Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Big Sit! at Commons Ford Prairie, a project of Travis Audubon Society

Sunday, October 9, birders gathered at Commons Ford Prairie, a project of Travis Audubon Society, for The Big Sit! This non-competitive event held around the world promotes birding and species identification (and fun!). Participants come for all or part of a specified period--usually 12-24 hours--and sit in a 17-foot diameter circle to identify and record as many bird species as possible. Rules allow participants to leave The Big Sit! circle to identify a bird seen or heard within the circle. However, any new bird seen or heard from outside the circle is disqualified for the count unless it is seen or heard from an “anchor” inside the circle. The Big Sit! is an event conceived by New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club. 

photo by Shelia Hargis

Commons Ford Prairie Committee hosted the second annual Big Sit! Sixteen people participated throughout the day, 50 total species were identified, and the hours of the sit extended from 6:00 a.m. to 5:01 p.m. It was a beautiful, cool, fall day for bird watching, adding to the pleasant experience of being with like-minded friends and acquaintances identifying birds collaboratively. The circle was situated on the edge of the prairie just north of the main ranch house, within good viewing distance of the prairie, the woodland edge, and the Colorado River valley just beyond the prairie. Together, these conditions contributed to many sightings of ducks and sparrows as well as raptors migrating south. A list of species is below.

Photo by Lee Wallace

Highlights of The Big Sit! included a mid-morning debate on whether participants spotted a Brown or Long-billed Thrasher, either of which would be a great find for the park. The bird was positively identified as a Brown Thrasher and a beautiful image by Lee Wallace is included above. Another challenge was identifying distant, migrating and moving birds from within our small circle. For example, both Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawk were spotted beyond the river, and on the adjacent property, Wild Turkeys roamed in a pack, nearly alluding detection because they were behind the tree line. 

Another high point of the morning was the steady stream of visitors: from Travis Audubon Society’s Board, Frances Cerbins, President, joined us, as well as Cynthia Pruett, TA’s new Chapter Representative on the National Audubon Board  who will begin her term in January. Cynthia is from Arizona and had attended the Victor Emmanuel Conservation Awards Luncheon on Saturday.  Travis Audubon Society Board member and Treasurer, Carol Ray, accompanied Cynthia. Thanks to all of them for joining us at Commons Ford, a unique place to watch birds. 

Left to right: Vincent O'Brien; Sandra Spurlock; Randy Spurlock; Ellen Filtness; Frances Cerbins; Deb Wallace (in the back looking up in the trees); Lee Wallace; Andy Filtness; Ed Fair. Photo by Shelia Hargis

Native prairies make great bird habitat. From the Commons Ford Prairie History, also included on this blog: The loss of native prairies has significantly and negatively impacted grassland and other bird species as well as other wildlife which depend upon such life-sustaining habitats. Virtually all species dependent upon native grasslands are in decline. Restoration of wildlife habitats will enhance, support and help sustain these species by providing nesting, shelter and food sources. Click on the link to donate to a fund dedicated to the prairie’s ongoing restoration. Thank you for your support.

Species list from October 9, 2016, The Big Sit at Commons Ford Prairie:

Mallard (Domestic type)
Blue-winged Teal
Wild Turkey
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Chimney Swift
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Cave Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse (hybrid)
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Lincoln's Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Western/Eastern Meadowlark
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch

If you are interested in including some overall Big Sit stats, see the links below.

Misc stats for this year's Sit:

Stats by state - you can see how we compare to other circles in Texas:

October 20, 2016