Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

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Record Results for the 3rd Annual Big Sit! at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve

Written by Noel Cutright

The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory's FBMP Migrants team established a new team high for bird species counted during its 3rd annual Big Sit held on the hawk watch platform at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve (FBMP) on October 9, 2011. The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest.

The size of the top hawk watch platform is ideal because all observations can only be made from within a pre-determined, 17-foot-diameter circle. The count runs for 24 hours, from midnight to midnight, on the second Sunday in October.

The final tally was 59 species; the total for 2009 was 40 species, and for 2010 it was 50. Bill Mueller started listening from his sleeping bag atop the platform at midnight. He tallied both Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes as they called overhead on their migratory journey to the tropics. Swainson's overwinter from southern Mexico to Argentina and Gray-cheeks overwinter from southern Panama into northern Bolivia. Bill also tallied a new species for the FBMP property when a Black-crowned Night-Heron gave its loud squawk as it flew overhead. Great Horned Owls serenaded him for several hours during the mild-weathered night.

Carl Schwartz and I arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. and joined Bill on the platform. We heard a few bird calls overhead that we could not identify but did identify an American Woodcock by the sound of its wings as it flew past the platform. The best bird of the early morning was a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Carl picked out of a flock of migrating Red-winged Blackbirds, another new species for FBMP. The FBMP bird checklist now stands at 207 species. Others began to show up at the platform to talk, watch, and listen, and the maximum number of people on the platform at one time reached a new record of 21.

Some who had attended the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology field trip at nearby Harrington Beach State Park arrived, and we had a number of eyes glued to scopes as we searched for birds flying over Lake Michigan, perched in bare far-off trees, or flew toward us in the beautiful blue skies. In a distant large bare tree, we managed to identify 3 woodpecker species during the day – a Red-headed, Red-bellied, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. As the day warmed, a few raptor species were seen although the southerly winds were not favorable for a good raptor flight. The Sharp-shinned Hawk total for the day reached 22, and 8 Merlin also were sighted.

Finally, at 3 p.m. we called it a day as the only sounds that could be heard from the platform came from insects, and the Brewers playoff game approached. All-in-all, it was a great day to be outside with lots of birds, friends, and new-comers at FBMP. Thanks to all who came to the site. And thanks to wife Kate for baking 3 kinds of yummy bars.