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Birder’s World readers’ 15 favorite birding destinations in the U.S. and Canada

15 years – 15 hotspots
By Birder's World | Published: 9/1/2002

Considering that we’ve been describing birding hotspots for 15 years now (Washington’s Skagit River Flats was our first), you might think we’d run out of fresh places to write about. Truth is, a country with 384 national parklands, 540 national wildlife refuges, hundreds of state parks, more than 12,000 miles of coastline, and countless other preserves, observatories, and sanctuaries offers abundant opportunities for birdfinding. Earlier this year, we asked you to share your favorite hotspots. Below we present them in order, one for each of our 15 fabulous years.

1. Southeastern Arizona, Arizona

With at least 24 notable birding hotspots in the southeastern corner of Arizona, it’s impossible to describe the entire region in a few words. But one thing is certain: Birder’s World readers adore Cave Creek Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, and the area’s other hotspots.

“The bottomless blue sky is my cathedral,” writes John Kelly of Glendale, California, of the San Pedro River area. “It’s like you have arrived as a birdwatcher and are walking on hallowed ground,” reports Charles Morris of Owensboro, Kentucky.

For Stan Lilley of Weidman, Michigan, it’s the lure of a red-bellied, green-headed Arizona specialty — the Elegant Trogon. A volunteer in Cave Creek’s trogon survey one year, Lilley will never forget his sighting. “I barely hear a rustle of wings above me. A hoarse, unmistakable coah-coah-coah brings me to full alert. I swallow hard, to get my pounding heart out of my throat. It’s right over my head! At first all I can see is a long gray-and-white-banded tail … then a brilliant red belly, a white band above it, and a deep jade green throat. There’s a bright yellow bill. He tilts his head back and belts out another coah-coah,then, with a little chuckling squawk, he’s off across the creek in a blur of feathers.”

Location: South of Tucson and east of Interstate 19 • Best time to visit:April through September • Birds: Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, Gray Hawk, Mexican Jay, a dozen hummingbird species • Contact: Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory: (520) 432-1388; Tucson Audubon Society: (520) 622-5622

“Like many, I have come, over the years, to revere the Chiricahuas. The birding is unparalleled in the U.S., and it is also a place to retreat from a hectic lifestyle, spending time with nature.” — “The Chiricahua Mountains” by Mary Ann Chapman, Birder’s World, October 1987, pp. 38-42

2. Cape May, New Jersey

Birding at Cape May — the southern tip of New Jersey — is spectacular for many reasons: hawkwatching, warblers, shorebirds feeding on horseshoe crab eggs, spring and fall migration, wintering waterfowl, spring songbirds, and the people at Cape May Bird Observatory. “They have the most programs, the World Series of Birding, Cape May Spring Weekend, Cape May Fall Weekend, the hawkwatch, and countless opportunities to go along on a walk and to learn,” notes Carey L. Friel of Ottsville, Pennsylvania. “Everyone is helpful and friendly. You feel like you really belong to a special group of people when you are there.”

Though this is certainly true, even observatory staffers would admit that the birds — not the humans — are the real draw. “I have thrilled to the springtime sight of masses of shorebirds and gulls gorging on horseshoe crab eggs on the bayshore beaches,” writes Barbara Brozyna of Toms River, New Jersey. “One time, the entire surface of the beach lifted up, and became a myriad of birds in coordinated flight. They wheeled and circled a short distance out over the bay, then they returned and set down, and became ‘beach’ once more.”

Location: At the extreme southern tip of New Jersey • Best time to visit:September and October for raptor migration, May and early June for shorebirds • Birds: Hawks, warblers, shorebirds, waterfowl, swallows, wrens, sparrows, and buntings • Contact: Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center: (609) 884-2736, Center for Research and Education: (609) 861-0700; Cape May Point State Park: (609) 884-2159

“Jerry tallied the hour and cleared the clickers on which he had been recording each bird’s passage. ‘You know,’ he beamed, ‘this was a really good Sharp-shinned flight, the best I’ve ever seen here. I really enjoyed the day.’” — “Hawks Head South” by Clay Sutton and Pat Sutton, Birder’s World, October 1998, pp. 38-42

3. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Set on Sanibel Island off the Florida Gulf Coast, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is famous for its spectacular wading birds. The refuge’s mudflats, mangrove forests, and freshwater habitats attract some 300 bird species, including Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, Wood Storks, and White Ibises. The refuge also lures people, lots of ’em: More than 800,000 nature lovers visit “Ding” Darling each year.

