My Big Sit

by Jennie Duberstein

When I got up last Sunday morning I checked my phone to see my Facebook feed full of people embarking on their Big Sit. I’d been out of town for the last week, so this was not on my radar. I thought about it for a minute or two and made a spur of the minute decision to do my own Big Sit down the road at the Coronado National Memorial Visitor Center.

If you haven’t done a Big Sit before, the idea is to create an imaginary 17-foot diameter circle, plop yourself down, and count every bird that you can see or hear from inside that circle. There is a little bit of wiggle room–for instance, you are allowed to leave the circle to hunt down a bird that you spotted or heard while you were inside the circle–but by and large you stick to the circle. The count officially starts and ends at midnight. I was late to the starting gate, but I figured even a few hours of Sitting was better than no sitting at all.

I grabbed my scope, binoculars, and field guide, along with a few extra pairs of bins and a couple of beach chairs in case anyone else wanted to joint me, and headed down the road.

Coronado National Memorial is about eleven miles south of my house in Hereford, Arizona. It was established by President Harry Truman in 1952 to commemorate the significance of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s visit to the region, the first major expedition of Europeans into the southwest. The Memorial is in the heart of the Sky Island Region of southeastern Arizona, on the southern end of the world-renowned Huachuca Mountains. Its southern boundary forms the U.S.’s international boundary with Mexico. Breathtaking views of the San Pedro Valley in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico sprawl out to the east and south. The San Rafael Valley rolls out to the west. As you can imagine, the Memorial also happens to be great for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Spending time there looking at birds seemed like a fantastic way to spend a quiet Sunday morning.

When I got there Park Ranger Christopher Bentley showed me a few possible spots to set up. The first was under the shade of a large oak tree in the front parking area; the second was inside the Visitor Center, at a large glass window that overlooked a water feature. It was a hard decision: outside, where I could look up and hear, or inside, where birds were sure to come into the water. He told me it’d been slow there for the past week or so, with not much coming into the water, so I decided to try my luck with the oak tree in front.

Have Televid, will travel.

Have Televid, will travel.

As I was setting up my chair a small flock of Mexican Jays flew noisily overhead, perching for a few seconds in the oak tree. “A good sign,” I said to myself as I sat down.

Alas. Those were the only birds I’d see or hear over the next hour.

When a group of visiting birders spotted a Red-naped Sapsucker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker at the water feature, I decided to take the bull by the horns and change my circle location. The water feature was a bit outside of the 17-foot radius, but by less than ten feet. If the Visitor Center building hadn’t been in between me and the pond, it would have all been in my original circle’s line of sight. Alas, my circle became more of an oval. Don’t tell.

The two woodpeckers came back several times over the next few hours, along with a handful of Chipping Sparrows and a few distant Turkey Vultures. Ornate tree lizards hung out by the water, and the air was full of Mexican yellows, but the birding? It was slow. Total species seen in four hours: five.

But then I remembered that I had brought my Phone Skope adapter with me.  I pulled that sucker out of my bag, attached it to my iPhone 5, and set my spotting scope up for some digiscoping. When the Red-naped Sapsucker came back, I was ready. It hung out in the shadows, so it while it isn’t the prettiest of videos from that perspective, I was impressed with the overall quality considering that I took it through the glass window. Lesson: when the birding is slow, digiscoping is a good way to pass the time.

How was your Big Sit?

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