If your Atlas block includes large areas of parkland and other public property with good bird habitat, congratulations! If not, you may need to expend some effort to find areas of good habitat and then to obtain permission to survey those areas. You may wish to prepare for the first spring of the Atlas project by obtaining photos and maps that can help you.
Mapquest Aerial Photos
You can obtain good aerial photos of some (but not all) areas of Maryland from Mapquest. Coverage seems complete for Howard County, but these maps may not be available for all county areas. One individual was able to see from construction (habitat destruction) projects that the photos available at this web site were made during the summer of 2001. The same may not be true elsewhere in Maryland.
At this web site, you can enter a street address, town name, or zip code and a map will be returned. At the upper left corner of the map are tabs by which you can select either a street map or an aerial photo. Click on the box "Big Map" at the upper right corner to get a map covering a larger area. Use the bar on the right of the map to zoom in closer. At the highest magnification, you can see cars and trucks, as well as the dashed white lines between lanes! More importantly, you can see ponds, individual trees in meadows, power transmission lines and other features important for the Breeding Bird Atlas.
You can move around by using the arrows on the top, bottom and sides of the map, or by clicking on the map to re-center the view. You can also print out a mosaic to cover the entire area of a block, which could take over 30 pages. By using the re-centering feature rather than the arrows to move the map, you can (with a little practice) print the maps with just a small amount of overlap. The resulting picture is about 25 inches high and 30 inches wide. Then you can cover the assembled mosaic with transparent contact paper (available at WalMart) to make the map waterproof and abrasion resistant. A bit large for field use, but wonderful for mapping enthusiasts and for planning.
MD Department of Assessments and Taxation Property Maps
Property ownership is a matter of public record. The State of Maryland publishes maps showing all property parcels in each county. These are available for viewing in each county's courthouse. The maps are covered by copyright and you may not copy them at the courthouse. You can, however, purchase them directly from the state.
Much information can be obtained over the internet. At the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation you can obtain the name and address of the owner of any parcel of property (plus other information such as how much they paid for the property and what is its assessed value). To use this site, click on Click to Search Data then on Real Property Data Search and select the county. You will then be given several choices on how you want to do the search. You can enter a street name (omitting the word street, road, circle, etc.) and, if you know it, the street number. Or, if you have the property map, you can enter the map and parcel number. When you have selected the property you want, you can also select to view a map of it. However, the maps shown on this site are very limited in size and not very useful for large properties which would be of most interest in the Breeding Bird Atlas Project.
The property maps are also available through Maryland MDP. A variety of mapping resources are available, including CDs for each county with property maps and aerial photos, as well as the paper property maps which you can view at the county courthouse. The web site lists the various usage restrictions for these products. An order form for the paper maps is available. The maps cost $7.50 each.
To find out which map numbers you will need for any area, you can go to look at them at the county courthouse, but you can also use the DAT site. Type in the name of a street within your area and you will be given a list of properties with the map and parcel numbers. Caution: urban areas are covered by special more detailed maps, usually with map numbers greater than 100. Choose a street in a more rural area to obtain the map number.
You will probably need several property maps to cover your block, so it would work best to investigate the map number covering different parts of the block. But don't be discouraged!
By comparing the property maps to the aerial photos, you can tell which parcel number applies to an area of interesting habitat. You can then use the DAT site to identify the property owner.
It is very helpful to be able to print out a large (multi-page) detailed map of your block and also show the area from the surrounding blocks (since you frequently need to cross out and then back into your block). You can also fill a wall with a map of your area.
The various DeLorme programs feature different map characteristics:
Street Atlas USA -- Details on roads and road names
3-D Topo Quads (DVD for MD, DE, NJ) -- Based on the USGC topo maps
Topo USA 3.0 -- Based on the USGC topo maps plus a 3-D perspective
The topo programs and databases are now available on DVD now, so you don't need to deal with 7 CD-ROMs. Some of these programs are integrated to GPS and also allow downloading to PDAs (Palms, etc.).
MERLIN -- A collaborative effort of DNR, SHA, USGS et al.
MERLIN starts with SPOT satellite imagery and a statewide map on which you click your county of interest. It offers zoom in/out and various data layers, such as wetland and road locations, to help you determine what might be on site.
From SPOT, you left click on a site, the USGS topo layer will come up. The same tool features are also available on this level.
Moving down one more level, if you turn on the quarter quad in which your site is located, you will get a color infra-red aerial image. Most of these county aerials date back to 1993/4 but will very soon be updated to 1998 in 17 counties.
While in the topo and CIR layers, you may turn on the real estate layer for the tax map your site is located on. You can find your tax map number by going into the DAT site for real property search and typing in the street name for your county of interest. You will get a list of property owners on that street, match the address and you know you have the right map. You may prefer to do this in the CIR layer as the white lines for property boundaries and parcel information show up better.
At any time you can turn on the data layers in the lefthand column for NWI wetlands, SHA centerlines, sensitive species areas, etc.
You can print using the printer icon in the top right of the Merlin page. Choose "HTML layout" and a new window appears that you can print directly with your browser or you may prefer to save the image as a jpg by right clicking on the scene. You can then use whatever graphics application you have to print (or manipulate) the jpg file.
Terraserver -- Provided by USGS
This resource works similar to MERLIN, however, its aerial imagery, which is the same date, is in black and white. This is much sharper and the contrast is useful in looking at stream sediment loads and picking out nuances of change in elevation or moisture (sometimes color is distracting or the pixels get grainy).
It appears that you can zoom in closer and maintain good resolution compared to MERLIN, and the quads pull up faster. You may have to pay for closely zoomed images. Terraserver quads are not limited to those in Maryland.
You can save the image, but may have trouble enlarging it to print size.
US Soil Conservation Service: Soil Surveys (by County)
Your local public library should have copies of the soil survey maps for each county, and
although their aerial image is old, in many rural counties where family farms have remained intact, they may show information that doesn't always appear on topo maps and ADC map books. You can use these to locate farm equipment access lanes, small irrigation ponds, ag ditches or ephemeral stream swales, and to get an idea of habitat that may be present, but not seen from the road. For example, in Caroline County, agricultural fields occur in huge blocks. From the road, you might not see a wooded ravine or pond in the interior of the farm and the topo might not show these areas if they were not present at the time the topos were prepared.
If you want a copy of the soil survey, contact your local soil conservation district (probably now listed as the Natural Resource Conservation District) and ask them to send you one. These are expensive to print and available in limited supplies. The local soil conservation district representative might only offer to send you the particular page(s) for the area that includes your block.
US Fish & Wildlife Service: National Wetland Inventory Maps for MD
These may be available in your local public library. If not , try local colleges or your local Planning and Zoning offices. This data can be pulled up on MERLIN but since you can't print straight from MERLIN, you can photocopy these maps for field use. These many not help you any more than the aerial imagery or soil surveys, but if you are looking for a breeder who uses a specific habitat type, these may help.