Even if you’re not a dedicated birder, it’s easy to get a glimpse of thousands of feathered friends during the spring migration. Some optimal spots to spy seasonal birds are close to urban areas and others a little farther afield, but these areas are what keep the birds going on their long voyage. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
To see a wealth of feathered travelers, head to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the nation’s first national seashore, with segments of unspoiled barrier islands along North Carolina’s stretch of the Atlantic Coast. Located on the Atlantic Flyway, a major avian migratory route, the Seashore is visited by more than 360 documented bird species for nesting, resting, or feeding. Plus, the park was designated as a Globally Important Bird Area in 1999 by the American Bird Conservancy in recognition of the value the seashore provides to bird migration, breeding and wintering. Spring migration here peaks in early May.
Grand Isle, Louisiana
At the southern tip of Louisiana at the mouth of Barataria Bay, Grand Isle is an essential stop for songbirds during their migrations across the Gulf of Mexico. The barrier island has what’s called an oak chenier: a kind of forest that sprouts only on very low, sandy ridges that parallel the coastline. These coastal live oaks serve as rest stops for birds so they can refuel. The Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration is held each April during the height of the spring migration — it’s this coming weekend on April 17-19 this year — and helps support the purchase and management of the Grand Isle Sanctuary to protect some of the last remaining undeveloped chenier habitats.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
A cluster of seven small islands and associated coral reefs off the west coast of Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is a temporary home to more than 200 bird species passing through the area during spring and fall migration. Spring migration increases substantially during March and peaks in April through mid-May. If you’re a budding birder, the park helps out with a downloadable bird checklist that you can use to keep track of what you see. Some of the keys are closed seasonally to protect nesting birds, so be sure to check the park’s operating hours and seasons when planning your trip.
Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area, Wisconsin
The 1,700-acre Leopold Memorial Reserve (named for conservationist Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac) — and the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area surrounding it — is a great area to see birds year-round. But particularly in the spring and fall, you can see many birds stopping during their migration that would not normally be seen in these marsh, grassland, barrens, floodplain, and upland hardwood forest habitats. Some of the land is public and other areas are private, so check the Leopold-Pine Island IBA site for maps on where exactly you can run around.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio
On the southern shore of Lake Erie, Magee Marsh lures thousands of birders, photographers, and nature lovers to spy North American warblers. The height of migration, when you can see the greatest number of different species, hits during the second and third weeks of May (which happily for birders coincides with the annual birding festival). Magee Marsh is accessible from several major cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit. A final tip for novices: Dedicated birders make this trip annually, and some are happy to share their knowledge with newbies.
Point Reyes State Marine Reserve, California
The Point Reyes National Seashore is located along the Pacific Flyway just 35 miles north of San Francisco, but the Globally Important Bird Area feels like it’s a world away. With nearly 490 species recorded — that’s more than 50 percent of species of birds in all of North America — Point Reyes National Seashore claims the prize for the greatest avian diversity in any U.S. national park. The species total here, in fact, is larger than the species total in each of 40 of the United States. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory offers mist-netting demonstrations and a nature trail. Additionally, visitors can fish, kayak, ride horses, camp, or stay at the park hostel.