50 BIRD WATCHING HOT SPOTS
With four major world flyways (Pacific, Central, Mississippi and the Atlantic) stretching across North America, every state in the U.S. has a great place to watch birds. We’ve detailed our 10 favorite (and we think some of the best) birding locations around the country, and provided suggestions for another 40 bird watch hot spots-one for every state in the Union.
J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Sure, there’s the Everglades, but Darling is compact and within its 6000+ acres, you might see 250 species in a day here during the winter months. November through April is best for bird watching here; morning and evening, and low tide are productive times. Darling is a mix of ocean, mangrove thickets, marshes, wetlands and upland forest. The American Bittern, Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill are hard to find elsewhere. Check out the refuge’s observation tower. J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR, Sanibel, Florida: 239/472-1100; /fws.gov/dingdarling/.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Pennsylvania
Perched upon the Kittatinny Ridge, a 300-mile long mountain “hog’s back” near Reading, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a 2400-acre nature preserve that’s a hot spot for predatory birds. Some consider it the best place in the U.S. to see raptors. High winds lift raptors up and over Hawk Mountain’s deciduous forest and the Little Schuykill River; the prime viewing spot is North Lookout (1521-foot elevation) just one mile from the Visitor Center. Black Vulture, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk and American Kestrel are among those found here. Mid-September to early November is best. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, Pennsylvania: 610/756-6961; /hawkmountain.org/.
Great Falls Park, Virginia
Only 800 acres in size, Great Falls Park sits aside the mighty Potomac River, just minutes away from our Nation’s capital. Despite its proximity to a major metropolis, Great Falls is a great place for birds. The greatest numbers (especially Warblers) can be seen during the first two weeks of May, summer is good for songbirds, and fall and winter are best for ducks and “backyard” birds such as American Robin. Named for the falls that drop 78 feet in less than a mile; the park includes a swamp, pond, bedrock terraces, and deciduous forest. Great Falls Park, McLean, Virginia: 703/285-2965; /nps.gov/grfa/.
Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
Arkansas for birding? Yes, Arkansas. It happens to be the state where the Central and the Mississippi migratory routes converge, making it a great state for bird watching. We especially like Felsenthal because it’s 65,000 acres consist of a system of rivers, creeks, sloughs and small lakes that zig-zag through the hardwood forest that forms the swampy bottomlands, making it extremely attractive to a wide array of wildlife, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The 15,000-acre Felsenthal Pool is at the center and the highlight of the refuge, which in recent years has seen more than 300,000 wintering waterfowl. Felsenthal NWR, West Crossett, Arkansas: 870/364-3167; /fws.gov/felsenthal/.
Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Michigan
Sitting on the northeastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (known as the “U.P.” to anyone from there), Whitefish Point is located along the natural corridor for birds migrating through the Great Lakes area. The observatory, founded in 1978 and supported by memberships, donations and grants, is one of the premier spots in North America for observing migrations of raptors and waterfowl. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here; and in a typical fall migration of Common Loons, approximately 10,000 birds may pass the point. Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Paradise, Michigan: 906/492-3596; /wpbo.org/.
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, Minnesota
This tiny (115 acres) reserve perched on a cliff just outside Duluth is a bird watching hot spot along Lake Superior, boasting magnificent views of tens of thousands of raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons and owls) during their annual migration southward in early August to early December. The birds follow the shoreline rather than crossing such a huge body of open water. In mid- to late-September, thousands of Broad-winged Hawks fly by each hour like a flood of feathers. Sightings can be fickle, depending on rain or wind direction, though. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, Duluth, Minnesota: 218/428-6209; /hawkridge.org/.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas
Two types of habitat-thick desert chaparral and the northernmost reach of the Mexican subtropics, both incredibly bird-friendly-cover the 588 acres that make up this state park. No wonder more than 290 species have been recorded here; including a couple dozen birds (the Green Jay and Rose-throated Becard are good examples of these) that are not generally seen elsewhere in the United States. This park is also home to five breeding owl species: Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and the world’s smallest owl, the Elf Owl. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission, Texas: 956/585-1107; /tpwd.state.tx.us/.
Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, California
Considered a globally significant bird habitat, it’s also an accident. Formed when the canals dug to irrigate the Imperial Valley east of the Colorado River suffered a series of breaks in 1905-1906 and flooded the low-lying Salton Sink (for geologic reasons a number of briny seas have been created here and then dried up over the last few thousand years), the 35-mile-long Salton Sea and surrounding habitat include 36,000 acres of open water and salt marsh, and another 1800 acres of pasture and freshwater marsh. Attracting up to four million birds in the winter, more than 380 species have been recorded, including 15 species of gull. Kayaking the Salton Sea is a wonderful way to view these amazing birds. Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR, Calipatria, California: 760/348-5278; /fws.gov/saltonsea/.
Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, Oregon
This island in the confluence of two mighty rivers-the Willamette and Columbia-offers more than 250 species of birds for the patient observer. Some of the island is privately owned; please respect the privacy of the locals. A network of ponds, sloughs and creeks make the 12,000-acre wildlife area a perfect wetland habitat and some areas are still subject to the tidal fluctuations of the Columbia. Highlights at Sauvie Island include more than 2000 Sandhill Crane and hundreds of Great Blue Heron in spring and fall, and thousands of Tundra Swans and nearly 50 Bald Eagles (raptors peak in February) during the winter months. Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, Portland, Oregon: 503/621-3488; /dfw.state.or.us/.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Of its nearly one million acres, approximately 95 percent of Olympic National Park is wilderness. The area’s habitat is diverse, ranging from snow-capped mountain peaks to a temperate rain forest and a windswept rocky coastline. Great diversity with lots of room to grow made it a top bird watch hot spot. Two of our favorite locales: Ruby Beach with its pink sand of tiny garnet crystals (find lots of surf birds here) and Hoh Rain Forest (American Dipper, Varied Thrush and Pileated Woodpecker) for its “netherworld” landscape of moss-covered trees and tropical ferns. The Hoh or the Quinault Rain Forest are where you may see (if you’re really lucky) the endangered Spotted Owl or Marbled Murrelet. Olympic NP, Port Angeles, Washington: 360/565-3130; /nps.gov/olym/.
40 MORE BIRD WATCH HOT SPOTS
Arizona-Cave Creek Canyon
Colorado-Rocky Mountain NP
Connecticut-Hammonasset Beach SP
Delaware-Bombay Hook NWR
Idaho-Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area
Illinois-Illinois Beach SP
Indiana-Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area
Iowa-Riverton Wildlife Area
Kansas-Flint Hills NWR
Kentucky-Mammoth Cave NP
Maryland-Assateague Island NS
Massachusetts-Parker River NWR
Mississippi-St. Catherine Creek NWR
Nebraska-Fort Niobrara NWR
Nevada-Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
New Hampshire-Odiorne Point SP
New Jersey-Edwin B. Forsythe NWR
New Mexico-Bosque Apache NWR
New York-Central Park (NYC)
North Carolina-Pea Island NWR
North Dakota-Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Ohio-Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Oklahoma-Little River NWR
Rhode Island-Block Island Conservation Area
South Carolina-Huntington Beach SP
South Dakota-Badlands NP
Tennessee-Great Smoky Mountains NP
Utah-Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Vermont-Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area
West Virginia-Cranesville Swamp Preserve