Wildlife Drive, a five-mile, one-way road, is a major attraction, especially to birders who aren’t able to walk long distances. “You are assured to see birds right from your car,” reports Temple Pearson of West Lafayette, Indiana. “Even if you are not a birder, you are sure to enjoy ‘Ding’ Darling.”

Photographers hone their skills at this 6,300-acre refuge. The waders make great subjects, and you never know when a good photo-op will turn into a terrific photo-op. “‘Ding’ Darling is my all-time favorite,” explains Don Polunci of Queensbury, New York. “Where else will a bird walk right under your tripod legs while stalking its prey? Once, a group of photographers were lined up along the road photographing a Roseate Spoonbill about 100 feet out in the water. Suddenly the bird flew over to the bank just 10 feet from the photographers and proceeded to walk down the line of photographers as if it were posing for all.”

Location: On the Gulf Coast of Florida, 20 miles southwest of Fort Myers • Best time to visit: December through April • Birds: Mangrove Cuckoo, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White Ibis, plus ducks in winter, and songbirds in spring • Contact: J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge: (239) 472-1100; Audubon Society of Southwest Florida: (941) 339-8046; Naples Bird Club: (941) 649-9754

“Should you happen to be there at sunset, you may be treated to the unforgettable sight of small flocks of these breathtakingly beautiful birds [Roseate Spoonbills] gliding to a landing. Sometimes the rays of low light briefly transform their wings into angel flutters of pastel pink, carmine, and gold.” — “Sanibel Island, Florida” by Connie Toops, Birder’s World, October 1990, pp. 44-48

4. Everglades National Park, Florida

While the Everglades — once a river of grass 50 miles wide and six inches deep — have felt the pressure of development for decades, the place is still a birder’s mecca. The Everglades are memorable not only for great birds and unbelievable vistas, but for the close association of the Everglades to the history of birdwatching. Bird protection was one of the reasons the Everglades became a national park in 1947. More than 400 species have been recorded there, including South Florida specialties such as Snail Kites, Smooth-billed Anis, and White-crowned Pigeons.

Bob Showler, a long-time National Park Service employee now stationed at Zion National Park in Utah, spent many years living in Flamingo, near the southern edge of the Everglades. “Our backyard extended for 30 miles to the Florida Keys,” he says. “We’d sit on our porch and marvel at a melee of life, the ‘gift of the Everglades.’ Fish flopped, leaped, and churned in the bay’s waters.

“But the birds provided my greatest Everglades memories. Endless flocks of shorebirds whirred past our apartment, headed toward rich mudflats on nearby Snake Bight. A Great Blue Heron, along with its Caribbean white-phased counterpart, stalked side by side over the shallows. White-crowned Pigeons flapped noisily in a giant strangler fig tree, gulping down its abundant fruit.”

Location: The southern tip of Florida • Best time to visit: December through April • Birds: Limpkin, Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Mangrove Cuckoo, Greater Flamingo • Contact: Everglades National Park: (305) 242-7700; Audubon Society of the Everglades: (561) 588-6908

“Early mornings in the Everglades are full of surprises. … Slowly, still-darkened skies fill with flocks of ibises, egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills, their wings flapping in distinct rhythms, distinguishing them even from great distances.” — “Lurking in the Lagoon” by Myra Yellin Goldfarb, Birder’s World, December 1989, pp. 10-13

5. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida

South of Fort Myers, Florida, the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary protects the country’s largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and features a two-mile boardwalk that lures our readers time and time again. And why not? Corkscrew is home to Limpkins and Swallow-tailed Kites, and this year, Wood Storks are visible from the boardwalk.

“Whenever my husband Jack and I are in Florida, no matter how far we are from Corkscrew, we save a day to walk its boardwalk,” says Arnalee Shackelford of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “That may be because on our first visit there, several years ago, we picked up four life birds before we were less than half through our trek. And because, on every visit since, we’ve seen a bird that thrills us.”

Laure Neish of Penticton, British Columbia, spent a day at Corkscrew recently and can’t wait to go back. “Even more remarkable than the bird sightings here are the bird photo opportunities available at the swamp,” she writes. “Birds such as the normally secretive American Bittern and the colorful White Ibis were perched or feeding just a few feet from the boardwalk. Human presence (and it was considerable) did not seem to disturb them. I would love to return, armed with many more rolls of film and with time to just observe.”

