Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No Place Like Home for a Big Day

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
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.

The Couchless Kingbirds, BWD's World Series of Birding team in 2004 conducting our Big Sit at Cape May Point State Park.

For lots of years, you'd find me at the WSB or at some other scheduled event in some birdy spot. Then a few years ago I realized that I'd been completely missing bird migration at my farm each spring because I was always traveling somewhere else. The saying "There's no place like home" began to run through my mind. I've got 13 species of warbler breeding on land that I own--so why was it I was going somewhere else to enjoy watching birds?

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 Wild Chiquitas.

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.
Field sparrows are a common breeding bird on our farm.

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.

Just passin' through: a least flycatcher "che-becked" from the orchard.

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...


On May 15, 2007 at 8:09 PM Anonymous said...

71 species by 11:30am, while feeding and corralling 4 girls, one boy and a dog. VERY impressive. Forget the 100. Sounds like you made a record with just that!

Wayne, PA

On May 15, 2007 at 9:45 PM Piddler said...

Ditto what anon said.

Quite impressive daddying/birding going on at your house.

I'm on the edge of my seat to find out if you made 100!

On May 16, 2007 at 8:25 AM Anonymous said...

oooo...a cliffhanger! I am on tenterhooks to see where this goes

On May 16, 2007 at 11:08 AM kevbosnafu said...

Enough about the birds; how many marshmallows ended up in the fire during s'morefest??

On May 16, 2007 at 12:00 PM KayCee said...

Dude! I live in North Dakota, was trying to find some info on the local birds here, having moved here from Tx, and found your site, Totally awesome! Good luck w/ the kids the birding, and all ;c)

On May 16, 2007 at 2:39 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Only BOTB would attempt a Big Day on the heels of a five-girl sleepover. I was out of cell range, pottering through boreal wildflowers, Blackburnian warblers, and sapsucker drums, and wishing you were with me.

On May 16, 2007 at 6:30 PM Piddler said...

Okay man. It's 6:30 p.m. the next day and still no post.

What up with that?

On May 16, 2007 at 7:50 PM Trixie said...

Please, the next installment, quick! The excitement is killing me. And I think you should show yourself in your super-hero of birding outfit at an odd angle, like Adam West on the old Batman show.

On May 16, 2007 at 9:13 PM Anonymous said...

Waiting and watching, waiting and watching. I have checked in here at least a dozen times waiting for the rest of the story....

On May 23, 2007 at 12:23 PM wengchun said...

seeing 100 species in a day? that must be a difficult task but not impossible. i will try to do that when i am total free one day. keep up the good blog work.