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Without a doubt, many people find birdwatching (or birding) to be an enjoyable and rewarding way to get out and enjoy nature. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 46 million Americans participate in this recreational activity. Author Nicholas Lund, who writes for Audubon.org, may have described birding best when he wrote, “It’s basically a lifelong scavenger hunt played across the entire earth. It’s equal parts science and poetry, hoots of triumph and quiet reflection, adventures to far-flung corners of the world and discoveries in your own back yard.” So whether you’re a longtime birder or you’re just getting started, here are a few great birding locations to add to your itinerary when you’re planning your next camping trip.
Located in a lush floodplain in southeastern Arizona, the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is considered to be one of the top birding spots in the Southwest. It’s home to over 200 species of birds, including Gray hawks and over 20 species of flycatchers. According to the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, the first known Sinaloa Wren in the U.S. was recently spotted here. The sanctuary is owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy.
Spanning more than 70,000 acres north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore offers some of the best birdwatching in the nation. Nearly 490 species have been spotted in in the park and the surrounding waters. The park has a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific, so it also attracts “vagrants,” birds that have somehow gone off course and are not usually seen in this area. Point Reyes offers a wide variety of areas to explore, including a valley, wetlands, lagoons, ponds and the rocks and cliff areas around the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Located on Sanibel Island, this refuge was created to safeguard the pristine wildlife habitat that is home to more than 200 species of birds and to protect endangered and threatened species. It contains over 6,400 acres of mangrove forests, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes and West Indian hardwood hammocks. Approximately 2,800 of the reserve’s acres have been designated by Congress as a wilderness area.
Rated as one of the top birding destinations in the U.S., Quivera is located right in the center of the Central Flyway, so its wetlands, mudflats and shorelines attract large concentrations of migrating shorebirds, including both eastern and western species. Spring, summer and fall are good times to spot shorebirds, and in the spring and fall, the refuge also attracts waterfowl and migrating songbirds. To date, over 340 species have been spotted here.
The marshes of this southern Louisiana island provide the ideal habitat for wading birds, including heron, ibis and snowy egrets; and Grand Isle Beach is the place to spot gulls, terns, skimmers and Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican. There’s also a live oak/hackberry forest that serves as a resting spot for nearly 100 species of birds that migrate across the Gulf of Mexico.
This reserve includes nearly 25,000 acres of tidal waters and it’s also part of the North Atlantic flyway, so 20 species of waterfowl, 27 species of shorebirds and 13 species of wading birds winter here or use it as a stopover on their migration. There are numerous viewing platforms on the bay, and the reserve also contains an educational facility called the Great Bay Discovery Center.
The combination of mild winters, waterways and abundant food attract more than 400 species of birds to this coastal location. The refuge has played a major role in saving the whooping crane from extinction and it is home to the only wild flock of these rare birds. The refuge contains several trails, including some that specifically focus on birding, and there’s a 40-foot observation tower that offers the best chance of seeing a whooping crane.