This is the first year that I was able to do the Big Sit. In years past I have not had this weekend free but this year I had no scheduling conflicts. The Big Sit is an informal bird count that incorporates all skill levels of birders. The Big Sit involves selecting a 17 foot diameter circle and sitting there on the specified day. For as long as you like during one of two days you can sit in this circle and count all the birds you observed. You can leave the circle to get a better look at a bird you saw from within the circle but any birds you see while outside the circle you are not supposed to count. Like I said, this is an informal count and is called the “birding tailgate.”
For this count I chose a pavilion on my church’s property. You can chose the Saturday or Sunday to count on. Since I chose my church I picked Saturday for I would be in the church on Sunday. You are encouraged to pick an epicenter that has multiple habitat types around it. I chose a pavilion in the middle of a oak/pine forest with limited views of my church’s lawns. I chose this rather limited view because it was predicted to rain all day and I wanted some cover. There are several birding enthusiasts that our members at my church so I decided to invite them. Unfortunately, none could make it.
I arrived at 600 am and listed from my car. I stayed for a few minutes in the pitch black and heard no owls. So, I ran to McDonald’s, down the road, and got a large coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. I returned to the pavilion and devoured my biscuit in the dark. Around 700 am it was getting light and I set up my table, scope, a few chairs, clipboard, guides, and binoculars.
The ambient temperature was only in the low 60’s but there was a bitter chill in the wind. The weather forecast was spot on as it rained for most of the morning. Shortly after I got set up a doe and a few of her youngins came into the clearing in front of where I set up (the east side of the pavilion). I was fumbling all over the place trying to get my camera ready but they never fled. However, when the flash went off they scattered. In the distance I could hear them huffing and puffing their disgust with my presence.
American Crows and Canada Geese were my first birds recorded. Both were vocalizations of birds that were flying over. A Red-shouldered Hawk was heard from within the woods. This property plays home to several species of hawks. I’ve seen Red-shouldereds fight off Red-taileds and Broad-wings rather viciously. A few cardinals and Carolina Wrens piped up and they were heard throughout the day. My next bird was quite a surprise. Around 730 am I heard a lone Chimney Swift calling (only one called; there could have been more with it). My last record of this bird was a week or two ago so I was surprised to hear this one. Northern Flickers began calling and didn’t really stop while I was there. I heard about every kind of vocalization a flicker makes. There was a steady stream of Blue Jays that I heard throughout my count. They were mainly focused in the interface of the oak-pine forest. Around 800 am I heard an Eastern Phoebe which I had expected to observe during the count. However, I never heard it again after that. Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers started calling later then the flickers but were equally incessant. At one point, I had all three species of woodpeckers plus a Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch all in the same snag near the pavilion. From the edge of the clearing there is some dense understory where I heard the smacking call of 3 Brown Thrashers.
Around 1030 am I heard a few of the titmice congregating and I decided to have a look. I looked behind the pavilion (west side) to the pine forest (loblolly that were intentionally planted) to watch as a mixed flock formed. The flock circumnavigated the pavilion and left the pine forest to enter into the oak forest (canopy trees were mostly white oak with a few post oaks and black hickories). The majority of birds in this flock were titmice but a nuthatch and downy joined in as well as a migrating Black-throated Green Warbler. Although this bird is a common migrant in this region, I was still surprised to see it.
After the mixed flock the birding became slow. I got a Hairy Woodpecker, which can be an elusive bird, a flyover Belted Kingfisher, and a few Fish Crows. After these the birding got even slower and around 1230 I decide that I would wait 30 more minutes then leave. The 30 minutes came and went and I started to pack things up. I looked to the sky, as I was loading my table and chairs, to see a large flock of migrating swallows. Based on size, shape, and a glimpse of color I decided that these were Tree Swallows. These were a definitely a surprise for they were the first record of their kind for the locale. I ended up with 20 species which is a little lackluster for 6 hrs of birding. As I left I found my flock of 7 Canada Geese. They were feeding from a portion of the church’s lawn. One goose had something wrong with its wing but it didn’t seem to hinder its ability to fly for these were flying all over the place earlier in the day.
I did end up with several other non bird species. The pavilion proved to be a magnet for grasshoppers/katydids and harvestmen. I took pictures of the former and tried to identify them with my new guide. The Boll’s Grasshopper (Spharagemon bolli) is new to me. I’m not positive on the ID but I believe that the color pattern on the tibia is distinct. Most crepitating grasshoppers have a solid color (usually blue or red if there is any color at all) but this one has half of its tibia red with a black bar. The Ponderous Spurthroated Grasshopper ID is based on femoral pattern and is also one I’m not too sure about.