Wading birds are excellent photo subjects; they are large, have striking plumage, and often permit you to approach them, or they may even approach you
Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona are meccas for bird photographers. Not only are the birds numerous, but they are also surprisingly easy to approach.
Wading birds are interesting subjects for nature photographers. They have tall spindly legs like stilts that keep their bodies high above the waters in which they fish. They also have pointy beaks that they use like harpoons to impale their dinner prior to eating it.
They bear the names of herons, egrets, ibis, storks, bitterns, and spoonbills. They are attractive birds, big, dramatic as they search for food or take flight; they are stealthy hunters of small animals ranging from fish to crabs, frogs and salamanders, crayfish and tadpoles.
Watching a heron stalk its dinner is an amazing sight. Their searches and hunts provide epic photos for beginners and pros and every nature photographer in between.
In general, wading birds are patient while hunting and may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, often appearing frozen in time.
Wading birds provide photographers with a variety of colors and body styles with a common interest in shallow water and the foods the shallows provide. They have long legs and long toes, with an elongated neck and bill. You can usually find at least one wading bird in action any time you visit a wetland area, ranging from coastal shores and marshes, to rivers and creeks, lakes, and shallow wetlands.
The size of their spread wings, while gliding, flapping, or landing offer dramatic photo opportunities that test your ability to follow the bird’s wing actions. If you take a continuous series of photos as a wading bird passes, or as it takes off, or lands, you can pick the best of the best or series of three or more images that show the action in stages.
In addition to the birds themselves, wading bird photos often include water—water colored varied shades of blue, gray, green, or sunset hues. Calm water permits you to compose photos with a reflected image which can create exceptional photographs. Plants, especially water plants, are common elements in wading bird photography too, and you can compose your photos to include the bird as a part of the greenery, or as the subject next to, among, or surrounded by plants.
Like any bird, if you are close enough, you can compose a portrait of a wading bird, which can be especially dramatic when the bird has plumes or colorful facial skin during the nesting season. Some wading birds also feature colorful, if not unusual, eyes that can dominate a portrait.
Techniques to keep in mind in the heat of wading bird photography include a fast shutter speed for stop-action photos. Because wading birds tend to be tall rather than long, consider turning your camera 90 degrees to utilize a vertical frame while still keeping some space in front of the bird so it has a space to look into comfortably, or wade into, or run into or fly toward. As always, be ready for action, try to predict a dramatic movement, and enjoy the process when you have an active subject like a hunting Snowy Egret or a “dancing” Reddish Egret.
Everyone enjoys seeing wading birds, and attempting to photograph storks, herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, and others can be a great way to improve your bird photography and add new drama to your library of nature photography.
We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.
There is this place that is for the birds and is all about the birds, where you will find some of the best birding while RVing
Good morning. It’s Saturday and you deserve some good news, so we’re pleased to inform you that a Laysan albatross named Wisdom has successively hatched yet another chick at Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. Discovered by biologists in 1956, Wisdom is at least 70 years old making her the world’s oldest known wild bird. She still flies as many as 1,000 miles in a single foraging expedition.
Wisdom’s latest chick successfully hatched in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in the Pacific Islands. Wisdom laid her egg sometime during the last few days of November according to the wildlife agency. Soon after, Wisdom returned to sea to forage and her mate Akeakamai took over incubation duties. The pair have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, the wildlife agency said.
In the past decade, Wisdom has been astounding researchers and winning fans with her longevity and devotion to raising her young. She has flown millions of miles in her life but returns to her same nest every year on Midway Atoll, the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. To feed her hatchlings, Wisdom and her mate take turns flying as much as 1,000 miles on a single outing spending days foraging for food along the ocean’s surface.
Every year, millions of albatrosses which normally have only one mate in their life, all come home to Midway around October. If all goes well couples reunite and then team up to incubate a single egg and feed their new chick. Midway’s two flat islands act as giant landing strips for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds which rely on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to raise their young. This year’s albatross chicks will make their first flights in early summer.
In the past, biologists have said Wisdom possesses a unique set of skills that have let her have a long and productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. When she was first banded, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency.
Her advice to the younger generation? Think before you tweet.
Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher that travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are. Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, I carry my mid-priced super-zoom camera and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color. That’s what draws me and many other snowbirds to South Texas.
Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured above), roseate spoonbill (pictured above), and the Altamira oriole (pictured above)
After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers and is located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.
Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.
Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds. As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca (see above), a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.
To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.
Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.
Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.
Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.
A golden-fronted woodpecker (see above) fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.
Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.
Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.
The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.
Need a new and safe activity that will get you outside and stimulate the mind! How about birding?
During the past year, we were often told to listen to or follow the science. Well, I am happy to report that there is more and more scientific evidence to support the idea that everyone would be better off watching birds. You can watch them in your back yard, from your RV, or you can visit a wildlife area to see them.
Studies from a variety of sources indicate that the closer you live to a park and the more contact you have with nature, the better your mood, psychological well-being, mental health, and cognitive functioning. In short, watching birds is good for you and you don’t even need a prescription from your doctor to do it.
Published scientific studies reveal that birding (or wildlife photography or just being in nature) correlates with improved mental health. This observation is not new: it was introduced and popularized by biologist, theorist, and author, Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book, Biophilia, where he defined the Biophilia Hypothesis as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. More recently, Richard Luov breathed new life into this idea by referring to it as “nature deficit disorder”.
Being part of nature in some meaningful way is an essential element in an emotionally healthy life. And bird watching can be your ticket to the outdoors. Even if you aren’t a bird watcher (I didn’t start out a birder, either), you will find yourself becoming more aware of the birds around you—their sounds and behaviors and relationships—and noticing the positive impact that regular bird watching has on your mental health.
Birding develops mindfulness. Birding is a meditative practice that immediately appeals to all your senses—listening to bird sounds and songs, looking at their plumage colors and patterns, observing their complex and often subtle behaviors, identifying their habits and habitats.
With coronavirus restrictions dragging on, interest in bird-watching has soared as Americans and Canadians notice a fascinating world just outside their windows wherever their windows might be. Downloads of popular bird identification apps have spiked and sales of bird feeders, nesting boxes, and birdseed have jumped even as demand for other nonessential goods plummets.
Birding is very low-cost. After the initial investment on a pair of binoculars and an ID guide, the only costs are what you spend on travel and entrance fees. You can bird anywhere, anytime. It’s a hobby you can do in your back yard or take on the road as you travel in your RV. It’s rewarding to see something new, to be able to name what you see, and to make new discoveries.
With more than 1,100 different species of birds in the U.S., it’s easy for a beginning bird watcher to feel overwhelmed by possibilities. Field guides seem crammed with similar-looking birds arranged in seemingly haphazard order. I can help you figure out where to begin. First off: where not to start. Many ID tips focus on very specific details of plumage called field marks. While these tips are useful, they assume you’ve already narrowed down your search to just a few similar species.
So start by learning to quickly recognize what group a mystery bird belongs to. You can do this in two ways: by becoming familiar with the general shape, color, and behavior of birds, and by keeping a running tally in your head of the kinds of birds most likely to be seen in your location that time of year.
Of course you’ll need to look at field marks—a wing-bar here, an eye-ring there—to clinch some IDs. But these four keys will quickly get you to the right group of species, so you’ll know exactly which field marks to look for. Bird watchers can identify many species from just a quick look. They’re using the four keys to visual identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission, Texas
South Texas is home to one of top bird watching destinations in the country, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center. Birders know Bentsen as a treasure trove of “Valley Specialties” or tropical birds found nowhere else in the US. Birds to look for include green jays (see feature photo), white-tipped doves, clay-colored thrush (see above photo), long-billed thrasher, great kiskadee (see above photo), and Altamira oriole. Bentsen is one of nine unique World Birding Center locations in the Rio Grande Valley.
Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This desert park bustles with birds and other wildlife. Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Western scrub jay (see above photo) Say’s phoebes, and 42 other bird species call the park home.
Bosque del Apache is one of the most spectacular national wildlife refuges in North America. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of Sandhill cranes (see above photo), geese, and ducks who winter here each year.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Florida
Visitors to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years. A 2.25-mile boardwalk meanders through pine flatwood, wet prairie, around a marsh, and into a large old growth Bald Cypress forest. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors can be seen throughout the year. Photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail.
With more than 350,000 acres, you’ll have no trouble finding birds—or social distancing. It’s famous for a variety of wetland, wading birds. There are a lot of boardwalks and a canoe trail.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo, Texas
Step into a rare tropical world at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Spanish moss drips from trees. Noisy Plain chachalacas (see above photo) welcome the morning dawn. Santa Ana is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America.
