Top Ten U.S. Fall Birding & Nature Festivals

Leaf-peeping is certainly a favorite fall pastime, but here's another one that's for the birds. Each fall, billions of our feathered friends migrate across North America, heading south for warmer weather and better food supply. Take in this spectacle of nature at one of our favorite birding festivals.
By Laura Kammermeier
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Got birds? Will travel! That's the motto of bird watchers who follow migrating birds to hotspots where they concentrate in large numbers each fall. Birding and nature festivals held at these locales celebrate the wonder of migration by offering field trips where birders can get good looks at great birds.

Festivals offer seminars, workshops, exhibits, and outdoor activities in spectacular settings while providing a collegiate atmosphere for learning about birds and bird identification. Most festivals are full of friendly people with one thing on their mind: seeing good birds. So no matter what level of birding you enjoy, festivals are an excellent way to spend time in nature learning more about your feathered friends. Here's our list of the top ten birding festivals this fall.

10. Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival
Sierra Vista, Arizona
Early August, 2009
The 2009 fall birding festival season kicked off on August 5 with the 18th Annual Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We blogged about it here. Sierra Vista lies at the foot of the Huachuca Mountains, minutes away from popular southwest birding hotspots including the San Pedro River and the Garden, Sawmill Huachuca, Ramsey, Carr, Miller, and Ash canyons. These places feature a rich diversity of birds, butterflies, mammals, and reptiles and close to 1,000 species of plants. In one field trip, participants searched for high-elevation species such as the Red-faced Warbler, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Greater Pewee, Hepatic Tanager, and Spotted Owl. Stay tuned for next year's festival line-up.

9. Puget Sound Bird Fest
Edmonds, Washington
September 11 13, 2009
Edmonds is ground zero for the Puget Sound Bird Fest and the first stop on the Cascade Loop of the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The fabulous Pacific coastline attracts a large number of shorebirds and waterfowl each fall. Guided walks and field trips may turn up Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Western and Solitary Sandpipers, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers, American and Eurasian Wigeons, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Harlequin Ducks, Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres, Brant, and other species (view the birding checklist here). On Saturday, wake up to a morning boat cruise or witness as many as 12,000 Vaux's Swifts emerge from an elementary school chimney at sunset. Other events include exhibits, hands-on demonstrations, children's activities, speakers, and an opening reception with keynote speaker Dr. Kara Whittaker, Staff Scientist and Policy Analyst at the Washington Forest Law Center. Base admission is free with a la carte pricing on certain field trips.

8. Hawk Mountain 75th Anniversary Celebration
Kempton, Pennsylvania
September 12, 2009
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is one of the best places in the northeastern United States to witness, at close range, the annual migration of hawks, eagles, and falcons. Between August and December, an average of 20,000 raptors pass the sanctuary's North Lookout, providing excellent views of raptors riding thermals in the valley below. To celebrate this phenomenon plus 75 years in raptor conservation, Hawk Mountain will hold a one-day Anniversary Celebration this fall. Though not a festival in the traditional sense, this special event is the perfect time to visit the sanctuary and witness this spectacular raptor passage during its peak. The event features guided walks and live raptor programs. An evening dinner and speaking program ($25 admission) will include panel discussions, history talks, and a culmination dinner with noted speakers Jim Brett, Scott Weidensaul, and Pete Dunne.

7. Midwest Birding Symposium
Lakeside, Ohio, on western Lake Erie
September 17 – 20, 2009
The Midwest Birding Symposium, hailed as "camp for bird watchers," will be held on the western shore of Lake Erie in the Victorian Chautauqua community of Lakeside, Ohio. The program is packed with entertaining programs by leading experts in birding (David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman), photography (Art Morris), and publishing/blogging (Bill Thompson, III), and it features enough down time for participants to explore the region's excellent birding sites. Lakeside is minutes away from the renowned migratory stopover, Magee Marsh, and the entire Lake Erie Western Basin is an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area. An impressive variety of migrant songbirds, which normally includes a few rare vagrants, pass through here each fall. Registration is $95 plus meals. Optional Lake Erie Sunset Boat Cruise adds another $24.

6. Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding & Wildlife Festival
Onancock, Virginia
September 17 – 20, 2009
Positioned along the mid-Atlantic flyway, the Eastern Shore of Virginia provides a vital rest-and-refueling area for millions of migrating raptors and neotropical songbirds each fall. The Birding & Wildlife Festival helps participants explore—by land and by sea—the peninsula's untamed barrier islands, isolated coves, and salt-water marshes where migrants concentrate in large numbers. Field trips to prime birding sites such as Kiptopeke State Park, Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Savage Neck Dunes will be coupled with cultural excursions to seaside village attractions. Keynote speaker will be writer/nature photographer Jim Clark. Registration fee $30/day plus optional excursions.
Read more about Laura's experience on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

Published: 3 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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