Allegheny Front Big Sit – 2011

This past Sunday, I held a Big Sit at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch for the second year in a row. The Big Sit is an all-day birding event promoted by Bird Watcher’s Digest. The idea is to pick out a 17 foot diameter circle, and stay in it all day, counting as many species of birds as you can without ever leaving the circle. Hundreds of circles have been set up across the country. Last year, we were able to tally 56 species  while standing at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch on the edge of Bedford County. This year, we didn’t do as well. I ended the day at 6:20pm, having counted 41 species. Tim Schreckengost, Josh Lefever, and I drove down to the Front on Saturday afternoon. We got there just in time to catch a nice push of raptors migrating past in the late afternoon. Sharp-shinned Hawks whizzed past, a few Bald Eagles soared overhead and one passed close at eye level, harriers lazily flopped past, Red-tailed Hawks cruised through. However, the highlight of the afternoon was that we had two Golden Eagles pass by at eye level at very close range.

Golden Eagle - subadult, The second of the two goldens to pass on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Bald Eagle - subadult that passed at eye level on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Saturday night we attempted to try and capture Northern Saw-whet Owls. Weather conditions were not right, plus it seems to be a little early in the season from what I have heard being reported around the state. Needless to say, we didn’t catch any saw-whets. But, at midnight we officially began our big sit. The first bird tallied was a Barred Owl, which was calling down the side of the ridge. We also managed to hear Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl. Flight calls were incredibly frustrating. After being able to hear loads of thrush, warbler, sparrow, and other flight calls every night for two months now I expected it to be a breeze on the night of the big sit. We only heard about 40 flight calls all night, and they were all warblers and/or sparrows, not a single thrush! Bummer. We took breaks listening for flight calls, and took a few naps throughout the night, but then were up at about 20 minutes before the sun rose, to hear warblers and sparrows dropping down to earth, and to start to tally the birds that began calling around us. We were quickly racking up the species and I felt we were on par to at least tie last years total. As the morning turned into the early afternoon, we were totally dependent on raptors, to add more species to our list. That’s where things went wrong. We had tons of Sharp-shins passing all day, but that was all….there was no diversity to the flight at all. Finally we added Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, and Cooper’s Hawk….but where were the Northern Harriers, Bald and Golden Eagles, and all the other great raptors from the day before? Our last new bird of the day was a Black-throated Green Warbler that flew into a tree across the meadow from where we stand to count. Nonetheless, it was a very fun day. Tim and Josh had to leave around 3:00pm, but I stayed till 6:30 and then drove to Chambersburg, where I was giving my South African Birds presentation the next day. The day of the big sit was also the day of the annual hawk watchers picnic at the Front, where everyone that haw watchers there all got together. It was very fun having so many great birders and great hawk watchers to help out with the big sit! Because Sharp-shinned Hawks were by far the most common species of the day, here are a few photos I took of them during the big sit.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - adult (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Sharp-shinned Hawk - adult (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Sharp-shinned Hawk - adult (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Here is our full list from the day; 41 species total! To see some photos and info from Tim Schreckengost, check out this link.

Canada Goose  50 –    the geese were down in Shawnee SP, but could be seen from the hawk watch
Ruffed Grouse  1     drumming
Wild Turkey  8  –   a small group could be seen down in the valley
Turkey Vulture  26
Sharp-shinned Hawk  173     20 juveniles, 145 adults, 8 not aged
Cooper’s Hawk  4   –  juveniles
Red-tailed Hawk  31   –  20 adults, 9 juveniles, 2 not aged
Merlin  1     either a juvenile or adult female based on coloration
Rock Pigeon  1
Mourning Dove  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1   –  heard calling
Great Horned Owl  2   –  pair heard calling
Barred Owl  1  –   heard calling; first species of the day
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  2
Pileated Woodpecker  2
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  87
American Crow  20
Common Raven  6
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch (Eastern)  4
Carolina Wren  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  4
European Starling  4
Cedar Waxwing  56
Common Yellowthroat  3  –   1 adult male, 1 female, 1 not aged
Bay-breasted Warbler  1  –   first fall male
Blackpoll Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  28
Black-throated Green Warbler  1  –   first fall male or adult female; last species of the day
Eastern Towhee  6
Field Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Red-winged Blackbird  7

American Goldfinch  2

Red-tailed Hawk - juvenile; Another common migrant throughout the day. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)