Monday, October 13, 2008

Big Sit 2008: Final Report

The view from the tower on Big Sit day 2008.


Well we ended up the 2008 Big Sit at Indigo Hill at 69 species. That's a new record by four species (the old record was 65).

It was a fine fall day: cool early and late, but pretty warm in the middle. As always we missed a few birds that showed up the day before and the day after: house sparrow and killdeer to name two. But we didn't really have any major misses, which was nice.
Late in the day on the Big Sit.

Thanks to all the birding pals who made the scene. This is my kind of birding event.

Abrazos,

Bill of the Birds

For some reason, Blogger/Blogspot is not letting me post images. I'll come back and add them in later I guess. Sorry!
We're still hoping for that beer company sponsorship. Hey how about Newcastle?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Sit 2008. Post #12

Most of the 2008 Big Sit crew at Indigo Hill in the birding tower.

The sun is setting at 6:59 PM (the Blogger/Blogspot server clock is on weird time Pacific I think).

We broke the record!

Let me say that again:

WE BROKE THE RECORD!

Moments after I posted at noon, a small flock of GRACKLES flew over. Can you believe we broke then record with common grackle?



We tied the record with a red-headed woodpecker spotted by Ethan Kistler. Then the grackles. After common grackle, we got broad-winged hawk (spotted by me and ID'd by me and Jim McCormac) , then tree swallow (spotted by me and ID'd by several), and, finally (so far) scarlet tanager (spotted by Dick Esker and ID'd by me).

But we're still trying for #70....our new goal.

Thanks to all who wished us well. Hope your sit went swimmingly, too.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #11


We are all tied up at noon. 65 species—tied for the record.
Many eyes make light birding.
We have 12 hours to find one more species the break the record.
No one wants to leave the tower until we do.
And I won't post here until we do.
So if you don't see another post today, save us a bit of sympathy.

BOTB

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Big Sit 2008. Post #10

At 9:00 AM on the dot, the count for birds stands at 50 species. The count for birders isn't far behind that. Among the Sitters present are Jon B., Lucine W., Eva B., Lee U., Steve M, Jim M, Shila W., Marc N., Cheryl H., Jen S., and the aforementioned Jim & Jason. Plus the residents of Indigo Hill: Julie, Phoebe, & Liam.

Last two new birds were white-breasted nuthatch and Nashville warbler.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #9

I am no longer sitting alone. Jim McCormac and Jason Larson arrived shortly after 6 AM and the list is taking a turn for the better. Recent additions include gray0cheeked thrush, American woodcock, eastern towhee, and mourning dove. We're edging past 15 species.

More people arriving, too. And Chet Baker is finally awake and barking like a good watch dog.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #8

Just before 5:00 AM and the count stands at 9 species. The last two added were yellow-billed cuckoo (a good one for this late in the fall) and Swainson's thrush.

Now I'm hoping for a pre-dawn rush of thrushes.

I slept for about an hour in the tower between 3:15 and 4:30. Now there is coffee, so there's no turning back. Crazy birdy time is only a few hours away. The moon has finally set, leaving me even more in the dark.

Hope you slept well.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #7


All is quiet on the Big Sit front at present. Might be time for some coffee.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #6

1:26 AM local time. A barred owl asks Whoooo? from down on Goss' Fork.
That's #7 and a sweep of the expected owls.

It's getting colder and the breeze is gaining strength. I feel a bit like Grandpa Simpson when Homer locked him out of the house: It's cold out here and there are wolves after me.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #6

OK. The GHOs can shut up now. They're probably inhibiting the barred owls from calling....

Now a baby GHO is calling. It sounds hungry!

Being exposed up here in the tower I'm glad I'm not wearing my skunk-fur hat. GHOs love eating skunks.

Time for the sandhill cranes to fly over garoooing.

Other sounds: the loud report of a poacher's gun, someone backing up a truck miles away, an opossum on the compost pile, the rustle of dry autumn leaves, me typing, more gunshots from another direction, the peregrinations of my mind and the rumbling of my stomach asking for Cheetos.

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Big Sit 2008. Post #5

Black-throated green warbler! My flight call wood-shedding is already paying off!

We need all the warblers we can get! That's 6 species—only 60 more to go to break the Indigo Hill Big Sit record of 65. If I can average 5 species per hour from now until midnight, we're golden!

