Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Seeing the birds (and beyond)

As crucial areas of habitat become lost or come under increasing strain it is more important than ever to maintain the health of sensitive ecosystems such as these grasslands in Sharon, Massachusetts, which have are cared for by the Trustees of Reservation. Species such as the Boblink and Eastern Meadowlark rely on these large open areas for food, shelter and reproduction. Image copyright Daniel E.Levenson 2013.
Part of my quest to see as many different species of birds in Massachusetts as possible in 2013 is to learn as much as I can about the diverse array of bird life which calls the Commonwealth home for part of their collective lives every year. In the  fall and winter we have Siskins, Shrikes, various ducks and other birds that come south for a respite from colder climes, and in the spring and summer we see Orioles, Swallows and the like heading north to build nests and raise young.

This seasonal cycle is fascinating to observe and serves as an important reminder of the ways in which all things in nature are intricately connected with one another. Global warming, changing weather patterns, freak storms, human interactions with the environment can all have a profound impact on the lives of the plants and animals we take for granted around us, and not just locally. In learning about the birds of Massachusetts I hope to also learn about the impact of human actions, weather and other factors on the natural world, and to share those lessons and insights with everyone who is generous enough to take a few minutes out of their day to read this blog. My hope is that by learning more about these birds, that I will learn more about the natural world.

In today's post I'd like to share some links to online resources I've found particularly useful when it comes to learning about New England bird life and ecology, all the while keeping in mind that what we do here impacts these animals, and by extension, the ecology, of not only New England but landscapes far to the north and south of us as well, and vice versa.

I frequently mention/recommend the e-bird website run by Cornell in my blog postings. It's been an invaluable tool for me since I started birding when it comes to keeping track of lists and observations, but it's also much more than that. It's not only great for storing my own lists, but for checking out what other people in my area and around the country are seeing, as well as where and when. At this time of year the "explore data" function of the site allows me to check on the most recent sightings of a group of Green-winged Teal in Newton I've been watching for about a month now, as well as pinpoint likely places to see Pine Siskins. One of my favorite things to do is to search for sightings of a particular species and then check out the full list of the person reporting the birds to get a fuller picture of other birds which are in the area. Often when I do this I find new places to visit and explore.

Another website I recently started to check on a regular basis is that of the American Birding Association. From a design perspective I find the homepage to be a bit too busy for my own aesthetic sensibilities, but I enjoy checking the list serve for Massachusetts and reading birding reports. I also like the ABA blog, which covers a pretty wide range of topics, from this recent post on rare vagrant birds from the West Indies showing up in Florida to this great post by Nate Swick about the importance of not losing sight of the natural beauty around us while chasing after rare birds. From reading these posts it's possible to begin to get a sense of the bigger picture of bird movement across the United States and perhaps to start embracing a broader view of which species call which states and geographical regions home.

The Massachusetts Audubon website is a popular destination for natural history buffs who want to find out about the latest trips or bird sightings, but I highly recommend spending some time to explore the site in greater depth to learn more about the different ecosystems to be found in the Bay State. One of my personal favorite ecosystems to explore are grasslands - we don't have an abundance of them in Massachusetts, but there are several important grassland areas around the state which are certainly worth visiting. Mass Audubon has a great section on their website about grassland ecology and avian life where I have learned a lot about The Grassland Conservation Program at the Center for Biological Conservation, a project initiated by Mass Audubon to help preserve and protect this crucial habitat around the state.

As I continue to explore new places in New England and beyond I will occasionally offer my thoughts (and some links to check out) when it comes to the bigger ecological picture.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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