Many people visit Whitewater Draw each winter to experience the memorable sights and sounds of more than 20,000 Sandhill cranes. Whitewater Draw’s waters also attract many kinds of ducks, geese, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns.
Lake Martin is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak. Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year.
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Roswell, New Mexico
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located where the Chihuahuan Desert, short grass prairie, Pecos River, and the Roswell artesian basin come together. Attracted to the area by its abundant water supply at least 357 species of birds have been observed on the refuge including thousands of migrating Sandhill cranes.
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a can’t-miss birding destination
Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this eco-wonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S.
The lower Rio Grande Valley—the ancient delta of the river from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico—contains resacas or oxbow lakes, Tamaulipan thorn woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and forest. Less than 5 percent of the area’s natural habitat remains, however.
In the late 1990s, that alarming fact spurred the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, six local communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch the creation of the World Birding Center. Today, the World Birding Center consists of nine individual sites, including three state parks: Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, and Resaca de la Palma.
Together, the parks safeguard nearly 2,200 acres that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife—places for visitors to experience nature and the landscape of the Valley close to its original state.
At the geographic center of the World Birding Center network, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee (pictured below), Altamira oriole, green jay (pictured above), groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron.
Estero Llano Grande State Park, formerly agricultural fields, became a World Birding Center site in 2006. Its 230-plus acres, free of car traffic, take in a shallow lake, woodlands, and thorn forest, along with a wildlife-viewing deck, boardwalks, and five miles of trails.
The park gets its name from the original Spanish land grant for the area known as Llano Grande, which means Large Grassland or Plain. An “estero” is a low-lying area of land often flooded by rain or overflow from a nearby river. So, Estero Llano Grande means “the wet place on the big plain.”
It’s amazing what adding a little water to a typically sun-parched environment can do to attract birds and other wildlife. You need look no further for proof than the almost 200 rejuvenated acres of Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley.
Birds and other wildlife love water; this park contains the largest wetlands environment in the World Birding Center. Hundreds of waders and shorebirds flock here, especially in late summer when water becomes scarce in these parts. Reported sightings include threatened wood storks, colorful roseate spoonbills, ibis, and migrating waterfowl such as ducks. The park’s woodland and thorn scrub harbor Altamira orioles and, sometimes, tropical red-crowned parrots and green parakeets.
From the Visitors Center, follow a trail past Ibis Pond and Dowitcher Pond where turtles sun themselves, onto the Camino de Aves Trail, a 1-mile loop through the brush. At Alligator Lake, spend a few minutes on the observation deck looking for the lake’s namesake reptile (pictured below) before continuing to the top of a levee for a view of the Llano Grande.
The next turnoff leads to the Spoonbill Trail, which circles Ibis Pond back to where you started. On the other side of the entrance road, lanes of a former RV park have transitioned into the park’s Tropical Area, which attracts rarities such as the rose-throated becard, white-throated thrush, and crimson-collard grosbeak. The short, narrow Green Jay Nature Trail loops through woods so thick they feel like an enchanted forest.
This park shelters more than 300 bird species with a record 115 spotted from the deck in one day. Estero Llano Grande offers the best chance to spot the heavily camouflaged common pauraque. Most of the trails accommodate wheelchairs, and tram tours are offered on certain afternoons by reservation. Park staff also offer regularly scheduled guided bird, butterfly, and dragonfly walks.
A good bird photo records a moment of time shared between photographer and bird. It can be pretty quick, pretty simple, but it may be complex depending on the photo opportunity.
Consider why we find certain bird photos attractive. In essence, it’s all “in the eye of the beholder,” and there’s no perfect photo, but many come close.
Any good bird photograph will have a combination of elements that make it good.
Any bird can be interesting, but an interesting subject can be improved by any number of additional elements especially if you can record action, behavior, or activity. Larger birds may be easier to fill a photo frame with, colorful birds can catch your attention, and smaller birds can provide a unique quality to any photo.
Photos that show action are among the most impressive images. What action? Spreading wings, stretching, interacting with another bird, flying, landing, swimming, hunting, preening, feeding, nest building.