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Big Sit 2008. Post #4

Eastern screech-owl and chipping sparrow! We're halfway to double figures!

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Big Sit 2008. Post #3

Species #3: Two REALLY close great horned owls!

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Big Sit 2008. Post #2

First bird is a northern cardinal, chipping as if disturbed from its roost.
Second bird is a field sparrow flyover.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Big Sit 2008. Post #1

And so another Big Sit starts.

I am up in the tower alone at midnight. It's a lovely night. I have one hour of sleep under my belt. May sleep more up here—it's not cold, about 55 degrees F with a light breeze from the southeast. That wind might hold up a few southbound migrants. Hope so.

I've heard two flight call notes of sparrows—probably chippies, but not since the starting bell rang. Only sounds right now are katydids, crickets, and two distant beagles—none of which are countable species.

The moon is about 3/4 full and casts enough light to see by. Now tuning my ears skyward and hoping for thrushes, owls, and maybe a flyby woodcock.

Good luck to all Big Sitters all around the world, wherever you may be!

BOTB

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Preparing to Sit

Big Sitters in action last year in the Indigo Hill birding tower.

I still have a long list of things to do before starting up the Indigo Hill Big Sit at 12:00:01 am on Sunday morning. Some of the highlights from this To-do List are:

  • put more rotten meat on the meat pile in the meadow
  • make brownies
  • make chili
  • buy Beano
  • ice down the beverages
  • grind the coffee beans
  • find my longjohns
  • find the intercom units
  • make a sign for parking
  • find a Sharpie marker for people to sign the tower (don't ask)
  • remove the wasp nests from the tower cabinets
  • hide the cookies from Jim McCormac
  • wash the spiders out of the coolers
  • fill the bird feeders
  • scatter seed under the pines
  • find my playlist of nocturnal flight calls
  • get some sleep early Saturday night
The next post here will probably be my first one during the Sit, in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, October 12. If you're interested, I'll be posting updates throughout the day on Sunday.

Keep your fingers crossed for enough birds to get us past the all-time high Indigo Hill Big Sit record of 65 species.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Asking Birds to Stick Around

I am hoping that our brown thrashers stick around for just one more week.


OK. Obsession confession time.

Like an out of control sports fan or a chocoholic, I, too, have something I focus way too hard on, spend way to much time and money on, and just can't get enough of: The Big Sit.

I am a Big Sit fanatic.

If you look at the Bird Watcher's Digest homepage, you'll see a countdown clock (in the orange bar just under the header) devoted to The Big Sit. Regular readers of this blog know all too well my love of this sedentary birding event, which is my favorite happening of the bird-watching year.

When September is beginning to flirt with October, I get all antsy. The Big Sit is coming soon!

The week before each Big Sit, I spend a lot of time getting ready—practicing my ID skills on passing fall migrants, trying to get a feel for what birds are around, schlepping the hundreds of bits of gear and clothing up to the birding tower in advance, and, most importantly of all, asking the summer birds to stay just a little longer.

Here are some of the birds seen or heard in our farmyard and surroundings this morning, all of which I asked to stay:
Brown thrasher, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, chimney swift, eastern phoebe, blackpoll warbler, Tennessee warbler, Cape May warbler, black-throated green warbler, red-eyed vireo, chipping sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, field sparrow, eastern meadowlark.

There are others just arriving which are likely to be here (still I am friendly with them—one never knows): white-throated sparrow, yellow-bellied sapsucker, yellow-rumped warbler.

And the less-common birds among our residents, which I do not need to beg to stay, but which I DO ply with many enticements, nonetheless, including song sparrow, eastern towhee, our five regular woodpeckers, Carolina wren...

We always hope for a cold front right before the Sit, to bring in the fall and winter birds: migrant hawks, dark-eyed junco, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, hermit thrush, migrant blackbirds, perhaps some passing waterfowl.

But we don't want it to be TOO cold in the weeks leading up to the Sit, lest the ruby-throated hummingbird, our blend of fall migrant warblers, the flycatchers, orioles, and tanagers, and other fair-weather feathered friends decide to split for the tropics too early.

This year's big wish bird for me? Sandhill crane. It would be a new bird for the property list and I just know there are cranes flying over our farm in the fall. Birders two hours north of our place saw more than 100 sandhills just yesterday!

