Map Your Community

Photo © The Nature Conservancy(Kevin Arnold)

Mapping is a powerful way to connect you to your community. Do you have a favorite park you frequent to enjoy a warm morning beverage? Or, a greenway that you traverse on your exercise route? Perhaps you need a good reason to explore and get to know a new place? Consider entering an old stomping ground or new favorite park or community space to the Habitat Network.

The Conservancy’s LEAF and Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program interns, monitor trees impacted by Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The interns worked during the summer of 2015 to monitor the health of the city’s trees in the Bronx and Queens.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy(Karine Aigner)

A habitat map can help you visualize the natural landscape in spectacular ways. A well drawn map is an invaluable resource for assessing and admiring any property. Some of our members are expert habitat mappers who have mastered the art of using the habitat tools, depicting every nook of every habitat, accounting for each type of environment, and encompassing significant details in their designs. Continue reading to learn how this map-making expert creates beautiful maps of community parks. Then, take an adventure to your favorite community green space, explore it, study it, and add it to the map!

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Photo ©

KERICHARLES shares her experience

1) You’ve spent quality time mapping sites around Vermont and elsewhere–parks, homes, and businesses. Approximately, how long does it take you to explore these areas and then map them?

The overall size of the land matters less than how many intersecting habitats there are. The easy sites with clear blocks of habitat can take as little as a half hour. The sites with many different intermingling habitats (for example trails or rivers that branch out) take much longer, even if it’s just a small property. Those can take several hours, days or weeks.

Dead Creek WMA IBA - Bird Observatory & banding station

Dead Creek WMA IBA - Bird Observatory & Banding Station

Photo © KCharles

2) What is your favorite map you’ve created? Why?

My favorite map is my most recently completed one: the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Plum Island, Massachusetts. It has so many different habitats and trails and is an absolutely beautiful place to visit. It’s one of our favorite birding spots so I wanted to bring it to the attention of other birders who may not have had a chance to visit. eBird reports that there have been 356 different species of birds spotted there since their records began! Find out more about this fantastic refuge and consider visiting.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Plum Island, Massachusetts

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Plum Island, Massachusetts

Photo © KCharles

3) What do you learn or experience from using our site to document both land use and bird sightings? Are you noticing any interesting patterns?

I feel like I’m learning new things every day that I use Habitat Network. For example, I use Google Maps frequently and I love the street view function, but I only realized this past week that you can use street view within Habitat Network as well!

Street View Co-Op Community Garden and Fields

Co-Op Community Garden and Fields

Photo © KCharles

As far as the mapping experience itself, I regularly find myself noticing habitats or trails that I hadn’t noticed when I was visiting that location. Sometimes it’s a wetland hidden behind a stand of pine trees, or a trail that looks like a tiny path into the woods but really opens up into a mile-long hike through meadows and wetlands. It helps you to realize that everything is not always what it seems at first glance.

Herricks Cove

Herricks Cove

Photo © KCharles

In addition, while mapping I’ll often have to make judgement calls as to whether a particular area is more of a shrubbery habitat or more of a forest habitat. Real habitats are rarely as simple as a yellow polygon, next to a light green polygon, next to a dark green polygon. The world is a beautiful and complex place.

4) What advice would you give to other users who would like to attempt to document various locations in their community or state?

I’d highly recommend that they visit sites and take notes about where particular changes in habitats occur. It can sometimes be difficult on a map to differentiate between shrubbery and forests, or at what point wetlands change over to grass or water.

King Arthur Offices

King Arthur Offices

Photo © KCharles

Also, zoom in! I think users would be shocked at how different their habitats look when the map is zoomed out compared to when they zoom in to get a closer look. Polygons that look to be well adjoined will sometimes have big gaps that aren’t otherwise visible. Zooming in makes for better mapping accuracy.

Swanton Lake House

Swanton Lake House

Photo ©

5) What is your favorite bird or wildlife that you’ve seen?

I am easily impressed by fairly common birds. I love Bobolinks, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Pine Siskins, orioles, grosbeaks and warblers. But the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher that my husband and I saw two weeks after we moved into our first home is my favorite bird so far. It’s particularly memorably because it was our first “lifer” there.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Photo © Will Street

Map a location in your community


Using the search bar, type in the name of your community space, or the specific address if you have one. It helps to list the city and state of the location. A box will appear asking you if this is the location you are looking for.

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The community locations you may choose from include; a school, community garden, farm, city park, nature preserve, office or other. Please choose other if it does not fit into any of these categories. Then, using the tool follow the same steps you would use to map your property. Provide as many details as you can for your site. Some land management practices will be unknown. If that is the case, please choose unknown where applicable in the characteristics.

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