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.
Connecticut River Birding Trail, New Hampshire and Vermont: The Connecticut River's upper stretch marks the meandering border between these two New England states, and it also links a series of more than 120 of this trail's fine birding sites. Many featured locations are in beautiful forests, and a visit in spring or summer will give you a chance to glimpse such colorful songbirds as rose-breasted grosbeaks, tiger-striped Cape May warblers, and fiery orange Blackburnian warblers. Away from the river, some upland forests are home to birds more typical of the far north. The bold, cheeky gray jays, sometimes called "camp robbers," are fearless birds that may fly up to greet you, but you'll probably have to search to find the quiet and elusive black-backed woodpecker. The region also features many pristine wetlands. In addition to the Connecticut River itself, a favored migratory route for various waterfowl, there are marshes where chunky American bitterns stalk among the reeds, and ponds that also host great flocks of ducks during their migrations in spring and fall. Worth seeking out on a special trip are those larger lakes where common loons come to spend the nesting season, filling the summer nights with their wild, mournful yodeling. For more information: Call 802-785-2855.
New Jersey Birding and Wildlife Trails: Developed by the New Jersey Audubon Society, these trails reveal the Garden State's remarkably rich birdlife. One completed route winds through Cape May and the southern Delaware Bay shore, comprising one of the continent's most famous regions for observing migratory birds. The massive flocks of red knots and other shorebirds that gather here in spring have drawn both international acclaim and focused conservation concern. The autumn flights of raptors at Cape May are world class, offering glimpses of everything from speedy little sharp-shinned hawks to powerful peregrine falcons and huge golden eagles. Farther north, another completed trail shines a spotlight on a very different region: the Meadowlands, in northeastern New Jersey. Just a few miles from the heart of New York City, the Meadowlands play host to more than 200 bird species, from great blue herons and bald eagles to colorful little warblers and goldfinches. Other trails are in the works. Just launched are the Skylands Trails in New Jersey's northwestern highlands. Here cool evergreen forests cradle nesting birds of northern affinities, like blue-headed vireos singing their short whistled phrases and northern waterthrushes teetering back and forth alongside creeks. For more information: Visit New Jersey Birding and Wildlife Trails or New Jersey Audubon, or call the Cape May Bird Observatory at 609-861-0700.
Audubon Niagara Birding Trail, New York: Tourists and honeymooners descend on Niagara Falls mostly during the warm seasons, but birders flock here in late fall and winter for the gulls. Near the end of November more than 100,000 gulls representing in excess of a dozen species may be present simultaneously on the Niagara River close to the falls. Most will be common species, such as boisterous herring gulls and dainty little Bonaparte's gulls, but there is usually a scattering of uncommon birds like pale Iceland gulls or even mega-rarities like the pinkish Ross's gull from Siberia. After donning your parka and gloves, you will also be rewarded with thousands of ducks, such as canvasbacks, scaup, redheads, goldeneyes, and mergansers. And the good birding carries over into spring, because the Audubon Niagara Birding Trail takes in a variety of sites away from the falls, including forests, meadows, and swamps--all with a rich variety of nesting birds. A focal point is the steep-sided canyon at Letchworth State Park, where birds of the far north can be found living in this cool and shady microclimate. For more information: Download the Buffalo Audubon Society's informational brochure, "Nature Tourism in Buffalo/Niagra" or call the Buffalo Audubon Society at 585-457-3228.
Lake Champlain Birding Trail, New York and Vermont: More than 100 miles long and for a brief time considered one of the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain is an impressive body of water that separates Vermont from northern New York. Local opinion is divided as to whether it really has its own Loch Ness-type monster--named "Champ"--but it does have a mammoth birding trail, identifying 88 superb spots near the shoreline and uplands on both sides of the lake. Visit in summer and you'll find sky-blue eastern bluebirds along the fencerows, boldly patterned bobolinks singing their bubbling songs over the meadows, and wood thrushes delivering their haunting flute solos from deep in the forest shadows. Hooded mergansers, small ducks with elegant crests, nest in the wooded swamps in summer and gather on the open lake during migration seasons, when they are joined by flocks of snow geese, goldeneyes, and many more waterfowl. Winter brings a different set of birds to the Champlain Valley, and if you come here for a cold-weather adventure, you may get to enjoy such northern creatures as snowy owls, snow buntings, and rough-legged hawks--even if Champ fails to surface. For more information: Call 802-747-7900.