Nothing would please me more than to add sandhill crane to the Indigo Hill bird list during the 2008 Big Sit.


I am counting down the days and hours...and hoping that the birds are hearing my pleas.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Fall Migration's First Wave

In fall, male scarlet tanagers lose their bright scarlet color and look similar to females.

This morning I could tell that today was going to be one of those autumn days. I KNOW I should have stayed home to watch birds.

Glancing out the window on the way to take Liam to the school bus, I saw two magnolia warblers, a flicking tail of an American redstart, and I heard the whisper song of a solitary vireo. Scarlet tanagers and eastern kingbirds played tag on the powerlines over my neighbor's cow pasture. Flights of chimney swifts twittered along our ridge. A band of northern flickers flashed up out of the driveway. Young American robins in various stages of spottedness squealed at each other as they landed in the cherry tree.

Mid-September is the birdiest time of year at our farm. All the resident birds and their offspring are about. The sky is peppered with migrants and their flight and contact calls reach our ears from all directions.

I think today was the first big wave day of the fall—at least for southeastern Ohio. Every year I plead with the migrant warblers to hang around for just a few weeks more so I can count them on The Big Sit day (October 12, 2008). By the time the Big Sit rolls around, we're sorting through the tailings of migration.

Yep. This is the BEST time of year for birding here. Maybe I'll stay home tomorrow....

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Upcoming Event: The Big Sit!


Q:What's better than watching birds all day?

A: Well, I would say sitting on your "behindal region" and watching birds all day might be the answer.

And that, mi amigo, is where The Big Sit! comes into your life. The Big Sit is birding's most sedentary event.

But why do we need another birding event? I hear you say...

The Big Sit has many advantages of other birding events. Here are just a few:

1. Unlike most birding competitions, The Big Sit is non-competitive. Most Big Sit circles compete with themselves to beat last year's total or the circle's best-ever total of species.

2. You can do The Big Sit wherever you want to do it, as long as you stay inside of a single 17-foot diameter circle during the 24 hours of the second Sunday in October.

3. This is a worldwide event. Big Sits have been held in more than 20 countries.

4. You might be surprised how many people and how much gear and food you can fit inside a 17-foot diameter circle.

5. Oh yeah. The Big Sit is a FREE event.

Big Sitters in the Indigo Hill birding tower in 2006.

Just past the stroke of midnight on Sunday, October 12, 2008, The Big Sit will begin and during that day, more than 1,000 bird watchers will participate. Some circles will be run for all of the 24 hours—some for just a few. Birds will be tallied from Big Sit circles in backyards, in birding hotspots and even in some National Wildlife Refuges. Friends and birding colleagues will converge for the birds, the conversation, and the simple joys of being outside on a beautiful (we all hope) autumn day (in the northern hemisphere).

I'll be doing the Big Sit in the birding tower at my farm in southeastern Ohio. During the day we'll have a couple of dozen friends show up. The kitchen table will groan under the weight of the potluck food. Snacks ending in "os" (Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos) will be consumed by the pound. All manner of beverages will be consumed and the ensuing bathroom breaks will be carefully choreographed so as to maintain constant coverage in the Big Sit circle.
Scanning the afternoon skies for just one more species.

I've done Big-Sit-type birding in other places—as part of The Great Texas Birding Classic (which features a Big Sit category) and as part of The World Series of Birding (which uses The Big Sit rules and format but changed the name, for some reason, to The Big Stay). Those other events are very enjoyable, but nothing compares to the actual, real McCoy Big Sit which is held each October.

It's my favorite birding event of the year. And if we don't beat our all-time high score of 65 species this year, I'm going to try some performance-enhancing drugs in 2009.

YOU should do a Big Sit! It's easy. Just pick a birdy spot, gather some friends, register your circle on the official Big Sit website, and get ready for a great day of bird watching on October 12.

The official Big Sit website has past results, answers to frequently asked questions, places to upload your results (and photos), and lots of other info. The Big Sit! is a registered trademark of The New Haven (CT) Bird Club, the organization that formalized the Big Sit into an annual event.

The 2008 Big Sit is made possible with major technical assistance from its host, Bird Watcher's Digest, and through the generosity of The Big Sit's sponsors: Swarovski Optik NA, Wild Bird Centers of America, and Alpen Optics.

Happy Sitting!

