27 October 2012

Good green - New York birding

When in one of the greatest cities in the world. What do you do? - You go birding!

Perhaps not a matter of course, but to more-then-avarage nature and bird interested people New York is a good place to be for birding. Supposedly New York is good for everything else as well. But - Biotope is on a study trip birding eastern USA and Canada, and we just spent a few days birding in one of USA´s birding hotspots: New Yorks Central Park!

Central Park, New York : architecture meets nature (view from the Rockefeller Building)

October means bird migration season, and Central Park is a green island surrounded by concrete. The park is full of thousands and thousands of birds on their way south taking a rest and feeding in this green heart of the concrete jungle.

New York: Why Central Park (green rectangle) is such a great birding hotspot is easier to undestand when seen from a birds perspective: For a bird green often means food and rest.

Green versus green:

The above photos are zoomed in sections from the google-satelite view above. We have divided the green spaces into three rough categories: suburbia green, central park green and sport green. 

With the work of architects and planners, green actually come in lots of shapes and sizes - and not to mention qualities! At Biotope we are interested in studying the pro nature green. Central Park is a very interesting study in park architecture / green design. We will be back with a more elaborate article on pro biodiversity green design. For now we hope you enjoy this brief overview, written as we are on tour in the US. 

Suburbia green - Typically tall trees + grass, some bushes. Lack of open water. Moderatly good for birds / wildlife. Few species around, but still good visual qualities (for people it is ´recreational green´). Often too managed undergrowth (=less biodiversity)

Central Park green - Very good. Great variety of biotopes, open water + flowing water, ´untamed´ undergrowth. High biodiversity.

Sport green - Almost as dead as concrete. Monotoneous. Biodiversity is not a word that relates at all. 

Memo for architects:
Green is not the same as nature (just try checking out the biodiversity of a golf course). 

Central Park green

Central Park is an impressively lively park. Not only does it cater to the 8.5 million inhabitants of New York city, it is also  very rich in biodiversity. In fact more then 300 bird species live in or pass through this green island! We spent a few days there to experience this for ourselves.

A striking feature of the park is the ability of the designers to not over design, or rather making the decision to leave larger areas of the park to manage itself. Much too often in area planning and design do we see the architect plan every little detail. The result is usually sterile from a biological diversity point of view. It may be green, but it is often as lively as a shopping centre parking lot at night.

In Central Park large areas are planned for nature to unfold itself on its own premisses. This simply takes the will and ability to not design and control everything. Make sure a few key features is in place. The most basic is: add water and life will happen, then leave it to rot - and reproduce, and diversify and so on..   

Nature can best produce itself - and you can plan for the best possible circumstances. The result is intact nature, a kind of ´cultural green´. It is letting nature happen. Central Park proves it can be done in the busiest metropolis. 

The photos below are taken from the same site as the photo above. These are just a few of a wide range of species we saw in three days of birding Central Park. Running water, rotting leaves an a good variation of habitats in the park makes it attractive to thousands of birds. If you think of urban birds are just pigeons, then try to go birding in New York! 

Blue Jay 

Hermit Thrush 

White-throated Sparrow 

Winter Wren 

American Robin

The concrete jungle

And the nature within it. The Ramble in Central Park is a hotspot within the hotspot. A top US bird site.

 Biotope on study trip in New York.

Add water - then leave it alone...

 A Yellow-rumped Warbler taking a bath in one of the many ´rivers´.

If you are going to New York we can highly recommend a visit to Central Park! It is a great nature experience. In fact walking around with binoculars hardly seems strange at all, and you are sure to run in to other birders. We thought the near nude guy in pink thong and Dame Edna style glasses on a bicylce was stranger. Anything goes...

Birding is big in the US, and we are impressed with the amount of information available, dedicated to birders. Check out this bird app in Itunes: Audubon Birds of Central Park (Its free! - I would have paid). A quick google search on birding in Central Park will give you all information you will ever need. An overview of the bird sites within the park can be found here (see ´by location´) and at this google map is another overview of hotspots in the park. Birding is definantely on the rise: check out this trailer for the documentary Birders - the Central Park Effect. Normally we bird in Varanger / Arctic Norway - but Central Park most definantely charmed us. We´ll be back... 

New York / Central Park 

Stay tuned for more articles from US - we are now in Cape May at the annual Autumn Birding Festival. Hurricane Sandy is approaching, and we are having a ´silence-before-the-storm-moment´. Meanwhile we are enjoying some spectacular birding here as well!

