2021-04-25 “Big Sit” At The National Butterfly Center

White-Winged Dove - Zenaida asiatica
White-Winged Doves are a favorite of mine. The National Butterfly Center held a “Big Sit” event on Sunday. They invited me to join the team, and in between shifts, I walked the grounds in search of photo opportunities.
Texas Full Moon - Scenery
As darkness fell on our team, the full moon rose in the east. 

Sunday’s Big Sit event at the National Butterfly Center was such fun. As part of the Great Texas Birding Classic put on each year by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, teams count bird species they can see or hear, while confined in a 50 foot diameter circle. The talents held by some folks on the team amazed me. There were four 4-hour shifts: 5am-9am, 9am-1pm, 1pm-5pm, and 5pm to 9pm. I sat on the 1st shift and attended part of each of the remaining shifts.

The 5am team was star-studded and included Mary Gustafson. Many knowledgeable birders regard her as the best birder in Texas. Her credentials are extensive, and her willingness to share her knowledge and experience was impressive.

Also on the early shift was Ryan Rodriguez, a 14-year-old phenom, who’s ability to hear the subtlest of calls nearly matched Mary’s. The first two hours of the morning shift began in darkness. Nocturnal Flight Calls, or NFCs were the only means of sensing birds. These NFCs were barely audible to me, yet not beyond Ryan’s and Mary’s abilities. As the sun creeped ever closer to the horizon, the morning began coming to life. Birds started their “dawn chorus”. At this hour, my senses come into their own. But Mary and Ryan would always beat me to the punch. It was amazing!

Mary’s style of teaching (and she did so a lot) was to let the younger members of the team make their calls. Then she’d add inflections about the more subtle aspects of the audio or visual IDs made by team members. Mary left when the early shift finished, but returned at 5pm for the last shift and stayed until 9pm, when darkness once again cast a shadow over the valley. Throughout the day, other birders joined the team and lent their skills in identifying species seen or heard from within the circle defined by the rules of the competition. At 5pm I joined Mary, Luciano, and my new friend Stephanie for the last shift. I continued to be impressed by the enthusiasm and talents of each of the team members throughout the day.

There is a competitive element to the Texas Birding Classic. I’m not one to get invested in the concept of winning and losing. I respond more to the aspects of fun and education of these endeavors. I’m not at liberty to share the count totals until the Texas Parks authorities declare the winners. I can share that we ended up with better numbers than anyone expected here at the National Butterfly Center.

During the competition, I took time to wander the campus and capture images as best I could. I’d hoped to get more pictures of the Clay-Colored Thrushes that live here. I almost had them in my sights a few times, but then grumpy Mockingbirds chased them away before I could capture an image <sigh>. The gallery below shows a few of the species I photographed: Altamira Oriole, Audubon’s Oriole, Couch’s Kingbird, Eastern Cottontail, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Great-Tailed Grackle, Green Jay, Hispid Cotton Rat, Long-Billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, White-Fronted Parrot, White-Tipped Dove, and White-Winged Dove.

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