The vacation season may be winding down for humans, but for birds, it’s just heating up. As flocks migrate, they stop to feed and rest at the same spots every year. “You have an opportunity to see an enormous concentration and diversity of birds,” says Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska. “All these sites are connected, and protecting them is particularly important.” He shares some favorite sites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
New Mexico

Like all living creatures, birds need water, which explains why thousands of them descend on New Mexico’s Rio Grande floodplain. “You get big numbers of waterfowl in this very arid landscape,” Warnock says. Highlights include snow geese and sandhill cranes, particularly from early November to late January. fws.gov/refuge/bosque_del_apache

Antelope Island State Park
Syracuse, Utah

Located on a causeway bisecting the Great Salt Lake, this refuge is a natural stop for hundreds of thousands of birds from September through November. Warnock is particularly fond of the phalarope, a small shorebird with an unusual way of catching bugs. “They sit on the water surface and spin around like tops. They look like they’re crazy but they’re creating a whirlpool that transports insects up to the surface.” stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island

Bear Island Wildlife Management Area
Green Pond, S.C.

Talk about a family trip. Tundra swans fly all the way from the Arctic to the southeast coast, wintering in places like this South Carolina preserve. “They’ll have to up to three chicks and migrate as a family unit. You’ll often see a mom and dad with young swans together,” Warnock says. “They’re such beautiful, majestic birds.” The state-owned area is open from February through October. dnr.sc.gov/ManagedLands/ManagedLand/ManagedLand/56

Salton Sea
Mecca, Calif.

Although temperatures will often top 100 degrees, it’s worth a trip to this desert oasis, where thousands of fliers stop on the way to Mexico. “It’s a very birdy place,” says Warnock, who spent a year studying the region’s wildlife. “You have water in an otherwise desert area. And it attracts a huge number of waterfowl and shore birds.” Visitors will often see Western sandpipers and sometimes rare yellow-footed gulls. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=639

Peveto Woods Audubon Sanctuary
Cameron, La.

An avian super highway passes over this compact sanctuary on the Louisiana coast as it makes its way across the Gulf of Mexico. The woodlands offer food and shelter to nearly 2 million migrating songbirds, along with monarchs and other butterflies, who congregate here every fall to refuel before heading to points south. In the spring, it’s their first rest stop on the mainland. braudubon.org/peveto-woods-sanctuary.php

Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary
Gibbon, Neb.

Head to the Great Plains to catch one of the largest animal migrations in the world. More than a half-million sandhill cranes converge on the Platte River area from mid-February to mid-April. They gorge on grains, storing up fat for their flight north. “It’s an amazing spectacle. And it’s not just a visual experience. The sound is pretty amazing too,” Warnock says. rowe.audubon.org

Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Oak Harbor, Ohio

The early May spring migration of warblers ushers in what the park calls the “biggest week in American birding.” Warnock says it’s not hyperbole. “They’re often hard to see high up in trees, but at the marsh they’re more accessible. Some of them are like jewels. They can be bright orange and yellow.” bsbo.org

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Loleta, Calif.

Flocks of small black geese called brant stop in this Northern California coastal preserve in the fall and spring on their migration between Alaska and Baja, Mexico. But they’re hardly the only visitors. More than 260 species have been documented here, with numbers peaking in November and April. fws.gov/refuge/humboldt_bay

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
McAllen, Texas

This south Texas preserve not only attracts migrants heading south for the winter, but some flying north from Mexico. “You get a lot of birds you won’t see in other parts of the United States, like green jays. It’s a real interesting place,” Warnock says. It’s also a temporary home to migrating raptors like broadwing hawks, northern harriers and peregrine falcons. fws.gov/refuge/santa_ana

Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary
Naples, Fla.

Hurricane Irma walloped this Everglades-area refuge sanctuary, which expects to be closed for a few weeks for repairs. But Warnock urges a visit when it reopens. The sanctuary’s bird population swells with winter migrants. “It’s just terrific conditions, beautiful wetlands, diverse vegetation and a lot of water and animals,” he says. Highlights include painted buntings and roseate spoonbills, which resemble a pink heron with a long spatula-shaped beak. corkscrew.audubon.org

Facebook Comments