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.
Birding in the National Parks
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.
It’s not difficult to see why many of our national parks offer spectacular birding. Vast expanses of protected natural areas are bound to be good spots for watching birds and other wildlife. The national seashores and lakeshores are even more inviting as birding destinations than some of the “parks.” But what about the historic sites and national battlefields?
I’ve managed to get around North America quite a bit during my five years as a serious birder. At least it seems like I have. When I plot a map of every checklist I’ve ever entered at eBird, it looks like I’m neglected large swaths of the continent. What’s with the interior plains? The west coast south of Olympic National Park? Alaska isn’t even on the map because there were no pins there, so I cropped it out.