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Bird-Watching for Beginners

Concentrate on birds that travel in flocks. Common redhead ducks migrate in great numbers to the Texas coast each winter (

Look for standouts, birds with characteristics that capture the imagination, like the speed of a peregrine falcon, large wingspan of a California condor or unusual color of Florida’s roseate spoonbills. (Visit and

In Maine, see puffins at the only colony that allows visitors to go ashore for a close-up look ( Not a refuge, ownership of the island has been disputed for two centuries.

Incredible Hobby

“Keeping a life list of birds you’ve seen, when and where, is not only fun,” says Nate Swick, author of the recent Birding for the Curious, in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It brings back memories of a time and place. Birding takes you places you wouldn’t think of. I’ve birdwatched in local landfills, as well as in India and Central America.” A particularly impressive sight was a shearwater, found 30 to 40 miles into the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast, a species that only comes to land during breeding season. “Each bird has an incredible story,” he says. “Migrating birds that arrive exhausted and hungry after flying hundreds of miles will often look for local birds like chickadees that act as the welcome wagon, showing where food, water and a safe rest area can be found.”

Erika Zar, a catalog copywriter in Madison, Wisconsin, happened upon the nearby Horicon Marsh Bird Festival ( “Everyone seemed so meditative, hiking in quiet groups. It was peace ful,” she says. “Listing the birds they saw on checklists was like a scavenger hunt for adults.”

Zar immediately bought binoculars, but soon traded them for a better pair. “Bird-watching opened my eyes to a new world right in front of me,” she says joyfully. “I’d just never looked or listened closely enough before.” Connect with Sandra Murphy at [email protected].


Going to the Birds

Goldfinch-BirdwatchingChris Santella, author of Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die, offers these top sighting spots.

• Pointe Reyes National Seashore, California, is on a migration route between Alaska and Mexico and renowned as a resting spot for upwards of 500 species.

• Tucson, Arizona, welcomes hummingbirds and exotics like the brilliantly plumed elegant trogon from the tropics.

• High Island and Galveston, Texas, are the first stop for birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

• Cape May, New Jersey, hosts shorebirds year round plus it’s en route to Canada.

• Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, in Chatham, Massachusetts, yields sightings of shorebirds such as plover, sandpipers and terns.

• Prairie Pothole Region stretching from Iowa to Minnesota, Montana and the Dakotas is especially good for watching waterfowl.

• Cleveland, Ohio, near Lake Erie, celebrates hundreds of species flying to Canada in May. “It’s great for anybody with a life list,” says Santella. “You can add scores of species to your list in one day.”

In the fall, raptors migrate and lists some of the best spots to watch hawks.

• Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, in Kempton, Pennsylvania

• Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, in Sausalito, California

• Hazel Bazemore County Park, in Corpus Christi, Texas

• Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, in Duluth, Minnesota

• Florida Keys Hawkwatch, Curry Hammock State Park, in Marathon, Florida

• Cape May Hawk Watch, Cape May Point State Park, in New Jersey.

As rivers freeze over, eagles migrate south to follow the food supply, often near dams where fish gather. During the spring thaw, they return north to nest. Prime Wisconsin eagle watching sites include Lake Pepin, Necedah Wildlife Refuge, La Crosse, Prairie du Sac refuge, Sauk City and Wyalusing State Park. Alton, Illinois, is also along the Mississippi Flyway for eagles.

Florida eagles tend to stay year-round.

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