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Playing “Jenga” with nature

Ecosystems are like the game of Jenga...take one piece away you don't know what will happen.

Ecosystems are like the game of Jenga…take one piece away you don’t know what will happen.

You never know what will happen when you remove one piece of the puzzle.  Can it survive for a little while longer, albeit in a weakened state?  Or will it all come crashing down when that one piece gets removed?

Yes, I could be talking about the game of “Jenga”, something many of us have played.  But in this case I’m talking about nature.  In the journal Science Advances, research was just published that discusses a link between hawk populations in the southwestern U.S. and breeding success of Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  One wouldn’t immediately think there was much of a link between the two species.  Hummingbirds are far too small and quick for most hawk species to deal with.  They likely couldn’t capture them, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be more than a mouthful.  So how are the species linked?

As the paper discusses, there are actually three bird species who interact to affect nesting success of the hummingbird.  In addition to the Black-chinned Hummingbird, the study looked at Cooper’s Hawks and Mexican Jays.  What they found was that nesting success was much higher for the hummingbirds when they nested very close to Cooper’s Hawk nests.  The Cooper’s Hawks don’t feed on the hummingbirds, but they ARE a threat to Mexican Jays, and Mexican Jays will readily eat hummingbird eggs and young if they get a chance.  In one case, after Cooper’s Hawks left one nesting location, the researchers immediately saw Mexican Jays move in and decimate all hummingbird nests in the area.

Jenga…ala Mother Nature.  That’s what so scary when human beings start to interfere in natural systems.  One of the most publicized impacts of the removal of one species from a system is the Yellowstone ecosystem, before and after the reintroduction of wolves.  It was expected that the reintroduction would impact ungulate populations in the area, but it soon became apparent just how far-reaching an impact wolves have on the ecosystem.  Without wolves, elk and deer browsed freely in lowlands, resulting in nearly all young aspen trees to be browsed to the ground.  Aspen habitat all but disappeared in the park, but with the reintroduction of wolves, that habitat is now being reborn.  With increased aspen came more beavers.  With more aspen habitat and beaver ponds came an influx of more songbirds and other species that use those habitat.  With more wolves, there were fewer coyotes, which meant more small mammals and an increase in numbers of red fox, eagles, and ravens.

All due to the removal of one species.

Be it hawks in the Southwest or wolves in Yellowstone, the removal of one key species can have cascading impacts on the entire ecosystem.  The same certainly can be true in the “reverse” case, where a new, exotic species is introduced into the system.  As a scientist, it’s fascinating to see the incredible impacts humans have on ecosystems, both through how they manage the landscape, and in how they manage the wildlife within that landscape. As just a human being…it also can be pretty depressing to see how we negatively impact so many ecosystems.

Birds vs. People…guess who wins?

Pirate Island

“Pirate Island”, created from dredged sand in order to provide breeding habitat for coastal birds. A nice idea! Then the selfish “Me First” crowd found the island and turned it into “Party Island” for all intents and purposes. It’s hard to image many birds breeding on an island with this much human activity.

There’s a bird “news” blog I like to read, LittleBirdieHome.  Three times a week, there are new stories posted that relate to birds, from the mundane stories such as “Johnny saw a Three-toed Kingbird down at Newton’s Corner!” to bird research published in scientific journals.  Many times they are feel-good stories.  However, as with any “news”, it ain’t always good.

This week there’s a story from near our old stomping grounds. After college, we lived in Maryland for a couple of years.  Every once in a while we’d head east on a weekend to enjoy Ocean City or another beach on the coast.  It was a nice change of pace for a Midwestern couple who hadn’t even seen the ocean many times.  However, it was also a complete MADHOUSE.  Just traveling back and forth to the coast on a weekend was often bumper to bumper, and you certainly couldn’t ever find solitude once you arrived

The story posted by LittleBirdieHome highlights the attitude that certainly seemed to permeate coastal areas when we were there.  People first!  WITHOUT exception!! That’s the general rule.  Wildlife?  That’s about 48th on the list of most important concerns for coastal visitors.  The story concerns newly created islands and a conflict between birds, and people.  Several small islands were created off the coast to benefit bird species that need quiet, isolated locations for breeding.  However, boaters in the area have made one of the islands into a favorite weekend getaway location, flocking to the sandy beach on the island and the relative solitude compared to the coast itself.  Breeding bird species, for which the island was built?  There’s simply not going to be many breeding birds when people are using the island so heavily.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as it’s really no different here in South Dakota.  Public lands and parks are DEFINITELY “people first”, with wildlife concerns far down the list of most important land management concerns  It’s SO sad here to visit a favored State Park, only to find that areas of wonderful habitat have been cleared to make room for campers, archers, off-road vehicles, etc.  It seems the people-first method of management is universal in the United States, where the ONLY concern for the public is how they can use (and abuse) public lands.  While the article linked above notes that officials are considering permanently closing the island to human visitation, I would bet the farm that the boating/party/beachbum/LOSER interests win out.

