Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Within a Gnatcatcher's Eyelash

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
After a day of mourning over our so-close-to-breaking-the-record effort in the 2006 Big Sit,(we got within a gnatcatcher's eyelash of the record of 65, finishing with the previously reported total of 63 species), I am ready to share some of the day's highlights.

I finally beat Blogger into submission (this post only took about three hours to complete--don't worry BWD colleagues, it's after working hours!)

The Big Sit crew in the Indigo Hill Birding Tower, working hard at hardly working. photo by Ric MacArthur.

Late in the day but not giving up: Shila, Steve, Chet, Zick, Peter, Lynn, Rondeau Ric.

Our yard and driveway began to look like the parking lot at a birding hotspot.

As I said in my first post on Sunday, halfway through the Big Sit, we got off to a thundering start: sweeping the thrushes and woodpeckers, grabbing a handful of warblers, all three likely owls and some early "gift" birds such as American woodcock, house wren, and gray catbird. Our good luck continued into mid-morning with tree swallow, chimney swift, swamp sparrow, scarlet tanager, and cedar waxwing--all species we could easily miss. We got some early winter arrivals, too, including white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow, and dark-eyed junco.

A pale male house finch stopped by to add his species to our list.

Then we hit a wall.

The weather was simply too nice for the birds to keep moving. We had all the migrants we were going to get and the crystal clear blue skies meant we'd have a hard time picking out a common loon, double-crested cormorant, or osprey flying high overhead. If they were up there, we didn't see them. Better weather for a Big Sit day is clear, sunny morning for the post-dawn feeding frenzy of songbirds. Clear mid-day for raptors to get up and soar, then a fast-moving cold front and cloudy skies, ideal for pushing birds south (front) and for spotting them as they move past (clouds). We had one or two tiny puffy-white clouds and pure blue skies until sunset. It was perfect picnic weather and we enjoyed it. But a front might have given us a few more birds.
Lisa Casamatta, Jason "The Amazing Bird Boy" Larson, and Jim "Tastycakes" McCormac kept the tower rocking with good bird sightings and bad jokes.

By the time the afternoon was hot and still, the tower top was surrounded by thousands of non-aggressive wasps and hornets. The Asian ladybugs were swarming into our house. We sputtered forward with a female rose-breasted grosbeak. We visually confirmed the hooded warbler chip as coming from an actual hooded warbler (Jimbo, we were spot-on on that one). As dusk's curtain began to drop on the day, Steve McCarthy, royal Meteorologist for the Whipple Bird Club and die-hard Big Sitter, spotted a flock of foraging turkeys on a hill so distant we had to squint into the scope just to see them. That was species #63 and although we'd continue for another two hours, scanning the skies and emptying the cooler of beer, our 2006 species list was finished.

Here are some points of reference.

Birds we missed that were seen the day before AND the day after the Big Sit:
Lincoln's sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird.

Birds we SHOULD have gotten if they'd been thoughtful enough to stay just a day or so longer:
brown thrasher, eastern wood pewee, common yellowthroat, palm warbler, pine warbler.

Birds seen outside the circle by people coming and going or taking walks on the farm:
Eastern kingbird, pine siskin, ovenbird.

Birds we missed for no apparent reason:
Red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, red-breasted nuthatch, Canada goose, great blue heron, killdeer.

Bird that appeared and sang and showed-off just to torture us on the day after the Big Sit:
solitary vireo

As the day drew to its inevitable end, we talked, as we often do, of holding our own Big Sit-like event in September, when it's far birdier in SE Ohio than it is on the second Sunday of October (always the traditional date of the official Big Sit). Who know, maybe next year we'll do just that. I'd even like to hold a Big Sit in our tower in each month of the year, just to chart the annual pattern of "birdiness."

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Rondeau Ric did his interpretive bird-conjuring dance. Moments later we spotted (additional) wild turkeys.

This year was especially fun because we had so many friends join us--too many to list here. I asked everyone to sign their names on the wall of our tower hatch, so when I enter the official results on the Big Sit website, I'll be able to remember all of our 2006 participants.

