Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails
There are a lot of species to see out there. Here are four sets of regional birding trails to guide you to some of the country's great spots.
Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail: Minnesota may be famous for its 10,000 lakes, but the state's rivers make the best routes for birding trails. This particular one, a project of Audubon Minnesota, follows its namesake river valley from the South Dakota border through the state's southern part to the heart of the Twin Cities area. An expansive trail, it is thoughtfully divided into 11 distinct loops, each of them compact enough to provide a full day of birding. In summer many of the trail's highlights are in the more open habitats. Clay-colored sparrows sing their funny flat buzzes from atop low thickets in the prairie, while bobolinks bubble and chime in flight above damp meadows. Open marshes are the places to hear yellow-headed blackbirds attempting to sing, although their hoarse strangled squawks are anything but tuneful. Black terns, graceful and sleek, fly above these same marshes. You might want to try the trail in winter. Your bird list will be shorter than it would be in summer, but it may include such prizes as the golden eagle or the northern shrike. For more information: Visit The Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail or call Audubon Minnesota at 651-739-9332.
Nebraska Birding Trails: The state license plate a few years ago featured flying sandhill cranes, and for good reason: Half a million of these regal birds stop over on the Platte River in southern Nebraska every spring, attracting thousands of birders and tourists from around the world. But if you explore this statewide series of 15 trails, encompassing more than 400 sites, you'll realize that Nebraska has a lot of birds besides cranes. With its broad stretch from west to east, the state takes in species typical of areas beyond the Great Plains in both directions. Northwestern Nebraska's pine ridge region has birds straight from the Rockies, like hyperactive pygmy nuthatches and flocks of blue-gray pinyon jays. At the state's opposite corner, bottomland forests ring with the songs of typical southeastern birds, like Kentucky warblers and Louisiana waterthrushes. Visiting birders may be most excited about the grassland species inhabiting the wide-open spaces between these extremes. Among the distinctive denizens waiting to be discovered are droll burrowing owls nodding next to prairie-dog towns, sharp-tailed grouse strutting on their display grounds, and long-billed curlews showing off their namesake scimitar beaks. For more information: Visit Nebraska Birding Trails or call 402-471-7755.
Birding Drives Dakota (North Dakota): The phrase "birding drives Dakota" is a clever play on words and an optimistic claim about the importance of ecotourism in this state. Plus the "birding drives" themselves make up an excellent trio of birding trails. Centered around several national wildlife refuges in southeastern North Dakota, they take in some of the most beautiful and bird-rich prairies and marshes anywhere. The abundance of birds here in summer may be a shock when you see it for the first time. There are ducks on every pothole and pond, often including pintails, gadwalls, teal, canvasbacks, and many more. Clouds of Franklin's gulls, patterned with black hoods and frosted wingtips, circle and soar over marshes a thousand miles from the coast, firmly putting the term seagull to rest. Western grebes splash noisily across open lakes in fast-moving courtship dances. At the same time more sedate Wilson's phalaropes pirouette on smaller ponds. The area also holds elusive grassland species that are prize finds for traveling birders: Nelson's sharp-tailed, Baird's, and Le Conte's sparrows all sing from the tops of weed stalks, while Sprague's pipits pour out their liquid songs as they flutter high above the swaying grasslands. For more information, visit Birding Drives Dakota or call 888-921-2473.
Hocking Valley Birding Trail, Ohio: Mention of Ohio may evoke images of flatland and farms, but take a trip through Hocking Hills in the state's southeastern quadrant, and prepare to be surprised. Here steep cliffs tower above clear rushing streams and waterfalls, hemlocks stand tall in rocky glens, and profusions of ferns grow in the shadows of forested ravines. Birding is good all year here, with permanent residents like pileated woodpeckers and barred owls lurking in the dense forests and red-headed woodpeckers drumming in the open oak groves. Still, summer is the most exciting season, because the mix of habitats supports such a wide variety of nesting birds. In the cool shade of the conifers in narrow canyons, many birds typical of Canadian zones have southern outposts, and you may find hermit thrushes, Canada warblers, blue-headed vireos, and others. Just a few miles away, in swamps and sycamore groves along the larger rivers, you can see many birds of southern affinities: the yellow-throated vireo, with its rich colors and husky voice, and the beautiful cerulean warbler, patterned in sky-blue and white--a declining species that may be more common here than anywhere else. For more information, visit Hocking Valley Birding Trail or call 740-385-8003.