After last winter and its unprecedented Snowy Owl sightings, Patterson Park has reached another major milestone in the world of bird watching.
At the beginning of last month, after the arrival of a few odd specimens, the number of bird species officially sighted in the park hit 200.
“There’s lots going on in our little park,”said Susie Creamer, director of urban education and conservation for the Patterson Park Audubon Center. “There are a lot of surprises, which is nice.”
The Patterson Park Audubon Center keeps track of birds in the park, and also offers education programs and workshops to residents young and old interested in learning about birds, their habitats, and how to optimize urban space to best serve its avian visitors.
According to Creamer, it doesn’t get much more optimal than Patterson Park.
“It’s an ‘urban oasis,’ as we call it,” she said. ”It’s a pretty exciting milestone to have 200 species on record in Patterson Park.”
Creamer added that Audubon’s bird-habitat improvement work—planting the specific plants that attract the specific bugs that birds like to eat—couldn’t have hurt.
“It’s somewhat of a pat on the back when you can see different bird species come into the park where there’s food for them and sometimes nesting spots,” she said.
Audubon has been working on expanding those habitat borders beyond Patterson Park.
“We think of our habitat as expanding outward from the park to the homes all around,” Creamer said. “We’re building Baltimore’s bird habitat and encouraging others to do the same.”
Species number 200 was the Lark Sparrow, a larger member of the sparrow family rarely seen in the East.
“Lark sparrows really don’t come too much east of the Mississippi River,” said Creamer.
She thinks that the bird’s visit to Patterson Park may have been due to a “fall out,” a phenomenon that occurs when birds in the sky get caught in a storm system.
“A lot of these birds are up in the sky thinking, ‘Oh my goodness; when will this ever end?’” she said. “When the front passes through, they drop into the first green space they can find.”
Flying over a city like Baltimore, that green space would be Patterson Park.
Other recent sightings that helped push the total to 200 include the whip-poor-will, named for the sound of its song, and the Clapper Rail, a marsh bird the size of a chicken.
While bird watchers enjoy observing strange and unusual birds, casual park users may enjoy observing strange and unusual behavior among bird watchers. Even if you know very little about birds, it’s easy to see where the interesting ones are.
“You know where the good birds are when you see gigantic lenses on cameras and a bunch of people staring up in the trees,” said Creamer, adding that rare bird visits are usually short and sweet.
“So many of then are migrants, and they’re only here for a short period of time. That’s why there’s this burst of excitement,” she said.
So far, the hot spots for bird sightings tend to be at the park’s Boat Lake and the trees between the community garden and the Casino building. The day she spoke to the Guide, Creamer noted that she had just seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the island in the Boat Lake.
One of the advantages of bird watching in Patterson Park, according to Creamer, is that birds can be observed from 360 degrees around a tree.
“You can get around to just the right spot where you can see the bird,” she said.
Someone who knows what they’re doing can spot lots of species in a short time.
Mike Hudson, a teen who got his start with Audubon’s youth bird walks at age 8, recently spotted 64 species in one morning, Creamer said.
She hopes to continue to improve birds’ habitat both within the park and beyond.
“You can do that in the city,” she said. “You don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere.”
For more information on the Patterson Park Audubon center and their programs, visit pattersonpark.audubon.org.
by Erik Zygmont