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THROUGH THE WOODS: The ‘Big Sit’

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Bald eagle. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

LAST SATURDAY WAS A NEW EXPERIENCE for Columbia County birdwatchers, something called a “Big Sit.” I had never participated in such an event and was happy to sign up with our Alan Devoe Bird Club to support it. It was a fundraiser for the New York State Ornithological Association’s NYS Breeding Bird Atlas III. This bird survey is done every 20 years to determine the nesting status and distribution of birds in our state. We can see trends and possible areas of concern which should be addressed. The health of our birds indicates the health and quality of the environment that surrounds us.

For the Atlas, the state was divided into a grid of 3-mile square blocks, with every other block designated a priority block. Volunteers were asked to cover each one for a period of five years. This year, 2021, was year #2 and the nesting period was just completed. I have been surveying two priority blocks of Columbia County and enjoying a more organized, focused addition to my birding routes. It has been very educational and fun, and I have participated in each Atlas since 1980. The “Big Sit” was hosted by the Alan Devoe Bird Club to help bring awareness to this project and as a fundraiser to support the Atlas. Collecting, storing, and analyzing the thousands of submissions of data each year is costly. We particularly want to thank our commercial donors who will be listed on the ADBC website, at alandevoebirdclub.org.

There have also been many individual donors throughout our county and beyond. A “Big Sit” is a special bird count held during a 24-hour period, and observations are made from within a 17’ diameter circle. Birders could sit or stand to identify birds and each species was recorded. Covid precautions were followed, and birders signed up for specific periods of time to prevent crowding. The circle was located at the end of Station Road by the Hudson River in the Stockport Wildlife Management Area parking lot and visitors were welcomed. We answered questions about the flora and fauna at this great location and explained what we were doing. An occasional train came through and tooted and we waved back. It is amazing how the birds either pay no attention to trains or fly up and return.

The biggest attraction were the many Bald Eagles that seemed to be everywhere. Some were perched in distant trees, one was on a sand bar by the island, and several adults came in close to dive into the Hudson River for fish. They called back and forth, chased each other, and put on quite a show. We also had a great time seeing friends and meeting new birders. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were pleased to finish with a total of 42 species of birds for our effort. Now I know what a Big Sit” is and look forward to another in the future.

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