|My new Utah lunch-hour birding patch - Jordan River Parkway trail system.|
When I lived in Arizona, my Saturday morning birding patch was the Granite Reef Recreation Area along the Salt River just a minute's drive from my home. My lunch-hour patch was the Desert Botanical Garden near my office. In Idaho, for a time we officed along the Boise River in the Eagle area, so my lunch-hour birding patch was a stretch of trails along the river there starting at Merrill Park. When we moved our home and office into the Boise foothills to the Avimor community, all the creeks and hills in the area became my birding patch.
Now that I've moved to Utah, I am starting fresh and needing to find my own birding patch. I have a method for picking a new birding patch, but never written it out until now. Here's how to pick a patch for birding:
Step One: Use Online Maps
By locating my office on Google Maps (red-box with yellow "x"), I then looked for dark green (trees) and water near it on the satellite image (I added the green border). I have used this method to discover dozens of great local birding hotspots. Short driving and walking distance is important as it will dramatically increase the frequency with which you can visit the site.
You will need to find out by the map, or by visiting the site if it is publicly accessible and safe. I am not one to shy away from asking private land owners if I can have on-going permission to visit their property. Some say no, but many are proud of the habitat they have or have created and are delighted to know somebody might be interested in looking at birds on their land.
Step Two: Visit the Site
Look for the key characteristics of topography and habitat that are conducive to a bird's lifestyle: Food, Water, Shelter, Nesting. Even in winter, you can still identify a potentially great birding location just by knowing what to look for.
Well groomed parks with lots of grass and spaced out trees don't often have very many birds. Parks can be good if they have plenty of "wild" habitat zones. Brush and shrubs in combination with trees of varying sizes with some amount of density provide greater food sources and shelter. I prefer ecosystems that have both coniferous and deciduous trees just because I think it increases the variety of birds I will see. Trees with natural or woodpecker-made cavities is always a good sign. If you see nests in the trees and shrubs, you'll know you have a decent birding patch. Having water nearby is essential. I love trails along good flowing creeks or slow moving small rivers. Ponds and lakes are always nice too. Man-made canals with dirt road banks aren't usually very good for a large variety of birds.
When I visit the site, another thing I am looking for is the ease of bird viewing what I call "viewing windows". I've been to some places loaded with birds, but it was so frustrating because you couldn't see any of the birds. The reeds, trees, or bushes were just too thick and blocked any view of the birds. Because of this, I like to bird at places that give me a somewhat elevated view, where I can look down into the trees, brush, and water. Decent trails and ease of walking and hiking the area are also very important.
|Elevated view over the trees, shrubs, and water.|
...and start submitting a checklist to eBird for every visit your patch. If the location is public, please consider adding it as an eBird Hotspot. Public or private, you can add it as your Patch on eBird to join in a friendly comparison to other birder's special patches.
The data you collect over time will provide you with fascinating information for your own pleasure, but it also contributes to science. Whenever I establish a new birding patch I try to visit the location at least weekly so that my eBird bar chart will be 100% covered for the entire year.
My next post will be about my new lunch-hour birding patch in Salt Lake City, Utah and how I used this method to select it and track it.
Please feel free to share in the comments what criteria you have for selecting your birding patches. From my experience in the eastern United States last fall, the strategy may be a little different.