Columbia River, WA. Community Mapping
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Lisa Robinson began habitat-mapping using her own backyard. As a naturalist she was keenly interested in the natural world and an expert on the plants and wildlife she shared her property with. She found the mapping process fascinating and extended her work to include several habitat maps of green spaces in her community. Learn more about her process and how you can take habitat mapping beyond your personal spaces.
Favorite quote from this user: ” I find it works [Habitat Network] like an addictive video game for me, so once I start I can go all in for a day or two (or three!) at least until another volunteer duty calls.”
1) You've taken the time to map several sites in your community. How long, approximately, does it take you to explore these areas and then map them?
I started my first map, of my yard, in 2013 as I was taking the Wenatchee Naturalists course. The program has gone through a lot of improvements since then. There are more objects and types of habitats than there were when I started.
I have a Graphic Design background which made using the Habitat Network program fairly easy for me to understand. I tend to work on the maps in fits and starts. I started the Horan map after I took a Wenatchee Valley College learning community class on ornithology and drawing, which was a joint class taught by the biology and art departments. I was using eBird for a while already and thought that adding the maps to coordinate with the data would be useful. The Horan Nature Area is a birding hotspot used by the college, naturalists, and local Audubon Society to watch birds and teach classes.
As to how long? I don’t think I’ve actually finished any of them, yet! The Horan and Confluence maps are the furthest along. I create a rough block-in to start and at least get the basic habitats and objects located. I probably spend an evening doing as much as I can in one sitting. I find it works like an addictive video game for me, so once I start, I can go all in for a day or two (or three!) at least until another volunteer duty calls.
Often, after I do some activity in the park and take some photos, I go back and add more details. I can get a lot of information from the Google Maps imagery below the habitats but then it takes some footwork to know which tree is the one the birds are using for a condo, or what kinds of plants the shrubs in the overhead photo are. I hoped to make these maps into a group activity and let other people also add fine tuning, but so far it’s just me, but at least I can do them fairly quickly once I get started.
I have just managed to get the contact information to ask some of the questions I couldn’t answer such as how much irrigation, and chemical use, from the people at our PUD and the state park. I also have to go back in to answer those questions I made a guess at, such as how they manage for wildlife. I made an educated guess based on what I have observed when walking the loop trail.
I intend to map both sides of the river and the extensions north and south along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, which is about an 11 mile trail along the Columbia River between Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. I started with the Horan Nature Area because it is the most wild and bird-friendly. Then I added the places where I think people bird the most and I still have to fill in the areas between.
2) What is your favorite map you've created? What is your favorite bird or wildlife spotting and location?
The Horan Nature Area map is my favorite because it should be the one that adds the most data to the eBird bird counts, so it adds great value to bird data. It also is a very popular place to walk in the “wild” right in town so I go there often, as do many, many other people.
My favorite wildlife spotting location is my own yard. I began our garden with native plants in mind because we wanted to be able to travel and native plants are adapted to our desert conditions. (People may not realize that two-thirds of Washington State is neither wet nor very green much of the year, and we get about 9″ of annual precipitation in my location.) I found penstemons up at Derby Canyon Natives and that led to hummingbirds and more red tubular flowers native to the west (but not to Washington State). When I started noticing bees, I began attempting to catch them in photographs and then needed to know what kinds they were, only to discover there are 600 native bees in my state! I have seen at least five different species of bumble bees already this spring.
We have seen coyotes, many deer, rabbits, chipmunks, western fence lizards, gopher snakes, rattlers, skinks, and have heard a cougar’s call. As for birds, we have three kinds of hummingbirds; Anna’s, Calliope and Rufous. The bird list also includes Downy Woodpeckers, Bullock’s Orioles, Western Tanagers, chickadees, Spotted Towhees, and quite a few raptors. I once watched a young Cooper’s Hawk perch on a rock and appear to be looking around my garden. There is a ledge under our deck that has been a nesting site for a Say’s Phoebe for seven or eight years. We had a family of magpies with four youngsters that came to our waterfall for what must have been their first bath–they took turns between splashing and preening then squawking and fluttering their wings for their parents to feed them.
We were lucky to build our house on a hill in the Shrub Steppe, but also near the “Cascade Mixed Forest-Coniferous Forest-Alpine Meadow Province.” I intended to use native plants and we did, until we used an upcoming meeting for an excuse to finish our patio. It was in July when our native nursery is always closed so I went with hummingbird plants, such as Agastache, and nativars (native plants that are cultivars) as much as possible. See the story about our house, with photos of the garden. I am now learning that true natives really are the best for habitat and I will probably be modifying what we have by replacing anything we lose with natives.
I am a Wenatchee Naturalist and native bee enthusiast. I also volunteer at the Wenatchee Museum and Cultural Center, often working in the Wenatchee Confluence State Park that I mapped. I love the outdoors and helping with citizen science as much as possible. I hope that habitat mapping data linked to programs like eBird is helping science to get better picture of what is happening.
3) What do you learn or experience from using our site to document both wildlife sightings and land use? Are you noticing any interesting patterns?
In doing this project my goal was to help make other people’s bird data count for more by adding habitat data. One thing I have personally noticed is that, while I never saw any large raptors growing up, we now have Ospreys, Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures nesting here.
4) What advice would you give to other users who would like to attempt to document various locations in their community or state?
Block in the overall shape with a simple habigon, then pull at the points to make it follow the outlines better. I used to click too many points and fine details and then it would overload the system and I’d have to start over. Blocking in the biggest, simple shapes will be a great start and give an average of the different types of habitat pretty quickly. Then later, you can go back in and fine tune it if you have more time or interest. Also add photos as you can–it’s a great excuse to go explore the area and birdwatch at the same time.