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Texas Big Sit Highlights

Here are some other avian highlights. I'll be brief today since Blogger is still playing a tattoo on my ability to upload photos (or fix typos). Besides, isn't it wordless Wednesday?

OrioleTree
On South Padre Island in spring you see lot of trees and shrubs with several birds in them. This tepeguaje has three orioles in it—at least.


CrummyIndigos
The indigo buntings were dropping into the bushes in twos and threes.

DickcisselTrio
Hundreds of dickcissels passed through during the night and day. These three paused for a photo.

EvilGreatTailedGrackle
This great-tailed grackle gave me the creeps. Wonder why?

BaltimoreOrioleOrange
The oranges we put out proved irresistible to this male Baltimore oriole.

SouthPadreBayView
Looking out onto the bay we saw an ever-changing cast of birds.

RubyThroatedHummerMale
I can never resist the chance to take photos of ruby-throated hummingbirds.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Warblers of South Padre

CapeMayWarbler
A curious Cape May warbler peers at me from a mesquite.

Because of its location along the Texas Gulf Coast, South Padre Island attracts certain creatures: spring break revelers from college, surf fishermen, boogie board addicts, sun worshipers, and migrant songbirds, and the birders that chase them.

Among the birds that pile up on South Padre in the spring, no group gets as much attention as the warblers. The convention center on the northern reaches of South Padre has a brackish marsh and several lines of trees. These are the first land-based features that migrant warblers see when the come across the gulf from Mexico on their all-night flights headed northward. So the birds drop out of the sky seeking refuge and head for the biggest clump of trees in sight.

Waiting for them are the birders and photographers. On a good day you might be able to catch 30 warbler species there. The trouble is that a good day for the birders is when the winds howl out of the North, forcing the birds to fight all night across the gulf. Many of them reach land just barely, dropping exhausted into the trees, onto the beaches, sometimes lacking the energy to begin foraging right away. So a good day for birders is often a bad day for the warblers.

While doing our Big Sit from midnight to midnight last Sunday on the back side of the South Padre Convention Center we heard rumors of a north wind bringing a storm front across Texas. This would be good for birds if it arrived at the right time. Well lucky for the birds, it arrived too late to inhibit migration. Unluckily for us we did not get the huge fallout of warblers that the Texas Coast is famous for having.

Still The Groovy-billed Anis (our Big Sit team) eked out a respectable 17 warbler species, the last two (a bay-breasted and a magnolia) right at dusk in pounding rain. More on the rain in a future post.

Here are some of the visual highlights, warbler-wise, that I was able to capture in between bouts of Big Sitting. I should note that these images are barely cropped if at all. The birds were VERY close, coming in for sips of water and for the insects sheltering in the trees. Tired migrant birds are less spooky and wary which explains why there were at least a dozen photographers there with their big rigs, shooting warblers.

TNWarbler
Tennessee warbler reaching for a tasty morsel.

YellowWarblerSPadre

Yellow warbler looking happy to be on land again.



GoodCapeMayW
Cape May warbler.

ChestnutSidedWarblerBug
Chestnut-sided warbler about to nail the insect above it (look closely).

MoonwalkingBlackpoll
This blackpoll warbler looks like he's moonwalking.

WilsonsWarbler
Wilson's warbler.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Texas Big Sit Update #3

Great-tailed grackle.

When the rains come, they run and hide their heads.


The end of our Big Sit on South Padre Island was hastened by the rains which arrived late in the afternoon and brought a dark, wet, windy curtain down on an otherwise fabulous day.

We finished with 127 species. It looks like we did not win the Big Sit category for the Great Texas Birding Classic, but we certainly are the champions in the category of Most Fun Had Inside a 17-foot Diameter Circle.

Some highlights-n-tidbits:
  • This was my highest Big Sit total ever.
  • We set a new Big Sit record (127) for the location of our Sit, the South Padre Island convention center, beating the record of 124 set by another team last year.
  • I believe we saw and heard at least 300 dickcissels.
  • Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics, the team's co-sponsor, got a life bird: magnificent frigatebird.
  • The tie-dyed shirts I made for the team with anis stencilled on them were a hit (team photo coming soon).
  • We ate like pigs, slept barely a wink, and laughed in the face of the elements.
  • Oh and we saw some totally ossum birds (more pix of them coming, too).

