PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –– Since ancient times, people have been fascinated by birds. And since birds fly on largely predictably migratory paths we can plan to see more species. When they stop to rest at bird and wildlife sanctuaries, we really get up-close and personal. As a result, casual watchers who like to venture out in the fresh air, take a hike and enjoy the Autumn aerial spectacular against a backdrop of changing colors share the landscape with more seasoned bird trackers. These are people who meticulously log their sightings and spend thousands of dollars on high power, gyro-stabilized binoculars and long lens cameras. Let’s set destination courses for a quartet of popular day or weekend destinations for casual and serious “Birders.”
From the craggy heights of Hawk Mountain in nearby Berks County, birding enthusiasts on a single day last fall watched as over 3,000 Hawks, Eagles and lesser known raptors circled and soared around the mountain lookouts. It’s a display that occurs every Autumn as the dominant Broad-Wing Hawks join other birds of prey on the annual migration along the Appalachian path. Hawk Mountain is a sanctuary, created nearly a century ago to stop wholesale slaughter of the birds by hunters along the Kittatinny Ridge. Prepare to do some hiking. Marked trails, leading to prime lookout sites are detailed on downloadable trail maps. You’ll find orientation tips and tools at the visitor center. There is a $10 adult trail fee with discounts for seniors and children. Check directions from home, click here.
This northern arm of the Chester River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland becomes an Autumn mosaic of water fowl. Ducks, Geese and Swans winter here, and the refuge offers a sanctuary for migrating songbirds and hawks. I enjoy the waterscapes at Eastern Neck as much as the birds. Nature trails lead to observation platforms for gazing at the Chesapeake Bay, the Chester River and the working boats harvesting oysters and the last crabs of the season. Eastern Neck has long been popular with biking birders who ride the flat terrain from nearby Rock Hall, Maryland with it’s B&B’s, Inns, restaurants and bars. The drive from Center City is about 2 hours. Take I-95 to Route 896 and 301 south to 290 West. Then continue on 213 south at Galena. Follow 213 to route 20 south. In Rock Hall, turn left at the flashing yellow light and keep going until you reach Eastern Neck.
The life cycle of the iconic sea-hawk, the Osprey plays out on the Chesapeake Bay from Spring through summer. They share the bay with Eagles and wading birds. But come Fall, the sky above Black Walnut Point at the tip of Tilghman Island fills with migrating song birds. Terns stop at this Natural Resources Management Center. Black Walnut Point is operated by the Maryland State Park System. Autumn here provides the best birding. Weather is often spectacular, numerous species come to rest before heading south and Tilghman Island offers a pristine setting in a compact location that holds comfy B&Bs, antiquing, biking, hiking along the shore line and a photo rich environment. Birders enjoy the quiet comfort of the waterside Black Walnut Inn. Seekers of a more active overnight stay, tuck in at the northern end of the Island near a fascinating drawbridge and the Knapps Narrows Marina and Inn. When cruising from the bay into the Choptank River, we often dock here for a breakfast or lunch. For boating and birding, overnight slips are available. Getting here.
At times in the Fall it seems that the Cape May Point State Park draws as many birders as it does birds on this major, protected rest stop for migrating flocks along the Atlantic Flyway. In the shadow of the sky piercing Cape May lighthouse that rises 160 feet over the marshland, observation stations have been strategically arranged near the beach and along nature trails that range from half to 2 miles long. From Hawks to Herons and songbirds, Cape May Point is a magnet for south-bound wings. The park provides convenient rest rooms, plenty of parking, picnic areas and information on the migrating birds and the shoreline dunes and marshes. It’s here that visitors with $150 cameras, cell phones and the simplest of binoculars stand side by side with tripod mounted long lenses and gyro-stabilized binocs that require a mortgage. But the best view of the eye-filling sweep from marshland to Delaware Bay to the Atlantic horizon, is from the platform, atop the still operating lighthouse. Getting here: The park is located off the southern end of the Garden State Parkway. Cross over Cape May Bridge onto Lafayette Street. At the intersection, bear right onto County Route 606, then left onto Lighthouse Avenue. From Route 9, take County Route 626, Seashore Road and cross the bridge. Follow directions as above.
Even if you only have a casual interest in birds, it’s still fun to have a handy copy of , “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds”. It comes in eastern and western region editions. If you prefer electronic books, look for “Birds of North America” from St. Martin’s Press.