Early morning at the mall

As 2021 is the last year of data collection for the breeding portion of the atlas project, our focus is very much on filling gaps – looking for species that have been missed and, especially, seeking evidence of confirmed breeding. As a result, whenever I go anywhere beyond my home blocks, I look for ways to fill a few gaps along my route.

This morning, I had to go to the coast, so I checked the atlas web site to look at species lists for some of the blocks I would pass on my way.  I quickly noticed that starling was missing from 86F, where the Waterford Commons shopping mall is.

Usually, I aim to visit malls at a rate somewhat lower than annually, but this seemed like an easy way to pick up a species that we really need more information on – and I wouldn’t even have to leave the parking lot.  Current atlas data suggest that starlings have vanished from dozens of blocks compared to the 1980s. My guess is that a big part of the story is under-reporting,  but it’s impossible to know for sure without looking for them in the places they seem to have disappeared from. So, at 6:50 am, I rolled into the mall parking lot in search of starlings.

Sure enough, I not only found my target at the Target, but was able to confirm breeding when I watched two youngsters following an adult around and screaming to be fed. These were clearly dependent young, not yet independent, and thus deserving of the FL (recently fledged young) breeding code.

It took me about 20 minutes to find them, though, and in that time I also confirmed both common grackle and red-winged blackbird (both in a small wetland at the edge of the parking lot) and added two other species not yet reported in the block.

This experience is entirely typical – I go somewhere looking for a really common species, and end up finding half a dozen other missing species. Or, I stop somewhere for a reason that has nothing to do with birding – e.g., I’ve confirmed house sparrows and starlings several times this spring, after seeing birds taking food in and out of a hole in a building while I pumped gas.

And, often, my unexpected discoveries are a little more interesting than blackbirds and grackles.  For example, at another quick stop this morning – searching for starlings again (!), this time around a cluster of office buildings just of I-95 – I failed to find my quarry. Instead, however, I came across a family of, barely-able-to-fly ravens making a racket in a tree .