Tag Archives: birding

Cape Cod National Seashore

Overview

Northernmost of the ten National Seashores in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Cape Cod National Seashore includes 40 miles of shoreline on the narrow glacial deposit that sticks out of Massachusetts like a fishhook.  Its 44,000 acres are interspersed with towns that manage (and charge for) many of the beaches along the coastline.  Watch for gray seals playing in the surf, which attract predators like great white sharks to the shallows.  Even if you want to swim in the chilly ocean water, if you see gray seals it is best to go somewhere else so you are not confused with food.

Highlights

Nauset Light, Three Sisters Lighthouses, Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum

Must-Do Activity

The best place to start your visit is Salt Pond Visitor Center, which has a museum run by the NPS.  Located right off Highway 6, it is also a great place to stretch your legs on the Buttonbush or Nauset Marsh Trails.  From there, it is a short drive to Coast Guard or Nauset Light Beaches that offer tram service when parking lots are full.  Lifeguards are on duty at specific beaches from late June through Labor Day, which should give an indication of the short season when it is actually warm enough to enjoy the water.

Best Trail

There are 12 self-guided trails within Cape Cod National Seashore, plus three bicycle trails up to 7.3 miles long.  Our favorite was the one-mile Beech Forest Trail near Race Point Beach at the tip of Cape Cod.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If the red-striped Nauset Light looks familiar that is because you might have seen it on a bag of potato chips at the grocery store.  While there, take a walk over to the Three Sisters Lighthouses that have also been moved inland from their original eroding clifftop locations.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and a permit from the Oversand Station at Race Point is required for those wishing to drive on designated sand routes.

Camping

No camping is offered through the NPS, but there are several private and state-run campgrounds, plus countless motels and vacation rentals.

Related Sites

Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Explore More –Who was the famous Italian inventor that transmitted transatlantic radio signals from massive antennas on Cape Cod in the early 1900s?

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Overview

Off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972 and is only accessible by boat.  While kayaks and private boats are allowed, most visitors arrive by ferry from St. Marys (reservations recommended).  Much of the northern half of the island is designated wilderness with backpacking campsites dispersed near places where freshwater is available for filtration.  Bicycles can be rented once you arrive on the island (they are not allowed on the ferry) and are permitted on the many miles of roads, but not on the trails or beach. 

Highlights

Dungeness Ruins, Ice House Museum, Marsh Boardwalk, First African Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

While it is fun to spend time beachcombing, what really sets Cumberland Island apart are the trails that cut through the maritime forest of twisty live oak trees.  Watch for feral horses, white-tailed deer, armadillos, turkeys, and other birds along the way.  Alligators can also be seen in the freshwater ponds.  Fossilized shark teeth are commonly found on the island, especially on the roads.  Guided tours in vans can be reserved, which can be a good option on rainy days or if you want to make it to the 1890s African-American settlement at the northern end of the island.

Best Trail

The island has more than 50 miles of trails and you can form loops of varying lengths by walking the beach and the inland Parallel Trail.  The trails are very well packed though sandy, and not as hard to walk on as we imagined.  The only deep sand we encountered was on the designated dune crossings between the beach and the inland forest.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dungeness is the name of a mansion built by the Carnegie family that burned down in 1959.  It was constructed atop the ruins of a house of the same name previously owned by Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cuis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass, plus the charges for ferry tickets and overnight campsites

Road Conditions

Roads are packed sand and heavily rutted, but unless you own property on the island or take the van tour you will not have to worry about their spine-rattling condition.

Camping

Reservations are required for all overnight stays, including at the privately-owned inn.  Sea Camp offers cold showers and potable water a moderately short walk from the ferry dock.  There are numerous backcountry campsites, but all camping is limited to seven days.

Related Sites

Fort Frederica National Monument (Georgia)

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Related to American Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, and Paso Fino, what is the total population of feral horses living on Cumberland Island?

