Monday, September 24, 2007

The Big Sit

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
A forthcoming feature in Bird Watching will look at what's known as The Big Sit - that's when you position yourself in a hide, and sit and wait, and sit, and sit, and sit some more, and see which birds venture into view. To make it a bit more interesting, you only list those that venture to within, say, 15 metres of your position.
Now I'm one of those patch birders who tends to dash round as many local birding sites as possible, seeing if anything interesting is around, and moving on quickly if it's not. In my defence, it's mainly down to time constraints. Once the evenings are shorter, in particular, my available birding hours are severely restricted, so I tell myself it's necessary.
Then there's the fact that I like walking a lot. So much so, in fact, that when I got deeply into birding again eight or nine years ago (rekindling a childhood obsession), it was mainly because I was doing a lot of walking and started taking bins along to enliven the boring bits.
But anyway, yesterday I went down to one of my local nature reserves, settled into the furthest hide, and tried this Big Sit lark. Only for an hour (our intrepid feature-writers will be doing ten), and using an area of roughly 20m radius from the hide, which has visibility on three sides.
I'll be honest - I was astonished at just how many birds I saw, and their sheer variety. Coot, Mute Swan, Moorhen (18 of them), Little Grebe, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Chaffinch, Mallard, Carrion Crow, Wigeon, Gadwall, Woodpigeon, Jay, Starling, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Sand Martin and Goldfinch. Assuming you can count flyovers (and I have done where the Sand Martin is concerned), there were also three Buzzards, two adults and an immature. They played their part by startling the Jay into the open briefly.
It's all made me think about how I do my birding. For one thing, it encourages you to spend much more time observing the behaviour of common species, and that's always fascinating. The way the Moorhens, in particular, went about their business was entertaining and intriguing. And there's more time and comfort for picking out ID details - I methodically separated the female ducks, usually something of a blind spot for me.
It also made me think about what I didn't see. No Reed Buntings, at a site usually full of them. Victims of the wet summer, or just moved to a different spot? No Wrens, even though a family were nesting IN the hide a couple of months back.
I'll keep doing it. Maybe just once a month, because I know the urge to march around all my local sites will strike soon, but definitely on a regular basis.
Had the hide had visibility on all four sides, I could have added Kestrel to the list, because as I emerged, a pair were sat on fenceposts near the path. They took a slow look at me, then lifted off into the air, no doubt to the consternation of the local voles.

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