Birding in the National Parks
“It’s right in that tree,” he said, pointing at a grove of approximately 50 small trees. “It’s on a horizontal branch. Right there in the tree with the green leaves. Can’t you see it?”
The serious birder of the 21st century is a bit of an amateur polymath. There’s no doubt a thorough knowledge of bird identification is essential, but there’s a host of ancillary disciplines that make for more rewarding and successful birding.
You’ve heard about the birding festival in Acadia National Park in this space before, but it’s worth mentioning just one more time. This year’s Acadia Birding Festival is destined for greatness.
Experienced birders tend to do things that make them look like wizards to beginners. One of the things that often both impresses and confounds the neophyte is an expert’s ability to catch a glance of a back-lit bird flying out of a tree or a shorebird standing by a pond a half-mile away and nail the identification seemingly without thought. For better or worse, there’s no magic involved. What the experienced birder is doing is birding by impression.
No national park is more associated with birds than Everglades, and the most prominent birds in the park are undoubtedly the waders. Herons, egrets, storks, and ibises are the rock stars of the Everglades. The park was even created partly with the protection of egrets in mind after plume hunting for the millinery industry nearly wiped them out in the 19th century.
It’s not difficult to see why many of our national parks offer spectacular birding. Vast expanses of protected natural areas are bound to be good spots for watching birds and other wildlife. The national seashores and lakeshores are even more inviting as birding destinations than some of the “parks.” But what about the historic sites and national battlefields?
We all know about the more charismatic of the endangered and threatened bird species. Trail closures in Acadia National Park and Big Bend National Park remind us that Peregrine Falcons nest on cliffs in parks across the country. Piping Plovers are diminutive shorebirds that bring outsized responses of both appreciation and consternation when their nesting causes beach closures in the national seashores along the Atlantic.
I’ve managed to get around North America quite a bit during my five years as a serious birder. At least it seems like I have. When I plot a map of every checklist I’ve ever entered at eBird, it looks like I’m neglected large swaths of the continent. What’s with the interior plains? The west coast south of Olympic National Park? Alaska isn’t even on the map because there were no pins there, so I cropped it out.
Forget trends. Snow owls are descending on the United States yet again, earlier than predicted.
It sure doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed, but it’s time again for the annual Christmas Bird Count. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, this is the 115th consecutive year the count has been held, making it one of the world’s longest running and largest citizen science projects. The 2014-15 count dates fall between December 14th and January 5th. Participation is free.
I’m presuming no one needs me to tell them that Florida is a good travel and birding destination in the winter. Looking out my window at the first sticking snow of the winter is making me think about the Everglades. Winter is the dry season there, and the dwindling seasonal wetlands concentrate birds and wildlife for easier viewing.
I’ve spending an awful lot of time thinking about the birds no one sees. That’s not something birders, or anyone, ponders often. We like to think about our lists, talk about the birds we’ve seen and the ones others have seen that we just missed. We don’t talk about the birds that no one ever sees, mostly because we don’t know anything about them.
I generally don’t have a problem wondering whether or not it’s a good time to bird. If no other duty calls, I’ve got binoculars in hand. I’ve certainly had birding as a top priority on every visit to a national park. Yet, on a dreary day in Pennsylvania last week, I visited a national park and wasn’t sure if wanted to bird, or even if I should consider it.
Birding In The National Parks: Grand Canyon National Park Designated Important Bird Area Of Global Significance
When it comes to the preservation of threatened and endangered bird species, it’s safe to say that there’s no such thing as too many layers of protection. Just because the habitat of a declining bird falls within the borders of a national park doesn’t mean that bird’s best interests will always be served. In most cases it will, but it never hurts to have that extra recognition.
Birding The National Parks: What Do Chiricahua National Monument And Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Have In Common?
What do Chiricahua National Monument and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore have in common?
Have you ever missed a unique birding sighting by just this much? That's dipping, for you.
National park travelers are keenly aware of the changing seasons. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a completely different experience in August than in October. The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon need to be seen both in the blistering July sun and the January snow to be fully appreciated. And, of course, there’s Yellowstone – a bustling city on a summer weekend and a tranquil white wilderness on a bright February morning.
It’s been a while since I’ve used this space to tout the benefits of eBird, but the project keeps getting better and better, so it deserves another mention.
When I was first learning the basic skills of birding, I read a line in Roger Tory Peterson’s famous field guide that almost made me want to give up any aspirations of becoming a good birder. He said something about skilled birders sometimes doing 95 percent of their birding by ear. I was horrified. Here I was, looking through a field guide, imagining all of the pretty birds I would see some day, and Peterson was telling me I’d learn to do 95 percent of it by sound. That’s no fun at all!
Spring migration is in full swing here in the Great Lakes, and your humble birding columnist has been run ragged. Among my recent travels was a stop at Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park. It’s a small park, but loaded with unique geographic features and plenty of fabulous birds. You’ll hear about the actual birds right here in a couple weeks, but for now I want to focus on the birders. One group in particular was out in force.
I readily admit I have a bit of an Eastern bias. Birding as a hobby in North America tends to have a bias toward the right side of the continent, as well. There are more than a few reasons for that. North American ornithology was born and raised in Philadelphia. There are far more people within an afternoon’s drive of multiple bird habitats throughout the east. And finally, the warblers are better.
The time has come to "pledge to fledge," folks. The coming weekend is Pledge to Fledge weekend, a grassroots movement by the Global Birding Initiative to inspire experienced birders to take non-birders out on a birding excursion.
Much of the northern half of the country is locked into winter now, which makes it a perfect time to plan your birding trips for the rest of the year.
Thanks to what was described as a “drunken” meander of the jet stream last week, much of North America experienced some the coldest weather seen in many years. At Voyageurs National Park, the temperature dipped to -42°F the morning of January 3rd , followed by daily highs of -17°F and -19°F on the 5th and 6th. That’s deadly cold to an improperly prepared human. It’s not all that fun even for cold-adapted mammals like moose.
New Year’s Eve seems as good a time as any to reflect on 2013. It’s been a big year for me, with birding explorations around the country, including the first trips of my life to Saguaro National Park and Chiricahua National Monument.
Christmas is past, but counting birds is not. At Death Valley National Park, the annual Christmas Bird Count is scheduled for this coming Saturday.
As reported here Sunday, the National Audubon Society designated areas around Canyonlands National Park a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA). Parts of more than 15 other national parks are included in the Global IBA system.
It’s happening again! No, not another government shutdown. That’s next month. What we have here is another invasion of Snowy Owls.
Are you a "twitcher" or a "chaser" when it comes to birding in the national parks?