A Community View: Is it for the Birds?

By Lauren Hull, Twitter: @BiophilicBios

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Me, mid-hike! Photo credit Jeff Dubinsky

It’s a mid-September Saturday, 6:45am. I’m standing in the parking lot of BREC’s Greenwood Community Park. For me, it’s a break from the building-dominated, traffic-laden, people-spotted streets of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s an island of trees bordered by a manicured golf course and the sprawling houses and industry of Baker, LA.  Today I would discover that this little patch of trees, and those like it all over the parish, are filled with the city-like activities of bustling birds and a community of plants and wildlife.

Matthew Herron, Conservation Specialist for BREC (The Recreation and Park Commission for East Baton Rouge Parish) starts off the morning introductions. Our group consists of first time birders and outdoor enthusiasts. Jane Patterson, President of Baton Rouge Audubon Society, gives us a how-to on binoculars and field guides. She discusses birding apps, helping you identify birds by sight and by call. These are our tools for finding forest activity and identifying some of the high-flying members in the community. Using these tools, we can contribute to citizen science databases like eBird. Species lists, like this one from our Greenwood birding adventure, are important to both birders and researchers alike. Knowing what type, how many, and where birds around found over time can help scientists identify patterns or problems with bird populations. Identifying these things assists in bird (and forest) conservation and policy reform.

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An adult Great Blue Heron through the spotting scope. Photo credit Lauren Hull

We hit the trail, spotting a Great Blue Heron almost immediately. He wades through the shallow water near the edge of the lake, picking out small fish and other creatures with his beak. I get a great look at him through the birding scope!

We head further down the trail, into a dense patch of shrubs filled with different birds, including a Northern Cardinal and a White-eyed Vireo. Interestingly, the White-eyed Vireo’s call sounds something like “Quick bring me a beer, chick!” Sounds like a south Louisiana bird to me! But the shrubs these birds are enjoying aren’t from south Louisiana at all. The shrub is Chinese privet, a prolific and damaging invasive species.  Invasive organisms like Chinese privet come from another place or region and interrupt normal ecosystem functions. They can increase competition, choking out native plants that pollinators, wildlife, and soils depend on to remain healthy.

Matthew, our hike leader, breaks out the maps. He points out that the lake and plant life of Greenwood Community Park provide solace to more organisms than just urbanites escaping the city. From 5,000 feet up, Greenwood Community Park is an oasis for migratory birds amongst a desert of human development. There are many types of migratory birds, and this time of year we are lucky to see many of the neotropical migrants. These birds are making their way from North America to warm, winter homes of South and Central America. The Gulf coast (Louisiana included) is the last stop to refuel before they attempt the arduous journey across the Gulf of Mexico. When spring arrives, many birds will make their way back to North America.

Matthew Herron, BREC Conservation Specialist, reviews and aerial map of Greenwood Community Park. Photo credit Lauren Hull

Matthew Herron, BREC Conservation Specialist, reviews an aerial map of Greenwood Community Park. Photo credit Lauren Hull

We see many more migrants on our hike. The group’s interest and excitement is contagious. An uncommon sighting of a Baltimore Oriole results in binoculars being glued to each of our faces for at least 5 minutes, as we attempt to catch a glance between large sycamore leaves. Not to be limited by land, we take a quick paddle on the lake. This perspective provides unique insight into a local bird’s life. We witness an Anhinga, or “snake bird,” swimming and fishing in the lake as we observe from our kayaks. The Anhinga is a large bird that swims and dives for fish. Only its head and long slender neck may be visible above water, lending it its name, “snake bird.”

It’s only 10am, and we head back reluctantly. We load up the boats, return our binoculars and prepare for the return to our respective lives in the city. But our perspectives have changed. We created our own community of inexperienced but excited bird enthusiasts at a small park right outside Baton Rouge. It’s the diversity and structure of this place that brings the birds. The variety of foods (though threatened by encroaching invasives), cover, and habitat types contribute to a wide diversity of birds. The birds, plants, water and other wildlife create a community. Some community members fulfill certain roles, some members stay, some members go. They are not so different from human cities. Not so different from the communities we hold dear. Preserving forests, birds and wildlife, and providing space for them within and around our own cities, makes both communities more complete.

Note: BREC, Baton Rouge Audubon Society, and other organizations are working independently and collaboratively to increase opportunities for wildlife communities to thrive and for human communities to assist and engage in that process. To help, you can stay informed about programs, volunteer opportunities and lifestyle adaptations that will enrich all communities of life.

Resources:

The North American bird guide By: Sibley, David.

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