Archive for October, 2012

2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT

Sunday, October 14, 2012

TEAM: Stonehurst
TEAM MEMBERS: Jim Lockyer
TEAM CAPTAIN: Me!

Last year I wrote a brief account of my first BIG SIT event in California and explained the rules and history of the BIG SIT in that account. That information is still available in my BLOG account of the 2011 BIG SIT.

2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT

The scope and camera were setup and ready to go at 7:30 AM, with a cup of coffee in my hands and my bins (binoculars) around my neck I found a comfortable chair. The 2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT was underway. The skies were clear with calm winds and the temperature was a cool 57 degrees.

It wasn’t long before the first bird of the day appeared, a skulking White-crowned Sparrow under the shrubbery gleaning for seeds beneath the feeders. The sparrow was still a bit shy while he waits for more of his comrades from the north to arrive for the winter. Once there is safety in numbers, the White-crowned Sparrows are quite gregarious. The sparrow was quickly followed by two California Thrashers arriving to gather sunflower seeds and drink at the water feature. These two birds were introduced to our feeder/water complex by their parents earlier this year, and have been regular visitors ever since.
 
White-crowned Sparrow                                                       California Thrasher

Other birds began to trickle in here and there but for the most part the bird activity remained relatively slow. The non-resident breeding birds had already left and the wintering birds were just beginning to arrive.

The weather forecast for today was HOT. It’s the middle of October and the forecast temperature for this day was 95 degrees. At 11 AM the temperature had risen to 82 degrees, and still no soaring birds had chosen to go skyward. Twenty-two Bushtits made a brief appearance to glean what they could from the plantings, seldom standing still for more than a second or two. Anna’s Hummingbirds frequented the feeders regularly only to be chased away by the “bully” Anna’s Hummingbird after a brief feed. A single Costa’s Hummingbird made a brief appearance.
 
Bushtits

House Finch

At noon the temperature had risen to 86 degrees. I took a short lunch break from 12:30-1:00 PM to cool off a bit while still keeping an eye to the sky from inside the house. When I returned to my count circle the temperature had reached 91 degrees.

With the sun now on the south side of the house, I moved under our covered patio to take advantage of the shade. We had the patio covering installed last year we wanted a lattice-type covering, but the salesman convinced us that a solid covering would provide more shade and keep things dry during the rainy season. At the time that seemed like a good idea so we went with the solid patio covering. Now after our second summer with the patio covering we are realizing that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. The south facing patio Alum wood cover serves as a heat trap during cloudless sunny days. After mid-day, the temperature under the patio covering begins to increase at a rate of 5-10 percent over the ambient air temperature. This continues until the sun sets. At 1:00 PM both the ambient and shade cover temperatures had risen to 91 degrees.

Finally a few soaring birds began to appear. A Turkey Vulture flew over and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks rode the few thermals caused by the rising temperatures.
Red-tailed Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk

At 1:15 PM, a bird or birds caused a shadow to be cast when passing the sun. I jumped up to see what I expected to be a large hawk or vulture, but was surprised when I noticed a flock of 26 blackbirds. They came in from the south passed our home then made a sharp turn to the northeast. They were moving fast but I was able to get a quick look at the birds through my bins as they disappeared out of sight. I was speechless and astonished to what I had just witnessed. As the birds rapidly passed by, the flash of yellow to the throat and breast of these blackbirds left me in awe. I had seen this bird a number of times in the east and Midwest, but usually as a solo bird mixed in with a flock of other blackbirds. I was thrilled to see my first flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. This was also a CA State bird for me. These birds were most likely migrants heading for the San Jacinto Wildlife Area 9 miles to our northeast which was the direction they were heading. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are regular winter visitors at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

At 2:00 PM the ambient temperature was 93 degrees as the shade cover temperature had risen to 98 degrees. The afternoon count slowed as the temperature rose. At 4:30 PM the ambient temperature was 95 degrees and the shade cover temperature was now 100 degrees.

I began preparing for the Stonehurst BIG SIT finale, COUNTING CROWS. Each evening at sunset crows from the north head to a common roost site at the Murrieta Retention Basin, 5 miles to our south. Usually the crows fly above the skyline making them easy to count. At 6:00 PM the sun dropped behind the mountains, the winds were calm, and the ambient and shade cover temperature both dropped to a comfortable 86 degrees.

At 6:08 PM the first crows began to appear, tonight with calm winds, they were low below the skyline making counting a challenge. For the next 22 minutes I counted a steady flow of crows. The final tally was 1,195. While counting the crows I noticed two Phainopepla capturing insects at sunset, I clicked another bird species to the total BIG SIT count.

I thought about staying out to see if I could get the Barn Owls that regularly forage in our area, but decided to shut down the 2012 Stonehurst BIG SIT at 6:30 PM, the temperature as now down to 81 comfortable degrees, and we opened the house to let the cool evening air flow in. I do like this Mediterranean climate.

All in all it was a nice relaxing productive birding day! It’s been a long time since I have spent a day totally devoted to a birding activity.

Jim Lockyer

TOTAL COUNT: 26 species (6 more than last year).
EXPECTED BIRDS MISSED: White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barn Owl
OTHER SIGHTINGS: Sky Jumpers, Vintage Aircraft (returning from the Miramar AIR SHOW in San Diego at sunset)
  

© Jim Lockyer, jl-studio 2012
All Rights Reserved.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.  Mark Twain