This week will see the launch of a new weekly series, Interactive Habitats. One of the greatest skills for a birder is the ability to recognize a specific habitat and then know immediately what birds and other animals are likely to be found there. This sounds fairly simple but it can be deceptively difficult if you don’t have a decent working knowledge of botany. I think I may have a solution…
When I spent a year traveling and photographing birds across Australia, I kept running into this exact problem. One particular group of birds, the Grasswrens, is notoriously difficult birds to find and each species likes a very specific habitat. They tend to live in remote and inhospitable parts of the country and they are fairly secretive birds preferring to run rather than fly.
I set out to see and hopefully photograph every single species of Grasswren in Australia. Most of them are found in remote interior sections of the outback so just getting there was difficult. Once I arrived, I had descriptions like “find the growing lignum” or “look for scattered spinifex in flat areas” or “check the dense spinifex on rocky hillsides.” Now, I am not a botanist and when I arrived in Australia, I had zero knowledge of Australian flora, which is entirely different than the plants of North America. I had no idea what lignum looked like alive or dead much less what spinifex. Spinifex it turns out looks like sea urchins the size of a bushel basket with needle sharp spines that go through any clothing, including jeans.
As I traveled and researched each of these birds, I realized that I wasn’t the only person clueless on many of these habitats. There were many Australians that had not spent much time in the interior that didn’t know what to look for either. I imagine that this is also true of many of us in the United States. We live in a huge country and someone living in the east might be very familiar with what a coastal tidal marsh looks like but clueless on what a sagebrush plain looks like. How can you seek out and study birds if you don’t know where the are supposed to live? It’s like trying to find a friend’s house with turn by turn directions but you don’t know where to get off the highway and into his neighborhood. It turns into guesswork and its easy to waste enormous amounts of time.
Now that I have moved to New York, I am once again in a new area without a basic knowledge of the local flora and habitats. It isn’t anywhere near as foreign as Australia, but it still is different. In order to help facilitate habitat identification and exploration, I have decided to create a catalog of interactive panoramas of the various local habitats, and the habitats I visit while traveling. The goal is to create a catalog of environments and habitats from around the world and become the source for understanding bird habitats in the United States and beyond. This is just the beginning and as the project progresses into spring, I have a ton of ideas on how to expand the scope to create an unparalleled resource.
As mentioned, this will be a weekly series and I will be posting a new panorama every Friday. Check in each Friday to experience a new panorama and description of the habitat and what makes it distinctive from others. Today, I will start with a simple spruce bog in early winter.