Location: In southwest Florida, 16 miles east of Fort Myers Beach • Best time to visit: March and April for nesting season, but birding is good at Corkscrew year-round • Birds: Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, songbirds, and waders • Contact: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, (239) 348-9151

6. Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

A narrow six-mile-long triangle jutting into Lake Erie, Point Pelee National Park is a unique setting for plant and animal life and one of Canada’s most visited parks. Designated a globally important bird area, Point Pelee’s natural features include freshwater marshes, deciduous forests, sandy beaches, and cedar savanna.

Birds migrating along the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways cross paths at Point Pelee, where they seek refuge after the long trip across the Great Lake. On very active spring days here, birders have recorded nearly 200 species. One-day peaks for songbirds include 5,000 Golden-crowned Kinglets, 3,000 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 1,400 Baltimore Orioles, and 620 Nashville Warblers. Readers agree the park is a must-see. It’s the place that hooked Colleen McLean of East Lansing, Michigan, on birding. And it’s a spot that Sam Febba of Dimondale, Michigan, returns to often. “Point Pelee remains our favorite place to bird,” Febba says. “It seems to have an ambience found in very few places. Our group camps in the group campground and wakes to the sounds of birds. Some days the variety is fantastic. Some days we see very few species, but I’ve never had a bad day of birding at Point Pelee. There’s also something to be said for the crowds. Where else do birders outnumber non-birders 100 to 1?”

Location: On a peninsula projecting into Lake Erie, 30 miles southeast of Windsor, Ontario • Best time to visit: May for songbirds and shorebirds, throughout the fall for hawk migration • Birds: 36 warbler species occur annually• Contact: Point Pelee National Park: (519) 322-2365; Friends of Point Pelee: (519) 326-6173

7. Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Jutting into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco, Point Reyes Peninsula and the surrounding 70,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore attract an enormous diversity of birdlife. More than 460 species have been recorded at Point Reyes, nearly half the entire North American total.

With a sprawling urban area to its south, it’s no wonder Point Reyes is a haven for birds. They find shelter in its saltwater estuaries, coastal scrub, freshwater wetlands, riparian corridors, and coniferous forests. Whether you go to search for spring or fall migrants, or to watch the seashore’s 120 nesting species, you’ll quickly learn why Point Reyes is a favorite of our readers. “The fall migration at Point Reyes is exciting because you never know what will turn up along the outer peninsula,” says Randy Little of Milpitas, California. “Each fall is different. A Horned Puffin one year, King Eider another. Black-throated Blue Warbler, Connecticut Warbler — seems like anything can turn up.”

Another huge draw: The Palomarin Field Station, located at the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore. Its environmental education programs attract more than 10,000 people a year. Biologists at the visitor’s center demonstrate bird-banding and mist-netting techniques. The field station is a branch of PRBO Conservation Science, the nation’s oldest bird observatory.

Location: On the California coast, 22 miles north of San Francisco • Best time to visit: Spring and fall migrations are most productive, but the birding at Point Reyes is good year-round • Birds: Seabirds, shorebirds, warblers, woodpeckers — you name it, it’s probably at Point Reyes • Contact: Point Reyes National Seashore: (415) 464-5100; PRBO Conservation Science: (415) 868-1221

“Here is an incredibly varied world of sheer cliffs above frothy waves; of long white beaches and rolling sand dunes; of sheltered bays and estuaries … of meadows and brush-matted hills; and high ridges of deciduous trees and moss-hung conifers.” — “Point Reyes, California” by Kenn Sherwood Roe, Birder’s World, December 1991, pp. 54-58

8. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

“Bosque’s best asset is its location, aptly described as ‘out in the middle of nowhere,’” says Toni Miele of Alto, New Mexico. Indeed, the desert oasis in central New Mexico is a famous winter home of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, but it’s a great birding spot year-round.

Miele says she enjoys Bosque’s “30,000 acres of wilderness flanked by the Chupadera Mountains and the Magdalenas, in the Chihuahuan Desert. Fortunately, the Rio Grande and its floodplain are close neighbors.

“Bosque del Apache is almost never crowded except during the four-day Festival of Cranes in November. People of all physical abilities and birding experience can access this refuge.

