Monday, October 13, 2008

The BIG SIT

The onset of dawn over the hills near Whipple, Ohio, Washington County. Site of the 2008 Big Sit conducted by the Whipple Bird Club (WBC). History was made here this day, when the long-standing Big Sit record established by the WBC in 2005 - 65 species - was smashed. Of course, they had to bring in some professional ringers to do it.

The Big Sit is a long-established day of listing fun, spearheaded by Bird Watcher's Digest, in which participants count as many species as they can find from the confines of a 17-foot diameter circle. As one might expect, just as in real estate, it's LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The site used by the WBC is a humdinger, as we shall see.
I arrived well before dawn; about 6 am. This is in part because I enjoy the sight of the sun's first rays peaking over the hills of Appalachian Ohio, and in part to see if the ringleader, Bill Thompson III, is really in place and counting in the circle. He was. In fact, BT3 was up there at midnight, dedicated sitter that he is. Rules allow counting from midnight to nidnight - a solid 24 hours. We got some goodies before light, too, such as Gray-sheeked Thrush and American Woodcock, which would have been missed otherwise.
Our site. A massive wooden appendage to the Thompson house jutting some four stories above the surrounding landscape. And their house already sits on the highest ridge around. The view is impressive, and so is the birding from up there.

Some of the crew hard at work. Over the course of the day, about 27 people stopped by. The event was, as always, a good time. That fishing rod-like device dangling over the edge is a primitive crane. Operated by a hand crank, it is capable of hoisting various Big Sit necessities, like beer and cheese sticks, to the summit.

The view from atop, looking northward. Told you it was a stunning vista. Newbies are oriented to the various landmarks, such as power towers, the water tower, the few houses that are visible, some distinctive hills, and of course "the mesa", a patch of woods that looks like it has been given a crewcut. In mid-October, these rich deciduous forests are awash in color, courtesy of ash, tulip, oak, maple, sassafras, and other trees.

A few of the crew, at their post. L to R: Shila Wilson, Steve McCarthy, Cheryl Harner, Marc Nolls, Bob Placier, and the wildly grinning Jason Larson. There were plenty more up there, I just couldn't get far enough back and didn't have a lens wide-angled enough to fit them all in. It gets tight on top the tower at times. I suppose we sometimes wedge 12 or 15 up there at once.

But as to the birding. Overall, it was magnificent. It started strong, and there was good action throughout the morning, with new ticks coming regularly. As always, the action tapered off towards early afternoon, but by then the record had been eclipsed and pressure had abated.

The record-breaking species? Well, it was a bit of a downer. Four Common Grackles winging by the tower. We wanted something truly jaw-dropping, like Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Sandhill Crane, or perhaps Violaceous Trogon. Wasn't to be, but the grackles were OK. Too bad it wasn't either #67, 68, or 69. They were, respectively, Broad-winged Hawk (late!), Tree Swallow, and Scarlet Tanager. But we were pleased, and not only beat the record but demolished it by four species. The bar has been set high, and we'll have our work cut out for us in '09.

Finally, the sun slipped below the horizon, and even though we tried, no more birds were to be added. No matter, it was as always a great day with los of good company. The birding was great, and wonderful practice in making long-range ID's and sorting out various call notes. Thanks as always to our most gracious hosts, Bill Thompson, Julie Zickefoose, and Phoebe, Liam, and Chet Baker.

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1 comment:

Bill of the Birds said...

Jimbo:
A great recounting of our record-breaking day! Thanks for making the scene.