Every state in the U.S has at least a few great birding areas, but not all birds and birders stick around in cold weather regions. When migrators go south, birders can see concentrations of aviary favorites that offer another nudge for humans to follow to experience migratory concentrations that engender awe.
Brian Trusty, Executive Director of Audubon Texas said “If you were going to single out the birdiest place in America, the Texas Gulf Coast would be a top contender.” The plentitude of barrier islands and the 367 miles of shoreline that extends from Louisiana to the Mexican border provides more than 3,000 miles of bird-loving tidal shoreline. The Texas coast host 200 to 300 different species that are counted every fall. While some migrants pass through on the way to Latin America, Reddish Egrets, Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes spend the winter. More than 98 % of long-distance migratory bird species in North America that pass through the Texas Coast. The Great Texas Birding Trail offers access to many places for birding along the coast and elsewhere.
Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida Everglades has been stressed by development and alienation, but the birding remains top-notch even though diminished. This remnant of the Northern Everglades hosts a variety of impressive long-legged waders, including the Ibis Limpkin, Rail, and Bittern. Other birds of interest include Black-necked Stilts, Spotted Sandpipers, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Birders in the know search for Snail Kite, a raptor only seen in the U.S. in Florida marshes. The kite nests in the refuge and is seen foraging for Florida Apple Snails in every season.
Florida has many hot-spots for birding, but don’t miss the Cape Canaveral area to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. When rockets are not making a racket, the island complex is noisy with bird calls in the Canaveral National Seashore and National Wildlife Refuge. Commonly seen wading birds include: Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron. Colorful duck, geese and swans inhabit the islands including, Wood Duck, Ring-Necked Duck and Blue-Winged Teal. Migratory birds pass through by the tens of thousands and shorebirds like Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, and Ring-Billed Gull wade in and near the surf. Hiking trails and maps usher visitors through the refuge.
Monte Vista and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges evoke the cry: Holy Cranes! If one visits in October they are likely to see more cranes than a field of vision can hold. This great migration of Sand Hills fills the senses with wonder. Alamosa offers a driving tour for those not inclined to hike. This Colorado wetland is a special habitat and without a lot of wetland in Colorado, birds are drawn in great numbers to these refuges. The complex of refuges is known and managed as the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Migratory birds, songbirds, raptors, and even shore birds can be viewed in the area. Avocets, a graceful birder favorite, can often be seen in the refuge.
Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge used to be bigger, but it’s never been more important. More than 70 percent of the California Burrowing Owl population is found within the Salton Sea ecosystem. Thousands of waterfowl and other birds winter here. Canada Geese, Snow Geese, American Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, Pintails, Green-winged Teal, Eared Grebes and a wide variety winter in balmy Southern California. Endangered species at the refuge include the Yuma Clapper Rail, which breeds in marshes around the southeastern portion of the Salton Sea. Other endangered or threatened species one might be lucky enough to see include the Bald Eagle, California Brown Pelican and Peregrine Falcon. This Southern California refuge has shrunk from 35,000 acres in the 1930’s to only 2,200 managed acres today.
Amy Lou Jenkins is the author of Every Natural Fact.