Monday, October 15, 2007

Big Sit 2007 Final Report


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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