I’d like to think that they’d default to the use the island was built for, but when it comes down to people vs. birds, people always win.  It’s as simple as that.

The Colbert Report – I’ve officially “made it”

Colbert Report - Baird's Sparrow photo

I’ve made the big time! My Baird’s Sparrow photo being shown during an episode of the Colbert Report.

As someone recently made me aware of, before shutting down as Stephen Colbert left the show, the Colbert Report used one of my photos on their show!  OK, it was just in a very tangential sense, with no direct mention of the photographer or anything, but still…cool to see something of yours pop up unexpectedly on a show like the Colbert Report!

The context was typical Colbert satirizing negative impacts of oil production in North Dakota on the habitat and wildlife.  I had done work looking at the impacts of land use change and climate on bird populations in the U.S., and once the paper was published, it got some play in the press, including, evidently, on CBS This Morning.  The Colbert Report used a clip from the CBS This Morning show that included my photo of a Baird’s Sparrow.

I often run across my photos at conferences and the like, as people just grab bird photos from the web when doing scientific presentations.  I also run across them on occasion elsewhere, but it is still cool to see it on a venue like the Colbert Report.

Great way to spend an afternoon…

Burrowing Owl - Hovering - Athene cunicularia

Hovering Burrowing Owl, checking me out as I visit a prairie dog town on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota

I’ve been busy since back from vacation, getting back in the swing of things with work, catching up on yard work, etc.  Yesterday I had a chance to get out and bird however, and decided to spend much of the time on one of my favorite spots in the world…a prairie dog town on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands south of Pierre.  As a birder, I’m always attracted to the birdlife around a prairie dog town, but it’s also the other life, from rattlesnakes, the prairie dogs themselves, even the insect life.  Prairie dog towns always just seem so “alive” compared to the surrounding grasslands and farmland.

The prairie dog town I like to visit is near Richland Wildlife Area.  There’s a rather non-descript entrance, a cattle guard and and opening in the barbed wire fence that allows you to drive the mile or so back to the prairie dog town itself.  It really doesn’t matter what time of year I visit, the area always seems full of life.  In winter, it’s nice seeing the activity of the prairie dogs themselves, seemingly defying the harsh weather.  Raptors, particularly Ferruginous Hawks, are also a great draw for me in the winter.  However, in summertime, it’s Burrowing Owls that are my favorite attraction around a prairie dog town.

Burrowing Owls aren’t hard to find in South Dakota.  If you find a decent sized prairie dog town, you will very likely find Burrowing Owls.  The problem is simply vast reduction in the number of prairie dog towns compared to historical times.  Ranchers continue to view prairie dogs as pests…despite studies that show grazing is MORE nutritious around prairie dog towns (a reason Bison used to often frequent prairie dog towns).  Because of that, there’s few creatures more persecuted in South Dakota than the prairie dog.  It’s a FAR too common event for me to visit a long-time prairie dog town, only to find degrading burrows and no prairie dog towns, as the land owner, or even more often, the state itself, has poisoned the animals to “protect” rancher interests.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cuniculari

One of the most common ways to see a Burrowing Owl in South Dakota…one sitting on a fence post near a prairie dog town.

When I do find an active prairie dog town however, I can spend hours watching the wildlife.  At this time of year, Burrowing Owls have young to feed, and that was certainly the case yesterday.  In the area of the prairie dog town I was at, I saw two different families, each with 2 adults and 3 fledglings.  The adults are understandably protective at this time of year, scolding visitors (be they a stray coyote, another bird, or a curious photographer like myself).  It’s quite cool to watch a little family of Burrowing Owls at a burrow entrance, and how they react when danger is afoot. The adults take immediate action to scold the intruder, while the fluffy fledglings quickly waddle down into the burrow.  I don’t get so close as to greatly disturb the Burrowing Owl families, but even at some distance, the adults will often fly over and scold me, sometimes even hovering right by me and glaring a glare meant to intimidate!!

