Monday, January 18, 2010

Patch Work

Nearly a week has passed since I spotted the rare Harlequin Duck near where I live. You can read about it here:
and here:

During the week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people enjoy birds. After I reported the find to the Connecticut birding community, I expected some birders to drive to the area to see this rare bird, but I confess that I was really surprised to see how many people came, and surprised that people would drive so far on the chance that they might see one individual bird which could take off at any time. Birders came from all corners of Connecticut, of course, but I saw a Massachusetts license plate among the many, many cars that streamed through the little cemetery during the week, and I know of at least one person who came all the way from New York. I also went to the riverside two or three times during the week to see the bird, but I live about a half mile away and can stop in on my morning drive.

On one of my stops there, I chatted briefly with two birders from the southwestern corner of the state who had driven 60 and 70 miles, respectively, on the chance that they might see the bird. “Oh, this is great,” the woman said happily. “Now I can check this off on my state list.” She didn’t say a word about the bird. Nothing like “I’ve never seen anything like that slaty-blue plumage” or “Isn’t it amazing that it can dive and feed in that turbulent water?” or “I wonder how it ended up here?” Her very next comment to me was “Seen any Rusty Blackbirds?” She drove for two hours in rush hour traffic to tick the bird on her list, and that was it; I watched her pack up and drive away to look for the next bird on her list.


In a private note sent to me via email, a well-known Connecticut naturalist congratulated me on the find, saying, “Great discovery. That's what the crazy Brit birders call ‘working your local patch.’” When I responded that the Harlequin had been a lucky find and that I felt hugely privileged to have seen it, he replied “Because of the way you bird, no way was it luck. You earned it.” His comments got me to thinking about how we bird.

Working the patch, patch birding, birding locally, call it what you will, it's true British birders have embraced this eco-friendly approach more than we Americans have. “Patch birding” means finding or defining an area, usually near where you live, where you concentrate your birding efforts. And sometimes that concentration on areas that aren’t the “big” birding areas can pay off, since daily observation provides opportunities to spot rarities that pass through.

I rarely drive any distance to look at birds. My “patch” includes my yard and neighborhood and about a half dozen spots around town, including one really good spot just over the border in a neighboring town. As I’ve written here, I stop here and there on my morning drive, and I have discovered some great birds in the variety of habitat we have around here. As the years go by, I grow more interested in behaviour and less in an hour spent watching one great bird is good enough for me.

Part of the fun of patch birding, is of course, seeing how many different species can be identified in each area. But what I like about visiting each place repeatedly is that I really get to know the habitats and rhythms of each little haven, even to the extent that I can recognize individual birds (especially raptors). Because I visit the same spots several times each week over the course of a year, I have the chance to observe seasonal changes, watch migrants come and go, and enjoy seeing the local birds raise their families. And since I’m not in a rush to check birds off a list, I have time to just sit and look.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that I liked: "Think globally, bird locally."

I described my birding “patch” in two recent posts:

Morning Rounds Part 1: My morning drive takes me past several “birdy” spots with a variety of great habitat. Depending on the weather, the traffic, and my schedule, I’ll stop at two or three of these havens; I rarely have time for them all….

Morning Rounds Part 2: Yesterday I wrote about several spots on the first part of the route. Here’s a rundown on the second part of my commute.

And I’ve written about my “listless” birding:

Listless: There are many ways to enjoy birds and birding. Some people travel all over the world to log as many species as possible on their life lists. Some keep several lists, tracking the bird species they’ve seen in their yards, towns, counties, states…. Some track birds by date, noting the species they’ve seen on each date, in each month, in each year…

Here, I described just some of the beauties that visit my back yard:

Daily Delights: I love birds. While it’s exciting to travel far afield to seek out rarities, the familiar birds in my own yard provide daily riches of beauty and interest….

There's a lot on this blog about my other interests and activities (particularly choral music), but all the bird posts are in two categories:

Birds in My Backyard


Birds Out and About [my “patch” outside my backyard]

As the number of essays about birds increases here, I’ll probably add a few more indexing terms, such as “Bird Behavior” – my favorite bit of “patch work.”

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