The sharpness of a photo is the result of using a fast shutter speed which can illustrate details of wing and tail feathers, eyes and bills, legs, and feet—even when a bird’s in flight, swimming, diving, displaying. A fast shutter speed requires ample lighting, and adds to the level of detail needed to emphasize any good bird photo.
Lighting is everything in photography—where the light comes from, how it illuminates your subject, how it creates shadows. Good light should illuminate a bird’s head and intensify colors. When your shadow points at your subject, you’re in just the right position to utilize sunlight at its best.
Good light from the right direction creates and reveals beautiful, cryptic, and even iridescent colors in birds, along with contrast and clarity. The background and setting are also integral to a good photo.
A bird’s surroundings, whether it’s scenery, landscape, or environment, can improve a photo by including water, trees, mountains, and more. Often, it comes down to the branch, vegetation, water, sky, or perch where a bird is positioned. Sometimes a photo can be improved by taking a step or two to one side to reposition a distracting element in the background out of the photo frame, or to the side of the photo.
Depth of Field
A bird image can be composed using a wide depth of field to show its position in its habitat—or you can use a narrow depth of field to blur the background and emphasize the bird the bird itself. Both options are good, but you do need more light or a reduced shutter speed to get a wider depth of field.
Timings may be relative to the moment you take a photo, or related to the time of day you choose to be in the field. It can also be a matter of crossing paths with a given bird—how often does luck enter into timing, even to the point of intercepting the flight path of a flying bird? Sometimes, timing is everything.
Consider the position of the bird or birds within your photo frame. Give the bird space to look into, fly into, or swim into. Even if you center the bird in a photo, you can still alter the position of the bird when you crop a photo during the editing process.
There is always an element of luck when you take a given photo. Just finding a bird to photograph can be lucky on any given day. Timing and luck enter into a lot of good photos.
Assess the scene in advance if possible; adjust your settings with consideration for the conditions you see in mind. Similarly, pre-focus your lens, even when using auto-focus, so there is no lag time in focusing when the action starts. Be Ready for Action!
Try something new and develop your own style in the process. Taking one good photo can inspire you into a lifetime of bird photography and encourage you to go birding with your camera more often.
Come along as we take a tour through some of Arizona’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona
The birds of Arizona are diverse and live in amazingly beautiful areas throughout the state from the deserts of southern Arizona, to the high country.
Locating birds in Arizona is relatively easy if you set afield with the right tools and mindset. Optics are a handy item in the field, some even deem them necessary equipment for birders of all levels. Eight power binoculars are popular and provide users ample magnification and a large field of view.
Now, pick a spot and go!
Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.
Whitewater Draw Wildlife
Located four miles southwest of the town of McNeal, Whitewater Draw is former ranchland, now managed as a wildlife area. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has set up viewing platforms and built trails for better visitor access.
This is one of the best locations in Arizona to observe Sandhill cranes. As many as 15,000 cranes can be present from October into March, though the number varies depending on the amount of water present. More than 280 species of birds have been recorded including the snow goose (with some Ross’s) and more than 15 species of ducks.
The area is also known for wintering raptors including golden eagle, Cooper’s hawk, bald eagle, ferruginous hawk, peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, and American kestrel.
Throughout much of the year visitors can see waders including American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and White-faced Ibis, along with Virginia Rail, Sora, and a variety of shorebirds. Other regulars at Whitewater Draw include scaled quail, Gambel’s quail, roadrunner, vermilion flycatcher, curve-billed thrasher, and yellow-headed blackbird.
San Pedro Riparian
National Conservation Area
This “site” actually comprises a riparian corridor around 40 miles long, following the San Pedro River as it flows north from Mexico to join the Gila River. The line of trees creates a lush ribbon of green in an arid environment.
Stop first at San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista on Highway 90 where trails wind through the riparian corridor. Another popular access point is not far away, east of the town of Hereford.
Nesting birds along the San Pedro River include Gambel’s quail, gray hawk, green kingfisher, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, vermilion flycatcher, Cassin’s kingbird, curve-billed thrasher, yellow warbler, Abert’s towhee, and lesser goldfinch.
Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park
While you’re in the area, consider a visit to the Sierra
Vista Environmental Operations Park, a water-treatment site with wetlands and a
wildlife-viewing area. It’s located just north of Highway 90, three miles east
of Sierra Vista. This oasis in the desert has attracted more than 240 bird
species, including 20 species of ducks, pied-billed grebe, several wading birds
including white-faced ibis, Virginia rail, sora, common gallinule, and 24
species of shorebirds. Land birds include black phoebe, vermilion flycatcher,
Bell’s vireo, Chihuahuan raven, and Lucy’s warbler.
Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park is in a
gorgeous Sonoran Desert setting northeast of Mesa. On the south side of the
mountain, the word Phoenix with a giant arrow pointing west has been spelled
out in enormous letters made of white rocks. It’s visible for miles. For me,
Usery Mountain has an iconic status because it’s here I first fell in love with
the Sonoran Desert over 40 years ago.
The dawn chorus here is raucous with cactus wrens, curve-billed
thrashers, Gila woodpeckers, guilded flicker, verdin, Gambel’s quail, house
finch, rosy-faced lovebirds, and phainopepla, to name just a few.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It
sings because it has a song.
643 bird species, 44 states, two trips across the country and back, one pickup camper—all Taylor Páez needed to complete her Big Year on the road
In case you didn’t see the movie The Big Year, a Big Year is a personal quest to find as many species as possible during a calendar year. There are personal variations on this simple definition, but any way you do it, a Big Year is a serious undertaking that takes an absolute dedication, lots of free time, and some extra cash, as most participants do a lot of traveling.
Enter an ambitious young birder, Taylor Páez, who planned
her Big Year, saved money, and left her office job; then ready, set, go—she was
off, with the hope of finding 700 different birds in the lower 48 states.
Taylor’s route was a road trip of epic proportions. Starting at her home in northern California, she looped south through Arizona, southern Texas, and around the Gulf of Mexico; then turned north, passing through many eastern states to New Hampshire and Maine. Next: New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan including the Upper Peninsula, and Wisconsin. Then it was back to the West: the Great Plains, Colorado, on to Washington, and back home to California—all by July; traveling solo, living out of her compact truck camper, and experiencing the ultimate bird search day by day.
As she traveled cross-country, Taylor monitored bird sightings reported on eBird, the American Birding Association’s state by state Birding News, Audubon listserves, and local birding groups’ posts on Facebook. Sometimes she even learned of rare bird sightings on Instagram, or by word-of-mouth from birders she interacted with at popular birding hotspots.
After a month-long break to re-charge at home, Taylor began
the “zig-zagging” phase of her Big Year, driving through southern California,
Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, then zigging and zagging before taking a boat trip
off the coast of Maine; on to New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana,
and back to California to finish the year. Taylor explained her zig-zag
pattern: “Toward the end of the year it was pretty crazy because it’s less
about the common birds and more about the rare ones;” so when a rare bird
showed up cross-country, she might begin a heated chase.
After her sweeping bird quest across the country—twice—Taylor
had a tough time picking just one favorite local. The country is filled with
amazing biodiversity, and she enjoys it all. But if she had to pick a favorite,
Taylor would pick the subtropical region of southern Texas. During one day at
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge she identified 35 new birds, the most new
species she listed at once.
Her favorite birds: Green Jays, Roseate Spoonbills, Greater
Kiskadees, and Audubon’s Orioles—all found in the above-mentioned wildlife
After spending a year in the great outdoors and tallying 634
species, Taylor did not go back to her office job. Instead, she turned to
opportunities in the natural world: Working as a park naturalist and a stint
conducting hummingbird surveys.
“I realized I not only wanted to be outside, but I wanted to
make a positive impact on people. I wanted to bring them accessibility to
nature and the outdoors. We need it now more than ever,” Taylor said. “I never
thought I would do what I did—before that I played everything safe. I didn’t
take risks, ever.”
Such a long trip was a big challenge, but after her Big
Year, Taylor knows the risks are well worth the payback.
The original article about Taylor Paez’s Big Year appears on
the BirdsEye Birding website. BirdsEye’s free photography website is a
comprehensive library of photos submitted by nature enthusiasts.
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man
than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was
A driving tour of Important Bird Areas that offer fantastic bird-watching opportunities for RV travel
If you’re an RVer interested in bird watching, Audubon’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) is a great source for planning your next road trip. The IBAs form an impressive network of conservation sites for birds, including expansive lands that support important habitats for birds and other wildlife.