“The sunrises and sunsets are a photographer’s dream, and many [people] come from all over the world to photograph the famous ‘fly in’ and ‘fly out’ of Snow Geese and cranes. My last visit, I was treated to a meteor storm at 1 a.m. and three rainbows on consecutive days in November. The birds themselves seem to realize they’ve found an oasis in the desert, and they linger in close view, thrilling observers by the thousands each year. The coordinated efforts of the refuge personnel, the volunteers, and the local farmers are impressive in scope and results. Bosque del Apache NWR is one of the truly magical places on earth.”

Location: Between the Chupadera and Magdalena Mountains, three miles south of San Antonio, New Mexico • Best time to visit: December through March • Birds: Lesser Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Sandhill Crane, Gambel’s Quail • Contact: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge: (505) 835-1828

9. Crane Creek State Park, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio

The state-owned Crane Creek State Park and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the adjoining Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge encompass some of the best birding areas in Ohio. Birders visit the hotspots, located along the state’s Lake Erie coast, to see migrating waterfowl and shorebirds and to search for warblers and Bald Eagles.

“Concentrations of birds are always notable here during migration, and weather can conspire to make them extraordinary,” says Bill Long of Delaware, Ohio. “The marshes are lively during the warm months with wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians as well as birds.”

The Crane Creek area is more than a great birding spot for Robert Bates of Austin, Texas. As a second-grader, he and his classmates took a field trip to the park to look for birds they had written reports about. (He was looking for a Dunlin.) “I had always been interested in wild-life and nature from a very young age,” Bates writes. “Yet I credit our teacher, Mrs. Kerns, our bird reports, and the trip to Crane Creek as being the clincher for the rest of my life. It inspired me to attend college and obtain a degree in wildlife biology, and sparked my love of birds and travels as a birder. I was also treated to seeing some migrating Dunlin on our field trip. To this day, I still enjoy nothing more than visiting Crane Creek for a day or two of birding.”

Location: Along the shores of Lake Erie, 22 miles east of Toledo, Ohio • Best time to visit: April and May; July through January • Birds: Tundra and Trumpeter Swan, Green Heron, shorebirds, warblers, sparrows • Contact:Crane Creek State Park: (419) 836-7758; Magee Marsh Wildlife Area: (419) 898-0960; Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge: (419) 898-0014

10. Monterey Bay, California

A 30-mile stretch of the central California coast, Monterey Bay is a favorite spot for birders, especially in winter. The mild climate and unique mix of habitat make the bay area a haven for wintering birds. Birders in Santa Cruz, the north side of the bay, often count more than 100 bird species in a day during winter.

State parks in the area offer a wide range of birding — Natural Bridges State Park for seabirds, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park for woodland species, Moss Landing State Park for shorebirds. And Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest wetlands on the West Coast, attracts great numbers of water birds — scoters, grebes, murres, cormorants, and more. Pelagic trips are a big draw as well, due to the albatross, auklets, murrelets, shearwaters, storm-petrels, and other deep-water species that are often spotted relatively close to shore.

Renata Warner of Aurora, Colorado, calls the bay area her “absolute favorite hotspot” for more than just its diverse birdlife (she picked up 11 life birds there in one day): “The amount of other wildlife and marine life, 17-Mile Drive, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the amazing clam chowder in the bread bowl that you can buy at the pier, and the wonderful, wonderful sea air! A truly glorious experience!”

Location: On the coast of California, 90 miles south of San Francisco • Best time to visit: October through April for the biggest variety of species • Birds:Amazing bird diversity, from Black-footed and Laysan Albatross to Anna’s Hummingbird and Wandering Tattler • Contact: Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society: Carol Anderson, board secretary, (831) 663-0667; Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Elkhorn Slough Foundation: (831) 728-2822; Moss Landing Chamber of Commerce: (831) 633-4501

“The warm scent of wildflowers soothes your winter-weary nose, and your ears are treated to the sound of hundreds of marsh birds. From behind you comes a rising buzz, then a flash of color as a hummingbird zips by. Spring birding in New England? Nope. This is winter in California, and you’ve discovered a true birding hotspot.” — “Monterey Bay, California” by Laird Henkel, Birder’s World, December 1997, pp. 56-60

11. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is the home of many great birding sites, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, near McAllen, is certainly one of the valley’s jewels. At only 2,080 acres, Santa Ana is small by national refuge standards, but situated as it is on the banks of the Rio Grande, it supports an array of birdlife found in few other places.

