Fall migration is underway, with billions of birds traveling to their wintering areas. If you're wondering where to go to see exceptional numbers of birds concentrate during their autumn journeys, look no further. Kenn Kaufman has highlightighted a half-dozen of his favorite locations around the United States.
Because of its location and habitat, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park serves as a magnet for lost birds that have strayed from the Bahamas or Cuba, and rare U.S. finds have been discovered here on several occasions.
The immediate Cape May area has habitat for almost all major migrant groups. Warm-weather songbirds peak in September. Temperate-zone migrant songbirds, from robins to kinglets to sparrows, may swarm here in October and November. During October this is one of the best places in the world to see impressive numbers of merlins and peregrine falcons.
Access to the huge lake is best accomplished through a few key sites, especially the famous Bear River Refuge on the eastern shore. This is the place to find the greatest variety, from avocets, stilts, and sandpipers in late summer to a multitude of other shorebirds and ducks throughout the fall to amazing flights of swans in November.
Buller’s shearwaters from New Zealand, pink-footed shearwaters from Chile, and millions of sooty shearwaters from throughout the southern oceans all migrate to California’s offshore waters. On Monterey Bay during the fall, they cross paths with long-distance champions including parasitic jaegers and Sabine’s gulls that nest in the high Arctic and migrate to southern oceans, and black-footed albatrosses that nest in Hawaii and range throughout the north Pacific.
Izembek Lagoon, located near the peninsula’s tip, is perfectly situated to serve as the jumping-off point for birds setting out on long migrations across open water. Taking a break here are tens of thousands of emperor geese, Taverner’s cackling geese, and Steller’s eiders. Shorebirds use the area as well, with tens of thousands of rock sandpipers, dunlins, western sandpipers, and others making this their major feeding site every autumn as they bulk up for their flights south.
Counters from the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory keep the official tally, which varies from year to year but averages more than 94,000 raptors per autumn. The most prevalent species is usually the broad-winged hawk, which peaks in September, but Duluth also sees substantial numbers of sharp-shinned hawks in September and October, red-tailed hawks in October and November, bald eagles in November, and lesser numbers of a dozen other raptors.
Where is your favorite spot to watch migrants in the fall? I tend to stick close to home, walking to Brooklyn's Prospect Park to spot avian visitors.