Birding In The National Parks: Some Great Birding In Western Parks This Spring

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A Black-throated Gray Warbler, one of the West's good warblers./USFWS

I readily admit I have a bit of an Eastern bias. Birding as a hobby in North America tends to have a bias toward the right side of the continent, as well. There are more than a few reasons for that. North American ornithology was born and raised in Philadelphia. There are far more people within an afternoon’s drive of multiple bird habitats throughout the east. And finally, the warblers are better.

That last part tends to really exacerbate the east bias this time of year. Spring songbird migration is legendary in the East. A wise man once said, “The West has warblers like the East has mountains.” There just happens to be a bigger suite of brightly colored birds passing through Great Smoky Mountains National Park every May than through Rocky Mountain National Park.

The fact is, the charismatic parks of the West have great birding in the spring and deserve some love from birders this time of year.

Yellowstone National Park is host to the second annual Spring into Yellowstone Birding and Wildlife Festival next week. I hadn’t even been aware of this new event last year, being wrapped up in migration happenings here in the Great Lakes. Now that I know about it, I’m hoping this event prospers enough to stick around for a few years. Last year, the festival welcomed more than 150 people from 14 states and three countries, so it sounds like it’s off to a great start.

I’ve written several times about my birding experience in Yellowstone, which consists of a pass-through on a bust August weekend when I didn’t really know much about birds. I saw my first Violet-green Swallow that day, so Yellowstone will always have a spot on my life list. I’d like to go back now. Armed with more knowledge and experience. The Yellowstone festival is the weekend of May 14-18. It’s a bit late to jump in for this year’s event, but it sounds like a great lineup of field trips. One trip focuses on raptors along the North Fork of the Shoshone River, searching for Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Osprey, and Peregrine Falcons in some of the grandest scenery in the park and surrounding area.

June sees the bird festival circuit hit the Yosemite area. There was a Yosemite Birding Festival back in the mid-00’s that appears to be defunct now, but this year marks the 13th for the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. The festival is based in Lee Vining, California, with excursions to both Yosemite National Park and Devil’s Postpile National Monument, among other High Sierra locations. This years Chautauqua is June 20-22.

In the Chautauqua tradition, culture and education are strongly emphasized at this festival. There’s even a musical guest! The birds aren’t bad, either. Nine woodpeckers make the list for the event, including the colorful Lewis’ Woodpecker that has managed to elude me thus far.

If anyone starts giving California a hard time about the lack of warblers, the birders in the Sierra Nevada can just point to the hummingbirds – all five of them! Back East, you get one, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and maybe a vagrant from the West on a rare occasion.

As is my usual habit, I’ll be close to home, spending spring migration in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario. (Look for a story here about the fabulous festival at Canada’s Point Pelee National Park once I recover from my personal migration.) But I’ll be thinking about the West for sure. Woodpeckers and mountains. Hummingbirds and whitewater. Golden Eagles and big sky. One of these days, I’ll break my warbler addiction and spend a May out West.