Best Bird-Watching Places in the West

Millions of birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway in autumn, calling at wetlands throughout the West.

evening grosbeak at Klamath Falls, image

A colorful evening grosbeak perches on a branch near Klamath Falls, Ore.

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Flyway in autumn, calling at wetlands throughout the West. The National Wildlife Refuge system, which celebrates its centennial next spring, offers some of the best viewing of our fine feathered friends.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Brigham City, Utah. Up to half a million quackers and honkers get top billing here, backed by the trumpeting of tundra swans. (435) 723-5887, http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/othrdata/chekbird/r6/beariver.htm.

Humboldt Bay Complex Eureka/Arcata, Calif. The eelgrass and mudflats offer food and nesting for shorebirds and waterfowl, from willet, dunlin, and sandpipers to pintail, egrets, and herons. (707) 733-5406, pacific. fws.gov/humboldtbay/.

Klamath Basin Complex Straddling the California-Oregon border, this network includes the Lower Klamath, our nation's first waterfowl refuge. Test your bird brain trying to identify waterfowl in the fall. Find up to 1,000 bald eagles in winter. (530) 667-2231, www.klamathnwr.org/.

Minidoka Snake River Valley, Idaho. Canada geese, gadwalls, and wigeon make pit stops here. Hawk eyes may spot a bald eagle in fall. (208) 436-3589, www.fws.gov/minidoka/.

Sacramento Complex Ninety miles north of Sacramento, Calif. Six refuges offer 35,000 acres of wintering grounds for nearly half the Pacific Flyway's migratory birds, including grebes, snow geese, bitterns, and marsh wrens. (530) 934-2801, http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/us_nwr/ca_sacra.htm.

San Luis Complex San Joaquin Valley, Calif. Embracing three refuges, San Luis has one of 22 herds of indigenous tule elk and thousands of mallard, pintail, green-winged teal, and lesser sandhill cranes. Virtually all Aleutian Canada geese winter here. (209) 826-3508, http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/us_nwr/ca_san_l.htm.

Stillwater Complex Near Fallon, Nev. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including tundra swans, snow geese, and mallard, flock to these high-desert wetlands in fall (shorebirds come earlier in the year). (775) 428-6452, stillwater.fws.gov.

William L. Finley Near Corvallis, Ore. No golden eggs, but you will find dusky Canada geese wintering here. Deer, elk, and coyotes share the natural wealth. (541) 757-7236.

Zion National Park hums with tourists in summer, but come winter, its water-carved sandstone buzzes with birders. Ornithologists of every feather will flock there in December to tally eagles, canyon wrens, and the rest of Zion's nesters during the 2002 Christmas Bird Count.

The avian census—part of a nationwide bird-monitoring project begun in 1900—draws birders who appreciate Zion's wide range of habitats, says park interpreter Bob Showler. Some 75 native species hole up in the desert, piñon pines, sandstone cliffs, and cottonwood forests. Counters spy on who's nesting where. Want to join the snooping? Call Showler at (435) 772-0164.

Even if you don't give a peep about birds, Zion is a multi-faceted attraction that's rarely crowded in winter. Fall color can arrive as late as Thanksgiving, dazzling photographers, rock hounds, and hikers. And there's the new Zion Human History Museum, located in the old park visitor center. It explores the anthropology, fauna, and flora of this sanctuary. Exhibits display the evolution of inhabitants, from prehistoric man and Ancestral Puebloans to Mormon pioneers. Slide show narrator J.L. Crawford is a living repository of that history. He was born in Zion in the early 20th century when the park was a farm and recalls the arrival of the ½rst cars. Information: (435) 772-3256, Zion National Park.

Photography courtesy of USFWS/David Menke

This article was first published in November 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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