Steve McCarthy, Royal Meterologist for The Whipple Bird Club (our hosts) and I were still confident of getting 66 species at beer time. Photo by Peter King.

My mom always says I never want the party to end. She's right and that applies to The Big Sit. Twenty four hours may seem like a long time to spend watching birds, but when you've got your birding pals around you, it passes in a blink.

Old friend, new birder, and first-time Sitter Marcy "Pie Lady" Wesel came bearing delicious pies. You're welcome back next year, Marcy!

So here's to all you Big Sitters out there. And to all of our friends near and far who joined us, and who could not be here this year. We love you, and we'll see you next year! Get a pen and mark it down NOW! Sunday, October 14, 2007: The Big Sit!

Too late for more birds but not too late to take some pictures. Photo by Rondeau Ric.

If you look closely in the gloaming, you can see me throwing in the Big Sit hat It was a great day and our second best Big Sit total of all time.

For some other "takes" on this year's Big Sit, visit Rondeau Ric's blog, or Jim McCormac's blog, or Julie Zickefoose's blog.


On October 10, 2006 at 8:15 PM Anonymous said...

Wow! You list 18 species that we missed and were around, and remember, I had that Wood Duck scant minutes away in Whipple on my drive in, for 19 BS (Big Sit) area birds that we choked on! That would have been a total of 82!!!We would have made the New York Times with that!

Thanks as always for yours and Jules extraordinary hospitality, and it was great to see everyone!

Jim McCormac

On October 10, 2006 at 9:53 PM Patrick Belardo said...

Looks like a great time BOTB. I need to do my own Big Sit next year. Sandy Hook seems like the logical place.

On October 10, 2006 at 11:32 PM Anonymous said...

What's that fishing rod thingy hanging off the corner of the tower? I'll bet it's for hauling tasty beverages quickly to the top!

On October 11, 2006 at 6:16 AM Marcy said...

Sunday’s Big Sit was fabulous! Spending the day on Julie and Bill’s 80 acres of beautiful land was theeeee most relaxing (natural!) high I have ever experienced! The weather was beautiful; I met some really cool people and the BIRDS! Oh! And Chet!

I believe I am still experiencing the high. Back in the big city, I am failing to function. Monday, I completely forgot that I promised a co-worker I would help her with a program and I barely got the kids off to school in decent time. Tuesday, I left my purse at the Wendy’s in Athens after my son’s Cross Country meet. Today is Wednesday! What will I do today? (First, I need to hit the Wendy’s in Athens on my way to Columbus!) Maybe I need to consult my favorite realtor, Steve, to find me an “almost heaven” home like Julie and Bill’s.

I can’t thank you two enough. I had a wonderful time. I am completely hooked and Santa will be calling soon for some advice on optics!

On October 11, 2006 at 8:59 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Jimbo: Next year we'll do a September Squat in the third week of the month and we might top 75 species.

Patrick: Sandy Hook might be the best single Big Sit spot in NJ. The Sandy Hook Onlies often won the limited geographic area category of the World Series of Birding backj in the day.

Lynne: That's the "dinner hook" and we use it to pulley up food and, yes, tasty beverages.

Marcy: Clearly one of the avid birders here on Sunday bit you, subtly, on the neck. You now have the Birding Virus and, fortunately, there is no cure.

On October 11, 2006 at 12:24 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Marcy, you rock. We're so glad you had a great time. You've got just the right attitude for a Big Sit--chill out and let the birds, whatever they be, come to you. Those of us who might be called just a little, um, goal-oriented can learn from you, so it's a total symbiosis.
I know well that spacy head that comes from too much relaxation...just can't remember when I last had it...I think it was after a Shila session of craniosacral therapy, when I turned out into traffic right in front of a Ford Fairlane.

On October 11, 2006 at 1:49 PM Rondeau Ric said...

Gee. Goal-oriented? now who fits that description? Does the name start with B?

On October 11, 2006 at 9:11 PM Marcy said...

My purse is safe and sound.....

Heavy sigh