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Favorite Wildlife Refuges For Bird Photography

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#1 LauraC

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:33 PM

Not all Wildlife Refuges are equal for bird photography. I'll be going to a new one (for me) this week and another new one (for me) on vacation in the Fall. I was wondering which ones are your favorites and what makes them better than others for you? Is it a decent number of birds in all 4 seasons? Good access? Nearness to where you live? The drive to the refuge also presents photo opportunities? A good amount of non-bird wildlife? You see birds there you don't see anywhere else? Something else?

I happen to like an auto loop (dirt, gravel or paved is fine) because I can't lug camera equipment far and also have trouble walking on uneven paths. But, I also like to see a variety of birds in decent settings. Structures, not just grass, water and trees is a plus. I like to use my car as a blind, as well, so birds near to the road is a good feature, too. So far, my favorite refuge is Bombay Hook in Delaware (but not in September).

#2 Doug Herr

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 06:56 PM

Near home, the Yolo Bypass wildlife area between Sacramento and Davis is hard to beat. It has a driving tour loop but unlike many other wildlife refuges there are numerous walking trails and access restrictions are few and only seasonal. Nearby, the Davis Wetlands are open mornings seasonally with a driving loop and hiking trails. The vast majority of the photos on my Yolo County web page were made at one of these two locations: http://wildlightphoto.com/CA/yolo.html

A little farther north is Colusa NWR. Near the refuge entrance is a viewing platform where wintering waterfowl become accustomed to people: http://wildlightphot.../CA/colusa.html I believe Jodie (cabirds) can show more photos from this spot. I wasn't impressed with this refuge's driving loop.

Beyond Colusa NWR is Sacramento NWR, which is justly famous for its tens (or hundreds) of thousands of wintering ducks and geese:

Posted Image

Unfortunately it has become quite popular and the refuge now charges an entry fee and except for a few rest stops people are restricted to the inside of their cars. All of the photos on my Glenn County web page were made at this refuge: http://wildlightphot...m/CA/glenn.html

#3 LauraC

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 11:47 PM

I looked at your photos. Very nice.

#4 guy_incognito

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 03:58 AM

One of my favorite spots relatively near home is San Jacinto Wildlife Area. It has an auto tour, as well as a large amount of land suitable for walking. Depending on what you are looking for, the car or by foot may be better. On the dirt road in there are lots of birds along the fence which provide excellent photo ops. I've been able to get within 15 feet of Western Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, sparrows, Mountain Bluebird, and Western Kingbird numerous times.

During the winter this spot is also known as being one of the best raptor sites in the state. We had a Gyrfalcon this winter. Some people were able to see 5 falcon species in one day, and over a dozen raptor species.

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#5 spookyjimjams

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 11:00 PM

The Sacramento NWR has opened a blind on the auto trail about halfway down the first long stretch. I have not used it, but it goes way out into one of the marshes. The best way to take pictures from the auto trail on this NWR is from the bed of a pickup with someone else driving. Get a National Parks season pass, you can use it at NWRs, National Parks, and National Forests. I totally recommend it. I documented 48 species here in April from my car alone. There are other foot trails near the visitor center. There are Black-tailed Deer and lots of jack rabbits. If you are lucky (like me) you can watch the Bald Eagles grab full grown geese in the air at the viewing platform at the SE corner of the auto tour.

The San Joaquin NWR Pelican Nature Trail is brand new and a great place to get photos of WT Kites, N Harriers, RT Hawks, GH Owls, and any number of sparrows. There is also the Riparian Brush Rabbit which is endangered everywhere else but here it seems. There won't be a soul on the trail either. It's free. I got 40 species here in February. Just NE on Gates Rd in the spring you can see what has to be one of the highest concentrations of Aleutian Cackling Geese in the world. I have seen several thousand just off the road in agricultural fields. The complex is huge and in the southern section called the San Luis NWR you can see a good sized herd of Tule Elk.

