Last year I blogged from the Indigo Hill birding tower throughout The Big Sit. This year my trusty laptop was off getting a new brain put in, so I was reduced to sharing reports via my iPhone on Twitter and Facebook. This was much easier for me, but perhaps not as informative for those of you on the receiving end, since Twitter limits each "tweet" to 140 characters.
I ascended the tower stairs at 11:48 and set myself up to start the 2009 Big Sit. Coats, headlamps, checklist, pens, gloves, my iPod, and miscellaneous other items went up the last set of stairs. The night air was cool and damp—but still, which would make hearing nighttime flight calls of migrants easier. The tower deck and rails were wet with dew, so I spread out a towel to keep my gear dry.
At the stroke of midnight I sent our this tweet:
Good luck and good birding to all Big Sit circles around the world! First bird here in Whipple: Swainson's thrush!
The thrush, and at least a dozen of his friends were flying overhead, uttering the flight call that sounds just like a spring peeper. Within minutes I had great horned and barred owl calling in the nearby woods. The half moon rose in the East, blood-red then tangerine then pale-butter in color as it climbed into the inky night.
My next tweet reflected my frustration at the other sounds of the night:
Heard: E. screech owl, gray catbird, wood thrush, Chevy Cavalier sans muffler, coonhound, 12-gauge shotgun, unidentified sparrow.
There go the coyotes! Sounds like two packs. Eerie! Falling star tally: 3. Last new bird: Savannah sparrow.
By 1:15 am, things had quieted down, so I went back downstairs for a few hours' sleep. From past experience I assumed that the best time for additional nighttime birding would be in the two hours before dawn, when nocturnal migrants would be flying at lower altitude, prior to landing after dawn for foraging and rest. I set my alarm for 5 am and settled in for a bit of rest myself.
I made it back to the tower at 5:30, a bit bleary-eyed, but excited. Coffee was brewing and I had the whole Big Sit stretching out in front of me. It was still almost completely dark. Other Big Sit circles around the U.S. sent out tweets and text messages, comparing notes. We'd be in touch throughout the day, which was very cool.
By the time I heard the crunching gravel of the first fellow sitter to arrive at Indigo Hill, the list stood at 7 species. The early arrival was Jim McCormac, who'd driven down from Columbus, Ohio. Jim is a great birder and his eyes and ears would net us several new birds for the Big Sit list. As good as Jim is at hearing and identifying soft, distant bird noises, he does not have a realistic idea of his own noise making. Jim thought he'd been sneaky—driving up our long, gravel driveway slowly, without headlights. Stopping next to the garage he proceeded to play a recording of a Chuck-wills-widow. Somehow thinking I'd be fooled into believing this prank. Silly man.
6:12 am. First fellow sitter arrives: Jim McC. We are mired temporarily at 8 species. Just added chipping sparrow.Soon Zick joined us up in the tower, as did house guests Anton and Nina Harfmann. In the hour prior to actual daylight, a heavy fog rolled up from the valley, enclosing us in its wet embrace.
6:44 am Indigo Hill Big Sit is now in double figures. Field sparrow and saw-whet owl! Take us up to 12.
The saw-whet was a surprise. We'd never had one on the Big Sit before. But this bird was consistently calling a descending wheeeer from the north woods for a couple of hours just before dawn. We took this as a good omen
The fog dulled the power of the day-bringing sun. For nearly an hour we were bathed in a misty blue light.
Hearing birds, but straining to spot them in the fog made us wish the sun would hurry higher into the sky.
Only the closest trees were discernible. We wondered if the fog helped us by forcing migrant birds lower, or if it hurt us by hiding flyovers we might otherwise see.
Soon the fog began to clear, and we could see both the trees and the birds zipping in and out of them.
Chet Baker came up to the tower, once it warmed up a bit. From there he could see everyone arriving. He wore his letter sweater for warmth but it also made a nice fashion statement.
8:26 am Red-shouldered hawk and redtail. We now have more birds than birders. Current total 45 species!
More folks arrived with the daylight. Our ridge top came out of the fog by about 9:00 am. People arriving at our farm described pea-soup fog in Marietta and along the highway. We had clear skies and birds to watch. The 2009 Indigo Hill Big Sit was about to hit full stride.