Audubon's Field Guide to Birding Trails
There are a lot of species to see out there. Here are four sets of regional birding trails to guide you to some of the country's great spots.
Susquehanna River Birding & Wildlife Trail, Pennsylvania: Developed by Audubon Pennsylvania, this ambitious trail is centered on the mighty Susquehanna River, but it spreads out to take in more than 200 sites in 39 counties, with detailed directions and bird-finding information. Much of central Pennsylvania is covered with extensive and magnificent forestland, a stronghold for such spectacular birds as richly hued scarlet tanagers, flashy rose-breasted grosbeaks, and big, bold pileated woodpeckers. Ridges that run from northeast to southwest through Pennsylvania serve as a migratory route for birds of prey in fall, and this trail will lead you to some of the best vantage points, such as the world-famous Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Hit this ridge on the right day in fall and you might see sharp-shinned hawks by the hundreds or broad-winged hawks by the thousands sailing along on updrafts from the valleys below. Of course, many water birds follow the Susquehanna itself during migration, stopping over on the river or on nearby marshes and lakes. Shorebirds, gulls, terns, herons, and egrets are all regular visitors. Great noisy flights of tundra swans furnish a major annual spectacle here in late fall and early spring as they follow the river to and from wintering grounds on the Chesapeake Bay. For more information: Visit the Susquehanna River Birding & Wildlife Trail or call Audubon Pennsylvania at 717-213-6880.
Rhode Island Coastal Birding Trail: Rhode Islanders have heard every cliche about their state's small size, but they know they can find big numbers of birds without venturing beyond their borders. This trail features seven prime sites, including two national wildlife refuges as well as parks and wildlife management areas. In salt marshes near the beach, seaside sparrows and clapper rails are among the prized finds for keen birders, and even a casual observer can appreciate the northern harriers that might be seen in low, slow flight as they hunt over the coastal marshes at any time of year. Along the shoreline the birding may be at its best in winter. On rocky headlands you might spot the dark silhouettes of so-called purple sandpipers, while gulls of several species wheel overhead. Just off the coast you'll enjoy wintering flocks of common eiders, big hardy sea ducks famed for the insulating properties of their down feathers. Not so famous but also present are other kinds of seafaring ducks, such as white-winged scoters and common mergansers, while clusters of black-and-white patterned long-tailed ducks may be on display flying farther offshore. Travel this trail and experience its birds, and you'll agree that good things do come in small packages. For more information: Download the Rhode Island Coastal Adventure Trails' Coastal Birding Trail guide or call 401-364-9124.
Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail: One of the first states to develop a statewide birding trail, Virginia created a model for others by dividing its natural riches into three distinct regions, each with its own loop. The coastal section has a southern climate and a southern flavor to its birdlife. Along the beaches and barrier islands, stocky brown Wilson's plovers run across the sand, shrill-voiced royal terns circle overhead, and squadrons of brown pelicans glide above the waves, just as they would along a Florida beach. There's a completely different feel to the state's western mountains, where you may find nesting birds typical of farther north, such as the colorful Canada warbler singing from the rhododendron thickets and the shy brown veery giving its spiraling airy whistles from moist ravines among the maples. Between the mountains and the coast, the rivers, meadows, and great forests of oak and pine will produce a plethora of colorful birds in all seasons, from eastern bluebirds and red-bellied woodpeckers to rich fox-colored brown thrashers. Wild turkeys have become numerous again, and small groups of them may be seen stalking along the edges of woodlots and fields, just as they did when the first colonists arrived. For more information: Visit the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries or call 804-367-6913 or 866-748-2298.
The Midwest's great open expanse is the largest swath of flatland in the United States. Urbanites on either coast may think of it as flyover country--if they think of it at all. Call it what you will; I call it home. The birds that captivated me as a six-year-old in Indiana, and that consumed my every spare moment as a teenager in Kansas, stirred my desire to witness all the world's birds. And they ultimately drew me back to the Midwest, to live in Ohio. More than 70 years ago my grandfather published Level Land, a book of poetry celebrating the prairies, so perhaps the Midwest is in my blood. If so, as a birder, I have no regrets.