Where bird biologists ‘Give Wing to Their Wild Side’
In honor of National Wildlife Refuge Week, I asked two of our Region’s bird biologists to answer the question, “When you go birding, which National Wildlife Refuge do you like to visit and why?” As you can see from their responses, picking just one proved to be impossible! Read on to hear some of the amazing experiences they have had while birding on America’s beautiful National Wildlife Refuges!
Asking me what my favorite refuge is for birding isn’t a hard question… It’s an impossible question! It’s a bit like asking me which of my children I love the most. To me, birding is about experiencing the wonder and diversity of nature in its many forms. I have more refuge birding memories than I can count, many of them uniquely special and irreplaceable.
That includes seeing Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills up close on Maine’s Seal Island NWR, hearing–and feeling–the force of hundreds of wingbeats as flocks of shorebirds poured over my head (a Peregrine Falcon in close pursuite) at Montezuma NWR in New York, and waiting patiently to get a great look at one of the more secretive–and rarest–birds on the Atlantic Coast, the tiny Saltmarsh Sparrow, at Parker River NWR in Massachusetts.
I was lucky enough once to visit some of the hundreds of potholes that make up the refuge system’s Wetland Management Districts in North Dakota, surely some of our most productive “refuges” on a per acre basis. I had more exciting and satisfying duck hunting in a few days there than I had experienced over twenty five years in other states.
The joy of birding is seeing new species, seeing something you haven’t seen in a while, or just getting a great look at something unusual. I’ll never forget the first rail I saw in the open, walking along the edge of the marsh at New Jersey’s Forsythe NWR. But it’s nearly as exciting when a Whimbrel lands near you on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, or you get really clear views of a Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler in the same conifer forest at Umbagog NWR in New Hampshire.
Each visit to a refuge is another great chance to have one of these unexpected moments, where I get the thrill of feeling like I am connected directly to nature. I look forward to those encounters every time I’m birding, whether they involve a relatively common bird or a rarity from far away.
During 20 years as a wildlife biologist I have been lucky enough to spend numerous hours watching and studying birds, both on and off the job. Some of my most memorable bird experiences have been on National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Here are a few of my favorites: