Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Big Sit!

If you were at Cape May Point State Park this Saturday and thought that the Hawkwatch Platform was even more 'happening' than usual, you would be right, for Saturday was the day of Cape May's official Big Sit. I am sure that most people will know by now, but the Big Sit is a wonderful, non-competitive (ie, no prizes given!!) event that takes place on the second weekend in October each year and the aim is very simple - to record as many species as possible from a single location on a single date. I say non-competitive - and it is - but, inevitably, there is a certain honor and pride attached and, well, you know, that competitive edge just sneaks in a little! This year, event organizers allowed Big Sits to take place on either the Saturday or the Sunday, giving a certain flexibility to work around possible bad weather. Once again, Tom Reed took the bull by the horns and got us scheduled for Saturday October 13th - and what a fabulous day it turned out to be!

As ever, the mighty stalwarts of Cape May birding were out right on the beat of Midnight and it is wth much gratitude that we thank Cape May Point State Park for allowing us to be present on the Hawkwatch Platform outside of regular hours. With the count being organized slightly later than usual this year (I guess perhaps because the first weekend fell so close to the start of the month?) we were a little hard pressed to find warblers, but as it turned out, the early morning movement of late-season birds such as American Pipits, Rusty Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks and the like, made up for some of the potential shortfall.

In all, some 50 people contributed to a wonderful day - and the weather was pretty wonderful too, after a mighty chilly start - and it is impossible to name all those who helped even by simply offering encouragement and keeping the atmosphere jolly. But we have to recognize the awesome staying power of the 'hardcore' of Cape May's birders that were present for most of the 19 hours that were covered this year: Tom Reed, Sam Galick, Michael O'Brien, Chris Brown, Glen Davis, Tiffany Kersten, Dave Hadeen, Vince Elia, Don Freiday, Scott Whittle, as well as many more who were there when they could be - including Cape May's very own prodigal son, Doug Gochfeld, who returned to his adopted homeland to be part of the main event! Especially awesome this year was the food, provided by so many people, but I have to single out the wonderful contributions of burgers and hot dogs by Lisa Ryan and Chris Marks (and barbecued on the spot by Lisa, Chris, Catherine Busch and others) and also the fabulous chilli provided by Libby Errickson and Alyssia Church that rounded off the day and materialized right on sundown as 27 Black-crowned Night Herons were rising out of the marsh and heading out over the bay.

The Big Sit is as much about the people as it is about the birds. The new barbecue stand installed by the state park this summer right next to the Hawkwatch Platform gets put to perfect use here by Chris Marks and Lisa Ryan - thank you ladies! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

From long before sunrise to well after sunset, Cape May's birders kept vigil in the state park. Here, Glen Davis, Michael O'Brien and Doug Gochfeld deny themselves views of a perfect Cape May sunset behind the lighthouse in favor of finding just one more bird for the list [photo by Mike Crewe].

And the final score? Well in the end, 133 species of birds were logged on the day sheet. Here's the full list posted to eBird:

Snow Goose  X
Brant  X
Canada Goose  X
Mute Swan  X
Wood Duck  X
Gadwall  X
American Wigeon  X
American Black Duck  X
Mallard  X
Blue-winged Teal  X
Northern Shoveler  X
Northern Pintail  X
Green-winged Teal  X
Lesser/Greater Scaup  X
Surf Scoter  X
White-winged Scoter  X
Black Scoter  X
Red-breasted Merganser  X
Ruddy Duck  X
Red-throated Loon  X
Common Loon  X
Pied-billed Grebe  X
Northern Gannet  X
Double-crested Cormorant  X
Great Cormorant  X
Brown Pelican  X
American Bittern  X
Least Bittern  X
Great Blue Heron  X
Great Egret  X
Green Heron  X
Black-crowned Night-Heron  X
Black Vulture  X
Turkey Vulture  X
Osprey  X
Northern Harrier  X
Sharp-shinned Hawk  X
Cooper's Hawk  X
Bald Eagle  X
Red-shouldered Hawk  X
Broad-winged Hawk  X
Red-tailed Hawk  X
American Coot  X
Black-bellied Plover  X
Killdeer  X
Solitary Sandpiper  X
Greater Yellowlegs  X
Lesser Yellowlegs  X
Ruddy Turnstone  X
Sanderling  X
Semipalmated Sandpiper  X
Pectoral Sandpiper  X
Dunlin  X
Wilson's Snipe  X
Laughing Gull  X
Ring-billed Gull  X
Herring Gull  X
Lesser Black-backed Gull  X
Great Black-backed Gull  X
Caspian Tern  X
Common Tern  X
Forster's Tern  X
Royal Tern  X
Black Skimmer  X
Parasitic Jaeger  X
Rock Pigeon  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  X
Barn Owl  X
Great Horned Owl  X
Long-eared/Short-eared Owl  X
Belted Kingfisher  X
Red-headed Woodpecker  X
Red-bellied Woodpecker  X
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  X
Northern Flicker  X
American Kestrel  X
Merlin  X
Peregrine Falcon  X
Eastern Phoebe  X
Blue Jay  X
American Crow  X
Fish Crow  X
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  X
Tree Swallow  X
Bank Swallow  X
Barn Swallow  X
Carolina Chickadee  X
Red-breasted Nuthatch  X
White-breasted Nuthatch  X
Brown Creeper  X
House Wren  X
Marsh Wren  X
Carolina Wren  X
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  X
Golden-crowned Kinglet  X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  X
Swainson's Thrush  X
American Robin  X
Gray Catbird  X
Northern Mockingbird  X
Brown Thrasher  X
European Starling  X
American Pipit  X
Cedar Waxwing  X
Common Yellowthroat  X
Northern Parula  X
Blackpoll Warbler  X
Black-throated Blue Warbler  X
Palm Warbler  X
Pine Warbler  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler  X
Eastern Towhee  X
Chipping Sparrow  X
Clay-colored Sparrow  X
Savannah Sparrow  X
Song Sparrow  X
Swamp Sparrow  X
White-throated Sparrow  X
White-crowned Sparrow  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Northern Cardinal  X
Indigo Bunting  X
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Eastern Meadowlark  X
Rusty Blackbird  X
Common Grackle  X
Boat-tailed Grackle  X
Brown-headed Cowbird  X
Purple Finch  X
House Finch  X
Pine Siskin  X
American Goldfinch  X
House Sparrow  X

The Big Sit is a major event which was started by the New Haven Bird Club, Connecticut and is hosted by Bird Watchers' Digest and sponsored by Swarovski Optik.