The vacation season may be winding down for humans, but for birds, it’s just heating up. As flocks migrate, they stop to feed and rest at the same spots every year. “You have an opportunity to see an enormous concentration and diversity of birds,” says Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska. “All these sites are connected, and protecting them is particularly important.” He shares some favorite sites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Like all living creatures, birds need water, which explains why thousands of them descend on New Mexico’s Rio Grande floodplain. “You get big numbers of waterfowl in this very arid landscape,” Warnock says. Highlights include snow geese and sandhill cranes, particularly from early November to late January. fws.gov/refuge/bosque_del_apache
Antelope Island State Park
Located on a causeway bisecting the Great Salt Lake, this refuge is a natural stop for hundreds of thousands of birds from September through November. Warnock is particularly fond of the phalarope, a small shorebird with an unusual way of catching bugs. “They sit on the water surface and spin around like tops. They look like they’re crazy but they’re creating a whirlpool that transports insects up to the surface.” stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island
Bear Island Wildlife Management Area
Green Pond, S.C.
Talk about a family trip. Tundra swans fly all the way from the Arctic to the southeast coast, wintering in places like this South Carolina preserve. “They’ll have to up to three chicks and migrate as a family unit. You’ll often see a mom and dad with young swans together,” Warnock says. “They’re such beautiful, majestic birds.” The state-owned area is open from February through October. dnr.sc.gov/ManagedLands/ManagedLand/ManagedLand/56
Although temperatures will often top 100 degrees, it’s worth a trip to this desert oasis, where thousands of fliers stop on the way to Mexico. “It’s a very birdy place,” says Warnock, who spent a year studying the region’s wildlife. “You have water in an otherwise desert area. And it…