Santa Ana is located at an ecological crossroad, where subtropical, Gulf Coast, Great Plains, and Chihuahuan desert climates come together. Birds from the Central and Mississippi flyways funnel through the area on their way to and from Central and South America.

Birders explore the refuge’s trails and seven-mile Wildlife Drive for Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, and Rufous Hummingbirds, and a number of Mexican species are found regularly. “Santa Ana may be the most ‘giving’ birding mecca I’ve been to,” says Daniel Sparks-Jackson from far-away Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I added 25 species to my life list in a single amazing morning! Two of those species are true rarities in the U.S. — the Tropical Parula and the Clay-colored Robin. Rare as they may be, Santa Ana offered them up as if they were nothing extraordinary.”

Raptor migration is also a sight to behold at Santa Ana. “Any day I can see 20,000 Swainson’s Hawks in one day,” writes Robert Glass of Robbinsville, New Jersey, “that’s a good day.”

Location: On the Rio Grande, 45 miles upriver from Brownsville, Texas • Best time to visit: Fall through spring, especially April and May • Birds: Plain Chachalaca, Hook-billed Kite, Gray Hawk, Clay-colored Robin, migrating raptors and songbirds, whistling-ducks, and Mexican vagrants • Contact:Santa Ana NWR: (956) 784-7500; Friends of the Wildlife Corridor: (956) 783-6117; World Birding Center: (956) 584-9156

12. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in southwest Texas far from major urban areas, Big Bend National Park is the farthest off the beaten path of our readers’ favorite hotspots. To get there, you’ll have to drive several hours from the cities of El Paso or San Antonio. But as anyone who’s been there will tell you, the drive is worth it.

Big Bend includes the northern Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains, the southernmost mountain range in the United States. The line of green supported by the Rio Grande on the park’s southern border attracts a wide array of birds, including such year-round residents as Vermilion Flycatchers and Pyrrhuloxias. Elsewhere in the park, look for Lucifer Hummingbirds and Varied Buntings.

Boot Canyon is the place to go to find the Colima Warbler. It’s a nine-mile round-trip hike that is not for the weak-kneed. “The Colima Warbler was one of the toughest birds I’ve ever gotten in my life,” says Doris Rogers of Port Orchard, Washington.

She made three trips to the park, the only spot in the United States where the bird occurs, before finally seeing the warbler. On her first two, Rogers was among the many birders who heard but didn’t see the bird. She hopes to return to Big Bend soon for its “spectacular views, Texas history, and friendly birders.”

Location: Cradled in the great curve of the Rio Grande in west Texas • Best time to visit: Late August through mid-October and mid-April through May for spring and fall migration • Birds: Colima Warbler, Montezuma Quail, Common Black-Hawk, and about 450 other species! • Contact: Big Bend National Park: (915) 477-2251; Big Bend Natural History Association: (915) 477-2236; Brewster County Tourism Council

13. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Pennsylvania

There’s really nothing quite like looking down on a migrating raptor. Yet it’s a regular autumn experience at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. The site in central Pennsylvania is an amazing place to watch southbound hawks and eagles, and it’s one of the environmental movement’s truly historic sites. The annual slaughter of hawks there ended in the 1930s after conservationists bought the land and founded the sanctuary — one of the most significant conservation victories of the century.

Riding columns of air deflected upward by the ridges of the surrounding Kittatinny Mountains, an average of 20,000 birds of prey glide past the rocky North Lookout each fall, often just yards away from onlookers. Carolyn Gulick of Ocean, New Jersey, cherishes her memories of Hawk Mountain, a place she returns to each fall. “Hawk Mountain is the place that sparked my boys’ interest in birdwatching (who can resist a hawk?),” she says.

Dick Blewett of Homosassa, Florida, whose memories of the mountain go back 50 years, says despite large crowds of people, “the beauty of Hawk Mountain is that it can handle all the birders without any concern from the hawks. They just come and pass on their way to South America. The beauty overlooking the north face and the closeness of the hawks as they pass always overwhelms first-time visitors.”