To date Audubon has identified 2,832 IBAs covering 417
million acres of public and private lands in the United States. You may be
familiar with many of these IBAs, as some are already protected as national
parks and national wildlife refuges—some are small and some expansive—but all
are significant. Of the 2,832 North American IBAs, 720 are considered of global
importance, 113 are listed as continental importance, and 1,999 are of state
Following are five of our favorite IBA destinations in the
US for bird watching and the enjoyment of the natural environment during our RV
New Mexico: Bosque
del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is the winter home of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. The annual arrival of the sandhill cranes is celebrated by a 6-day festival each November. The Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for November 20-23, 2019. The cranes and snow geese generally remain on the refuge until mid-February when they return to their breeding grounds in the north.
Even with their departure the refuge remains a wonderful
place for hiking, biking, and wildlife- and bird-watching year round. You will
want to drive the auto Tour Loop to get up close to the wildlife and their
Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is an important
National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic coast of Florida. It is also a
‘gateway site’ for the Great Florida Birding Trail. Recreational opportunities
are offered at the Refuge from manatee and bird watching, to fishing and
hunting. The Visitor Information Center located 4 miles east of Titusville,
Florida, is a great place to start your visit.
Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide
variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments,
scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. The refuge’s coastal location,
tropic-like climate, and wide variety of habitat types contribute to the
refuge’s diverse bird population. To date, 358 species have been identified on
Riparian Preserves at Water Ranch
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is managed as a part of the City of Gilbert water treatment facility. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch features hiking and equestrian trails. The preserve provides a great opportunity for wildlife and bird watching and is considered the premier bird watching facility in the Phoenix metro region. Approximately 250 species of birds have been sighted here.
The preserve also has the only valley astronomy observatory
open to the public every Friday and Saturday evening from dusk until 9:30 p.m.,
subject to weather conditions.
Texas: Laguna Madre
The Texas coast is bordered by the world’s longest barrier island
system. Part of this system forms the Laguna Madre whose mosaic of coastal
wetlands, freshwater ponds, and native grasslands provide critical habitat for
migratory waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds.
Laguna Madre includes privately owned cattle ranches (Kenedy
and King Ranches), federally owned conservation areas (Laguna Atascosa National
Wildlife Refuge and South Padre Island National Seashore), and coastal
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is host or home to
an incredible diversity of migrating birds that funnel through the tip of Texas
in an effort to avoid flying too far east, over the Gulf Coast, or too far
west, over the desert. In addition, many southern species reach their northernmost
range along the Rio Grande.
A slender thread of land between the shallow Laguna Madre
and the rolling Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island anchors the World Birding
Center with nature adventures in every season.The nature center offers more than 3,300 linear feet of boardwalk,
five bird blinds, and a five story tower with spectacular views of the Laguna
Madre, beaches and dunes of South Padre Island, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Prairie National Wildlife Refuge
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is an epic birding
destination near Lake Charles. This is due to the fact that it is at the
convergence of the Mississippi and Central flyways. Numerous birds make
year-round residences here while millions make their way through this region in
the spring and fall during migration.
Cameron Prairie is your chance to truly enjoy the Louisiana
Outback at its finest. Wildlife is abundant and makes wildlife viewing and
photography opportunities endless. The best places to spot wildlife are the
Pintail Wildlife Drive, the visitor center, and all along the Creole Nature
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying
our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace
reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection
has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.
Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail
Water—seemingly everywhere—is a big part of the Creole Nature Trail experience. Part of America’s Byway’s system, this All-American Road is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and plenty of wildlife and bird watching.
We used A+ Motel & RV Park on Highway 27 in Sulphur,
Louisiana, as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring
the area. Conveniently located on the trail, A+ Motel & RV Park earns its
name with 134 full-hookup sites, neatly trimmed grounds with a stocked fishing
pond, two laundry/shower houses, and two pools, including an adults-only pool
with a covered patio and a 75-inch flat-screen TV. New in 2008, A+ is big rig
friendly with pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp
electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.
There are two exits onto the trail from I-10; one near our
home base at Sulphur, and, to the east, near Lake Charles. While both towns
boast the usual stores, fuel stations, and cultural attractions like museums,
casino gaming, and restaurants serving Cajun cuisine, we quickly drove into
wild Louisiana wetlands. This is the Louisiana Outback.
The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads
in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main
route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into
other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods
Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.
