Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twenty-one birders gathered at the Elfin Forest Bush Lupine Point on Saturday, October 11, for the annual Big Sit. The Big Sit is a sedentary or green "big day", started by the New Haven Bird Club in Connecticut, where counters count all the species they hear and see on one day from one 17 foot diameter circle. Starting at 5:30 AM, we birded by shifts from this overlook of the Morro Bay Estuary. From our vantage point we had a panoramic view of most of the bay, the sand spit which separates the bay from the ocean, the hills and pastureland of Morro Bay State Park, the coastal scrub of the Elfin Forest and some of adjoining residential Los Osos. Even without the birds this would be a very satisfactory place to sit and pass the day.
We have been doing this bird count for 15 years, along with other counts spread across this country and in some foreign countries - all on the second Sunday of October. Our highest number of species for this count has been 122 (only Cape May has exceeded this total in North America on Big Sit day -they had 146 species this year!) and we have observed a total of 172 species over the years of this annual one day count. Variables which have affected our number of species include the tide, the weather (wind or fog - we have never had rain), and the flight of migrating birds for count day.
The tides for the 2009 count fluctuated minimally and we started with high overcast which cleared somewhat in the afternoon - visibility was good for the entire count. Our only handicaps were the lack of much tidal movement and the lack of passerine migration - this limited our variety of species. Our tally of 97 species by noon was about ten shy of our usual pace. We had as many as twelve birders and eight scopes at a time searching in all directions for species, but it was a slow day despite our enthusiastic efforts. For the first time, we added no new species to the all-time Elfin Forest Big Sit count list. Nevertheless, we had close looks at Merlin, Peregrine, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks as they cruised by our elevated perch, catching the thermals off the slope below us. We had more distant looks at a couple of Osprey and a group of three Golden Eagles. We worked hard to find land birds in the very dry scrub, but usual species such as Oak Titmouse and Savannah Sparrow were nowhere to be seen. Eurasian Wigeon, Clark's Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Loon were species we usually see in the bay, but which were not present this day. The final total was 107 species - only slightly less than average due to some great efforts by the counters.
Our big sit, however, is more than a bird count. Most of the counters (and others) brought scrumptious food ranging from fresh strawberries, to pita chips and hummus, to homegrown grapes and tomatoes from Fresno. The Julia Wilds award goes to Brad's organic brownies and the Davies' solar-baked macaroons - both were delicious and "green". The golden feather award, for the best bird find, goes to Brad Schram for the Golden Eagles he found soaring between peaks to our east (mere specks to the unaided eye). We also used the "sit" to spread the word to others who happen to be at the Elfin Forest, about the great diversity of habitat and bird species present here. Last, this was (to a small extent) a fund raiser for S.W.A.P., the group which preserved and manages this scenic and species-important piece of nature. We finished at sunset with sparkling wine and a toast to our beautiful coast.