by Susie Wall | Photo © David Wall
Considering the variety of bird species along Northwest migration routes, we are surrounded by a birder’s paradise. In fact, according to federal studies, birding has grown in popularity, ranking on par with day hiking and bicycling. Maybe it’s the fresh air, peaceful surroundings and joy of discovery. This spring, flock to any of these five birding hotspots and discover the wonders of birding for yourself.
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCA, Idaho
Home to the largest concentration of nesting birds of prey in North America, this 485,000-acre stretch of the Snake River (and grasslands above it) supports over 700 pairs of falcons, eagles and owls each spring. The birds seek the safety of the steep canyon and the small prey that live among the endless fields of sagebrush.
Head 20 miles south of Boise to this preserve and take the half-mile loop trail at Dedication Point. Witness northern harriers cruising low among Wyoming big sagebrush, scouting for their favorite meal of black-tailed jackrabbits. Peer down the basalt cliffs of the canyon to spot prairie falcons diving at 120 miles an hour as their eerie screams echo off the canyon walls. blm.gov/id
Copper River Delta Shorebird Reserve Unit, Alaska
Nature never deals in small numbers in Alaska. For a few weeks each May, a half million dunlins and 6.5 million western sandpipers stop over on this vast expanse of tidal lands, marshes and barrier islands near the mouth of the Copper River to dine on clams and mollusks before continuing their journey north.
From Cordova, take Whitshed Road to Hartney Bay to witness massive clouds of these birds filling the skies. Don a pair of rubber boots and brave the tidal mudflats to witness quite possibly the world’s entire population of western sandpipers. Take the scenic drive along the Copper River Highway across the delta’s wetlands for sightings of many more species. fs.usda.gov/main/chugach/home, whsrn.org/site-profile/copper-river-delta, cordovachamber.com
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington
Fresh water from the Nisqually River and saltwater from Puget Sound flow together in this estuary outside Lacey, attracting more than 200 species of birds from songbirds to raptors to waterfowl. While spring is a great time to catch migrating birds like Wilson’s phalarope, several species, such as the killdeer, make Nisqually home year round.
Stop at the visitor center to check the tide charts, then set out along the four miles of distinctive trails. Follow the Twin Barns Loop Trail to watch spotted towhees flit among the branches of old growth cedars. Be prepared to stay awhile once you begin the Boardwalk Trail leading to the edge of Puget Sound. Low tide exposes mud flats allowing great blue herons to feast on crustaceans. High tide comes in fast, pulling with t diving Caspian terns. fws.gov/refuge/nisqually, visitolympia.com
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, Montana
The Mission Mountains tower over these wetlands 50 miles north of Missoula. Spring snowmelt fills in more than 800 glacial potholes, drawing in western grebes and ruddy ducks. Tall pines dot the refuge providing perches for red-tailed hawks and long-eared owls.
At the refuge’s main entrance off Highway 93, stroll along the paved walkway for a chance to spot the recently restored population of elegant trumpeter swans. For a quintessential Montana view, head to the backside of the refuge, turning west on Secondary Route 212, then south along the dike; here, the Missions tower above the ponds as cinnamon teals and American white pelicans cruise by. fws.gov/bisonrange/ninepipe, visitmt.com
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Oregon
Three miles from Newport, the rocks offshore at Yaquina Head provide refuge to 65,000 common murres, pigeon guillemots and Brandt’s cormorants, which nest here each spring. And you’ll spot a stunning variety of other species among the rocky beaches, intricate tidepools and sheer cliffs.
Head to Lighthouse Trail; the observation deck allows the best view of Colony Rock where hungry bald eagles dive into seabird colonies, scattering thousands of birds into the air. Take the stairs down to Cobble Beach where black oystercatchers use their long red beaks to pluck mollusks from the rocks. Or you can stick close to Lighthouse Drive and stop at a viewpoint to glimpse rhinoceros auklets bobbing among the waves. blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/yaquina/index.php, traveloregon.com