Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the Circle

Winged Sumac in fall color

There’s an annual event in the world of birding called the Big Sit, and it’s full of great birders.
The Big Sit involves anyone--individuals or groups from around the world, each creating a 17-foot diameter circle on a specified date and tallying the number of bird species seen or heard from within their circle for a 24-hour period.

The summer hills of southeastern Ohio

foggy morning
photo courtesy Bill Thompson

They begin under the cover of darkness to listen for nocturnal migrants at midnight—little utterances left against a black sky above and a rising moon, while every good sense reminds them they should catch a few hours’ sleep—tomorrow’s a long day of birding.

Then, having stolen a nap, and racing the sun up the stairs to the tower, they wait in the early hours of the morning.
The eastern sky hints of dawn.
Silhouettes stand in shadow.
Funny hats top bulky jackets--the air is still and cold.
A fine mist swirls around their light and covers every object with heavy dew.
From the next ridge, where nothing more than ragged treetops emerges from a great gray lake of cloud, an owl calls, and calls again. My favorites, Barred owls--and sounds I know well.
In the distance, from behind the western wall of fog, a faint twittering is heard. And then silence--as all wait again, hands cupping ears forward, sifting small sounds from the heavy night air. A little “peep” passes in the dark-- and I learn it is the flight call of a Swainson’s Thrush.
Again, the twittering. Coming closer.
I hold my breath, face into the sound, and overhead, the little invisible bird I wait to hear each spring passes through the darkness toward the dawn.
My first Woodcock welcomes morning to Indigo Hill.

Autumn fields aflame with sumac and goldenrod

winged sumac, Rhus capollinum

worn and tired Great Spangled Fritillary female

To bird with great birders is a gift.
Their lives spent listening, observing, learning add depth far greater than can be captured on the page of a field guide.
There are birders who sketch birds,
birders who write about birds,
birders who follow birds around the world or gather information to advance our knowledge of them, who, perhaps, become the greatest birders as they take others into the circle with them.

Jim McCormac, Julie Zickefoose, your blogger, my DH, Anton
photo courtesy Bill Thompson

list of birds

Julie Zickefoose
and Chet Baker

the color of summer

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T.R. said...

So, so beautiful. I never thought of the Big Sit as poetic - but you make it so. Seems like you kept excellent company. Chet Baker to boot. I sat in a circle alone (glorious in its own way) in a one of the most beautiful swaths of scenery I've ever laid eyes on and ID'd 18 birds on my very own. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

Laure Ferlita said...

What a beautiful idea and to share knowledge - is anything greater?

Thanks for sharing, Nina!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a grand day you had.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Bravo, T.R.! How could you have a day anything less than wonderful!
There's tremendous satisfaction that comes with a successful ID. And, thrown into the bird world on my own, and consulting my library of sources, I can manage--slowly.
But, the subtle sounds barely heard, the blush on a feather, thickness of a wing I'd certainly miss.
I need a lifetime of field time to catch up. To be between these 3, Julie, BT3 and Jim McCormac, was awesome!

Laura--This group grew as the day warmed and included some young people, as well. Sharing your passion with the next generation, giving them a leg up--what better way to ensure an interest will grow.

Heather said...

What a very cool experience it must have been to do a Big Sit with such wonderful, knowledgeable folks (and of course His Highness, the Bacon). I imagine you learned quite a lot!

Anonymous said...

What an interesting idea: a nature sit in. It sounds like you had a great time.

TSannie said...

What a beautiful description you've written here.

Deborah Godin said...

Never heard of the Sit - but it sounds like a great adventure!

Beth said...

Sounds like a wonderful day in wonderful company (you included).


deejbrown said...

I birded the Big Sit here in NJ where we shared the tseets and chips with quiet laughter from our dark ledge. This is a great post about a wonderful and worthy vocation.
Good birding,

Julie Zickefoose said...

Oh, this is so lovely. Thank you, Nina. Birding with you and Anton, the honor was ours. Bacon kisses,

Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks for capturing the essence of the Sit in such a lovely, poetic way. You and Anton really added to the gathering—and not just because of all the amazing food you brought to share!

It's an honor to fall under your writerly gaze.

Mary said...

I never thought of a big sit in such a poetic way. The first time I ever heard of the Big Sit had to do with Cheetos (and BOTB).

What a great time you had with lovely birders.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Yes, Mary, there were cheetos.
But the memory for me is wrapped up in all that darkness and fog--like panning for gold, picking the few bright flecks out of slurry--nothing like it!

Kathiesbirds said...

The colors of friendship! The colors of life! What a great experience! How I would loved to have been there! I LOVE that picture of the fields with the sumac and goldenrod!

The Tile Lady said...

A truly wonderful experience! I envy you this time with other great birders and in this beautiful countryside! Great post. I enjoyed learning about the Big Sit!