Location: North of Hamburg, in eastern Pennsylvania, approximately 9.4 miles northeast of I-78 • Best time to visit: September and October for hawk migration; late spring and early summer for nesting songbirds • Birds:Hawks, falcons, kestrels, eagles, and other southbound raptors, plus resident and migrating passerines • Contact: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: (610) 756-6961

14. Acadia National Park, Maine

Maine’s Acadia National Park embraces Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, Isle au Haut, and several small islands, and it’s a stunningly beautiful place.

The park’s wonders — jagged shorelines, tidal pools, streams, lakes, woodlands, and the only fjord in eastern North America — attract some 325 bird species throughout the year.

“Acadia was one of my first birding trips, and I took my daughter along,” writes Robert Fuhrman of Charlottesville, Virginia. “She was fascinated with the teacher teacher call of our first Ovenbird. I enjoy biking the carriage trails in the early morning looking for warblers. Exploring the rocky coast brought me wonderful opportunities to observe eiders. One day my wife and I spotted a Peregrine Falcon nesting on a cliff. A few minutes down the road we saw an Osprey flying away from a pair of Bald Eagles soaring near the coast. That afternoon, while on a whale-watching trip out of Bar Harbor, we saw our first Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, and Black Guillemots.”

John Sichel, a composer from Mountainside, New Jersey, says it’s the birdsong that makes Acadia memorable: “The song of the Hermit Thrush, as experienced in the mist among the firs and spruces of Ship Harbor Nature Trail, beggars any music ever composed by me or any of my betters. That of the White-throated Sparrow, in the same environs, is the most haunting.”

Location: Acadia surrounds the village of Bar Harbor on the coast of Maine • Best time to visit: Spring and summer for songbirds, winter for waterfowl and seabirds • Birds: 21 nesting warbler species, plus Common Eider, Common Loon, Black Guillemot, Bald Eagle, Atlantic Puffin • Contact: Acadia National Park: (207) 288-3338; Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce: (207) 288-5103

“Nearly every habitat found in Maine is represented in Acadia National Park, and they’re all great for birdwatching.” — “Maine’s Tourist Towns” by Allison Childs Wells and Jeff Wells, Birder’s World, April 1996, pp. 52-56

15. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York

“Who would guess that within New York City there is such an opportunity to observe wildlife right next to a major airport?” asks Diane Cohen of Oakland Gardens, New York. Yet it’s true. The largest city in the United States is home to a favorite hotspot.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge isn’t far from JFK International Airport, yet a total of 330 species, including 72 nesting species, have been recorded there. What’s more, Jamaica Bay’s prime location and wildlife-friendly management recently earned it a globally important bird area designation.

The National Park Service-managed refuge provides a green oasis 20 miles square in the middle of metropolitan New York for birds as well as butterflies, turtles, mammals, and other critters. New Yorkers love escaping to its quiet natural beauty. Peter Di Maria of Brooklyn particularly enjoys watching for migrants in spring and the 500 to 600 Snow Geese that spend the winter on the refuge.

Beth Liebmann is no New Yorker (she hails from Fairfax, Virginia), but she counts Jamaica Bay among her top hotspots because of its proximity to millions of people. “It’s one of my favorite hotspots because birding can be enjoyed by those who live in nearby cities without spending a day in the car,” she writes. “It’s also accessible to everyone regardless of their financial ability to travel to far-off places. Refuges such as Jamaica Bay remind us to appreciate daily the beauty of birds and wildlife right in our own backyards.”

Location: Near JFK International Airport, on Crossbay Blvd. in Brooklyn and Queens, New York • Best time to visit: Peak migration period is April and May, but birding here is great year-round; fall shorebirds occur July through September • Birds: Snow Goose, Brant, Eurasian Wigeon, Tricolored Heron, Osprey, Clapper Rail, owls, shorebirds, and warblers • Contact: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge: (718) 318-4340; Gateway National Recreation AreaNew York City Audubon Society: (212) 691-7483; Linnaean Society of New York: (212) 252-2668; Brooklyn Bird Club

 

Home: ‘My backyard’

When we asked our readers where they love to bird, we left room for write-ins, and we’re glad we did! We heard about places we’ve never been — Romania’s Danube River delta — and hotspots we know well, such as Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax, Virginia. The most common write-in location was — and wasn’t — a surprise. It was “My backyard.”