The Cosumnes River Preserve just south of Elk Grove, CA has a boardwalk into the marsh and trails through riparian oak/cottonwood forests. You can hit dozens of species here in lots of beautiful habitats. I got 29 species here in January. This is a great place to take pictures of Sandhill Cranes in migration. I think it's free. It also has a nice visitor center with very enthusiastic employees.

For the far away places, Tule Lake NWR and Modoc NWR are also great. On Modoc there is an auto tour and a trail. I'd like to kayak Tule, if it is allowed. Its free. I have seen 25 species here (Modoc), but I was in a hurry. You have a chance to see antelope at Modoc, pretty cool! There are quite a few in the area.

Now I am terrible at sparrows in the field, so my numbers could be a lot higher than this if I worked harder. We are lucky in Central CA to have many NWRs and other preserves very close to everyone. We are smack-dab in the middle of the Pacific Flyway. One of the reasons why we have so many NWRs is because the birds were eating everything on the agricultural fields in the area, so the government made places for the birds to go instead of the farms. A win-win for everyone!

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#6 cwj2323

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 08:30 PM

Bays Branch here. Location is great. If we had a mind to, we could walk there. (Maybe when the children are older, but then I'd be older too.) It is interesting in that on one of the roads, one side is refuge, the other is for hunting. Overall, we can see the water birds much easier than at the big lake we've gone birding at. We've gotten better pictures of birds that were only a speck in a decent scope. The only time we've seen many people there is when we went with the birding club. Other than that, you may see just a couple cars.

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#7 Melissa :)

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 11:57 PM

I personally LOOVE Bombay Hook!! I go there at least once a season, sometimes more when I have time. And I know what you mean about using the car as a blind. If you go to Bombay Hook in the different seasons, the variety of birds changes drastically. Also, if you visit Bombay Hook, you might enjoy Prime Hook. It doesn't have a driving trail, but has many walking trails in different settings. Such as: pine forest, marsh land, grassland, deciduous woods, ponds. But overall, Bombay is still better. :D

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#8 LauraC

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 04:03 PM

I personally LOOVE Bombay Hook!! I go there at least once a season, sometimes more when I have time. And I know what you mean about using the car as a blind. If you go to Bombay Hook in the different seasons, the variety of birds changes drastically. Also, if you visit Bombay Hook, you might enjoy Prime Hook. It doesn't have a driving trail, but has many walking trails in different settings. Such as: pine forest, marsh land, grassland, deciduous woods, ponds. But overall, Bombay is still better. :D


I have been to Prime Hook but don't like it as much as Bombay Hook in May. Bombay Hook has all of those birds in the marsh grass, too. I like that when I am in my car, they are eye level for photos. I was in Cross Creeks Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee last month. The place is huge and I saw a ton of birds but the photo opportunities were less. They were mostly flying from one side of the road to the other but there wasn't much to hold them close to the road. I wish some wildlife refuges had more stumps in them.

#9 whiteraven

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:51 PM

If you are a senior you can get a lifetime America the Beautiful pass for $10 from federal parks or from the refuges. A huge bargain! Check with your local federal park or refuge to make sure they have them there since not all places carry them.

#10 Doug Herr

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:33 PM

If you are a senior you can get a lifetime America the Beautiful pass for $10 from federal parks or from the refuges. A huge bargain! Check with your local federal park or refuge to make sure they have them there since not all places carry them.


I qualify for this pass in 2 years and 30 days. Not that I'm counting or anything :D

#11 SPiercePhotography

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 09:04 PM

I'm in western mass; i love the quabbin reservoir- so much fun, and free to boot ;D It's 5 minutes from my house, patroled by state police and DCR rangers so in case I ever get into trouble, and has everything from bald eagles, bluebirds, hawks, owls (though i've never seen either), muskrats, herons of all sorts, a local kingfisher, turkeys and all sorts of fun things. I've also seen sillouttes of bobcat, moose and bear crossing the road too-- too bad they won't cross in front of me when it's daytime!