We head south, passing through small towns, then farms, and, just past Hackberry, the landscape becomes meandering waterways with islands of grass as far as the eye can see. The road courses along the west side of brackish Calcasieu Lake. At 8 miles wide and 18 miles long, the lake earns its “Big Lake” nickname. Along the roadway, brilliant orange, daisylike flowers flutter in the breeze.
Our first stop is Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, at 125,000 acres, the largest along the trail. We pull into an area marked “Recreation” where a dozen locals are fishing.
Just a hop down the road, we stop at the Blue Goose Trail and
wildlife overlook, a paved 1-mile walking trail and raised wildlife viewing
platform. Atop the tower, the breeze through the grasses and bird tweets,
cheeps, and squawks are the only sounds.
The Creole Nature Trail is filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish, making it a key stopover for birds passing through the Central and Mississippi flyways. In fact, this area boasts more than 5 million migratory waterfowl and 400 species of birds, making it one of the top birding spots in the country.
While visitors will see birds and the occasional alligator along the road, the best way to explore the Creole Nature Trail is to hike refuge trails and walkways. We walked the Wetland Walkway, a raised, 1.5-mile-long boardwalk that wends through 6-foot-tall grasses to a two-story observation tower with a sweeping view.
The sun, now fully emerged from the clouds, makes me glad I brought along my Tilley, a broad-brimmed hat. We spot roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, and red-winged blackbirds, and, while there are Alligator Alley warning signs, no gators.
Another stop is Holly Beach, a community of beachfront homes leveled in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. Like a phoenix, the colorful stilted beach cabins have been rebuilt, and this “Cajun Riviera” is once again popular for sunbathing, swimming, and shelling.
Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the
Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits
about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife
Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama
theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control
structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat
dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a
fiber-optic migration exhibit.
On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the
Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be lurking ’round the next bend.
If you had asked me a decade ago about birding, I would have said, “What is birding?”
I knew about some of the more common birds including chickadees, robins, finches, and blue jays, but had no idea birding was an activity people did together in an organized fashion.
Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the US, Canada, and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.
Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability. It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.
Using one or more field guides is also recommended. The
choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it
depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process
The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder. The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in the US and Canada. Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done.
According to a US Fish & Wildlife
Service study on the demographics and economic impact of birding,
birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s
economy. One in five Americans has an active interest in birding. Some 47
million bird watchers, ages 16 and older, spend nearly $107 billion on travel
and equipment related to bird watching.
In Washington State alone, wildlife viewing and photography
adds more than $5 billion each year to the state and local economy.
About 88 percent focus mainly on backyard birding. But some
extreme listers travel extensively in search of rare birds for their life
The legendary birder Phoebe Snetsinger became obsessed with
bird watching when she learned she had only one year to live—she was diagnosed
with terminal melanoma in 1981. Living another 18 years, she fervently
observed birds across the globe setting a world record of 8,398 bird species
before her death in a 1999 car accident in Madagascar.
Others, like master birder Connie Sidles, find endless joy
in daily visits to one favorite spot. She has written two books describing the
natural beauty and wonder she finds at the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural
Area), a premier birding oasis in Seattle. The “fill” is a former
landfill located in the heart of northeast Seattle on the banks of Lake
People give different answers when asked what drew them to
bird watching. For most, it starts with the simple aesthetic pleasure of
enjoying the grace and beauty of birds and sharing the experience with family
Wildlife viewing is among the most popular forms of outdoor
recreation, and birds are the most visible and accessible form of wildlife,
especially in urban and residential areas. You can even enjoy them from the
comfort of your own home.
Birds also symbolize freedom for many because they fly with
such ease. For some, it has spiritual qualities and evokes feelings of peace and
tranquility. It’s healthful and restful and no doubt good for your blood
pressure and general well-being.
Their exquisite plumage and vivacious songs enliven our
sense of the magnificence and beauty of the world we share. Our love affair
with birds connects us with the simple bliss of being alive and feeling at home
in the natural world.
Like many pursuits, birding embraces a whole subculture,
with many levels of expertise and intensity. For some, it is highly
competitive. For others, bird watching involves serious study of physiology,
behavior, and the role of birds in the ecosystem.
For many, like us, it’s a pathway into the natural world by combining photography and RV travel with birding.
As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their
behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph
birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my
motorhome with quality photos.
Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial
dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such
fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.