Let Us Now Praise Bad Birding Spots

In Centennial, Colorado, where a pair of four lane roads meet, edged by transmission towers, filled with tennis courts, ample parking, an outdoor pool, and an overflowing port-a-potty is Holly Park.

Holly Park.PNG

The park sports an eBird list of but 66 species. The average visit yields just nine. Twenty species, during a single visit, is an achievement. Twenty-five is my high. There are a half-dozen spots, within a few miles of Holly Park, where I can expect to find more species of birds. Yes, by most measures, Holly Park is a bad birding spot. But it could be worse. It could be, simply, its parking lots, tennis courts, and pool. It could be developed, its almost native-appearing habitat turned over into playing fields of bluegrass.

No, it’s not a miserable spot. It contains a bit of the Little Dry Creek, a stretch of underwhelming riparian habitat, and an unusual, by my suburban standards, mix of sunflowers, rabbitbrush, yucca, grasses, and flowering weeds.

During spring and fall migration, those plants draw sparrows otherwise uncommon in this southern suburb of Denver: Lark Sparrows, Lark Buntings, and Vesper.

59704131A Lark Bunting, nicely framed by power lines at Holly Park in Centennial, CO. May 29, 2017.

Western Kingbirds and Say’s Phoebe nest there. A kestrel is almost always there. Some winters, Northern Shrikes visit.

And the swallows! The swallows must nest along the creek and in nearby parking lots. Barn Swallows dominate, but Cliff and Northern Rough Winged often join them, filling the place after dawn and before dusk most summer nights.

There are other signs of wild lives there too. Coyote scat litters the foot paths. Orange Sulphurs and Common Checkered Skipper butterflies visit bindweed. Grasshoppers are adundant in the dry grasses, which also draw ants and wasps. A Purple Tiger Beetle or two stalk the trails.

dsc_0819-purple-tiger-beetle.jpgPurple Tiger Beetle, Holly Park. March 11, 2018.

Beside the kids who take lessons in the outdoor pool in the summer and the swarms of tennis players, Holly Park is quiet. Most runners find it too small to bother with. Its main trail is short. Other trails branch off it, quickly going no where along rutty, overgrown foot paths. Dog walkers are few, coming from the houses that directly border the park. Located only a half mile or so from the similar, but far more expansive Willow Spring Open Space, Holly Park is nobody’s destination.

All this makes the park my favorite bad birding spot. My expectations for a visit are always modest, and they’re often exceeded. The park is unpopular enough to allow me to imagine that I’m not amid 100,000 other Centennial residents and 2.8 million other Denver metro’ers. It’s plant life is rich enough to draw animals I can only expect to encounter, at least within my local birding area, at the nearby Willow Spring. And it has niches, rich-seeming micro-habitats, bits of rock and concrete in untended areas, that convince me I’ll someday see

a Rock Wren,
a Sage Thrasher,
a Common Poorwill,

all uncommon migrants in my neighborhood,

I scan those rocks, every time I visit. Nothing. Always nothing, never anything.

So it goes at a bad birding spot.

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Got a favorite bad birding spot? Post it in the comments or email me at jared.delrosso at gmail.com

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For the joys of local birding, see my post on, well, “The Joys of Local Birding.”

For more on the joys of bad birding spots, see Ted Floyd’s ABA blog post “Birding at Walmart, or: Why I eBird Every Day.”



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