Birding In Low Places
The water this Northern Pintail is in has human poo in it, which completely ruins the experience of seeing this bird. Oh wait, it doesn’t. Radio Road, Redwood Shores, CA.
The majority of diehard birders do not care where they get their birds. Slaty-backed Gull at a dump, Baikal Teal at a sewage pond, Yellow-green Vireo at some random park in the ghetto…if a place collects birds, birders will go there.
There is a caste of birders, however, that do not subscribe to this way of birding…no. They actually will forego birding at places that aren’t “natural” enough. I’ve met a few birders like this, and for reasons I will attempt to explain…I’ve always found this attitude to be incredibly annoying.
Much to the amazement of birders, this Snow Bunting wintered in a parking lot next to an airport. It foraged in the cracks in the pavement where grass grew. I’m sure the thought of looking for this disgusting bird mortified more than a couple birders. Portland, Oregon.
For one, despite what I tell them, birders cannot always decide where they live based on the quality of habitat and birding opportunities nearby. So when people end up heavily birding urban areas, that’s often all that they have to choose from. Taking this into account, it comes off as being incredibly snobby an elitist to suggest that these types of birding spots are beneath you.
I just can’t imagine avoiding seeing a new bird because it’s location isn’t pristine enough. I know part of the experience of birding is taking in the beauty of the outdoors, but (call me crazy) I’m actually in it for the birds.
This Spotted Sandpiper (and American Avocet) carved out a living next to a salt mine. Is this such a terrible way to live? White Lake, North Dakota.
Early on in my birding career, I figured out that birds often have to make do in somewhat “unnatural” places, so birders should make do as well. The first place I started birding a lot was a sewage treatment plant…I still equate the smell of human waste with great birds. Not long after I discovered that place, I saw my very first rare bird…a Ruff, which was hanging out in a flood control channel in an industrial area. One of my all-time favorite places to go birding is the area around California’s Salton Sea, which was created when the Colorado River burst its levees and flowed into the Salton Sink…so not only does this place exist due to the hand of man, it was also an accident! It follows that anywhere that birds seem to rely on is a place of great value indeed.
Some people hate it, but I love car-birding…you can get so close to so many birds that would have nothing to do with you on foot. This Snail Kite, photographed from my treacherous 1999 Honda Accord, was right outside Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, FL.
Townsend’s Warbler in a busy city park. Look beyond the mountains of dog poo here and there will be birds. Pine Lake Park, San Francisco, CA.
Of course, in these situations, you can also ask yourself what birds might think of these places. A golf course in the desert can be an oasis of food and shade to a hungry migrant that has been flying all night. An urban park can hold the same appeal…an oasis of green in a concrete desert. A marsh littered with garbage will still provide refuge for a bittern, considering in many places most wetlands simply don’t exist any more. I think you get my point.
If you are one of these nose-in-the-air people that I’m talking about, don’t mind me, I’m only the greatest living birder on the face of the earth. But know this: Roger Tory Peterson made his name in New York’s Central Park, among the bums, drug addicts, thieves and rapists. Whenever you write off a birding spot because it doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities….he must surely turn in his grave.
What’s better than finding a Tufted Duck? Walking right up to one and identifying it with your naked eye. This bird perenially winters on Lake Merritt, in the middle of Oakland, CA.
These White-tailed Kites resided between landfills, disturbed agricultural land, encroaching urban development and some man-made wetlands. This area was packed with birds, with more Golden Eagles than I’ve seen anywhere else at sea level. Just because a place isn’t pretty doesn’t make it worthless to wildlife, so why not check it out? Pacific Commons Park, Fremont, CA.