When seeking birds in a city, seek habitat

holyoke-habitat

Most successful birding excursions begin with a plan to seek out the right habitat for the bird you’re hoping to see.

While you find plenty of surprises in the world of urban birding, and certain species turn up in all sorts of places where you wouldn’t expect them, thinking about habitat is just as important as it is when you’re birding in more traditional settings.

The area shown in the photo above, which is flanked by Canal and Water streets in Holyoke, offers a case in point. Though I’ve driven by it plenty of times, I’d never thought to go birding there — until I drove by last week and noticed it was a marshy spot, wedged between two large industrial tracts, that had a healthy population of cattails at one end and plenty of short trees and underbrush throughout. I’d seen reports of Red-winged Blackbirds returning to plenty of other places in western Massachusetts, and seeing the cattails made me think: “Huh, I bet you can find them here, too.”

rw-b_2927During a recent visit, it didn’t take too long to get confirmation: I found the blackbird at right immediately upon arriving at the little swath of this drained canal bed where the cattails stand.

It’s a promising spot. Within a short period of time here, I found a number of Song Sparrows, a pair of Northern Cardinals, a Northern Mockingbird, and a few mid-molt American Goldfinches. I expect to find even more species here as the vegetation fills in and more insects hatch.

As the spring migration looms, I’ve been thinking a lot about the parts of the city I may have been overlooking so far. And I’ve been thinking about how building my awareness of different habitats — even on extremely small scales, in the form of pocket parks and tiny urban gardens — can yield an ever more interesting array of sightings in Holyoke.

Below, photos of a few of the birds I found in this section of the city: goldfinch_2881

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song-sparrow-3531

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