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pais/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Dry Tortugas National Park

Overview

Only accessible by boat or floatplane, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote paradise 70 miles west of Key West and home to a diverse array of birds and sea life.  Fort Jefferson was built on Garden Key starting in 1846 and was never completed before it was abandoned in 1874.  Today birders come from all over to see the rookery of 100,000 sooty terns on Bush Key, and also get the joy of watching the acrobatic dives of brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, and magnificent frigatebirds with their seven-foot wingspan.

Echo was bringing the CHAOS to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Highlights

Fort Jefferson, snorkeling, birding, overnight camping

Must-Do Activity

Turquoise blue water is home to amazing coral reefs right offshore from Garden Key, with some coral and sea fans growing on Fort Jefferson’s brick moat wall and old dock pylons.  Snorkeling among the historic debris feels like exploring an ancient shipwreck.  The daily ferry ship provides free snorkeling gear for day-trippers.

Best Trail

Walk the sea wall that circles Fort Jefferson for great views and a chance to see the endangered American crocodile that sometimes resides in the moat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Walking the archways of Fort Jefferson in the rays of the rising sun or watching a sunset from atop its ramparts is a great reason to spend the night here.

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Peak Season

Weather permitting, the Yankee Freedom ferry boat runs daily all year, but you may want to be cautious during hurricane season.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/drto/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

A park entrance fee is collected by the Yankee Freedom ferry service when you purchase your tickets, but is refundable at check-in if you have an America The Beautiful Pass.  A nominal camping fee is charged to stay on Garden Key.

Road Conditions

A parking deck (fee) is located right near the docks and check-in for the Yankee Freedom ferry boat.

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on Garden Key for a small fee.  Campers must bring all of their own water and the only way to cook is with charcoal since fires and stoves are prohibited.

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Scott walking on the moat

The lighthouse with Majestic Frigatebirds

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A view of the ferry boat from atop Fort Jefferson.
Yankee Freedom ferry boat docked outside Fort Jefferson.
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When snorkeling only ten feet from shore, this stingray swam right past us.
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Explore More – Why were the islands of the Tortugas labeled “Dry” on early maps?

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Buffalo National River

Overview

Designated as the nation’s first National River by Congress in 1972, the free-flowing Buffalo River winds 135 miles across northern Arkansas.  It is noted for its sandstone bluffs and tall waterfalls, as well as its three designated wilderness areas.  Multiple concessionaires rent canoes and offer shuttle service for those who wish to float the river during the high spring flows.  There are many hiking trails to be found in this National Park Service site and in the adjoining Ozark National Forest.

Buffalo

Highlights

Boxley Valley Historic District, Hemmed-in Hollow, elk herd, Ponca Wilderness, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Steel Creek to Pruitt Landing is a 22-mile float through Class I rapids on the Buffalo River through the Ponca Wilderness past rock bluffs up to 500 feet tall.  Wildflowers and birds abound in the spring, the only time the upper river is deep enough to float.  Numerous outfitters provide rental gear, guides, and car shuttles.

Best Trail

A short 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from a river pulloff, Hemmed-In-Hollow is a 210-foot tall waterfall, also accessible on a much more strenuous trek starting on top of the bluff in Compton, Arkansas.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While not technically within the National River boundaries, Hawksbill Crag is an image that shows up on many tourism advertisements for Arkansas.  Go in early November for fall colors.

Tiff on the edge of the famous point in the Buffalo National Forest

Peak Season

The water flows best in the spring and is often not deep enough for paddlers in the river’s upper reaches other times of year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Many of the dirt roads are steep due to the park’s rugged backcountry nature and may require high-clearance vehicles when muddy.

Camping

Twelve campgrounds accessible by car, with Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point Campgrounds offering showers.  Backcountry sites are mostly reached by canoe or kayak.

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Explore More – Why is a river in the forests of northern Arkansas named for buffalo (or bison)?

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