Thursday, November 17, 2005

A New Kind of Big Sit: The Big Fly

Thursday, November 17, 2005
All week long at The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival the field trip leaders were talkin' smack to each other. So it was logical that this friendly competition would continue on the plane ride home from Harlingen this past Monday. On board the Continental flight with me were Jeff Bouton (Leica Optics), Stephen Ingraham (Zeiss Optics), Chris Wood (WINGS tour leader and E Bird co-coordinator), Kevin Karlson (bird photographer), and Amy Hooper from WildBird magazine. I joked that if the plane went down, bird magazine publishing and birding optics would be set back decades.

Just after we got the enlightening speech about seat cushions being flotation devices, Bouton, from Row 11 shouted back to me in Row 18: "BT3! Big Sit all the way to Houston! Starting now!"
Problem was I was in an aisle seat with a rotund seatmate, so my birding options through the tiny porthole window were significantly limited. Bouton and Wood had window seats and got most of the birds. None of us had optics in hand. This was bare-knuckle, bare-eyeball bird watching at its most challenging.

We ended up with 12 species for the 1.5 hour flight from Harlingen to Houston. Bouton called some other festival leaders who were flying from Harlingen on a later flight to challenge them to top us. Rumor has it that they actually scouted around the perimeter of the Harlingen airport before entering to stake out some possible sightings once they boarded their plane. They also bribed their fellow passengers to trade seats so they had expanded window/scanning coverage. In spite of these questionable tactics (and the likely use of performance enhancing drugs) they only managed to tie our total of 12 species. But now it's ON for future festivals and the Big Fly.

Try a Big Fly the next time you are soaring the friendly skies. For my next flight there's no doubt that I'll need to be in a window seat on an exit row, with binos in hand. I wonder if I could mount my spotting scope on the armrest...