Back in 2014 I regaled Traveler readers with a report from Canada’s Point Pelee National Park during spring migration. This month, I’m back to remind you that good spring spots are often just as good or better in the fall. I felt a little guilty crossing the border for a national park trip during this centennial celebration, but I think our friends to the north deserve a tip of the hat. Parks Canada celebrated its 115th birthday in May, making it a somewhat older sibling to our National Park Service.
Birding in the National Parks
There are good times to go birding in Eastern forests and times that are less than ideal. I won’t say the birding is ever “bad,” because even if there aren’t any birds, a walk in the woods is never a bad thing. Still, if seeing tons of birds and hearing beautiful songs is on your agenda, avoid August. Head to the beaches to see shorebird migration.
The dog days of summer are upon us and the birding is slow in most parts of the country. While summer breeding season has ended in many areas, fall migration for songbirds is still at least a couple weeks away. Still, there’s good birding to be had during these popular vacation times in the national parks.
Proper preparation often makes the difference between merely seeing some good birds and coming home with a trip list bursting at the seams and a few lifers to boot. It’s easy to enjoy a birding trip without studying your field guides and knowing your geography, but to many birders the prep is half the fun.
With spring migration over and fall shorebird migration a couple weeks away, this is the lazy part of the birding year. It’s time to float placidly on a northern lake and listen to the loons. Everyone from Henry David Thoreau to Aldo Leopold has tried to describe the song of the loon, all failing miserably compared to the experience of actually hearing it on a foggy dawn.
As a birder and naturalist, I have a love/hate relationship with roads and parking lots in national parks. On the one hand, it’s not difficult to agree with Ed Abbey that all pavement is the opposite of progress. Roads kill things outright and bring more tourists, a certain percentage of which will be destructive in their own way. Then I stop and think about the best birding spots I’ve found in the parks – and a majority of them of were either in a parking lot or within sight of some kind of pavement.
I usually quit dreaming of tropical birding trips once May arrives. The onslaught of warblers, tanagers, and flycatchers makes my regular haunts on the Great Lakes the envy of the birders who actually are in the tropics. Still, when I hear the words Hawai’i, birds, and festival in one sentence, I stop to listen.
What does a birder do when the wait for the peak of spring migration is just taking too darned long? One option is to head south. Early April is a great time to visit the parks of the southeast for a little bit of the warbler action that won’t get to the north until May. Florida is certainly one option, but for a little more seclusion with plenty of songbirds, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the place to be.
Last year, around this time, I made a plea for everyone to take part in the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz. I’m back again with the same pitch in this, the third and final year of the blitz.
I’ve written a few times about the national parks I consider the best for birding, but several readers have asked which would be the best to visit to maximize the diversity of birds seen. When we talk about number of different birds seen, I always think about a big year. During a big year, a birder tries to see as many birds as possible in one calendar year within a certain geographic range, or under certain conditions.