Birding, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the second fastest-growing hobby in the United States after gardening. We have provided a list below of some of our top 7 places for winter bird watching and hope you enjoy visiting and photographing.
1. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
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.
Wildlife Drive, a five-mile, one-way road, is a major attraction, especially to birders who aren’t able to walk long distances. You also can see birds right from your car.
2. Everglades National Park
While the Everglades 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 bird watching. 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.
3. Point Reyes National Seashore
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.
4. Monterey Bay
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 — 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.
5. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
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.
6. Acadia National Park
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.
You will enjoy biking the carriage trails in the early morning looking for warblers. Exploring the rocky coast brought me wonderful opportunities to observe eiders.
7. Assateague Island National Seashore
Assateague is not only famous for its wild ponies. It’s also a unique habitat for migrating and nesting birds because its landscape includes ocean, bay, tidal marshes, forests and dunes. Pelicans, gannets, gulls, ducks, wading birds, shore birds and geese can all be observed. There are trails through the woods and behind the dunes.
8. Tybee Island
The north beach of Tybee is the best place on the coast of Georgia to see the purple sandpiper. Expect to see these migrating and wintering shorebirds at north beach: sanderlings, turnstones, dunlins, western sandpipers, knots, willets, black-bellied plovers, semipalmated plovers, and sometimes the endangered piping plover.
The north beach of Tybee is at the mouth of the Savannah River, where it meets with the Atlantic Ocean. In the winter scores of Northern Gannets circle and dive into the waters at the river’s entrance. The river’s mouth is also the winter home for loons (common and red necked), scaup, bufflehead, black scoters, ruddy ducks and mergansers. Of course, it is also a year round home for terns, gulls, pelicans, and cormorants. In the winter look for Caspian terns, greater and lesser black-backed gulls and Bonaparte’s gulls.
9. Charles Kuralt Trail
The Charles Kuralt Trail is a memorial to the late nature lover and CBS broadcast journalist. Championed by the Kuralt family and the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, this wildlife-watching trail meanders nearly 400 miles through the largest wetlands in the mid-Atlantic region. Spring and winter bird watching can be exceptional. In the winter huge flocks of tundra swans, snow geese, and at least 20 species of ducks settle onto Lake Mattamuskeet and Pea Island preserves.
10. The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail (GTCBT), six years in the making and completed in 2000. It is the granddaddy of trails and has become the blueprint for trail developers from other regions.
The Texas trail draws thousands of wildlife watchers each year, who drive among its 308 hotspots in search of desert and tropical flora and fauna. For birders the main attraction is the list of 611 recorded species along the Gulf Coast and in the Rio Grande Valley.