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Thursday, October 15, 2015

2015 Machine Assisted Big Sit

Pre-dawn BigSit in the backyard
I love the Big Sit.  A few years ago I managed 47 species seen or heard from my backyard in one day.  So that was the bar to clear this year.

I was tired and didn't get up until 5:30, and started off the morning listening to my OldBird21c microphone for an hour.  No birds.  No nocturnal migrants calling overhead.  A stiff 9 mph north wind wasn't helping.  I was nervous, but headed outside to the 17 foot count circle when I started hearing

1.  White-throated Sparrow (calling at 6:35am)

On a good morning, I can get my 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement in under an hour.  But birding was slow and it took a long time to get new birds.  Slowly but surely, the birds started appearing:

2.  American Crow (calling at 6:36am)
3.  Northern Cardinal (calling at 6:42am)
4.  Blue Jay (6:43am)
5.  Carolina Wren (6:49am)
6.  American Robin (6:50am)
7.  Tufted Titmouse (6:57am)

In the first half hour that was it.  Super slow.  Painfully slow.  Not how you want to start a Big Sit!  Over the next hour I managed to find:

8.    American Goldfinch (7:08am)
9.    Downy Woodpecker (7:08am)
10.  Canada Goose (7:09am)
11.  White-breasted Nuthatch (7:11am)
12.  Morning Dove (7:14am)
13.  House Finch (7:15am)
14.  gull sp. (sadly, didn't see it better, distant flyby at 7:27am)
15.  European Starling (7:30am)
16.  Cedar Waxwing  (7:46am)
17.  Northern Flicker (7:49am)
18.  Brown-headed Cowbird (8:00am)

Forget blue screen, blue skies are death to birding
And that's it.  During what should be the busiest hour of the morning, that's all I could get.  Wind was blowing.  It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies.  The worst kind of day for birding!    Over the next hour, all I could add was

19.  Pileated Woodpecker (distant calling bird at 8:17am)
20.  Chickadee species (probably most of what we have are hybrids here 8:44am)
21.  Turkey Vulture (8:58am)
22.  Cooper's Hawk (flyover at 8:58am)

That's a long hour with few birds.  Things picked up a little bit the next hour, but it was still too slow for what one would want on a record-setting Big Sit.

23.  Ruby-crowned Kinglet (first of the fall, singing at 9:11am)
24.  Red-bellied Woodpecker (9:15am)
25.  Yellow-rumped Warbler (FINALLY a warbler at 9:15am)
26.  Gray Catbird (where have you been all morning?  at 9:29am)
27.  Black Vulture (10 at 9:34am)
28.  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (9:36am)
29.  Chipping Sparrow  (should have been around earlier, but appeared at 9:41am)
30.  Red-tailed Hawk (soaring in the distance at 9:45am)

Almost 4 hours to get to 30 species.  Horrible!  I limped along finding:
31.  Chimney Swift (getting late, distant soaring bird at 10:20am)
32.  American Kestrel (not an easy migrant to see from my yard, at 10:33am)

I was dying.  A long way from my goals for the day.  Then it got good with

33.  Cackling Goose (a locally rare flyover with Canada Goose flock at 11:30am)
34.  Golden Eagle (another hard to come by migrant here at 11:40am)
35.  Sharp-shinned Hawk (11:49am)

Reviewing NFCs in the field
Then things stalled.  I would say died, but I was trying to have hope.  While there were no birds in the yard, I called in my assist from my OldBird21c microphone.  While sitting in the yard I reviewed the overnight recording from after midnight.  What a disaster--Only 11 calls all night long--but I was able to add:

36.  Savannah Sparrow (NFC)
37.  Gray-cheeked Thrush (NFC)
38.  Swainson's Thrush (NFC)
39.  Common Yellowthroat (NFC)

And that was it until after almost two hours with no new birds I tried playing an Eastern Screech Owl call to see if it would pull in any migrants and got

Calling all migrants
40.  Eastern Bluebird (coming in to owl recording at 1:52pm)

I soldiered on for the rest of the afternoon, but ended with only a few more additions--

41.  Tree Swallow (4:05pm after a two hour drought of no new birds)
42.  Black-throated Green Warbler (getting my hopes up again at 4:26pm)
43.  Merlin (Yes!  bring on the birds at 4:42pm)
44.  Eastern Phoebe (5:17pm)

And then it got dark, with no new birds.  As it got dark, I got out my recording again and was able to call up

45.  Eastern Screech Owl (at 7:02pm)

OldBird21c microphone
And that was it.  Short of the record.  But all was not lost.  There was still hope.  Now it was up to my OldBird21c microphone.  If we could get a decent migration, with calling birds overnight, there would still be a chance to best my record.  And the birds and the microphone didn't disappoint!  After reviewing the recording I was able to add:

46.  Northern Parula (NFC)
47.  ZEEP call (a NFC that was probably a Blackpoll Warbler, but could have been something else)
48.  Palm Warbler (NFC)
49.  Black-throated Blue Warbler (NFC)
50.  Swamp Sparrow/Lincoln's Sparrow (NFCs are super similar and may not be separable)
51.  Dark-eyed Junco (NFC--making up for the one I thought I heard earlier in the day but never appeared)
52.  Ovenbird (NFC)
53.  Green Heron (NFC)

As usual, there were some odd and as of now still unidentified NFCs on the recording, so perhaps at some point I'll be able to add additional species, but for now, this is the official tally and new Big Sit record for my yard.  So after a miserably slow day of birding, persistence (and the assist from my microphone!) payed off.

I love the Big Sit.  I love sitting in the yard in one spot all day and watching the sun come up, move overhead, and then descend below the trees and set.  All while I'm sitting there looking for birds.  It's a great Zen type of exercise, which is good, at least it helps the blood pressure when the birding is as slow as it was today!

Can't wait for the Big Sit to roll around next year!
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