The inaugural Queens County Bird Club Big Sit at Fort Tilden yesterday, 12 October, was as wonderful a time for which a birder could ask. There was gorgeous weather with beautiful blue skies, lots of great birds, and the good company of a host of birders. We set the standard at 74 species, one short of my hoped for 75, but not bad for a first attempt. It was a marvelous day and I can’t wait to do it again in 2015!
What follows below is the story of the day told in pictures and captions. Hopefully, it makes sense…
I was out well before dawn and it was a great pleasure to watch the sky gradually lighten both because it was beautiful and because it was cold up on the platform in the north wind! That wind brought birds though, including the only Eastern Bluebird of the day, a heard-only bird that gave its murmuring call as it flew over when the skies were still completely dark. The north wind also brought flocks of Double-crested Cormorants and Brant, the latter the first ones back this fall from their breeding grounds in the far north.
It didn’t take too long for more birders to join me and it is a good thing that Rich Kelly, Karlo Mirth, and Pat Aitkin got there when they did, as Rich quickly spotted this flyover Eastern Meadowlark, our only one of the day. Trying to keep one eye on migrant passerines, another one up high for migrating geese and other waterfowl, and a third on the ocean for anything else going past was pretty much impossible by myself what with only having two eyes and all. You need lots of eyes and ears to pick out birds moving past fast!
The winds stayed out of the north for most of the morning which meant we had many migrating flocks of passerines like these Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Also going over in decent numbers were Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Not only was the sky full of birds but this is one of three iridescent clouds we had during the day. (I had thought these were called sun dogs but that term refers to something else.)
Some birds, like this very dull Pine Warbler, hung out in the scrub around the platform. It was while checking out a Pine Warbler that our only Black-throated Green Warbler of the day was found.
Raptors are always awesome when you have a good vantage and north winds and Cooper’s Hawks like this one and the one at the top of the post were the most cooperative species for photography by far.
This flock of Black Skimmers on the ocean were our first of the day. We would only add one more individual and a second flock all day. Ocean watching actually wasn’t great, with Royal Terns, a small flock of Black Scoter, and a Bonaparte’s Gull being the only real highlights. We didn’t even get a gannet all day long!
Sometimes you have to step off the platform to check out the view. From left that is Rich Kelly, Pat Aitkin, Karlo Mirth, Eric Miller, and my coffee mug. That coffee was important both for caffeine and because it was a perfect accompaniment to the cookies that Seth Ausubel and Mary Normandia thoughtfully brought to the platform. Also, looking at the platform makes me think that we need some birder graffiti artists.
Sometimes migrating raptors get hungry. This Sharp-shinned Hawk was going past the platform when it suddenly went into full attack mode. We didn’t see the end result but we didn’t see it come back up either, so we assumed it caught whatever it was that caught its eye.
Eric Miller and Lisa Scheppke were two of the stalwarts of the count, though they did take breaks to see what else was around at Fort Tilden. Here Eric gets three other birders onto an Orange-crowned Warbler he found, a bird I managed to see from the platform by standing on the railing and leaning way out.
On my one break from Big Sitting that same Orange-crowned Warbler hopped out in front of me. Not bad!
My break was cut short though, when Eric and Lisa let me know that Eric had found a Philadelphia Vireo foraging directly behind the platform. It would show well off and on for well over an hour. It was an especially welcome bird because the afternoon had been very slow once the winds shifted to the south.
Though we had heard a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches during the day we only saw this one, who popped up onto the railing, just before calling it a day. It was good to get both of our nuthatches on the day, as neither is a gimme on the barrier beach.
We had a whole bunch of Merlins but this one and another, who were perched near each other in the same dead tree for awhile, were the best because when they took off they flew straight at and over us. It was a pretty awesome moment.
We gave it up at six in the evening, after nearly twelve straight hours of birding from the platform. We have some ideas as to how to improve our Big Sit for next year but we will wait until then to unveil them. I think that provided winds and weather cooperate that we could potentially pull in 90-100 species with some luck. But we’ll take our 74 and be very happy with it! Who’s coming to join us in 2015?
By the way, if you want to see the full checklist including exact numbers of birds of each species that we saw, check out the eBird checklist.