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Texas Big Sit Update #2

Yes we are still here, birding our badonks off, trying to avoid the mid-day sun, and listening to rumors of a three o'clock front which might drop some birds in our proverbial laps. It's been an outstanding morning (and for those of us who have been up since the midnight start it seems like late afternoon now).

We are at 103 species. Last one added: a flock of about 30 cedar waxwings. I've tried to take a few bird shots today. Hard to do when the birding is fast and furious. Several times this morning we've had four or five species in one tree. And more than once we've had five or six individuals of a single species in a single spot.

Black-bellied whistling duck.


Pyrrhuloxia male: a good bird for South Padre.

Adult blackpoll warbler. His yellow slippers are showing well.

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Texas Big Sit Update #1

Just after 2 am and Jeff, Liz, and I have 20 species, mostly by ear. Just added: black-bellied whistling duck and upland sandpiper. Hundreds of dickcissels going over tonight. More soon!

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Texas Sits Are Bigger

Participants in the 2007 Big Sit at Indigo Hill.

This weekend I'll be participating in The Big Sit category of The Great Texas Birding Classic on a team composed of some birding pals from hither and yon. Bird Watcher's Digest and Eagle Optics are the sponsors of our team, which is named The Groovy-Billed Anis.

We'll be sitting near the convention center on the northern end of South Padre Island. It's a great spot with brackish marsh nearby and the Gulf of Mexico too, plus a line of trees surrounded by sand, making them into a veritable oasis for migrants coming off the gulf. Last year the winning Big Sit category team had 124 species from this very spot. We're hoping to beat that this year, if the birding gods be with us.

I've done one other Big Sit in Texas (where everything is bigger) also during the GTBC way back in 2003. Our team, The Couchless Kingbirds, had 92 species and finished in the middle of the category pack. Team members for that year were Jeff Gordon, Liz DeLuna, Jim McCormac, and yours truly. We chose the dike wall outside of Bentsen State Park as our circle location—something that baffled the Border Patrol officers who drove past during the night.

It will be fun to have nothing else to do for an entire day except watch birds. I'll try to offer some updates here at BOTB if I can get Internet access. We'll start Saturday night, April 26, at midnight and we'll end sometime late on Sunday night. The competition ends at midnight.

The really cool thing about the Great Texas Birding Classic is that each team that wins a category, gets prize money to donate to a conservation cause of their choice. That concept, and the fact that we're sitting—not racing all over in an SUV trying to find birds—makes The Big Sit category of the GTBC a fairly green option among all the competitive birding events that are held each year.

Comprising the Groovy-billed Anis, you will find the following people: Jeff Gordon, Liz Gordon, Ben Lizdas (Eagle Optics), Marci and Terry Fuller, and moi (Bird Watcher's Digest).

I'm hoping the skies are full of warblers, orioles, tanagers, and painted buntings! Wish us luck!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

66*

This is the very same eastern phoebe I thought I heard during the Big Sit.

If I were a person of lower moral fiber than I am (if that's even possible), I would now be crowing to you that we broke our Big Sit record after all! Yep! It's true! We got 66* species!!!!

How?

Well, during the Sit I heard what I took to be a very het-up eastern phoebe chipping in the side yard. We always hear phoebes over there this time of year--plenty of insects on warm afternoons and evenings and lots of great hunting perches from which a flycatcher can sally forth.

I heard this chip note in the morning and several times in the afternoon. Each time I called out "I think I hear a phoebe chipping!" But no phoebe ever appeared. And when a phoebe is around, you see it--they aren't shy and retiring woodland flycatchers, like the members of the Empidonax family. Phoebes perch on the wires, on the fence, on the roof, on the deck railing, all the while wagging their tails up and down. You ALWAYS see a phoebe if one is around.

But I could never get my eyes on an actual phoebe. Still the chip went on intermittently. I thought it might be a palm warbler, which has a pretty loud, sharp chip note for a warbler. And someone (named Jim McCormac) mentioned swamp sparrow during the course of the day in the context of birds we had not yet seen. Late in the evening on Big Sit Day +1, I was talking to Jeff Gordon and mentioned hearing a phoebe chip but not seeing it. He said "Yeah, their chip note sounds like several other chip notes. I think they can sound a little like swamp sparrows."

It still was not registering in the cold bowl of porridge that passes for my brain.

