Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails
Panhandle Plains Wildlife Trail, Texas: The Texas Panhandle’s high plains might seem flat at first glance, but the endless horizons, hidden canyons, broad playa lakes, and rugged mesas create an indelible portrait of America’s wide-open spaces. Shallow wetlands on the plains provide seasonal stopovers for migrating plovers and sandpipers, traveling between the Arctic and the South American pampas, while serving as winter quarters for noisy hordes of sandhill cranes by the tens of thousands. Here you can visit scenes straight out of the Old West, like big prairie dog towns, where you might spot a burrowing owl, a ferruginous hawk, or a flock of mountain plovers. In summer scaled quail give their hoarse scraping calls from fence posts, while brown-toned Cassin’s sparrows and flashy lark buntings perform fluttering flight songs over the grasslands. In winter, flocks of longspurs swirl above the same flats—watch for a hunting prairie falcon in close pursuit. For some birders, the prize will be a lesser prairie-chicken. This rare grouse has vanished from some former haunts, but in the Panhandle you can still marvel at the males performing their bizarre stomping and hooting dances at dawn. For more information: Visit Great Texas Wildlife Trails or call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 512-389-4800.
Great River Birding Trail: When fully completed by the end of this year, the Great River Birding Trail will follow the mighty Mississippi all the way from the Gulf of Mexico north to its headwaters in Minnesota. Detailed county-level maps already connect sites near the river in eastern Louisiana and Arkansas and in western Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Explore any portion of the vast route and you’ll come to understand that the river is a vital corridor for birds, worth enjoying and protecting. In shaded backwaters and oxbows near the main river, flocks of rainbow-colored wood ducks thrive in all seasons, joined in winter by great flights of mallards and other ducks migrating from farther north. Seemingly endless streams of ospreys, eagles, sandpipers, and plovers participate in the year-round parade of wings overhead. Extensive forests on the riverbanks hold a wide variety of nesting birds, from colorful yellow-throated, hooded, and Kentucky warblers to big raptors like red-shouldered hawks and barred owls. In the maturing bottomland swamps of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, birders can thrill to frequent sightings of big, flashy pileated woodpeckers, while dreaming of the possibility that even bigger woodpeckers might still be lurking among the trees. For more information: Visit the Great River Birding Trail.
The Northeast Corridor may be the most heavily settled part of the country, but it is still a land of amazing natural riches. Nothing demonstrates this more delightfully than the wealth of bird species found here. Even small states like Rhode Island and Delaware boast lists of up to 400 species. Many birds have adapted to life on the edges of our largest cities; for those that have not, each state in the region has set aside parks and refuges that preserve a touch of wilderness.
More so than many parts of the country, the East is a land with extreme seasonal changes in weather. These in turn lead to tremendous diversity in birdlife as migration peaks and ebbs throughout the year. This makes it possible to pursue colorful little warblers in the woods as they rush northward in spring, flashy bobolinks singing over the meadows in summer, busy flocks of sandpipers trotting across tidal flats in fall, and flights of ducks and gulls arriving at the coast or along major rivers at winter’s approach. Every season has its avian wonders. To appreciate them, we must know not just when to look, but where.
Fortunately, we have birding trails to guide us. These routes point the way to the prime sites, from the well-known hot spots to the undiscovered gems. Complimentary trail guides available online or on printed brochures (sometimes both) are full of tips and advice on when to visit. On the birding trails, everybody wins: Local communities benefit from tourism dollars, birders get to check off their lists, and habitats gain protection as their value is recognized. So grab this guide and come check out 10 of my favorite eastern trails. (Click here to download the guide.)