Micki Dunakin’s letter stood out. Her backyard encompasses 27 acres in Antwerp, Ohio. It’s an area where you’d expect to find corn, soybeans, and wheat, not Kirtland’s Warblers, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Bell’s Vireos, and Golden and Bald Eagles, but the birds are there. She and her husband have counted 176 bird species in all. Yet even as the Dunakins’ list grows, Micki says it’s the everyday, not the rare sightings, that make their backyard a wonderful place: “Simple things, like standing at the edge of the field in late winter listening to the American Woodcocks performing their flight-display, or seeing the first Yellow-rumped Warbler in spring and knowing that many more warblers will follow. I have made the trip to Lake Erie many times, but there is something special about being able to walk out the back door and into a world of birding joy.”

Melissa Whitmire of Greensboro, North Carolina, knows that same feeling. Her house is in the middle of the city, near strip malls, banks, and fast-food restaurants. A 30-yard-wide strip of “near jungle” behind her house constitutes her backyard, and it’s a haven for migrating birds. “I first realized I had a gem of a backyard when one Sunday morning last spring I heard an interesting song that reminded me of the theme from Chariots of Fire,” Whitmire writes. “The singer was moving about quickly, high in the treetops, and when he settled long enough to catch a glimpse, I gasped. A Blackpoll Warbler! I was thrilled beyond belief and in awe of the fact that he chose my yard to rest and refuel.”

Rare backyard sightings such as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a White-eyed Vireo have awed Joseph Klimek of Norwich, Connecticut. But as he takes his two-year-old daughter on walks in their neighborhood, he’s watching something just as wonderful: her curiosity in birds taking flight. “As my daughter says, ‘Look Daddy, there’s a Downy Woodpecker at the suet feeder!’ I’m seeing the birding world through the eyes of my child, and it’s just the most fantastic experience, which I’m sure most of your readers would understand.”

 

15 favorites over 15 years

Birder’s World has been writing about hotspots since the magazine first appeared. Here’s a selection of our favorite articles about your favorite hotspots.

Southeastern Arizona

“The Chiricahua Mountains” (Birding Hotspot), by Mary Ann Chapman, September/October 1987, pages 38-42

“Calling All Owls: Three Arizona birders set out to break the one-day owling record,” by Kenn Kaufman and Kate Stenberg, March/April 1988, pages 14-18

“Madera Canyon, Arizona” (Birding Hotspot), by Kenn Kaufman, June 1991, pages 42-46

“Snow Birder: Winter birding Sunbelt style,” by Sam Fried, April 1992, pages 22-26

“Rain Bird: Arizona’s desert grasslands give life to the Rufous-winged Sparrow,” by Kenn Kaufman and Rick Bowers, October 1992, pages 24-27

“Arizona Elegance: In search of Elegant Trogons in the canyons of southern Arizona,” by Vera M. Walters, August 1997, pages 42-45

“Prickly Haven: For birdwatching with a southwestern flavor, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert offers unusual birds in unique housing,” by Paul Zimmerman, June 2000, pages 52–55

“Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum” (Birding Hotspot), by Sam Fried, April 2001, pages 52-55.

Cape May

“The Fourth Annual World Series of Birding: A play-by-play account of one team’s effort,” by Pete Dunne, September/October 1987, pages 17-21

“Nuts to New Jersey: An interview with one of them,” by Judith A. Toups, September/October 1988, pages 10-15

“The View from Over the Hump: A backseat view of Birder’s World at the World Series,” by Judith A. Toups, April 1990, pages 16-19

“Crab eggsposé: New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore offers a feast for shorebirds,” by Arthur Morris, June 1994, pages 33-37

“Hawks Head South: This fall, experience the thrill of raptor migration by visiting a hawkwatching hotspot,” by Clay Sutton and Pat Sutton, October 1998, pages 38-42

J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR

“Sanibel Island, Florida” (Birding Hotspot), by Connie Toops, October 1990, pages 44-48

“Catching the Yucatan Express: Spring migrants are surprisingly well adapted to long nonstop flights across the Gulf of Mexico,” by Paul Kerlinger, April 1999, pages 30-38

Everglades National Park

“The Everglades” (Birding Hotspot), by Connie Toops, March/April 1988, pages 34-38

“Lurking in the Lagoon: A birding group scours the Everglades for the elusive Limpkin,” by Myra Yellin Goldfarb, December 1989, pages 10-13

“Big Cypress Swamp” (Birding Hotspot), by Jeff Ripple, February 1996, pages 52-56

