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My Column: October Big Day

A Classic Hour on Tower Count

Img161Back in 2003, an Hour on the Tower team led by Stiles Thomas led an assault on the record 42 species seen in one hour.

I found the following entry in my journal from October 2003 and posted it here in 2011. In light of the recent record-tying effort, I share it here.

It's the story of the Hour on the Tower crew's attempt to beat the previous Celery Farm record for species seen in an hour, held by Stiles Thomas, Gordon Schultze and Charlie Mayhood.

The 2003 attempt was likely one of the first times that the Hour on the Tower was held at Pirie. I post it virtually verbatim.

This past weekend's Hour on the Tower was supposed to be huge. Stiles predicted the day before [Saturday, Oct. 4] that we had a shot at beating the record -- 42 species spotted or heard (and confirmed) from the platform between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Stiles, ever the field marshal, decided the best strategy was to observe from the Pirie Platform because ducks were on the move, and one typically sees more ducks from the Pirie.

So when the troops arrived on Sunday, a sign awaited them at the Warden's Watch -- HOUR ON TOWER IS - AT PIRIE PLATFORM -- topped off with a drawing of a duck the likes of which you would have seen on a junior high school boy's notepad if he drew waterfowl instead of racing cars and fighter jets.

I arrived at the Pirie precisely at 8, which meant that I was late and all the good spots were taken. Birding is serious business, especially when you are racing against time, and birders would no sooner show up at game time than a baseball player or football player would. You have to get ready, warm up, prepare.

 When the birding began, we saw ducks by the bucketful -- Green-winged Teal, Wood Ducks, wigeons, shovelers, Ruddies, Pied-billed Grebes. We saw hawks -- Sharpies, Cooper's, Red-tail, Red-shouldered, Marsh Hawk -- plus a bevy of other birds.

Many were seen, but many were identified by ear. At the end of the hour, we had 41 species and a raccoon (the latter being my main contribution). Karel, who has a great sense of hearing, said she heard coots, a nuthatch and a mockingbird but we were unable to confirm.

The stopwatch stopped, and we were one shy of the record. Less than 30 seconds later, the Osprey we had been hoping for (and which had been seen regularly in the weeks before) showed up as big as you please.

On the way out, Stiles saw the mockingbird, and as Rob Fanning and I paused at the Warden's Watch, we saw two coots and a nuthatch, which would have brought the total to 45.

Birds, however, don't know from clocks.