A great day on the grasslands.  Vacations are nice, but I do so love getting back home to South Dakota…

More invasive species…

Iguana - St. John's, Virgin Islands

Another non-native species on the Virgin Islands, a huge iguana.

A quick follow up on the previous post…on this day in the Virgin Islands, we had a giant iguana laying by the road, several places we had to slow down or stop because of goats in the road, and a “wild” donkey that chose our beach house yard to graze in for the day. Yes, some good birds again, but it’s the non-native species that dominate the ecology.

 

“Arrogant” to think man can change the Earth?

Photo of Cruz Bay on St. John's, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. John’s, U.S. Virgin Islands. “Virgin” it is not, as it is about as unnatural a place as you can go.

One of my pet peeve lines from politicians and business people who are climate change deniers…that it is “arrogant” to think that human beings can have such a huge impact on the Earth. It is usually meant to pander to those with a religious bent, as it is often said hand in hand with comments about only “God” being able to affect that kind of change. Ridiculous, of course, when you see the astounding effects man has had on the planet.

Our effect on the planet is something you are constantly reminded of, no matter where you live. For me it was recently reinforced while on vacation. We took a family trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. We have never vacationed in the Caribbean, and even after researching things to death, it’s still always a new experience when you go somewhere for the first time. There are certainly some great things to do and see there (more posts on birds there will follow!), but the big impression I have after our first visit? It’s colored with sadness over what things may have once been like there, as compared to now.

You of course have the visible human footprint.  We were on St. John’s Island, but flew through St. Thomas before ferrying across. Over half of St. John’s is covered by National Park, the population is one-tenth that of St. Croix or St. Thomas. St. John’s is generally considered the more quiet and unspoiled island. There are certainly fancy, well kept up parts, but there is also a lot of very run down and impoverished areas. There is no central trash collection on St. John’s, instead there are what have turned into “drive by” trash containers where people (quite literally!) throw their trash, often from a moving car.  It seems about half the trash actually makes the bin. Government seems ineffective, with incredibly high crime on St. Thomas and St. Croix (better on St.

John’s) and poor roads and services the norm. Junk is found scattered around many parts of the islands, from abandoned cars and buildings to the good ol’ plastic bottles and bags you find junking up every other part of the planet

Beyond the visible human footprint though is the altered ecology of the area.  Even on the “quiet” island of St. John’s there are chickens and goats running around everywhere.  “Wild” donkeys are the largest animals, followed by introduced deer. Mongoose, introduced to control introduced rats, have devastated native birds and other animals (as have rats).  As a birder there are certainly some great new birds I found there, but the bird community is vastly different than it was a few hundred years ago, thanks to habitat alteration, introduced bird species, hunting, and the introduction of the mongoose and other animals.

We we had a blast snorkeling the beautiful waters around the island. Back on land though, it’s not exactly a natural, lush, island paradise.

Living in eastern South Dakota amongst the vast fields of corn and soybeans, you realize just how much of an impact man has on the Earth   Sadly you see the same devastating impact even in an area such as St. John’s in the Virgin Islands.  Multiply those effects for every other spot on the planet that people are found, and you quickly see the only “arrogance” comes from blowhard politicians who try to use any excuse they can to 1) get re-elected and 2) pander to short-term, money-driven interests.

Arrogance indeed…

Losing habitat on the Plains

Grasslands - South Dakota

A gravel road and vast grasslands…one of my favorite types of areas to not only bird, but just to experience. It’s becoming a rarer and rarer sight with all the recent cropland expansion in eastern and central South Dakota.

I ran across (yet another) story this morning discussing the huge loss of habitat in the northern Great Plains over the last few years.  It’s not exactly “news” to anyone who has lives here and has paid attention.  A bit of background…in 2007, Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act”.  It was a huge energy bill, with many components. One of which actually was a huge boon to my work at USGS EROS, as we became part of a huge project to look at the potential for sequestering carbon through land use practices.

However, another component is a renewable fuels standard (RFS), with hard mandates for increased use of biofuels by 2022.  In recent years the price of corn has gone up substantially, in no small part due to the RFS.  The result? Massive loss of grassland in my part of the world, with the Dakotas being hit especially hard.

