The Big Sit: Big Birding Fun at Ashland

 

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant

 

 

Sunrise greets the Big Sit participants at Ashland's Hawk Watch Hill.
Sunrise greets the Big Sit participants at Ashland's Hawk Watch Hill.

On the perfectly good Sunday morning of October 11, while most folks were sound asleep, teams of birders around the world headed out to take part in a unique birding tradition:  The Big Sit! 

This friendly, fun, and non-competitive event challenges birders to pick one spot and stay there all day counting birds.  Held annually on the second Sunday in October, the timing coincides with the peak of fall bird migration.

Our circle, designated by the yellow rope visible in the lower left corner, had so many people that many had to stand and sit "out of bounds."  That's fine within the rules, as long as someone in the circle sees the bird.
Our circle, designated by the yellow rope visible in the lower left corner, had so many people that many had to stand and sit "out of bounds." That's fine within the rules, as long as someone in the circle sees the bird.

The official “count circle” is 17 feet in diameter, and all birds must be observed be someone within the circle.  You may leave the circle, but all birds must be counted from within this designated area.  For comparison sake, this is about the size of an average dining room.  

At 3:45am on Sunday,  I headed up to Ashland’s Hawk Watch Hill with Tom Raub, who’d just driven an hour from Strasburg , PA.  Bill Stewart soon joined us, and we were treated to an  an awesome array of flight calls and chip notes,
most wisely left identified.  We heard a lot of distinctive Swainson’s
Thrush calls(like a Spring Peeper’s call) and even watched birds flying
across the face of the moon through the eyepiece of a spotting scope.

Sugar Maples ablaze with red foliage, as the morning rays of sun hit the Red Clay Valley.
Sugar Maples ablaze with red foliage, as the morning rays of sun hit the Red Clay Valley.

After a strong morning start(reaching 50 species by 8:00am), we
kept chipping away at species all day long.  Osprey, Merlin, Red-shouldered Hawk, and an early Golden Eagle all added to our raptor diversity, while songbirds like Purple Finch, Winter Wren, and Lincoln’s Sparrow were nice finds.  Dozens of newly-arrived White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Palm Warblers moved in loose flocks around the hilltop hedgerows.

youth birders like Madeline and Clara kept the smiles and laughter up all day long.  Big Sits are as much about being with people as seeing birds.
Youth birders like Madeline and Clara kept the smiles and laughter up all day long. Big Sits are as much about being with people as seeing birds.

Through the course of the day, almost 140 people visited the hill and took part in the event, spotting birds, eating great food, and having a fun time.  As dusk neared, we’d reached 81 species and tied our previous high count set in 2007. 

One major holdout waited to be recorded after dusk fell.  A recalcitrant Barred Owl finally gave up its whereabouts and declared the day done.

The day was a great success and a testament to the camaraderie and goodwill of birders.   Everyone joined in and enjoyed the birds together.   We tallied 82 species in 17 hours of birding and experienced a wonderful day afield.  

An animated slideshow of images from the day may be viewed here:   http://animoto.com/play/00gclntORqsGWd2KJBXFNw

Thanks to all who participated in the 2009 Big Sit at the Ashland Hawk Watch.  See you next year!

Photos by Derek Stoner

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