You can also follow daily tweets from our US bird trip at @BiotopeOffice

To be continued..

Tormod A. / Biotope

02 October 2012

Birding Destination Varanger - the pro nature development study

Varanger is the worlds easiest accessible arctic birding destination. In Varanger you have the northern taiga, tundra and arctic coastline in one destination. Within a days drive you can experience the Pine Grosbeaks in the taiga, and see a wide variety of species on the tundra of the Varanger peninsula. At the coastal bird cliffs the arctic species Brünnichs Guillemot is accompanied by a hundred thousand seabirds. The summer is a hectic season with 24 hours daylight and birds in beautifull breeding plumage. In winter and early spring arctic seaducks concentrate in huge rafts, and at night the Aurora borealis completes the experience. We are at the northern edge of Europe, further east then Istanbul. Despite its extreme northerly position, the Gulf stream keeps the Varanger fjord ice free in winter. It is the only fjord in Norway facing east, and the shallow waters provide feeding grounds for great numbers of birds, and with all basic infrastructure in place it is truly a birders destination.

The Birding Destination Varanger document is a 137-page study describing this region and its potential as an international birding destination. It is a document that in detail outlines the characteristics that makes this a truly unique nature destination. It is both a public awareness project / nature conservation and a document that describes the possibilities within nature-based tourism. The study is in its entirety produced by Biotope during the three years we have lived in Varanger, since 2009. To briefly introduce our background: Being architects and birders we have found our niché in making architecture dedicated to birders and nature enthusiasts. Our idea is simple, and stated in our company ethos: "Architecture is a tool to protect and promote birds, wildlife and nature."

This study is the result of this approach / attitute: In 2007 we visited Varanger - as birding tourists. What a grand experience! In 2009 we moved to Varanger and started our pro nature architecture office. For a long time Varanger has been known among the most enthusiastic birders. Locally, however, the visiting birders have been considered oddities - strange people parkeing at the ´wrong´ places, and what they seemed to study with their huge binoculars was not that clear. We quickly realized the potential of making Varangers unique birdlife a key part this destinations development. The aim: birding to the people - by architecture, by awareness, by business - appreciation of nature in its widest sense. Much has happened since 2009 and the Birding Destination Varanger study outlines the development that has taken place, and advices on further action to be taken and at which sites in Varanger.

This study has been made as a part of the natural heritage project (naturarvprosjektene) funded by the Norwegian directorate for Nature Management (Direktoratet for Naturforvaltning). This local project VVV-naturarvprojekt is owned by the Varanger-municipalities Nesseby, Vadsø, Vardø and Båtsfjord. It has been co-funded by Finnmark Fylkeskommune and Varanger næringssenter - and the countless hours of work, field trips and meetings undertaken by us at Biotope. It has been fantastic experience: As architects we believe in working locally - with people. Thanks all, from the fishermen in Vardø harbour to the twitchers from Britain, for input and inspiration! By this article we will share some of the work that is done, and by coming articles on our website we will let you know how Varanger continues to develop as a nature aware destination. It is birding to the people... 

Featuring in the study: Birding and nature-based tourism, the birdlife of Varanger, building a nature aware destination, mapping Varanger: the sites and potentials in Varanger, the architecture of birding, and more. This article features 20 pages of the study, and gives and overview of the project, without going into to much detail - that takes 137 pages.

Birders at Nesseby - a hotspot in Varanger. Visiting birders are a part of nature conservation in Varanger, and it is one of perhaps few places in the world where birders really make a difference.

The Varanger peninsula is situated at 70 degrees north and 30 degrees east. It is 100% birding! We just had to make this one... 

At the core of this study is countless hours of field work. We have mapped the Varanger peninsula by car, fishing vessels, kick-sled, RIB, foot and even rented a plane to get those birds perspective aerial photos from around the peninsula. (More info on the ´Mapping Arctic Norway´-article.)

As architects we engage in the process of the destination development, and we spend a lot of time developing new architectural concepts for experiencing birds and nature. Both photo hides, wind shelters, bird towers and more are being designed and built. Birders do not need one grand monument of architecture, but we prefer modest but precise buildings that gives shelter from wind and weather. Nature and birds play the lead role, and we much prefer several small strategically placed bird hides to one grand piece of architecture. Finding the exact right site and building according to the optimal sightlines, whilst at the same time not disturbing birds, are keys to a good project. 

