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Backpacker Magazine – April 2003

10 Best Bird Watching Hikes In America

Spring is for the birds. Here's where to find a flock near you.

by: T. Edward Nickens


Kansas
Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area

Between March and May, nearly half of North America's shorebird population flies over the marshes, grasslands, and sandhills of Cheyenne Bottoms in south-central Kansas. In May, more than 100,000 northbound white-rumped sandpipers stage here, 600 miles from salt water. Other species include black-necked stilts, ruddy ducks, piping plovers, and the Gadwall. Much of the wildlife area is open to foot traffic, and dayhikers flock here, but camping is allowed only at one designated primitive site.

guides: Where The Birds Are: The 100 Best Birdwatching Spots in North America, by Robert M. Brown, et al ($30). A free map is available at the visitor center.

contact: Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, (620) 793-7730; www.cheyennebottoms.net.

Mississippi/Florida
Gulf Islands National Seashore

Stretching 150 miles from Cat Island in Mississippi to Santa Rosa Island in Florida, this chain of islands is one of the busiest rest stops in the East for migrating birds. Kayak the 6 to 10 miles from the mainland to the shores of Horn, Petit Bois, or East Ship Islands, where primitive camping is allowed and several trails tour white beaches, coastal marshes, and dense stands of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Backpackers can hire a boat or hop on a ferry and explore many of the islands on their own. Early spring and fall are ideal for spotting birds such as brown pelicans and painted buntings on their way to and from South America, and for seeing the Gulf of Mexico at its clearest.

guides: Free trail guides are available from the visitor centers.

contact: (850) 934-2600 in Florida; (228) 875-9057 in Mississippi; www.nps.gov/guis/.

North Carolina
Cape Lookout National Seashore

For undisturbed views of herons, egrets, ibis, terns, piping plovers, and gulls, kayak 3 miles from the mainland near Morehead City to the chain of islands and marshes that make up this 55-mile-long national seashore. The sound's waters are too shallow for most powerboats, which keeps (human) crowds to a minimum. Migrant ducks and geese, on the other hand, winter here by the thousands. Primitive camping is allowed on all of the islands.

guides: Free guides and USGS topos ($10) are available at the visitor center. USGS topos Cape Lookout, Harkers Island, Horsepen Point, Davis, and Styron Bay (888-ASK-USGS; www.backpacker.com/mapstore; $10 each).

contact: Cape Lookout National Seashore, (252) 728-2250; www.nps.gov/calo.




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