Results of our survey: Watching shorebirds
One of the most popular birdwatching sites in the country is also the most popular for shorebirds
Published: June 25, 2010
|Granted, the term shorebird isn’t precise. Woodcock, snipe, and a few other species known as shorebirds never (or rarely) occur on shores, while gulls, terns, and other birds that fly over, feed along, and loaf on shores day in and day out fail to qualify.|
Ornithologists tell us the term includes the members of the families Scolopacidae and Charadriidae. We birdwatchers know the term to include a host of beautiful, eagerly awaited migrants — sandpipers, phalaropes, oystercatchers, avocets, stilts, and plovers.
They begin to arrive in southern Canada and the northern United States from their arctic and boreal nesting areas in late June and continue passing through North America for months to come.
No fewer than 50 species breed on the continent, and about 20 European or Asian species regularly turn up. They range from the common Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, and Killdeer to the rare Red Knot and Piping Plover.
At least a few species can be located in most areas of the continent. But to find lots of species — up to 30 in a day — and mind-boggling concentrations of thousands of birds, you’ll need to go to the mudflats, pastures, rocky shores, grassy marshes, beaches, and other watery habitats that serve as the birds’ stopovers and wintering sites.
In our fourth Readers’ Favorites Survey, we asked our readers for their favorite places to see shorebirds. The results, covering primarily coastal locations, will guide anyone who wants to see lots of shorebirds well.
The 25 favorite sites are listed below. Most are concentrated on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. In fact, only three inland sites made the list: Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh, Ohio’s Magee Marsh and next-door-neighbor Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and California’s Salton Sea.
Five of the top 25 are in California, and Florida, New Jersey, and Texas can claim four each. That doesn’t mean other states and provinces lack good shorebirding spots. All but one of the 254 sites on our survey received votes, and participants cast write-in votes for more than 400 additional locations.
No sites in Canada made the top 25, but several were popular. The Canadian location that received the most votes was the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Fraser River Estuary near Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s a stopover for Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and yellowlegs and has attracted vagrants such as Bar-tailed Godwit and Temminck’s Stint.
National wildlife refuges and national seashores account for 17 of the top 25 sites — a testament to the value of our wild public lands.
Your 25 favorite places to see shorebirds
1 J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR and Sanibel Island, FL
2 Cape May Point, NJ
3 Merritt Island NWR, FL
4 Padre Island National Seashore, TX
5 Cape May NWR, NJ
6 Little St. Simons Island and Savannah Coastal Refuges, GA
7 Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ
8 Aransas NWR, TX
9 Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
10 Fort Myers Beach, FL
11 Bombay Hook NWR, DE
12 Corpus Christi, TX
13 Fort De Soto Park, FL
14 Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, TX
15 Elkhorn Slough, CA
16 Horicon Marsh, WI
17 Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC
18 Cape Cod National Seashore, MA
19 San Diego Bay NWR, Tijuana Slough NWR, and Sweetwater Marsh, CA
20 Assateague Island National Seashore, MD
21 Salton Sea, CA
22 Delaware Bay, NJ
23 Chincoteague NWR, VA
24 Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR, OH
25 Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, CA
See a map of our readers' 25 favorites places to see shorebirds and read profiles of each site.
Birder’s World Readers’ Favorite
J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR and Sanibel Island
One of the most popular birding sites in the United States ranked first in our survey of readers’ favorite places to watch shorebirds. Fifteen-mile-long Sanibel Island and its J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge received more votes by far than any other spot.
And what’s not to love? More than 170 bird species occur on the island annually, and dozens more have been seen at least once. The 6,000-acre refuge protects breeding habitat for waders, ducks, raptors, and other birds.
Birders tally no fewer than 28 shorebird species each year, including plovers, dowitchers, and the occasional avocet and Long-billed Curlew. Snowy Plovers, oystercatchers, and Black-necked Stilts breed, and Red Knot, Marbled Godwit, and several sandpipers occur in winter.
The best spots to watch shorebirds include any of the refuge’s tidal inlets and mudflats that are accessible from the five-mile auto drive. Also be sure to stop to search for shorebirds on the small
islands along the three-mile causeway that connects Sanibel to the mainland.
“Especially at low tide, Willets, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and both species of yellowlegs are likely to be seen,” wrote Connie Toops of Sanibel and “Ding” Darling in our October 1990 issue.
The shorebirding is best from September to April. Refuge managers draw down water in the impoundments in October for the benefit of migrating shorebirds. In January and February, the numbers of wintering birds peak. And water levels are drawn down again in March as northbound shorebirds arrive.
Sanibel and the refuge have been a destination for birders for decades. In 2002, when we asked readers to vote for their 15 favorite birding hotspots, they ranked “Ding” Darling third behind southeastern Arizona and Cape May, New Jersey. If you’ve never visited, the week-long “Ding” Darling Days festival (October 17-23) is a great introduction.
See the 25 favorites plotted on a clickable map, find a profile of each site, and read articles from Birder’s World (now BirdWatching).
Vote for your favorite
In February and March, we asked you and your fellow Birder’s World readers to visit our website and tell us about your favorite places to watch shorebirds. More than 1,600 readers responded, casting more than 7,400 votes for 254 shorebird hotspots in North America.
Each participant was entered into a drawing for one Nikon Monarch 8x36 binocular provided by our generous partner, Nikon Sport Optics. Joanne Willey of Creedmoor, North Carolina, was the winner.
In April and May, we conducted another survey, about favorite places to see hawks. We’ll report the results in our October issue.
Our final survey asks where you go to see owls. Please tell us!
Birder’s World Readers’ Favorites