September 19, 2008
Osprey with fish
Osprey with fish
If you've avoided becoming involved in organized birding or even keeping a list because you've heard stories about "hard core" birders who take it way too seriously, there's a national event taking place on Sunday, October 12th you should know about.  It's called the Big Sit! (always written with an exclamation point), and it has been characterized as "the birders' tailgate party."

This year's Big Sit! is the 14th annual and, after humble beginnings with the New Haven, Connecticut Bird Club, it is now sponsored by The Birdwatcher's Digest ( and has gone worldwide.  The Big Sit! is a tongue-in-cheek knock off of the ever popular Big Days and other bird-a-thons in which teams of birders run around like chickens trying to list as many species as possible, often for pledged donations to birding organizations and environmental causes.

The basic premise of the Big Sit!, however, is that instead of chasing birds and using energy (yours and the planet’s), it's more fun to sit in one place and just let the birds come to you.  You get some friends, choose any spot you like (presumably the birdiest one you can think of), draw a 17 foot diameter circle, and see how many species you can see or hear from within that circle in a 24 hour period.  It's free, it's fun, and it's non-competitive.

Well, sort of non-competitive.  If you'd like, you can register your Big Sit! with the magazine and send in your count number.  They'll publish the overall winner and state winners but, as they say, it's just for bragging rights.  This year Swarovski Optik will donate $500 to one team that gets the "Golden Bird."  The Golden Bird is a species picked by random drawing from all species seen.  One team that recorded this species is then picked by random drawing to choose a non-profit environmental organization to receive the $500.

The oldest Big Sit! in the Valley is the brainchild of Maricopa Audubon Society President Herb Fibel and his partner in fun, Pete Moulton.  Herb first chalked out his Bit Sit! circle 13 years ago at the Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Verde River.  Pete reports there’s no room for newcomers inside their circle any more because lawn chairs, the barbecue grill, three beverage coolers, and a card table for cribbage boards and sudoku sheets take up a lot of space.

Last year Herb and Pete’s team recorded a record high for their circle, 67 species, highlighted by bald eagle and osprey.  Their best bird ever was a bay-breasted warbler, a vagrant eastern songbird rare for Arizona, but the most memorable event was the year two bald eagles harassed an osprey into dropping the fish it had just plucked out of the Verde as the big sitters were enjoying baclava.

Who knew serious birders could have this much fun?  Grab some friends and give the Big Sit! a try this year.  No reason why you couldn’t chalk out another circle at Granite Reef and go for the Big Sit! National Cribbage Championship.  You could put an exclamation point after that too.