At Biotope we not only work in Varanger, but deliver hides, shelters, towers, etc for other destinations. The above combined bird tower and outdoor amphitheater is built in Norways best tidal destination, Ørlandet. Read more on this project soon here at the Biotope website (or check out the birdlife.no article on this project). Making nature accessible to people is a key ingredient of nature conservation. The logic is simple: we care for what we love - and if it can be good business too, then that just add to the conservation argument.

In Varanger we have spent much time fascilitating collaboration. In 2009 we met those who strongly believed in borders and that each municipality must find its own way, and that the neighbouring municipality was competition only. The map above show the borders that no one but the locals see. To the visitors these are mostly invisible.

A birder or a nature enthusiast visit Varanger because of the rich and varied habitats that are found. From forest, high tundra, valleys, marshlands, tidal lanscapes and shallow seas - the nature is the attraction and not even bordes like the national park border is really important. Varanger is a region with intact nature at your doorstep. 

Being a birding architect is really about working with people:
Since we moved to Varanger we have had the pleasure of working with lots of great people: locals that value their nature, from fishermen that are very much aware of natures balance to visiting birders from all over Europe . Local schools, kindergardens, politicians, beaurocrats, businessmen and many more have become involved in the development of Varangers natural resource. 

Architecure is not only building - it is describing and visualising 

We have carefully mapped and described all important bird sites and areas in Varanger. From the overall picture (above) to the key sites in each municipality. Then, within each site the local potential and value has been outlined, and where possible suggestions for new improvements have been made. These proposals range from new bird hides to habitat restauration and construction of new bird habitats. Even new possibilities for birding and nature based products are outlined.

Hotspots in Nesseby municipality

Proposals for Nesseby like the ´ringing scheme site´ (already a project in great progress, see the Nessby ringing project blog), Nesseby seawatch bird hide / wind shelter (to be built very soon). The maps are custom made to provide info dedicated to birders, with hybrid maps showing important features like the tidal landscapes. 

Aerial photos from key sites makes the Birding Destination Varanger study a visual experience. Again with proposals for hides and shelters at strategic sites. Here from Vestre Jakobselv.

In Vadsø we propose rebuilding an old and abandoned radioshack into a new bird tower and amphitheater. Using the existing concrete base and even some of the bulding itself makes it a low impact, high value birding fascility project. 

In Vardø we find some of the best bird sites in the town centre. Birding and people can mix well - just have look at the harbour in winter. It is a seaduck and arctic gull spectacle!

Hornøya bird cliff is only ten minutes by boat from Vardø town, and is without a doubt one of the finest bird cliffs in Europe! The fascilities are already in place (article on the building of the bird hide).

In Båtsfjord local fisherman and now nature guide Ørjan Hansen (link to his website) will make sure you have some of the best bird photo opportunities imaginable. Where else in the world will you be able to photograph King Eiders, Stellers Eiders, Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks with a wide angle lens? We have now designed a new floating ´King Eider-photo hide´ for Ørjan to open this coming season / winter+spring 2013. After some testing with a prototype winter 2012, we expect this will be a fantastic experience. So even an architect armed with no more then a 300mm/F4 lens will perhaps have decent photos to show off. More on this new photo hide is coming soon. 

Making an impact

In short: it has been three years, with thousands of meetings, and we are just getting started. Like the arctic birding festival ´Gullfest 2012´ made clear: this development is made possible by the efforts of every single birder who visit Varanger combined with all the local nature enthusiasts. It is a combined effort, and thanks to good friends like National tourist routes, birdlife Norway, the Directirate for Nature Management and many local businesses, hotels and guesthouses Varanger is making great progress. 

If birding is your thing then arctic Norways Varanger region i well worth a visit! 

The photos below are taken with a d300 + 300mm/F4 lens - not the most powerfull of lenses. Now with the photos hides and general development in Varanger we hope to see much more striking bird and nature photograpy in the coming years! And locally there is no doubt that the regions birdlife is high on the agenda. 

King Eider / praktærfugl

White-tailed Sea Eagle / havørn

Lapland Bunting & Wood Sandpiper / lappspurv og grønnstilk

Puffins / lunder

to be continued...

Tormod A. / Biotope  -  pro nature destination development