The September-October 2009 issue of Audubon magazine has a dandy article about birding in the national parks. You don’t have to be a birder to find it interesting,
The author, Kenn Kaufman, says he’s never found his birding outings to national parks disappointing. In this Audubon Field Guide article he summarizes birding opportunities in an even dozen national parks that are among his personal favorites. Kaufman writes very efficiently; he really knows how to cut to the chase. Few birding articles I’ve seen have packed so much useful information into so few paragraphs.
Here are the parks touted in Kaufman’s field guide article together with snippets that illustrate qualities appealing to the birding set.
Long-tailed jaegers, graceful seabirds that seem oddly out of place so far from the ocean, nest on the open hills, and chunky rock ptarmigans lurk in rocky patches. Denali’s tundra is the most accessible spot for Americans to see the northern wheater, a dapper little Old World thrush that nests there.
Boldly patterned gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers excavate their nesting cavities in tall saguaro cacti. Many other birds, from tiny elf owls to noisy brown-crested flycatchers, take up residence in these natural birdhouses once the primary occupants move out.
The top avian prize here, the great northern owl, is sometimes found in meadows surrounded by dense coniferous forest at higher elevations. Spotting one takes time and luck….
Strikingly patterned Williamson’s sapsuckers and red-naped sapsuckers nest in the sun-washed aspen groves, while broad-tailed hummingbirds stop among riotous displays of flowers in the open meadows.
Begin your Everglades experiences at the Royal Palm Hammock. Here, at the Anhinga Trail, a boardwalk bisects an open marsh where wildlife has become accustomed to human crowds and birds have taken center stage, luring generations of watchers.
In summer, the best birding is in Acadia’s forests. Southern hardwoods like oak and maple mix with habitats more typical of the far north, such as spruce-fir forest and birch groves, supporting a rich variety of nesting songbirds.
At dawn in early summer, the spruce forests and meadows echo with the plaintive whistled songs of white-throated sparrows, the varied trills of winter wrens, and the haunting whistles of hermit and Swainson’s thrushes.
Where streams plunge over cliffs, the rare black swift may build its nest behind the waterfall, sites that are inaccessible to ordinary mortals. Near their nests, watch the swifts speed high over the valleys or swoop low over the lakes.
Magnificent forests that line the river and stand atop the surrounding ledges supply the perfect breeding habitat for many migratory birds. In forest dominated by stately oaks and hickories, lucky observers may spot brilliant scarlet tanagers in the treetops or broad-winged hawks wheeling high overhead.
Along the crest of the Smokies, spruce and fir forests contain a whole suite of nesting songbirds with Canadian connections, such as tiny gold-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and the fiery orange-and-black Blackburnian warbler. The heights are covered in rhododendron thickets, home to secretive black-throated blue warblers.
Serious birders visiting Big Bend in summer have one bird at the top of their “most wanted” lists: the Colima warbler, a subtle gray-and-yellow gem that reaches the United States only in this park.
Concentrate on the lowland valleys east of the mountains, where rivers, lakes, and marshy ponds comprise a refuge for a plethora of nesting waterfowl, including the magnificent trumpeter swan, one of North America’s largest native birds, measuring five feet from bill to tail….
I can't quibble with Kaufamn's choices. This dozen is just fine, though not the same as my personal favorites, which would include Congaree National Park (high-density woodpecker habitat) and Point Reyes National Seashore (more than 400 bird species), to name just two.