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.
South Dakota Great Lakes Birding Trail: The first birders to follow this trail were Lewis and Clark, journeying up the Missouri River in 1804. They wouldn't have called it a "great lakes" trail then--the name comes from three large reservoirs behind modern dams on today's river. Other aspects of the landscape have changed as well, but it is still rich with habitats. East meets west here, with eastern bluebirds and western meadowlarks singing alongside the same fields, and eastern and western kingbirds nesting in the same cottonwood groves. Visitors from afar may be most fascinated in the grasslands. Marbled godwits, big cinnamon-tinged sandpipers, nest around prairie marshes in summer, sharing the skies with colorful little chestnut-collared longspurs and an array of other open-country species. Local birders are more likely to check out the reservoirs' edges, especially during migration, when rare water birds may drop in. On the Missouri's undammed stretches, piping plovers and dainty least terns nest on the sandbars, while many other shorebirds stop over on migration. Search along this trail's byways and you'll agree that the area remains, even two centuries after the first explorers, a fabulous region for discovery. For more information, download the South Dakota Great Lakes Birding Booklet or call 800-732-5682.
Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail: Read the slogans and you might not associate this state with anything but dairy farms and cheese. But by looking through their binoculars, birders will see that Wisconsin is a microcosm of the entire Midwest. Typical habitats and birds from all compass points are represented among this statewide birding trail's 368 sites. To explore the spruce and pine forests in the trail's northern section is to evoke an ineffable sense of the great north woods, and you might find nesting pine siskins, boreal chickadees, or northern saw-whet owls. A full complement of eastern North America's woodland birds may be found in eastern Wisconsin's hardwood forests, with everything from ruffed grouse to tiny blue-gray gnatcatchers. The central region's damp meadows are the places to hear the chatter of fidgeting sedge wrens by day and the bubbly aerial flight songs of American woodcocks at dusk. The edge of Lake Michigan produces concentrations of migrating hawks and songbirds plus a chance to see rare water birds. Great flocks of ducks and geese gather on small lakes in the state's interior. For more information, visit the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail or call the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at 608-266-0545.
Great River Birding Trail: America's greatest river is the centerpiece of this ambitious birding trail, designed by National Audubon to follow the mighty Mississippi all the way from its headwaters near the Canadian border to its delta on the Gulf of Mexico. When completed, the trail will include county-level maps of birding sites all along the river's course, with the Midwest portion covering parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. Appropriately, many of the birding highlights along this section of the big river involve large birds. In summer great blue herons and other long-legged waders are common. Migration seasons bring a surge of snow geese, Canada geese, and other waterfowl. Midwestern populations of American white pelicans have been increasing, and flocks of these huge birds now follow the river in spring and fall, pausing on backwaters or wheeling in ponderous flight overhead. In the cold months, much of the Upper Mississippi Valley becomes a major wintering area for bald eagles, as these magnificent birds gather around the river's locks and dams. You may find dozens together in some locales, a spectacle that has inspired several towns and cities to establish eagle festivals. For more information, visit the Great River Birding Trail.