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7 tips for the best bird migration sightings

by Timber Press on October 20, 2016

in Natural History


Every species and even subspecies of bird has its own unique routes of migration, and these routes, where huge numbers of birds can be seen at the same time, are called flyways.

Almost all North American birds migrate every year. For some, the migration is less than a mile long, but most have to embark on a long, exhausting, increasingly dangerous exodus spanning hundreds and even thousands of miles. Here are some of the best tips and tricks for catching a glimpse of these astonishing migrations found in Vladimir Dinet’s Wildlife Spectacles: Mass Migrations, Mating Rituals, and Other Fascinating Animal Behaviors.

1. The most famous places to look for rare vagrants (birds outside their normal range) are the Aleutian Islands and other Bering Sea islands, AK, Point Reyes Lighthouse, CA, Farallon Islands, CA, far Southern Texas, Dry Tortugas National Park, FL, Key West, FL, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, FL, and Newfoundland.


All included photography by Vladimir Dinets. Eastern snow geese, unlike those in the West, come in two color morphs, white and blue.

2. Snow geese and other wintering waterbirds gather in huge numbers in the various wildlife refuges of California’s Central Valley. Their distribution changes from year to year, but often the best places are Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges and Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. Other good places, often with tundra swans, trumpeter swans, and American white pelicans in addition to other waterfowl, include Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, CA-OR, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA, Mono Lake, CA, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, NV, Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge, OR, Skagit Wildlife Area, WA, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA, Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA, Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, BC, Courtenay, BC, Lake Laberge, Yukon, Copper River Delta, AK, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, AK. For large flocks of black brant, try Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, AK, in early fall, Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, WA, in late fall, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA, in early spring, and Qualicum Beach, BC, in late spring. Sandhill cranes winter on Staten Island, in Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, and in Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, all in California.


Whooping cranes are again becoming a part of Louisiana’s spectacular bird fauna.

3. The best place to see wintering snow geese and sandhill cranes in the interior is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM; smaller flocks winter in Willcox Playa Wildlife Area, AZ. Impressive concentrations of waterfowl, sometimes including snow geese and swans, can be seen in Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, UT, Great Salt Lake, UT, Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, NM, Harriman State Park, ID, Camas National Wildlife Refuge, ID, Red Rock Lake National Wildlife Refuge, MT, Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, MT, Freezeout Lake, MT, Yellowtail Dam, MT, J. Clark De Soto National Wildlife Refuge, NE, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, NE, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, WI, Horicon Marsh, WI, Rieck’s Lake Park, WI, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, TX, Delta Marsh, MB, and Moosonee, ON. The world’s greatest concentration of migrating cranes, mostly sandhill cranes but also whooping cranes, occurs on the Platte River, NE, in late March and early April; other stopover sites are Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, OK, and Last Mountain Lake, SK. Sandhill cranes also stop in large numbers in Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, CO, Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, IN, and in Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge, MT, which is also good for seeing American white pelicans. One of the cranes’ major wintering areas is Muleshow National Wildlife Refuge, TX. The best way to see wintering whooping cranes is to take a winter boat tour of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, TX. Wood Buffalo National Park, AB and NT, where they nest, is now conducting crane walks in summer.



Vaux’s swifts descend on the chimney at Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, every fall.

4. Almost every city in the eastern United States has at least one large roost of chimney swifts, often in a tall chimney of a school building. The highest numbers of birds entering and leaving the chimney, sometimes over 100,000 can be seen from mid-August to mid-September. One of the largest roosts is at Clinch Avenue between Walnut Street and Market Street in Knoxville, TN. The largest known roost of Vaux’s swifts, with up to 35,000 birds, forms from mid-August to mid-October in the chimney of Chapman Elementary School in Portland, OR.


A large crow roost assembles at dusk.

5. There are dozens of crow mega-roosts all over the country, particularly in California and the Northeast. Their sizes change every year; recently the largest one, with up to a million birds, was said to be located near Plaza Bonita shopping mall in National City, CA. Other very large roosts are at UW Bothell campus, WA, UC Davis campus, CA, Yuba City, CA, Wichita, KS, Auburn, NY, Danville, IL, Bethlehem, PA, and Zanesville, OH. You can find more locations at crows.net.

long-eared owl

A long-eared owl at a winter roost.

6. A large roost of long-eared owls can be seen in January and February at Grover Hot Springs, CA. In irruption years, snowy owls are often found in late fall and early winter at Logan International Airport in Boston, MA, in Jones Beach State Park, NY, Freezeout Lake, MT, Wisconsin Point, WI, and at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, RI. The largest numbers of northern saw-wet owls are banded every fall at Linnwood Springs Research Station, WI.

7. Want to know more? Every state and many counties have Audubon Society chapters where you can get detailed information about the best places to see migratory birds, as well as locations of hawk-watch and banding stations. There are also Internet forums where you can find up-todate information about bird sightings in every state and ask for advice; they can all be seen together at Birding News.

Vladimir Dinets was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States as a young man. He has a PhD in zoology, with a focus on animal behavior. Vladimir has traveled and photographed extensively around the globe, becoming the first zoologist to find and photograph saola tracks in the wilds of Vietnam. He is a research assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, where he studies behavioral ecology and its applications to conservation.


Click the image below for a look inside this book.


“With inspired passion, Vladimir Dinets introduces us to diverse wildlife spectacles, the natural history that drives them, and a checklist of amazing experiences—many of which are closer to home than you might think.” —Mark Elbroch, lead scientist of Pumas with Panthera, coauthor of Peterson Reference Guide to the Behavior of North American Mammals

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