My daily 'Big Sit'

Kristen Lindquist: Meditations on office birding

Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:30pm

Every October, Bird Watcher's Digest hosts an international, noncompetitive birding event called a Big Sit. (Actually, they call it "The Big Sit!") It's very simple: you mark out a circle 17 feet in diameter — trying to find a spot with good views of different, birdy habitats — sit in it, and count how many species you see or hear from inside the circle during a 24-hour period. I spent a few hours at Maine Audubon’s Big Sit a few years ago; their site looks out over the Presumpscot River estuary from the edge of a broad field with a few trees. The fields teemed with sparrows, gulls swirled over the river, a late warbler passed through the trees.

Enjoying the concept, the following May I helped Coastal Mountains Land Trust coordinate a Big Sit of its own on the Beech Hill Preserve. It was a rainy day, so we only tallied about 40 species. But the challenge of picking out birds in the nearby poplars and spruces from a bay-view ledge amid the blueberry barrens more than made up for the bleak weather.

In the post-migration lull of early November, I’ve been entertaining myself with my own daily “Big Sit” from the sphere of comfort of my desk. I’ve hung three small bird feeders on my office windows in full view of my desk. All day long while I'm working, I've also got an eye out for the comings and goings of the neighborhood birds. I keep a running list for each day at my desk.

Here’s today’s list:

Tufted Titmouse

Black-capped Chickadee

American Crow (perched in trees)

Canada Goose (flock grazing by Seabright Dam)

White-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Cardinal

Blue Jay

House Finch


Nothing fancy. And so far, seven or eight species a day is my typical high count, but I’m optimistic. Over the months and through the seasons these little feeders have hosted several other interesting birds: goldfinches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, sparrows, including a leucistic Song Sparrow with a white face, and on one memorable mid-December day, a Pine Warbler.

The lawn and trees beyond, within view of my desk, also offer up good species for each day’s office Big Sit. Crows frequently graze in the lawn or strut around the driveway. When the high-bush blueberries right outside my window are ripe, jays, catbirds, and crows all try to steal their share. Geese graze along the verge of Seabright Dam. An eagle often perches in a snag edging our parking lot. In spring, a yellowthroat defends a nearby bush. I hear other warblers singing, so keep my windows wide open from May through September. Flocks of robins, bluebirds, and even Bohemian Waxwings have passed through in search of berries and crabapples in the winter. In the small patch of river I can see from my window, I’ve spotted Buffleheads, goldeneyes, loons, even a Lesser Scaup. I probably couldn’t have picked a better Sit circle if I’d planned it.

As a colder season approaches, my special mix of bird seed will hopefully attract other irregular seasonal visitors referred to as “winter finches.” These birds are already showing up in coastal Maine from the Great White North — pink Pine Grosbeaks, gold Evening Grosbeaks with striking white wing patches, crossbills seeking out pine cones, and Common Redpolls flocking in alder patches. Predictions point to a busy year for these guys, and hopefully some of them will pass through the office yard, perhaps even stop by my feeders. And when they do, my office list for that day’s Big Sit will be a lot more interesting — not quite as interesting as that of Maine Audubon’s Big Sit, but a worthy diversion during a hard day’s work.

And this daily diversion is an easy one to replicate if you too spend most of your day stuck behind a desk. All you need is a window, one of those little suction-cup feeders, some black seed from a reputable bird supply store (my favorite is Freeport Wild Bird Supply), a basic bird guide (I recommend Jeff and Allison Well’s new book Maine’s Favorite Birds, and some good bird luck. You never know what may show up at your own personal Big Sit.



Kristen Lindquist is an amateur naturalist and published poet who works for Coastal Mountains Land Trust in her hometown of Camden.