So this morning, Julie and I were sitting in the front yard for a few minutes, after launching the kids onto the school bus, and I heard it again.

"There's that dang phoebe again! The one that wouldn't show itself for the Big Sit. Doesn't it KNOW we named our first child Phoebe?"

Julie: "I'm not sure that's a phoebe. It might be a palm warbler."

She went to look while I sat aimlessly sipping my cold coffee, letting it dribble down my chin onto my beggar-tick-covered sweatpants.

"I just saw its tail and rump as it flew away! I think it's a swamp sparrow!" she shouted.

I was up and after the bird.

Sure enough. It popped up into view and gave about nine of its trademarked chips. At this close range they sounded sharper, more emphatic and metallic than the phoebe's chip. And more robust than the palm warbler's.

SWAMP SPARROW. And it's the same bird (probably) that was chipping on Sunday.
It would have been species #66 for us, had I been tuned-in to the possibility.

Swamp sparrow image by Mike McDowell from BirdDigiscoping.com


That's what's great about bird watching. You never know WHAT'S going to show up (or not show up).

So I'll list this year's total as 65. But I really want to list it as 66* (with an asterisk). Barry Bonds and Roger Maris got their baseball records recorded with an asterisk. There were no performance-enhancing drugs used in our Big Sit (that I KNOW of--the drug testing results are not yet in). Honest, we thought it was just flaxseed oil....

What's the lesson here? While you're keeping your eyes and ears open, it's a good idea to keep you mind open, too.

* Species #66 (swamp sparrow) was heard during The Big Sit! but not identified by any member of the Big Sit circle during this very special event (An event so special in fact that it has its own exclamation point!). No punctuation was harmed in the creation of this *%$#@#@ blog post!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Big Sit 2007 Final Report

65.

That's the final tally for the 2007 Big Sit! at Indigo Hill.

We are Sit to Be Tied.

We tied our all-time high record for species seen on The Big Sit! (65, seen in 2004). The Big Sit! (and its accompanying exclamation point) is traditionally held on the second Sunday in October. This is also traditionally the start of the least birdy season of the year here in southeastern Ohio. And that's pretty much true for most other places in temperate North America--even in Connecticut where the official The Big Sit! was created. Why hold the Sit then? No one knows. It's just always been that way.

Sunrise on Big Sit day, looking east from the birding tower at Indigo Hill.

Of course you can hold your own sit anytime you want. But this one is the official Big Sit! and is trademarked by the New Haven Bird Club in New Haven, CT. We at Bird Watcher's Digest are big Big Sit! fans, so we help the event out by promoting it and hosting its website. This year a whole bunch of National Wildlife Refuges got involved by hosting Big Sits! We did set an all-time high for Big Sit circles registered, with nearly 200. Big Sits! are like Big Days, but they are "greener" since you're not burning up bunch of fossil fuel racing around after birds. You let the birds come to you.

This is not to say that Big Sit circles do not generate any greenhouse gases. Our circle certainly did, in spite of the Beano we put in the chili.

All people whose names begin with a J had to stand in the corner. From L to R: Julie, Jon, Judy.

I am working hard to appreciate our Big Sit! accomplishment (tying the record). It's an amazing feat given that the second Sunday in October is almost diabolically situated to be after all the warblers, vireos, tanagers, and orioles have left and before the waterfowl and winter finches are really moving. A month earlier, in mid-September, we'd be getting 75 or 80 species.

Still, I LOVE the challenge of trying to wring every last bird out of a single spot on a single day. It tests your skills, your stamina, your stomach, and your sanity all at once!

Overhead a passing redtail, and above it a passing kestrel.


We missed some really common birds on the day: eastern phoebe, chimney swift, killdeer, great blue heron, osprey, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle. But we also got some really good ones: late red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, a beautiful black-throated green warbler (and 4 warblers total), green heron, two northern harriers, both nuthatches, we swept the woodpeckers, we got a SAW-WHET OWL, we got all the thrushes except gray-cheeked, we got a late tree swallow, and many others.

Chet Baker prefers to sit for the Sit on Julie's lap.

We tied the record by about 4 pm, and I thought "Three hours of daylight left--plenty of time to get one more species..."

The hills to our north--we scanned the sky above them until our eyes were sore.

