By Andy Bankert and Saraiya Ruano
Would you believe that some of the best places to bird are man-made or in the middle of civilization's sprawl? Sod fields and golf courses provide unique habitats and an unintended sanctuary for birds; gulls often hang out at dumps and reservoirs; city parks are an oasis amidst the cement jungle, a refuge for migrating birds. Take a look at these unusual and perhaps unexpected birding hotspots. After reading, we encourage you to comment and add to our list of man-made or human altered habitats.
Down in the Dumps
Birders often find themselves spending the doldrums of winter and early spring sifting through gulls at the local land fill. Birders search for rarities like Slaty-backed, Thayer’s, California, Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at dumps. In addition to observing the countless morphological variations of Herring Gull, birders can find other “trashy” birds such as vultures and cowbirds. Especially in the southeast, birders at the dump should keep an eye out for Bronzed or Shiny Cowbirds associating with Brown-headed Cowbirds. Whether you are bored with chickadees or just want to escape sane birders, the dump can be an excellent place to bird.
If you are in a group, trash (like discarded Sesame Street toys) scattered throughout the land fill can provide useful reference points (i.e. “There’s an Iceland by Cookie Monster”).
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, finding a quiet place to bird can be difficult. Birders may think they have to drive miles away from home to hit a stretch of good habitat. But some of the best birding locations are located within the city limits. Consider the following examples…
· Lamar City Park in southeast Colorado is home to dozens of nesting Mississippi Kites in summer. This is one of the few reliable places to glimpse this raptor in Colorado.
· A.D. Barnes City Park in Miami, Florida hosts a number of migrating warblers. In spring and fall, mixed flocks of Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, and Prairie Warblers pass through this urban gem.
Philadelphia Vireo seen at Milnore City Park in North Dakota, Photo Courtesy of Andy Bankert
Sod Farms and Fields
Lets it hear it for agricultural fields—where else can a birder go to see mixed flocks of shorebirds beside the road? With dozens of shorebirds foraging in the mucky sloughs between crop rows, sod farms are a perfect place to practice shorebird identification. Birders participating in the Great Texas Birding Classic know that the La Feria sod farms are a vital stop for picking up various species including American Golden Plover, Upland Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. For those (un?)fortunate enough to be affected by hurricanes, man-made fields become avian dumping grounds. Phalaropes litter soccer fields, tropical terns rest on the moist ground, and (if you are lucky) a tubenose might ride the storm out on an ocean of grass. In any weather, sod farms are the ideal spot for rarity hunting and practicing shorebird ID.
You’re heading here
Ok, your turn: what are some of your favorite man-made habitats to bird in? Feel free to list general habitat types or give specific examples. Whether you choose to be goofy or serious, be creative and have fun!