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.
Birding in the National Parks
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.
It’s a safe bet that not too many travelers reading this post have visited Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. It’s Canada’s largest park and one of the largest national parks in the world at nearly five times the area of Yellowstone, but to say it’s a thirty-hour drive northeast of Seattle is an understatement of its remoteness.
I’ve talked at length about the best parks for birds and the parks where all the birders go. Everglades National Park usually tops that list. Big Bend and Acadia are also extremely popular birding parks. But which of the 59 national parks gets the least birding attention? That’s tough to quantify, but I’ve made an educated guess from perusing eBird data.
I like birding New Year’s resolutions. They seem easier to keep than the traditional ones. Losing weight and giving up assorted vices aren’t really all that fun, but there’s not much about birding that isn’t fun.
Over the last decade, the explosion of books related to birding has seen the formation of a subgenre focused on the GISS concept. GISS (typically pronounced jizz) is an acronym for General Impression, Size, and Shape. This refers to the method of identifying a bird by visible features other than the color and markings. It’s how most seasoned birders make split-second identifications in the field. Over time, GISS has come to be a catch-all term for the holistic approach to bird identification where distribution, time of year, habitat, and behavioral considerations blend with size and shape (and good old fashioned field marks!) to make a bird knowable in an instant.