The Big Sit is a tradition unlike any other

Break out the lawn chairs and get comfortable, it's time to sit in a 17-foot circle all day and identify as many species as possible.

It was a White-crowned Sparrow that last year showed just how confining the Illinois Ornithological Society Big Sit can be.

“You can leave the circle to scout the location,” said Matt Igleski of the Big Marsh Zugun-Sittas team. “I walked down the path and saw a White-crowned Sparrow and we didn’t have one that day. I started yelling back to the circle, ‘Can you see it? Can you see it?’”

Igleski’s teammates didn’t spot the sparrow, but they did rack up 72 other species as they spent the day in a 20’ circle on Chicago’s Far South Side. The point of a Big Sit is to remain stationary for most of a day or weekend and see as many species as possible. Last year’s circle was expanded to a 20’ diameter to ensure social distancing. This year the circle will return to the typical 17’ diameter.

“It’s a fun constraint to pick the best spot to see as much as possible,” Igleski says. “So you put a lot of thought into the types of habitat around you, the time of year.”

May be an image of 1 person, standing and nature
Matt Igleski with the Zugun-Sittas in the background last year. Zugun-Sitta is a combination of the German term zugunruhe, which describes migratory restlessness, and the nuthatch genus Sitta. 

Teams like the Zugun-Sittas, the Fort Sheridan Diamond Dogs, the Spotting OwlYMPIANS and Chautauquackers will be set up throughout the state on Saturday and Sunday for this year’s Big Sit, raising funds for Illinois Ornithological Society’s programs. Some are vying for bragging rights as the top listers, and the Chautauquackers are on record as making an attempt on the Illinois Big Sit record of 102, set by the Mighty Mighty Jazz Masters in 2018. Igleski notes, though, that being outdoors enjoying birds and each other’s company is as important as anything.

“You could see 45 birds, and it’s totally fine,” he says. “Like with everything in birding, it doesn’t have to be a competition. It’s having a day of camaraderie when everyone is out looking for birds and sitting in one spot.”

Jeff Reiter of the Daily Herald devoted a recent column to the concept of the Big Sit. One has taken place at Cantigny Park in DuPage County in recent years. Apparently Big Sits officially began in 1993 with the New Haven (Conn.) Bird Club. He shared insights into the location choice at Cantigny:

Most importantly for birdwatchers, the view from Butterfly Hill features multiple habitats, including grassland, scrub, oak savanna, pond and wetland. Birders are nearly eye-level with the crowns of mature oaks behind the First Division Museum. And, of course, open sky—critical for spotting all manner of flybys, from hummingbirds to turkey vultures.

I asked Igleski where Big Sits fit into the grand traditions of birding, like Big Days and the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). It turns out that simply remaining seated may be the most appealing of all.

“A Big Day is probably more stressful trying to get to a lot of places, or even on a CBC,” he says. “[The Big Sit’s] not so intense because you can ease up a little bit and someone’s watching. You can kind of trust your team. It’s one of the more fun things to do. And your carbon footprint is better and you’re still seeing a lot of birds.”

For information on the Big Sit, to sign up or make a contribution to a team, click here.

New legislation makes Illinois leader in clean energy

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act into law last week, it meant Illinois instantly became a leader in clean energy. The bill will phase out coal-powered plants and ensure Illinois will have fossil-free electricity by 2050. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and it took a years-long coalition effort and multiple special General Assembly sessions this summer to make it happen.

There’s no clear estimate of how many birds have been lost to the warming climate and the burning of fossil fuels. Anecdotally, it must be vast—just think of the devastation more powerful hurricanes have caused to birds like the Bahama Nuthatch. Last week’s victory is a concrete step forward and can be a model for other states to follow as they pledge to address climate change and expand green energy.

How to watch “Monty and Rose 2: The World of Monty and Rose”

"Monty and Rose 2: The World of Monty and Rose" is now streaming on Vimeo for purchase or rent! Click here to purchase or rent the film. Then watch on your web browser or through the Vimeo app on your TV.

Check out the film the Chicago Reader called “Heartwarming and thorough.” And forward this email to a friend to let them know about the story of two little birds who hatch in Michigan and make history by becoming the first Piping Plovers to nest in Chicago in 70-plus years.

"Monty and Rose 2" is a new feature-length documentary film produced by Turnstone Strategies in association with This Week in Birding. The running time is approximately 50 minutes.

Watch on Vimeo

A step forward for one of our birdiest locales

You might remember Emily Torem’s TWiB piece in July about the project to re-connect Powderhorn Lake to Wolf Lake on the city’s Far Southeast Side. It’s an ambitious project and a feat of engineering to bring the waterways together as they were in the post-glacial period. On Saturday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other officials took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at Powderhorn. The project has the potential of expanding habitat for secretive marsh birds like Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules.

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