8 Great Summer Birding Trails
Audubon's guide to unforgettable trips that wend through charming towns and rural outposts while also connecting the dots between many Important Bird Areas.
Maine Birding Trail
From waves lapping a rocky coastline to magnificent evergreen forests, Maine is a nature lover's perfect getaway. Within these varied landscapes, there are sites for spectacular summer birding scattered all over the state--if you know where to look. The Maine Birding Trail is divided into eight regional sections. Explore the coastal segments to see common eiders, black guillemots, and offshore islands spotted with Atlantic puffins and Arctic terns. On forest trails, Blackburnian warblers sing and spruce grouse lurk in the shadows. In secluded bogs, olive-sided flycatchers perch like sentinels on the highest snags. Special tours and festivals feature some of the trail's highlights and the chance to compare notes with fellow travelers. More information: mainebirdingtrail.com
North Carolina Birding Trail
From a birder's standpoint, North Carolina is not one state but three. In the mountainous western corner, in the upper Appalachians, you'll find birds typical of more northern regions in summer, such as ruffed grouse, Canada warblers, and black-throated blue warblers. Forests in the Piedmont's flat plateau are alive with birdsongs from Acadian flycatchers, summer tanagers, yellow-throated vireos, and wood thrush. In the eastern section, great salt marshes along the bays support rails and herons, while Outer Banks beaches provide nesting sites for American oystercatchers and Wilson's plovers. More information: ncbirdingtrail.org for three sectional guides that highlight more than 300 sites across the state, including many Important Bird Areas.
Pine to Prairie Birding Trail
In northwestern Minnesota, where the great eastern forest converges with the Great Plains, a dazzling variety of birds nest this time of year. On the open prairies, upland sandpipers and chestnut-collared longspurs flutter over the grass, singing their flight songs. In the deciduous forest, just east of the prairies, mornings ring with calls from pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. The evergreen forest harbors an avian melange that includes northern goshawks and boreal chickadees. Common loons wail from every lake at night. More than 20 warbler species nest in the region, among them such sought-after beauties as the golden-winged warbler and the Connecticut warbler. More information: mnbirdtrail.com
Far West Texas Wildlife Trail
West Texas's wide vistas hold endless surprises for the summer visitor. Stretches of open desert might seem barren when you see them for the first time, but explore a little further and you'll cross paths with greater roadrunners, pyrrhuloxias, and a host of other birds thriving in these arid lands. This wildlife trail will guide you to hidden oases rich with life--to canyons, streams, and mountains with their own blend of unique birds, including two national parks. In Guadalupe Mountains National Park, there are birds reminiscent of the Rockies, such as broadtailed hummingbirds and western bluebirds. Follow the trail to Big Bend's upper elevations to find the rare Colima warbler. More information: tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails/far-west-texas
Colorado Birding Trail
The hardest thing about birding in Colorado is the distracting scenery. This trail will help you manage that delightful problem. In the state's rugged southwestern quadrant, it leads you to Mesa Verde National Park. There juniper titmice chatter in the woods and white-throated swifts zoom overhead. Among the Rockies' peaks you can hear Townsend's solitaires singing in the forests, or head to high elevations for specialties like the brown-capped rosy-finch or white-tailed ptarmigan. East of the mountains on the sweeping short-grass plains are the misnamed mountain plover and other prairie birds, including Colorado's show-stealing state bird, the lark bunting. The trail connects nearly 220 sites, including designated Important Bird Areas. More information: coloradobirdingtrail.com
Idaho Birding Trail
Idaho may not be a famous birding destination yet, but it should be. Explore this trail's four sections and you'll enjoy enough sites and birds to keep you fascinated all summer long. Marshes and lakes in the southeastern quadrant support nesting sandhill cranes, Franklin's gulls, and white-faced ibises. The southwestern section includes the Snake River Canyon, a national IBA and breeding territory for prairie falcons, golden eagles, and other raptors. In the east-central and northern regions' forests, there are plenty of chestnut-backed chickadees, Townsend's warblers, Cassin's vireos, and others. River groves host colonies of bizarrely colored Lewis's woodpeckers, while skyblue mountain bluebirds hover over the meadows. More information: fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis/ibt
Central Coast Birding Trail
Halfway between bustling Los Angeles and San Francisco, California's stunning central coast is tranquil and filled with birds. This trail, sketched by Audubon California, highlights 83 top sites in four coastal counties (Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura), including eight Globally Important Bird Areas. At rocky points along the shore, you'll see black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, and other Pacific Coast specialties. The chaparral in the lowlands and canyons shelters California quail, wrentits, California towhees, and more. Interior valleys on the east side of the coastal hills are home to the flashy yellow-billed magpie. With some effort and luck, you may see the endangered California condor, which has been reintroduced in this region. More information: ca-ccbt.info
Klamath Basin Birding Trail
This basin straddling the California-Oregon border contains abundant lakes and marshes protected by a network of National Wildlife Refuges. When there's enough water, tens of thousands of waterfowl, including cinnamon teal, gadwalls, ruddy ducks, and redheads, linger through the summer to nest and raise their young. But the ducks are upstaged by western grebes performing their crazy high-speed courtship displays across the water surface. Continue on the birding trail and you'll also find forests haunted by Cassin's finches, fox sparrows, and varied thrushes. The peak is Crater Lake National Park you'll have to tear yourself away from the vistas to look at Clark's nutcrackers and other birds. More information: klamathbirdingtrails.com
Looking for more great routes? Check out Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails.