Looking for fun things to do to combat COVID cabin fever? Ever thought of taking up birding? There’s no better place to be these days than outdoors in nature, and Irvine happens to be one of the best birding ‘hotspots’ in the Baltimore Metro area. And if you don’t mind spending just a little more time in front of a computer screen, eBird has the data to prove it!
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with eBird, it is an immensely popular online database that was started by the good folks at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, way back in 2002. The site was created as a means for amateur birders to report their findings so that scientists could access enormous amounts of data when researching avian populations and distributions. Initially designed for birding in the Americas, eBird was global by 2010. Today it represents a truly massive ‘crowd-sourcing’ database, containing over 40 million checklists, submitted by over half a million observers. This wealth of information—much of it collected by your average backyard birders—has already contributed to over 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Whether one contributes data daily or just wants to see what’s being reported nearby on a Sunday morning, the eBird website has an impressive array of features. There are species descriptions, photographs, range maps, and sound recordings of every species—essentially, a conglomeration of all of the world’s best field guides! Up-to-the-hour observations can be searched by species, observer, geographical region, or specific locale. Historical data can be seen graphically, including very helpful ‘bar charts’ which show local abundance patterns throughout the 52 weeks of the calendar year. One can get lost for hours, exploring all that eBird has to tell us about the birds in our world, our state, or our own backyard. What’s better? You can schedule eBird alerts, so that you get a text message whenever certain desired species are reported in your area!
A quick check of the ‘Irvine Nature Center’ hotspot reveals that there have been over 1450 checklists submitted from our property and, collectively, they have reported 186 different species of birds. To put that in context, there are a little over 300 species which occur regularly in Maryland (+ another 100 or so ‘rarities’ that show up every few years, during particularly harsh winters, when blown inland by hurricanes, etc.) Of these, about 220 nest each year in Maryland. However, roughly 1/3 of our state’s native species are waterbirds that can be found only along the Chesapeake Bay, on the eastern shore, or out on the open ocean. Irvine’s species count, then, is pretty close to the maximum one can expect in the Maryland Piedmont.
Among the several hundred ‘hotspots’ (chosen by the local birders who visit them) in Baltimore City and County, Irvine’s 186 species rank us 18th. However, ten of the sites with more species are directly on or adjacent to the Bay, and another five of them (including Lake Roland and Loch Raven) have large bodies of freshwater that attract gulls, terns, herons, and waterfowl that we simply cannot see at Irvine. Of the land-locked birding sites in our region, only Cromwell Valley Park, with 208 species, and nearby Soldiers Delight, which edges us out with 187, currently surpass our species total.
Spring migration, which generally begins in mid-March and runs through much of May, is a particularly good time to explore the woods, meadows, and wetlands of Irvine. Already in the first two weeks of March, we have had reports of such hard-to-find species as Tundra Swan, Wild Turkey, Wilson’s Snipe, Bald Eagle, Red-headed Woodpecker, Merlin, Common Raven, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird—in addition to the many more common species we see on a regular basis.
As you’re able, grab a pair of binoculars and come observe the abundant birdlife on our 211 acres. The fresh air, increasing flow of migrants passing through, and beginnings of springtime territorial bird song can do wonders to help restore perspective and tranquility. Perhaps you’ll want to do some preliminary ‘virtual birding’ to scout out what’s being found at Irvine on our eBird page, in preparation for upcoming visits. Either way, you’ll be richer for the experience and you may even find yourself getting hooked on a new hobby!