Ah, October. What a great month. Cooler temperatures (for most of us) and clear days are ideal conditions to go for a hike, pick your own pumpkin, stroll along less-crowded beaches and pursue other fall activities. So why would anyone choose to remain stationary this time of year?

That’s a good question. And the three-word answer is birds, birding, and fun.

The Big Sit is an annual, noncompetitive bird watching event founded some years ago by the New Haven, CT, Bird Club. The idea is unusual, simple and quirky. Pick a location, anywhere you like, create a real or invisible circle 17 feet in diameter, invite family, friends and complete strangers, and count as many species of birds by sight or sound from within the circle in a single 24-hour day. It’s kind of like watching birds at your backyard feeder seated at your kitchen table, but you do The Big Sit! outside with one or up to two dozen people, look and listen and try to identify birds, socialize and eat. And not necessarily in that order. Some circles watch birds more than talk, others sit more than watch birds, and some eat more than watch birds and talk combined. No hard and fast rules at this very casual event…

Bird Watcher’s Digest has promoted and hosted this event for a number of years. Some call it a tailgate party for birders. People stay for as long or as short a time as they want; a very few might start at midnight and hope to hear an owl, but the normal people will watch for 30 minutes, an hour, maybe half a day if the weather is nice. It’s a great activity for beginning bird watchers, families, or those who enjoy viewing the occasional wild bird.

This October, why not check to see if your closest national wildlife refuge is organizing a Big Sit. In 2012, the event will be on either Saturday, October 13, or Sunday, October 14. The event itself is free, and many refuges have binoculars and spotting scopes for participants to use, and can teach you a thing or two about the birds that live there.

In the past, more Big Sits have been held at refuges than any other public land area, probably because the habitat is so good for resident and migratory birds. So dress in layers, relax, BYOC (bring your own chair) and count a few birds. 

Contact these refuges directly for additional details about their Big Sit events:

Tubby Cove Observation Platform, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Endicott Observation deck, sunrise to sunset

Near trailhead parking lot, dawn to dusk

Dawn until dusk

Champion Lake Pier, sunrise to sunset

Near the lighthouse, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

David Dynes Observation Blind 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

October 13 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.


Photo: The Carlo family joins The Big Sit at Patuxent Research Refuge, MD.
Credit: Michael Carlo/USFWS