Yesterday marked the annual "Big Sit" at the Indigo Hill home of Bill Thompson, Julie Zickefoose, and their children Liam and Phoebe in the rural back country of Whipple, Ohio. I've been going down there for this 24-hour marathon of birding for the better part of a decade, and really enjoy it. For the uninitiated: A Big Sit is a 24-hour effort to tally as many bird species as possible from within the confines of a 15-foot diameter circle. Once a participant leaves the designated circle, he/she can no longer count. All birds seen or heard can be tallied.
As is the norm, I aimed to reach the Big Sit site at 5 am or shortly thereafter, which necessitated a 3 am departure from Columbus. That was rough, after staying up to watch the OSU Buckeyes incredible implosion and loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. After a none too brief safari through the 24-hour McDonald's drive thru for a bolt of coffee and exposure to various and sundry drunks, strippers just off work, and other pre-dawn characters that collect at such places at 3 am, it was off on my 2.5 hour drive.
The night was calm and clear, and as I traveled further from the halo of light pollution that enshrouds the city, the stars became ever brighter and more plentiful. I like to reach the Big Sit locale while there is still plenty of darkness before the dawn, as we will hear lots of nocturnal migrants, songbirds mostly, flying overhead. As always, Bill was running solo in the tower (more on the tower in a sec), with me being the second to arrive. I climbed up to an incredible celestial spectacle. Billions of stars twinkled overhead, and constellations shone brightly. Just as they have for eons, Neotropical songbirds winged southward through the night, using the stars to navigate back to their southerly wintering grounds. We heard Veery, Hermit Thrush, and scads of Swainson's Thrushes, all delivering distinctive notes. Less easy to distnguish were the calls of sparrows: Chipping, Field, and Savannah. An Indigo Bunting passed over, as did many warblers.
By dawn's first light, others had joined us in the tower and the birds began coming hot and heavy. Being intensely competitive, with ourselves at least, we were out to smash our previous Big Sit record of 69 species.
By mid-morning, we were on a real roll and had surpassed 60 species before 10 am. The record of 69 was in mortal peril, as we still had 14 hours to bird. Problematic species were readily presenting themselves, and we quickly had all of the woodpeckers, thrushes, and seven species of warblers.
The idea was that the owl would lure in such feathery bundles of testosterone such as Sharp-shinned Hawks, who would then put on an awesome show by blitzing the fake owl only feet over our heads. It didn't work, but we did see plenty of raptors passing by, including Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks, American Kestrel, and an easily missed raptorial bonus which turned out to be the record-breaking species (read on...).
Nina Harfmann, Wendy Eller, and Dan and Kelly Hendrix.
A great day, lots of good birding, friends, and food. The bar has been set high for the Indigo Hill Big Sit though, and I wonder if we can best seventy-two.