Blue-winged and yellow warbler. Call the girls again. Field sparrow. Put the food in the oven to keep warm. Let Chet out. Take a 3-second shower. Barn swallow, tree swallow, Carolina wren! Feed the girls. Pack them into the van. Get all my other gear. Make a few calls. Hit the road.
By the time I left Indigo Hill I had 71 species. But it was 11:30 am. The heat of the day was upon us. Would it slow down? Would the birds take their siesta? Would Steve be able to make his son's baseball game by 3 pm? Would Shila, the fourth member of The Whipple Bird Club, be able to join us for this adventure? Would Liam, who was accompanying us, be able to handle 9 hours of birding? Would we break the county Big Day record?
Tune in tomorrow for the continuation of this story...