A recent survey here at National Parks Traveler asked how far travelers ventured from the parking lots at national parks. I had some trouble answering that, given that I believe too many people are bound to their vehicles, while on the other hand I tend to hang out in parking lots.
Birding in the National Parks
There’s more to Rocky Mountain National Park than the extraordinary views from Trail Ridge Road. Willow-choked streams, open meadows, pine forests, and all the edges where those habitats meet make for a park bursting with birding opportunities. After a not particularly spectacular time up in the tundra, I enjoyed a couple wonderful birding days in two very different habitats last month. This is the story of the first of those days.
There are two essentials for the birder exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. First, make time to look for the tundra birds along the eleven miles of Trail Ridge Road above tree line. Secondly, and even more importantly, make absolutely certain at least one licensed driver in the car does NOT suffer from acrophobia.
You’re wandering around on a spring day in Shenandoah National Park and you see a bird fluttering around at Big Meadows. You snap a photograph and the bird disappears. Your field guide isn’t helping much. There are just too many birds that look alike. Now, what do you do?
It’s a warm summer day and I’m enjoying excellent views of pelicans, gulls, terns, and other waterbirds. Which national park am I in?
“It’s right in that tree,” he said, pointing at a grove of approximately 50 small trees. “It’s on a horizontal branch. Right there in the tree with the green leaves. Can’t you see it?”
The serious birder of the 21st century is a bit of an amateur polymath. There’s no doubt a thorough knowledge of bird identification is essential, but there’s a host of ancillary disciplines that make for more rewarding and successful birding.
You’ve heard about the birding festival in Acadia National Park in this space before, but it’s worth mentioning just one more time. This year’s Acadia Birding Festival is destined for greatness.
Experienced birders tend to do things that make them look like wizards to beginners. One of the things that often both impresses and confounds the neophyte is an expert’s ability to catch a glance of a back-lit bird flying out of a tree or a shorebird standing by a pond a half-mile away and nail the identification seemingly without thought. For better or worse, there’s no magic involved. What the experienced birder is doing is birding by impression.
No national park is more associated with birds than Everglades, and the most prominent birds in the park are undoubtedly the waders. Herons, egrets, storks, and ibises are the rock stars of the Everglades. The park was even created partly with the protection of egrets in mind after plume hunting for the millinery industry nearly wiped them out in the 19th century.