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Avian Fascination

OwlAutumn is the perfect time of year to enjoy bird watching; in addition to lovely foliage, you are likely to observe a variety of birds migrating. The phenomenon of migration is an age-old story: birds have followed the Appalachian Mountains southward for longer than we probably know. Weather determines how many birds will pass; the best flights follow a cold front, when northwest winds prevail. When the air is till and hot, fewer birds tend to be seen. Birds also use pockets of warm, rising air called “thermals” to fuel their long-distance journeys. Thermals allow birds to ascend quickly to thousands of feet and then glide in the direction of their destination. Because thermals do not occur over water, migrating birds hug the Appalachian Mountain, and grab a “free ride” by soaring south on this energy-saving migration highway.

In mid-September, broad-winged hawk numbers build. These small, round-winged raptors gain altitude in circling thermals before gliding by gracefully. If your timing is right, you can spot hundreds of broadwings in one afternoon, and sometimes more than 1,000. By mid-October, northwest winds bring the greatest species diversity, and fall foliage is at its peak. During prime conditions in some locations, you may get good views of redtailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons, and merlins. In November, hawk migration begins to ebb, but this is when birdwatchers can expect to see golden eagles and northern goshawks.


Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
As the world's first refuge for birds of prey, Hawk Mountain’s scenic overlooks range from 1,300 to 1,500 feet in elevation, offering spectacular sights. Between August 15 and December 15 an average 18,000 raptors fly past its ridge-tops, often at eye-level, and by mid-August the first bald eagle signals the beginning of the fall raptor migration, followed by ospreys, and American kestrels. Free programs feature live birds of prey and are held most Saturdays and Sundays, May through November.


John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
Birdwatchers have recorded over 300 species of birds in and around the Refuge. Migratory birds like warblers, egrets, sandpipers, and a large variety of ducks, within the Atlantic Flyway, use the refuge as a resting/feeding spot during spring and fall flights. In addition, deer, opossums, fox, raccoons, muskrats and many other small animals take refuge here. The marsh is one of the few places in Pennsylvania where the state-endangered red-bellied turtle and coastal leopard frog can be found.

New Jersey

Cape May Bird Observatory
Each year, the New Jersey Audubon Society hosts the World Series of Birding in Cape May. Teams of bird watchers are challenged to count as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. The society also operates the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point.

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, where more than 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats are actively protected and managed for migratory birds. Forsythe is one of more than 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat and represents the most comprehensive wildlife resource management program in the world. Units of the system stretch across the United States from northern Alaska to the Florida Keys, and include small islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. The character of the Refuges is as diverse as the nation itself.

By mid-October, northwest winds bring the greatest species diversity, and fall foliage is at its peak. During prime conditions in some locations, you may get good views of redtailed, red-shouldered, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons, and merlins.


Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Unquestionably Delaware’s single best-known birding site, Bombay Hook justifies its fame with exceptional bird and wildlife viewing throughout the year. Centered along the Wildlife Drive, an auto tour loop road that traverses a cornucopia of habitats, including freshwater impoundments, salt marshes, mudflats, woodlands, and fields, Bombay Hook also features 3 observation towers and 5 short walking trails. You should plan an absolute minimum of two hours for a visit here; four is much better, and you could easily make multiple trips over several days before really getting a feel for the varying diurnal and tidal rhythms. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937 as a refuge and breeding ground for migrating birds and other wildlife. It currently comprises nearly 16,000 acres of land, with about 80% being tidal salt marsh. The Refuge is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset.


Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge
HeronOf the 2,285 acres that make up Eastern Neck NWR, approximately 860 acres consist of tidal brackish marsh located adjacent to the refuge shoreline. These marshes are a winter home for large flocks of ducks, geese and swans that visit the Chesapeake Bay as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Other wildlife, including muskrats, wading birds, fish and shellfish, benefit from the food and cover provided in these marshes. The refuge contains approximately 700 acres of forested habitat, comprised primarily of loblolly pine, hardwoods, and mature oak-sweetgum forest. Forested acres occur in relatively small woodlots scattered throughout the refuge and are interconnected by hedgerows consisting primarily of black cherry and locust. Forest stands range from one to more than 100 years old, and function as buffer zones and corridors utilized by a variety of species. Forested habitat also provides nesting trees and roosting areas for the bald eagle. The refuge currently contains approximately 550 acres of cropland in any given year. Managed croplands provide a valuable food source for wintering Atlantic Population Canada geese and other waterfowl. Crops currently grown on the refuge include corn, soybeans, and clover. In addition, winter wheat is often planted as a cover crop after harvesting corn or soybeans.

Wildfowl Trust of North America at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center
The 510 acre peninsula that encompasses the center consists of six distinct birding habitats. All of the migrating waterfowl, herons and most shorebird species can be seen from many of our bird blinds and observation towers. Birders who keep a “life list of species” will find excellent birding throughout the year. The site boasts 210 species sighted throughout the property. From bald eagles to brown headed nuthatches from surf scoters to yellowlegs CBEC offers an experience for all birding levels.
The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is home to the captive non-releasable “Birds of Prey” exhibit located in the Exhibit area. As you meander around ponds looking for turtles and wading birds you can enjoy updated and improved housing facilities for our hawks and owls. The birds of prey are part of our educational program to promote bird conservation and awareness. All of the birds have been injured in some way to prevent release and now spend their time as ambassadors for their species in educational programs. If you would like to schedule a program, or a bird event at a school or on-site please contact our Education Manager today!


Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge was created to protect essential bald eagle nesting, feeding, and roosting habitats along the Potomac River. Along with active eagle nesting, the refuge hosts a rookery with more than 1200 nests for great blue herons. The 2276-acre refuge, in the Mason Neck State Park, contains about 2000 acres of hardwood forest, the largest freshwater marsh in Northern Virginia, and nearly six miles of shoreline. Visitors can view the refuge along two trails, one through woods and one in Great Marsh. In the spring, wildflowers fill the woods as songbirds migrate through the area and various types of ducks feed along the creeks and marsh. In the summer and fall, birds such as egrets and herons dominate the marshes before many of them travel south for the winter. From November to February, bald eagles breed and lay eggs.

GeesePhilpott Lake Dam and Overlook
Experience the wild and scenic beauty of Virginia's Birding and Wildlife Trail. One of the best spots in western Virginia to observe brown-headed nuthatch, scurrying around in treetops. Pine warbler and yellow-throated warbler are also easy to find.
Other species are blue jay, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, cedar waxwing, red-eyed vireo, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch. Barn swallows nest on the dam swarm over the water just in front of the dam. Lake host to variety of waterfowl during migration and winter, when horned grebe and bufflehead can be seen - as well as Black, Forster's and common terns.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Back Bay Refuge contains over 8,000 acres. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh. The majority of refuge marshlands are on islands contained within the waters of Back Bay. Approximately 10,000 snow geese and a large variety of ducks visit Back Bay Refuge during the peak of fall migration, usually in December. The refuge also provides habitat for a wide assortment of other wildlife, including threatened and endangered species such as loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles. Back Bay provides scenic trails, a visitor contact station, and, with advance scheduling, group educational opportunities. Fishing, hunting, bicycling and hiking are available. The Back Bay Refuge is located near Virginia Beach - south of Sandbridge at the southern end of Sandpiper Road.

Source:, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Visit NJ - Fish & Wildlife, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Mason Neck National Wildlife Reuge, Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, Backbay National Wildlife Refuge

Photos courtesy of usfwsnortheast

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