It’s obvious everywhere I bird, both in eastern South Dakota (which has traditionally been a stronghold of corn production), and now increasingly in central South Dakota.  In eastern South Dakota where I live, the only remaining grasslands are 1) those that are on hilly or very rocky ground, areas too difficult to farm, or 2) individual fields that are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  CRP provides payments for farmers to keep land in a grassland cover around here, but those payments can’t compete with the profits that can be made by putting arable land into corn production.  I can point to numerous individual fields just on my drive to work that used to be CRP, and had been grassland ever since I moved here over 20 years ago, that have been plowed under and converted to cropland in just the last few years.

The further west you go in the state, the more iffy a proposition it is to grow dryland corn.  The Missouri River dividing the state into “East River” and “West River” used to be a rough dividing line on where corn was grown. Rainfall in South Dakota is a gradient from west to east, with precipitation dropping as you move westward in the state.  One of my favorite birding locations in the winter is around the Presho area. It’s an area with a lot of grasslands and a lot of pheasants (and presumably voles and mice), creatures that attract a lot of winter raptors like Rough-legged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, and even the occasional Gyrfalcon or Snowy Owl.  As a drier area than eastern South Dakota, cropland used to be limited to wheat, some sorghum, and sunflowers.  Not any more, as you’re starting to see farmers attempt to grow dryland corn even there.

It’s not just the conversion of complete, large fields from grassland to cropland that you’re seeing, it’s land management practices and micro-scale habitat loss.  From a land management standpoint, the other business that’s booming right now in the Dakotas is the installation of drain tile, underground piping that efficiently drains the land and allows farmers to utilize areas that once tended to collect too much water for cultivation.  One of my favorite little birding spots on my drive to work is now gone, thanks to drain tiling.  It was a low spot along a little drainage way, a moist area that had a grassland and some scattered cattails.  That area was drain tiled and is now a corn field.  From the micro-habitat side, farmers are also ripping out vegetation along fencerows and shelterbelts, trying to squeeze out every acre they can as crop prices are high.

To be frank, it’s damned depressing sometimes to drive around birding, seeing some of your favorite remaining grassland habitats being actively plowed under.  It’s a level of land-use conversion in the northern Great Plains that hasn’t been seen in many decades.

Especially as a father, I can’t help but think “when does it end”?  When do people stop thinking about MONEY, and their short-term well-being, and when do they actually start worrying about their CHILDREN’s future? It’s not just habitat loss, it’s sabotage of the very resources we need to survive.  Increased agricultural land use, drain tiling existing land, and increased fertilizer use as farmers try to bypass crop rotation and plant exclusively corn…all are pumping up nitrate and other pollutant levels in the very water supplies we depend upon to survive.

I tell myself, that just as with the inexorable spread of urban areas across the world, it can’t continue forever, right?  At some point, it has to stop, right?  The only problem is that human beings are too short-sighted to set that “limit” of when we stop degrading and destroying habitat and the resources we depend upon.  What’s going to eventually make it “stop” is ecological disaster…

Difficulty finding grassland birds in (former) grasslands

Blue Grosbeak - Male -  Passerina caerulea

Male Blue Grosbeak. These guys are scattered around in southern South Dakota, but it’s always a bit of a surprise when you run across one. Yesterday west of Lake Thompson I saw three in one small area.

Eastern South Dakota was once >95% grassland and scattered wetlands.  Trees were limited to riparian areas or pockets where the landscape was protected from the tree-killing effects of fire, and of course, there used to be no agriculture or urban land use.  Now of course the story is completely reversed, as pockets of unbroken grassland are rare in many parts of the state, as cropland has become the dominant land use.  In an area where grassland used to be king, it can now be quite difficult to find some of the traditional grassland bird species.

For some species, such as Sharp-tailed Grouse, they’re forever gone from most of eastern South Dakota. For other bird species, they’re found scattered in pockets of remaining suitable habitat.  Right around Sioux Falls, there simply isn’t a lot of grassland.  The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) does provide farmer payments in multi-year contracts in return for keeping the land in a grassland cover, but in recent years, CRP has sharply declined in the Dakotas, with the demand for corn and soy driving extensive expansion of cropland at the expense of what pockets of grassland remain.  For birds like Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Upland Sandpipers, you’ll occasionally find one in a small remaining pocket of grassland, but there’s very little in the way of a “go-to” for place for birds, with extensive grassland, right around Sioux Falls.

Bobolink - Male - Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Male Bobolink. Kind of a scruffy looking dude, but nice to get so close to one as they’re normally shy for me. These guys were numerous where I went birding yesterday.

In South Dakota, the three counties where I bird the most are Minnehaha (where I live), Lincoln (just a few miles south), and…Kingsbury County.  Kingsbury County isn’t even adjacent to Minnehaha or Lincoln county…in fact it’s well over an hour drive to even get to the edge of Kingsbury County.  The attraction of Kingsbury County for me is two-fold. Lake Thompson is the largest natural lake in South Dakota,and the region has extensive open water, shallow water habitats, mudflats, and wetlands.  The other attraction for me is the west side of Lake Thompson.  There are some very large cattle operations in the area, and instead of cropland, much of the land is kept as grassland and pasture.  There are also large areas of alfalfa fields.  Unlike many pastures around here that are overgrazed to the point of erosion becoming a problem, the land in this area seems pretty well managed, with a mix of taller grasslands and (seemingly) responsibly grazed grasslands.

The result is one of the best areas I know in the general vicinity for finding grassland birds.  I drove the area yesterday on a GORGEOUS, sunny, cool day, and was just reveling in the sounds and sights.  There’s one particular road that’s now closed due to fluctuating water levels on Lake Thompson itself. The road gets no traffic and isn’t maintained much anymore, but it’s no problem for my little pickup.  No people, some very nice grassland habitat, and some wonderful birds.  This is one of the few places around here where I can reliably find Upland Sandpipers.  If you go to the central part of the state, Upland Sandpipers are seemingly on every other fence post in the big grassland areas.  You just don’t see them all that often in much of eastern South Dakota, so it’s always a treat to find them here.

Orchard Oriole - Icterus spurius

Orchard Oriole male. Never have I seen such a concentration of Orchard Orioles as I do in this area west of Lake Thompson. Such beautiful little birds, an oriole many folks may not even know are around here.

Singing Bobolinks are another big attraction for me for this area.  I sometimes see (and hear) Bobolinks right around Sioux Falls, but it’s nearly always a single bird, trying to utilize a small remaining piece of pasture or an alfalfa field.  On the west side of Lake Thompson you hear them singing everywhere…one of my favorite sounds in the world, with their long, tinkly songs.  Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds are numerous, seemingly always fighting for fenceline foraging and perching rights.  It’s a place where I see Orchard Orioles in numbers I’ve never seen elsewhere.  The bug-like calls of Grasshopper Sparrows sound out from their hidden perches, as do the buzzy songs of Clay-colored Sparrows.  It’s the same kind of experience you sometimes find in areas of extensive grasslands in the central part of the state, such as on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, but it’s so much closer to home.

A wonderful day! I just hope the land in that area continues to be managed as it is right now, and that it too doesn’t succumb to the ever expanding cropland in the area.

Salton Sea disappearing? Good riddance…

Salton Sea - Satellite Image

Satellite image of the Salton Sea area. The patterns above and below the lake are the massive agricultural lands that have built up since diversion of the Colorado River to the area in the 1900s. The tan color everywhere else? Desert. As Mother Nature is showing us recently, there is a price to be paid for trying to maximize short-term profit and make the desert temporarily “bloom”.

Sometimes Mother Nature gives us a reminder of how much we’ve screwed up the planet.  That’s certainly happening right now in the western U.S., with an extreme drought serving to highlight human mismanagement of both water and land use in the region. While most of the focus has been on urban and agricultural water limitations, there’s also an impact on wildlife.

The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California.  It also didn’t even exist until 1905, at least not in recorded history in the West.  The Colorado River has long been an overused water source for a water-thirsty West, and in 1905 an accidental break in canals diverting water from the Colorado River resulted in two years of ALL Colorado River water flowing into the Salton Sea basin.  Since its formation, it has sporadically served as a resort destination, extremely productive fishery, and habitat for millions of migratory birds.

