The definition of a "patch" varies depending on whom you ask; eBird prefers patches to be small, usually a single hotspot (but you can define your patch however you want), while the Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge uses a 7.5-mile radius centered on the birder's home. In all of those cases, though, a patch lends itself well to green birding. So, naturally, I set up my patches (one 5MR and one 7.5MR) in eBird to see what they looked like. I was surprised by how much ground the 7.5MR patch covered - and even more surprised by how many species it accounted for! Last year I had 213 species on my green list; of those, I saw 195 within my 7.5MR patch. Does that mean that it was a waste of time and energy for me to bike beyond that patch? Of course not - every bird counts, and biking is great exercise regardless, and exploring is fun. But it does demonstrate how much you can find close to home - and I wasn't even trying to build my patch list last year. Many patch-birders in Wisconsin have found well over 200 (even over 250) species in their patch, which is pretty impressive.
Of course, now that I've defined my patches, I want to build those lists this year! I've already added a few local species, and when I tallied up the patches, I found that overall (last year plus a few new species so far this year), I was sitting at 199 species in the 7.5MR patch. That's annoyingly close to 200, so of course I started looking forward to the next new species I would find. The 5MR patch had 194 species - again, going a little farther for 7.5MR added only a little diversity - so it'll be fun to build that to 200 as well.
The forecast for Saturday was mild and calm, so I left home in the dark to listen for owls. The clouds had cleared overnight and it was rather colder than expected (16 F when I left home). I love biking in the dark and birding by ear; there's very little traffic before 6am on a weekend, so it's quiet and I can concentrate on the birds. Northern Cardinals were the first to wake up - I never realize how many of them there are when I'm out in the daylight! - followed by robins and Song Sparrows. A faint Barred Owl in the distance was the only owl I heard before dawn, but it was still nice to be out.
I was biking up a valley that hosts an interesting mix of brand new development and old farmsteads. There's a nice mix of habitats there, and I saw a couple of deer bedded down under the ornamental spruce trees in the yard of a new house. My first FOGY (first-of-green-year) of the day was a group of Wild Turkeys (#63) gobbling in the woods; on my way back down later, I saw that there were at least 11 of them sauntering across a field. This was also a new species for both my patches!
|Looking up Smith Valley - agriculture meets new condominiums.|
I walked my bike periodically on my way back down the valley, because I was too cold to ride downhill! Walking helps reduce the self-generated windchill and get some blood flowing to my fingers and toes. Then I biked up another side road, this one sans condos, which was devoid of car traffic. A few Song Sparrows gritting on the side of the road got my hopes up, but alas, they were not longspurs or buntings.
|Spot the sparrows. We had our biggest snowstorm yet early last week, and the fields are still covered, so the birds like the bare areas next to the roads.|
I found a Purple Finch (#64) on my way back down that road. Another quiet road yielded a Great Horned Owl (#65) singing at 9am, which made it seem like my early departure had been for nothing! (Some birders don't count heard-only birds on their lists, but I do, partly so that I don't face the temptation to go out with a spotlight or tromp around in breeding habitat just so I can see a bird that I've heard while potentially stressing it out in the process.) A couple of Eastern Meadowlarks (#66) in a snow-covered corn field were a nice surprise at the end of the ride. I rode a total of 33 miles over 7 hours, but I'd left so early that I was still home in time for lunch!