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Without any burden, someone else’s expense account, and maybe a private jet, here I’ve summarized the birding locations I’d fit into my perfect birding year. It’s not a great year but an itinerary designed to take in the bird shows of the continent, starting in Newburyport, Massachusetts on January 1st. Yes, it’s cold, but species like the Little Gull, Snowy Owl, Great Cormorant, Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting, and White-winged Gulls (i.e. Iceland and Glaucous) are cold weather birds, and Newburyport is where you find them. The chowder is very good too. What kind of chowder? You’re kidding!
Then, to thaw out later in the month, I would probably head to South Florida, home to birds with a semi-tropical flavor, and perhaps take a winter pelagic trip from New Jersey or Carolina of the North along the way (for an assortment of Atlantic fish). alacids). Florida is not a place to rush your enjoyment of admiring the Limpkin, the Snail Kite, the Short-tailed Hawk, the Mangrove Cuckoo and various wading birds, and nothing really stirs up the birding landscape until March, so hang around…but go.
In March, head to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and its many Mexican specialties: hook-billed kite, Muscovy duck, ringed kingfisher, green jay (OMG!), and all the rarities from south of the border that present themselves ours. year. Blue Bunting, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Yellow-green Vireo, who knows?
March also sees the start of the region’s spectacular raptor migration, as broad-winged hawks, Swainson’s hawks and Mississippi kites begin to surge across the Rio Grande, turning weather radar screens and observers green of falcons across North America. But unfortunately, as much as we would like to, we can’t hang out in the valley. Spring is coming, and so are we.
Nebraska’s Platte River calls for the spectacle of half a million sandhill cranes (plus a detour or two for prairie chickens). Then, in April or early May, we return to Kansas and the many north-bound shorebirds that congregate in the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms. The meadows are a springtime mecca for shorebird watchers. Can? It’s hard to beat Crane Creek, Ohio, for migratory warblers in breeding plumage, full song, and at eye level.
June? I love meadows in spring, I even wrote a book on the subject. Lark Buntings and Buntings all go ballistic. Ferruginous Hawks cruising along the ridges make the ground squirrels wish they were somewhere else. Upland Sandpipers yodel from fence posts, Common Nightjars snarl overhead. Then we may head west to Yuba Pass in the Sierras for mountain quail, white-headed woodpecker, hermit warbler, and other western forest delicacies.
Monsoon season (July-August)? It has to be southeastern Arizona, with its hummingbird hosts and sky island specialties like the Hepatic Tanager and (gasp, sigh) the Red-faced Warbler. Meanwhile, on the plains where riparian streams abut meadows, you can enjoy gray hawks, vermilion flycatchers and Chihuahuan meadowlarks. (Just stay out of the tall grass. Chiggers, you know.) Then back to California for a pelagic trip from Monterey and rafts of Sooty Shearwaters enriched with Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses.
Autumn? It must be Cape May, New Jersey, the “main migration line”, although in November it is imperative to take a small detour to Duluth, Minnesota, to watch the parade of northern goshawks towards the south.
Another winter approaching? How about heading to Tule Lake or the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges and Grays Harbor in Washington State to view wintering waterfowl, raptors and shorebirds.
Yes, Grays Harbor is best known for its spring concentrations of shorebirds (but you can’t be everywhere in May, and shorebirds winter there too, as does the occasional gyrfalcon).
So, as true winter approaches the country? Why not savor the birds, sun and cuisine of the Southern and Central California coast, perhaps attend the Morro Bay Bird Festival in January, then stick around for the San Diego Birding Festival in February. Gorgeous weather, plenty of birds (including a few endemics like the California Gnatcatcher and Yellow-billed Magpie) and the Central Coast is right in the heart of wine country. Central Coast reds are particularly delicious. Cheers! This is your year of birding.
My apologies to the many other favorite birding destinations that are not included in this fantastic itinerary. But if you find yourself on the Texas coast in April or in the southern Appalachians in May (say around Roanoke, Virginia), you owe it to yourself to catch the stream of songbirds heading north. And if, next June, you choose to bypass the prairies and head to Churchill, Manitoba, to enjoy the Arctic and subarctic breeding, no one can argue with that decision.
Alaska? That alone is worth a year’s worth of travel (well, maybe six months) with stops in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Nome, Gambell, Cordova and maybe a wilderness river trip or two thanks to Wilderness Birding Adventures . Try the Marsh Fork and Canning River rafting trip, out of the Brooks Range and into the coastal plain. You even float through Grey-capped Chickadee country (arguably the most sought-after breeding bird in North America).
If you find yourself in Southern California in April, Butterbredt Spring lures migrants out of the thin, parched air of the Mojave like blue velvet finds fluff. However, the nearby Audubon Kern River Preserve offers a lot easier access for birds seeking refuge in this desert oasis, and Kern will save wear on your tires.
Heading to North Carolina while the family takes care of the beach? Consider a pelagic birding tour from Hatteras. How else are you going to get a Bermuda petrel in ABA waters?
Point Pelee, Bolivar Plains, Monhegan Island, Hawk Mountain, Riding Mountain… There are so many stellar spots on the birding trail. It’s fortunate that we have a whole life and not just a year to integrate them all. And never forget all those bird festivals. They are timed to celebrate the best birding that a region has to offer. Attend everyone and you’re in the instant 700 Club.
What you do with the rest of your life is up to you. Me? I always look at the same birds.
This article appears in the “Birder at Large” section of the January/February 2023 issue of BirdWatching.