Birding and RVing in the West
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Winter is a great time to migrate south like the birds do. Recently, I wrote about birding opportunities in the East while wintering in your RV. The West has its own spots with some pretty special birds.
In this article, the parks in italics have camping for RVs.
Texas is a great state to visit in the winter and has plenty of bird species that stay for the year.
Big Bend National Park — Take time to visit the best park in the state for birders (and hikers). I enjoyed seeing the swallows nesting on the Hot Springs Trail. Roadrunners are frequently seen throughout the park.
A roadrunner at our campsite at Palo Duro State Park.
Various flycatchers, hummingbirds, warblers, and buntings make their home here. Over 450 species have been recorded at the park, including many that are at the north range of their habitat, so they are difficult to see in the United States. These birds summer at Big Bend and then return to Mexico for the winter.
Other terrific areas/parks in Texas include:
Palo Duro State Park — From your campsite you may see wild turkeys and roadrunners come through your site. Over 200 species of birds are on the park list.
Port Aransas — This town is a hotbed for birders, with many people wintering at the area RV parks. Mustang Island State Park is close by to see shorebirds while Goose Island State Park combines shorebirds like roseate spoonbills and whooping cranes with birds more at home in the woods like cardinals and warblers. Volunteers lead hikes at Goose Island.
The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is definitely worth a visit, along with Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond and Wetlands Park. It is a longer drive to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where whooping cranes may be found October to April. Farther up the coast is Mad Island Marsh Preserve, which is highly recommended.
Choke Canyon State Park — Take the ranger hike at this park. The lake area is full of different types of sapsuckers, hawks, and crested caracara. Turkeys and vultures can be found throughout the park. A Western Kingbird kept pecking at our RV window there, while green jays can be seen on the hiking trails.
Snowy egret at Brazos Bend State Park.
Brazos Bend State Park — The claims to fame for this park are alligators and birding. The proximity to alligators during a hike is amazing and a bit scary, while the birds are equally amazing without the fear factor.
Padre Island National Seashore — This national park has all the shorebirds you dream about. The park website mentions that 380 species have been seen. This is dry camping at its finest.
Lower Rio Grande Valley — This area is a birders’ paradise. Be sure to visit Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge for a mixture of subtropical birds, shorebirds, desert dwellers, and Great Plains birds, with over 400 species identified. The whole area is known to be a stopover for flocks as they migrate. RV parks abound in this section of Texas.
Winter in Arizona is great. There is perfect weather, along with history, hiking, desert plants, and terrific birding. Over 550 species have been sighted in Arizona.
A cardinal hiding in the brush enjoys the view at Patagonia Lake.
Patagonia Lake State Park — This area is known for a wide variety of birds, with around 300 species on their list. There are bird walks twice a week.
The park is a birders’ paradise with plenty of people that come here specifically to look for birds.
Keep your eyes out for the coatimund. It is a unique animal in the area that sort of looks like a raccoon with big eyes but also has a long tail. You should also visit the nearby Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve Visitor Center.
While you are in Arizona you need to visit:
Chiricahua National Monument — Enjoy the incredible views as you hike the trails while looking for birds. I enjoyed watching the flocks of birds flying overhead in the morning as they move to water. The bird list is extensive here and includes Gould’s Turkey.
The Bonita Canyon Campground has dry camping for smaller RVs, but there are plenty of RV parks in nearby Willcox. Take an hour drive to visit Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area. With 280 bird species on its list, it is especially known for Sandhill Cranes and wintering raptors.
Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge — There are guided bird walks along with several hikes open any time. The masked bobwhite quail has been reintroduced here along with several protected animals and plants.
The bird list for this refuge is long and has many different varieties of birds. There are a couple of RV parks nearby.
Tucson area — You can make the Tucson area your home base and travel to many excellent parks nearby. Madera Canyon is 40 miles south and has a bird list of around 250 species including many hummingbirds and special birds like the Elegant Trogon.
Camping is dry and for smaller RVs only. Sabino Canyon has no camping but is well worth visiting for the birding, along with hiking and tram rides. A drive to Mount Lemmon allows you to see species at home in the desert to birds that live in the high elevation mountains.
Both the Saguaro National Park East and West are excellent places for hikes and birding. The Tucson Mountain Park is also terrific. RV parks abound in the area while Catalina State Park is one of my favorite state parks.
Phoenix area — If you make a home base at Phoenix, be sure to visit a couple of the bird hotspots nearby. The Riparian Preserves at Water Ranch is known for the ducks, but there are around 300 species on its bird list. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park has a large diversity of birds here including several rare birds such as the Tufted Flycatcher. RV parks fill the area around Phoenix.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — Enjoy the trails and the birding when you visit this park. This park is along a primary migratory flyway. Over 270 bird species have been identified, including the Elf Owl.
With its wide range of habitats, California has the highest number of species on its bird list with over 660.
Cabrillo National Monument — This area is a resting place for many birds as they migrate. The nearby Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is also known for birds. There are multiple RV parks nearby.
Salton Sea — Did you know the largest lake in California is salty? Start at the visitor center of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge for trails and information. Rare birds are frequently seen here. Stay at Salton Sea Recreation Area or any of the RV parks surrounding the lake.
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve — Just north of Palm Springs is this 31,000-acre preserve. With over 220 species on its list, it has woodland, marsh, and scrub habitats.
Stay at Black Rock Campground for dry camping or one of the other campgrounds at Joshua Tree National Park. There are also plenty of RV parks nearby.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve — This reserve has multiple habitats and a wide range of birds. The “regulars” total over 180 with an additional 110+ species that have been sighted here. Bolsa Chica State Beach is right across the road. Nearby, in the middle of Irvine, sits San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary with over 300 species sighted including waterfowl, hummingbirds, swallows, and songbirds.
Enjoy your winter in the West and keep an eye out for some marvelous birds while you are there.
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