While scanning the horizon and keeping our ears tuned to every sound, we enjoyed the company of a few good pals, traded jokes, ate everything from Cheetos to Texcinnati chili to homemade jerky to goat cheese and pumpkin bread. And we had a few beverages to close out the day--a sundowner, Big Sit style. The end of every Big Sit is a long, slow transition from hardcore birding event to low-key keg party--it's as much about the people you're with as the birds you see. Our birding buddies Marcy and Steve showed up just before dusk to lift our spirits and to help us watch the sun set.

Sitters near the end, still birding hard.

I bought myself a Big Sit! beer stein. I can tell you that it works just fine.

I stayed up in the tower long after everyone else had left, hoping to hear the twitter of a passing woodcock's wings. By 9 pm, I was asleep standing at my post and when the kids came up to say goodnight, I waved the white flag. 65 species it would be.

One more tradition needed to be experienced--something that goes with The Big Sit! like warbler neck goes with spring birding: This morning as we were walking the kids out to the school bus, a flock of seven pine siskins flew over, calling, headed straight for the tower.

Species #66, just a few hours too late.

What a fun day! I'm already strategizing for next year's Big Sit! to be held on Sunday, October 12, 2008. And I'm thinking about building a pond to attract great blue herons, killdeer, and kingfishers.

How appropriate that the moon's phase for the Big Sit was what we call a "hangnail moon."

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Big Sit Report #1


Made it up to the tower about 11:45 and got my gear situated. No moon at all, so it was as dark as a cave up in the tower. First thing I saw after the midnight starting bell was a falling star. Hope it portends big things for The Big Sit! I lay on my back on the tower floor and just let the stars do their twinkling.

First bird was a passing chipping sparrow. Among the billions of stars was my old pal Orion off to the east, who appeared to have an iPod hanging from his belt. But far fewer nocturnal migrants making themselves heard with call notes than I had last year. I wish I were better at the night flight calls--makes me wish I had my own personal Michael O'Brien or Bill Evans here to coach me. Wonder if the birds are just flying high in the middle of the night and I can't hear them.

Lots of dogs barking and distant vehicle sounds. The gurgle of our water feature and the murmuring trills of snowy tree crickets dominated the soundscape.

An eastern screech-owl called from way off to the south about 12:35 am. And a barred owl gave its "Whoooahh" call about 1 am. They use this call as a "Who's there?" I was happy to get at least two of our three nesting owls. Still waiting for the great horned to bellow.

I love thinking about all the other Big Sit circles around the world, some already halfway through their Sit. Others a few hours from starting, sitters still sleeping.

It being rather still and quiet here at Indigo Hill, I believe I'll catch a few winks.

Species count: 3

Back soon...

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mere Hours from Sitting


Spent all day getting things ready for The Big Sit. Filling feeders, mowing the paths, lugging the full and heavy cooler, cleaning optics, charging iPod, laying out cold weather coats (it's going to be in the 30s tonight). I feel I am ready at last.

I'll head up to the tower at midnight to get the Sit started. If the birds are moving, I'll stay up there. If not, I'll tally what I can and head back down for a few more hours of shut eye. Then I'll head back up to get the pre-dawn action, about 4:30. Then I'll be huffing coffee.

There are some large clouds passing tonight. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and cool. I would not mind a few big puffy clouds for the soaring birds to show up against. Solid blue is not the best sky for a Big Sit. The black dots that are soaring birds, or high-flying migrants, get lost against the blueness.

More soon....

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coattails of a Cold Front


Every year, like clockwork, the dark-eyed juncos arrive with the first cold front of the fall. This is usually around the time of the Big Sit--the second Sunday of each October.

We know we can count on that same cold front convincing all the bug eaters to leave, too. This includes favorite birds like, umm... warblers and vireos and tanagers and orioles--basically anything with bright colors and a beautiful song splits for points south. And we're left with the primarily earth-toned birds of winter. Do I sound whiny?

I love seeing the first junco, even though it means no more indigo buntings or hummingbirds. Not a real fair trade, but who said life was fair? Yes I DO sound whiny.

Last night the first cold front came through. No juncos yet, but I did see a fall-plumaged indigo bunting in the meadow. And I asked him to stay at least until Sunday morning so we could tally him for the Big Sit. After all, our farm is named Indigo Hill for the plethora of indigo buntings we have all summer long.

I fear he's got the urge for going and I guess he'll have to go...

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