If “October” and “travel” are in the same story, odds are good that it’s an article about the best places to see fall foliage. Of course, to those of us with birds perpetually on the brain, October is the conclusion of fall migrant season. With that in mind, I got to wondering about the best national park to maximize migrant-watching and leaf-peeping in one trip.
Birding in the National Parks
Barrier islands play incredible roles for migrating shorebirds, offering them a place to stop, rest, and refuel. At Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, the beaches and marshes are important to common, least, and roseate terns and a number of other shorebird species during their migrations.
It looks like I have a new national park to add to my “must bird” list. Earlier this month the Bahamas unveiled Joulter Cays National Park, and it is truly a park for the birds. The christening of the national park is the result of several years of work by the National Audubon Society, the Bahamas National Trust, and the Bahamian government.
There are worse places to be on a late summer or early fall weekend than Cape Cod, especially if you’re after birds. The entire peninsula from Cuttyhunk Island to Monomoy and up the outer cape through Cape Cod National Seashore is a shorebird haven as well as a migrant trap for songbirds headed south down the Atlantic Coast. The waters off the cape aren’t too shabby for birding either, with seabirds galore to be had on pelagic birding trips.
Caves aren’t the best places to go birding. Sure, birders will gladly watch (and list!) a bat when the birding is slow - they do have wings, after all. Still, the birding tends to be much better above ground.
Autumn travel may be all about the colors. Leaf-watchers head to Acadia, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks in droves. Traffic jams aside, that’s a fine way to spend September and October. But before the leaves change, the birdwatchers are out looking for a lot of brown. The first weekend of September, after all, is World Shorebirds Day.
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.
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?