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Chatfield Big Sit!

This past Sunday I had a great time at the Chatfield Big Sit!  Held at Chatfield State Park southwest of Denver, the event is one of scores of Big Sits held across the country each year in Mid-October and a wonderful fall birding rite to participate in.  I suspect most readers of this blog have heard about it, but in case you haven’t here’s a synopsis from our friends at Bird Watcher’s Digest:

The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven (CT) Bird Club. Every team that observes this year’s “Golden Bird” has a chance to win $500. We hope bird watchers from around the globe will unite on this special day by participating in this event (it’s free!). The Big Sit! is sponsored by Swarovski Optik. The Big Sit! is like a Big Day, or a bird-a-thon in that the object is to tally as many bird species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours. The difference lies in the area limitation from which you can observe. THIS FREE EVENT is OPEN to every person and club in any country! Some people have called it a “tailgate party for birders.” Today there are Big Sit! circles all over the world, including Guatemala, India, the Netherlands, England, Vietnam, and New Zealand. The simplicity of the concept makes The Big Sit! so appealing. Find a good spot for bird watching — preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next you create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for 24 hours, counting all the bird species you see or hear. That’s it. Find a spot, sit in it, have fun.

Kudos to Joey Kellner for his outstanding hosting job at the Chatfield Big Sit!  He lines up sponsorship from the state park in the form of breakfast goodies and a canopy in case of inclement weather.  The location is ideal, easily accessible in a busy state park on the southwest edge of the Denver metropolis.  The location is very birdy, situated on a large viewing deck that overlooks a large lake filled with gulls, grebes, and waterfowl.   The deck is next to lots of  hillside shrubbery and scattered deciduous trees, a  pine savannah is scopeable nearby, and a wide open sky beckons raptors and transiting passerines.  Clever scanning of distant ridges often turns up a perched Golden Eagle, and scrutinizing the power poles and rooftops of the suburb across the lake can produce a local Red-tailed Hawk or coterie of Rock Pigeons. Joey has a giant checklist board and starts a new column for every hour of daylight, so whatever time someone shows up they can still really help to add ticks for the count.  In addition to the  “regulars”,  the count gets many casual visitors from the adjacent bike path or vectored in from the park road by spiffy signs announcing the event- this year the count had over 70 participants!  Joey is super welcoming to anyone, whether they are settled in for hours of hard-core scoping or just curious as to what’s going on.  Mr. Kellner is the kind of birding ambassador we could use a whole lot more of!  (If you ever have the pleasure of spending time with Joey, ask him how he clandestinely sprung a young Chris Wood from school to twitch Colorado’s only Red-faced Warbler.) Anyway, we may not have found the year’s Golden Bird (Common Gallinule, a Colorado mega) but it was a golden day for all- thanks, Joey!