A Big Day Count is an effort to count all the bird species in a specified area on a single day. It is a team effort and it follows established Big Day rules. For example, the team must fit in one vehicle. The rules are set by the American Birding Association to standardize the way counts are done. The accumulated data from across the country are valuable, but another reason to do a Big Day count is for the fun! It is a great way for birders to get out and enjoy their hobby on a glorious spring day.
Team Benson chose May 14 and Bee County for their annual Big Day count. Starting at 5 a.m. in Normanna, we listened for owls and night birds from our front porch. At dawn we heard the early morning singers start their day. By 7 a.m. we had identified 18 species, mostly by their calls or songs.
We headed to Pettus searching for Inca Doves and then towards Mineral on the back roads, ticking off several other species. At 10 a.m. we had 40 species. Occupying the manicured grounds of South Texas Children’s Home we found the “bronzy” Common Grackle (not really common in Bee County) and the only Eastern Bluebirds of the day.
We worked our way around Pawnee, picking up some surprises like migrating Eastern Kingbirds and a pair of Groove-billed Anis on a tributary of Sulphur Creek. A single Wild Turkey hen walked along CR 140. On some higher country nearby, we discovered a pasture full of singing Grasshopper Sparrows. By noon we had more than 60 species and were still picking up a few new ones here and there. But still no roadrunners, no jays, no finches, no chickadees – and we’ve missed Cattle Egrets! These common species are usually easy to find.
We rushed back home for a lunch break and to watch our yard feeders. The House Finches were finally out of bed and having sunflower seeds. A Greater Roadrunner hopped up on our pasture fence and put on a show. We are now up to 68 species.
It’s time to head south. We drive FM 888 scanning the fields and pastures. Where are the Cattle Egrets? Finally, south of Skidmore on CR 511, we see a low-flying flash of white, then another. They are barely in binocular range, but they have to be Cattle Egrets! We go closer to the Cattle Egrets in search of their likely companions: great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. However, only Cattle Egrets are here but lots of them.
South towards Papalote and down Baker Road – we want to get near the Aransas River. Suddenly, a bigger, white egret flies over. We aim our binoculars at its legs. What color? Black! Yes, it is a Great Egret! Now all we need is a Great Blue Heron.
We hurry to Coastal Bend College to walk the trail. We are hoping for Cactus Wrens, often seen on the CBC campus. Are they still around? We hear distinctive, throaty “churry, churry, churry” sounds coming from the fruit trees. It’s the wrens!
A thunderstorm looms. Amid lightning flashes and in near darkness, we quickly check the pond. Maybe a Great Blue Heron is taking refuge there. No heron, but three Spotted Sandpipers are bobbing their tails up and down as they feed along the shoreline! The rain begins, so we run for the car. Tallying our notes, we are up to an impressive 74 species. The sandpipers will probably be the last new species for the day.
Back at home our luck improves, and the sky clears just before 8 p.m. We again watch the feeders. A rain-soaked Green Jay comes in for a snack. Then a Carolina Chickadee zips through the mesquite. Finally, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker calls from the big oak.
Our total is 77 species. This “snapshot” count represents over a third of all the bird species that have ever been recorded for Bee County. Isn’t it nice how having fun birding can also give us more information about our amazing world?