Friday, October 16, 2020

Big Sit 2020

Last Sunday, October 11, four friends and I participated in our fourth Big Sit on Lake Creek Trail. The Big Sit is a friendly competition to see or hear as many bird species as possible from one spot in one day. This event was originally created by the New Haven Bird Club, but was organized by Bird Watcher's Digest magazine for several years. Now it is back with the New Haven Bird Club.

This year our Big Sit served double duty. In addition to being our New Haven Bird Club Big Sit, it was our entry into Texas Parks and Wildlife's Great Texas Birding Classic birding competition (in the Big Sit category, Heart of Texas East region.) This event is usually in the spring, but it was postponed until fall this year (with modified social distancing rules) due to the pandemic. Our team, Birding on Broadmeade, was made up of long-time Lake Creek Trail birders Craig Browning, me, Helen Mastrangelo, and Steven McDonald. We were joined for the first time this year by Rich Kostecke, whose decades of experience in field ornithology were a boon! We had an expanded circle this year that let us maintain appropriate social distantance from each other (even though the perspective in some of the photos doesn't look like it.)

We started our day at 6:00 AM, an hour and a half before sunrise at 7:30. All was quiet until we heard our first bird, a Killdeer, at 6:31. (This turned out to be our only shorebird of the day.) Then it was quiet again until 7:02 when it seemed like someone flipped a switch and turned all the birds on. We recorded over half of our birds, 33 species, between 7 and 8 AM. (This included a briefly seen Great Horned Owl, which we failed to hear an hour earlier.) Rich took this photo of me struggling to keep the list updated by the light of my iPhone:

Early Morning Birders - 1

And here's another pre-dawn shot of the team:

Early Morning Birders - 2

Left-to-right: Rich Kostecke, Craig Browning, Helen Mastrangelo, Steven McDonald

One of the first birds I photographed was a Snowy Egret, which flew by us heading upstream to forage in shallow water. This is an all-white bird, but look how it appeared in the newly risen sunlight. I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't a Roseate Spoonbill!

Pink Snowy Egret

After 8 AM, new species for the list were few and far between, and most were fly-overs. A single Cedar Waxwing was a surprise, earlier in the season than expected. I photographed some odonates as we watched and listened for new bird species. This male Black Saddlebags perched nearby, and I was excited to get a photo since this species doesn't perch very often. Look at those ragged right wings!

Black Saddlebags

The late morning and afternoon were spent watching the sky, hoping for south-bound migrating birds. We saw several groups of vultures, both Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures, that were obviously headed south and not our year-round residents. Just before noon a small group of about 7 Swainson's Hawks flew over us, all light morphed and very well marked like this one:

Swainson's Hawk

The day was clear and it was difficult spotting birds flying high up in the pure blue sky. But we did see a few more birds up there through the slow afternoon. Just after noon a small falcon flew over that we all thought was an American Kestrel. But when Rich looked at our photos later, he identified it as a juvenile Merlin of the Prairie subspecies. Here's a photo Steven got. That banded tail is one of the clues:

Merlin - 1 - 1

At 2:18 PM Rich spotted an uncommon local resident species, a Common Raven that was soaring by the cell phone tower near the Parmer Lane bridge over Lake Creek. It made its way upstream and passed by close enough for a few photos. Common Ravens are very similar to American Crows. One difference you can see in the photo is the long wedge-shaped tail of the raven. Plus, crows don't soar!

Common Raven

It was almost two hours before we added another species to the list, and this one turned out to be our last of the day. Just after 4 PM another falcon made a brief appearance in the sky. It was higher and much harder to see in all the blue. After viewing it through my binoculars I tried to find it with my camera but never saw the bird again. Luckily Rich got this distant shot of a migrating Peregrine Falcon. What a great bird to end our list with!

Peregrine Falcon

The late morning and afternoon were warm and slow. We hugged an ever-narrowing band of shade through the middle of the day. The banter and camaraderie with my long-time local birding friends was just as worthwhile and enjoyable as the the exciting birding of the early morning. I'm lucky to have local friends like these who agree that once a year, watching a whole day go by from one spot outside is a worthwhile thing to do!

Selfie with Team

Left-to-right: Me, Helen Mastrangelo, Craig Browning, Steven McDonald

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Here's our official checklist on eBird.

Here are my blog posts from previous Big Sits at this spot. It's so interesting how the list may vary, but has always been 45-60:

And here's our checklist transcribed from the clipboard, with time of first observation (seen or heard) of each species. 






6:31 AM


Northern Mockingbird

7:02 AM


Northern Cardinal

7:02 AM


Blue Jay

7:02 AM


Carolina Wren

7:06 AM


Great Horned Owl

7:06 AM


American Crow

7:09 AM


Mourning Dove

7:09 AM


Belted Kingfisher

7:09 AM


House Wren

7:09 AM


Eastern Phoebe

7:10 AM


European Starling

7:10 AM


Red-shouldered Hawk

7:13 AM


Great Egret

7:17 AM


Great Blue Heron

7:19 AM


Common Grackle

7:21 AM


House Finch

7:22 AM


White-winged Dove

7:27 AM


American Robin

7:27 AM


Rock Pigeon

7:32 AM


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

7:33 AM


Great-tailed Grackle

7:38 AM


Carolina Chickadee

7:38 AM


Snowy Egret

7:42 AM


Red-winged Blackbird

7:44 AM


Couch’s Kingbird

7:45 AM


Lesser Goldfinch

7:45 AM


Red-bellied Woodpecker

7:46 AM


Ruby-crowned Kinglet

7:47 AM


Red-tailed Hawk

7:48 AM



7:50 AM


House Sparrow

7:52 AM


Green Heron

7:54 AM


Downy Woodpecker

7:59 AM


Eastern Meadowlark

8:07 AM


Bewick’s Wren

8:45 AM


Cave Swallow

9:05 AM


Black-crested Titmouse

9:25 AM


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

9:37 AM


Cedar Waxwing

10:07 AM


Black Vulture

10:22 AM


Turkey Vulture

10:54 AM


Lincoln’s Sparrow

10:54 AM


Cooper’s Hawk

10:57 AM


Swainson’s Hawk

11:58 AM



12:14 PM


Barn Swallow

12:20 PM


Chimney Swift

1:35 PM


Orange-crowned Warbler

2:06 PM


Common Raven

2:18 PM


Peregrine Falcon

4:06 PM

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