What’s that you say?  Habitat for millions of birds, and a bird crazy person like myself is saying “good riddance” to the Salton Sea?  Yes, without reservation.  The basin holding the Salton Sea HAS occasionally naturally filled with water over the past several thousand years, but the accident that created the current version of the Sea was anything but natural.  Before settlement of the West, the Colorado River flowed into the Gulf of California, creating a vast delta where it entered the ocean.  Once California, Nevada, and Arizona started diverting water from the Colorado, those flows to the ocean diminished, to the point that NO water from the Colorado regularly reaches the Gulf of California anymore.  A planned pulse of water was allowed to reach the Gulf in 2014, but other than that, water has only sporadically (and rarely) reached the Gulf since the 1950s.

The Colorado River’s delta has long since dried up, taking with it the natural habitat that was once found there.  Has the Salton Sea been a boon to bird life in the West?  Perhaps, although it’s hard to judge the tradeoff of creating the Salton Sea, but losing the Colorado Delta and riparian habitat associated with the Colorado River.  What everybody agrees on is that as the Salton Sea continues to shrink, there are serious health and environmental issues that are likely to occur.  The boom days of the Salton Sea are long past.  The resorts are gone, and the now extremely salty water is only able to support Tilapia, who themselves are now subject to periodic fish kills due to poor water conditions.  Diverted water from the Colorado continues to enable agriculture in the region, but as the recent drought is showing, there simply isn’t enough water to go around in the West.

“Fixing” the Salton Sea would again require diverting massive amounts of water from the Colorado River.  There simply isn’t enough of a water resource to support the Salton Sea, the Colorado Delta, and a booming human footprint in the West.   And so I say…good riddance to the Salton Sea, IF it means restoring natural flows to the Colorado Delta and Gulf of California. Yes, there will be health and environmental issues to deal with in the aftermath of the demise of the Salton Sea.  But as Mother Nature has again reminded us with the western drought, there are consequences for only thinking about short-term economic gain and human well-being, and failing to consider sustainability and long-term consequences.

Birds adapting to people

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis

Red-tailed Hawk, seemingly oblivious to all the human activity going on several feet below it.

While out birding the other day, I was standing on a bridge, trying to shoot (photograph!) Cliff Swallows that roosted under the bridge and were flying all over the place feeding on flying insects.  A car drove by, stopped and backed up, and asked what I was doing.  I told the couple, then they started asking a bunch of questions about birds in the area.  They asked how many bird species there were in South Dakota, and I told them there have been about 420 different species seen here.  They were shocked that there was such a variety of birds.

I was probably the same 15 years ago, right before I started birding.  People are often aware of the most commonly visible birds in their yards, such as Robins or Blue Jays.  However, for the most part people are very unaware of just how many kinds of birds might pass through their yard.  When you think about how extensively an urban landscape is altered from whatever former natural vegetation used to be there, it really is amazing how birds adapt, and how you can find a wide variety of species, even in an suburban setting sometimes.

For raptors in urban areas, I typically would think of Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks, two species that have learned to use cities to their advantage.  Both species will often take advantage of bird feeders and the concentration of prey that they attract.  Peregrine Falcons have become adapted to a human presence, learning to hunt and breed in even the densest of cities to take advantage of Pigeons, European Starlings, and other prey that live in an urban environment.  Around here, you do see Red-tailed Hawks on the urban fringe, but I guess I don’t normally think of them as “urban” raptors, even with the fame of those that inhabit the Central Park area in New York City.

The Outdoor Campus isn’t exactly Central Park (and Sioux Falls isn’t exactly New York City), but it is a nice oasis of habitat in an urban setting. I do bird there on occasion, but typically only on an early Sunday morning or other time when people aren’t around, as it can be very busy.  I recently went to the Outdoor Campus, looking for spring warblers, but found more screaming kids and joggers than I did warblers.  Despite all the activity, there are definitely many birds that have adapted to the loud-but-semi-natural habitat at the Outdoor Campus.  As I walked around the park on that day, I saw the Red-tailed Hawk pictured above sitting on a tree branch, RIGHT above the path where the children, joggers, and others were passing through.  It was definitely in active hunting mode, looking downward and scanning the area for prey.  It didn’t seem to mind the noise or activity.  It happily obliged while I took photographs at quite close range, something that I typically find VERY hard to do for raptors around here in a more “wild” setting.

From a bird photographer’s standpoint, the noise and activity at a place like the Outdoor Campus CAN be a blessing in disguise, as the birds that use the area get used to a human presence and are often much more “camera friendly” than birds found elsewhere.

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