Also, the Arcadia Rookery in easthampton, through mass audubon is lovely., though I only saw birds from a distance as they flew away from me!

#12 Hawk Henries

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 09:59 PM

Haven't been to Quabbin since moving to Maine 25 years ago but I have fond memories of it. Really liked it in winter....

#13 SPiercePhotography

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 01:30 AM

Haven't been to Quabbin since moving to Maine 25 years ago but I have fond memories of it. Really liked it in winter....


I might be a bit biased, as I live right next to it, but the quabbins my favorite place! I just pack up my camera and go; wander around all day, or settle down into the orchard and wait for the birds to show up. The other day I even photographed a baby deer that made itself known!

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Baby Deer by SPierceUrbex, on Flickr

The quabbin has just always been my default, as hasn't let me down yet!

#14 Quincy

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 09:48 PM

If you are from the Delaware area, try the Conowingo Dam in Maryland (not too far from the Delaware border) in the fall for spectacular Bald Eagle sightings and photo ops. I was there last year and had the added experience of watching a pair of Peregrine falcons hunting pigeons along the dam. The distance made getting pictures very challanging, but all in all, that is one place I do go to several times in the fall and winter.
http://www.wildlifes...owingo_Dam.html

#15 LauraC

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 11:49 PM

If you are from the Delaware area, try the Conowingo Dam in Maryland (not too far from the Delaware border) in the fall for spectacular Bald Eagle sightings and photo ops. I was there last year and had the added experience of watching a pair of Peregrine falcons hunting pigeons along the dam. The distance made getting pictures very challanging, but all in all, that is one place I do go to several times in the fall and winter.
http://www.wildlifes...owingo_Dam.html


I visit Bombay Hook (and Blackwater in Cambridge) when I vacation in Maryland (Ocean City) to visit friends. How is the area you suggest in May?

#16 JimBob

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Posted 12 July 2012 - 01:03 PM

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. (refuge)

Been there three times and gotten lifers every time! In winter tons of water foul, early spring shorebirds migrate through, later in spring passerines that migrate migrate through, summer tons of nesting birds!! Awesome all year round. If you're in the area go there!

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#17 TheBillyPilgrim

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 05:38 PM

Merritt Island NWR is by far the best I've been to for photography (my profile pic is from there). My guess is 7 out of the 10 best photos I've taken were there.

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#18 Richie Rich

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 07:43 PM

Merritt Island NWR is by far the best I've been to for photography (my profile pic is from there). My guess is 7 out of the 10 best photos I've taken were there.


Very cool - thanks for that. I live in Melbourne, FL, so that is close & I will def. check it out.

#19 Quincy

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Posted 24 July 2012 - 08:51 PM

I visit Bombay Hook (and Blackwater in Cambridge) when I vacation in Maryland (Ocean City) to visit friends. How is the area you suggest in May?


The best time to visit is between November and March. There are Eagles at the Conowingo Dam all year round, but, once the trees turn green, they are hard to spot. There is also a Great Blue Heron Rookery on an island just below the dam, so they can usually be seen all year long.There is also a trail down the Susquehanna State Park where you can spot migratory warblers. I have read that upto 170 bird species have been recorded in the area, but, I have usually been down there for the Bald Eagles. The occasional Peregrine is always a treat!

#20 LauraC

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 09:34 AM

The best time to visit is between November and March. There are Eagles at the Conowingo Dam all year round, but, once the trees turn green, they are hard to spot. There is also a Great Blue Heron Rookery on an island just below the dam, so they can usually be seen all year long.There is also a trail down the Susquehanna State Park where you can spot migratory warblers. I have read that upto 170 bird species have been recorded in the area, but, I have usually been down there for the Bald Eagles. The occasional Peregrine is always a treat!


Thanks for the info. I'll keep it in mind. Where I live (in my town) great blue herons are as common as robins by the lake and all year long, too. I actually get more excited when the seagulls show up because they are only here from December to the beginning of March. Although, I'm not sure why they leave when it gets warmer.




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