“Loxahatchee NWR, Florida” (Birding Hotspot), by Cliff Beittel, December 1996, pages 58-62

“Everglades Forever: A photographic tribute to southern Florida’s national treasure,” by Connie Toops, December 1997, pages 32-37

“Top 5 Birding Parks: Big Bend, Everglades, Olympic, Grand Teton, and Acadia National Parks,” by Roland H. Wauer, April 2000, pages 46–53

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

“Corkscrew Swamp, Florida” (Birding Hotspot), by Sheryl De Vore, August 1991, pages 42-46

Point Pelee National Park

“Point Pelee, Ontario” (Birding Hotspot), by Eldon Greij, May/June 1987, pages 34-38

“Swallowtown: Pembroke, Ontario — The San Juan Capistrano of the North,” by Suzanne Kingsmill, January/February 1988, pages 10-13

“Long Point, Ontario” (Birding Hotspot), by Jon Curson, April 1990, pages 42-46

“Hawk Cliff, Ontario” (Birding Hotspot), by William J. Rayner, October 1993, pages 48-52

“Holiday Beach, Ontario” (Birding Hotspot), by Julie Craves, October 1996, pages 54-58

Point Reyes National Seashore

“Windbirds: One Californian’s Passion for Shorebirds,” by Kenn Sherwood Roe, February 1991, pages 10-13

“Point Reyes, California” (Birding Hotspot), by Kenn Sherwood Roe, December 1991, pages 54-58

Bosque del Apache NWR

“Bosque del Apache” (Birding Hotspot), by Lee Kaiser, February 1990, pages 42-46

“The Beauty of Bosque” (Bird Photography), by Arthur Morris, October 1997, pages 68-71

“Winter Oasis: Migrants put on an annual show at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache,” by Cliff Beittel, December 2001, pages 48-53

Monterey Bay

“Monterey Bay, California” (Birding Hotspot), by Laird Henkel, December 1997, pages 56-60

Santa Ana NWR

“The Rio Grande of South Texas” (Birding Hotspot), by George Oxford Miller, July/August 1987, pages 34-38

“Dear Eldon” (On the Road: Rockport, Texas), by Judith A. Toups, January/February 1989, pages 60-61

“Birding Bonanza: The King Ranch of Texas welcomes birders,” by Judith A. Toups, August 1990, pages 10-13

“Blazing Binoculars: A 10-day blitz through southern Texas,” by Sam Fried, December 1990, pages 22-26

“Lone Star Attractions: A photo essay of south Texas specialties,” by Steve Bentsen, August 1994, pages 32-37

“The Great Texas Birding Classic: Bird conservation causes are the big winners when birders compete in this grueling week-long event,” by Kathy Adams Clark, February 1998, pages 36-38

“Texas Classic: An Insider’s Strategy,” by Roland H. Wauer, February 1998, page 39

“Mid-Winter: Where to Bird: California Coast, Northern Great Lakes, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Colorado Rockies, Washington Coast, and backyards,” by Paul Lehman, February 1999, pages 22-23

“Catching the Yucatan Express,” by Paul Kerlinger, April 1999, pages 30-38

“Where the Birds Funnel South” (Birding Hotspot: Corpus Christi, Texas), by Downs Matthews, October 1999, pages 44–49

“Treasures of the Texas Tropics” (Hotspot: Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas), by Oscar Carmona, December 2000, pages 58–63

Big Bend National Park

“Big Bend National Park” (Birding Hotspot), by George O. Miller, April 1989, pages 42-46

“Big Bend National Park” (Birding Hotspot), by Sam Fried, October 1998, pages 70-74

“Top 5 Birding Parks,” by Roland H. Wauer, April 2000, pages 46–53

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

“Hawkwatching: This special kind of birding is soaring in popularity,” by Diann MacRae, September/October 1987, pages 9-13


Acadia National Park

“Maine’s Tourist Towns” (Birding Hotspots: Wells, Kennebunk/Kennebunkport, Freeport, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Bar Harbor/Mt. Desert Island), by Allison Child Wells and Jeff Wells, April 1996, pages 52-56

“Top 5 Birding Parks,” by Roland H. Wauer, April 2000, pages 46–53


Jamaica Bay NWR

“Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge” (Birding Hotspot), by Arthur A. Morris, August 1989, pages 42-46