North Carolina has some noteworthy natural assets, including, but not limited to, a stunning stretch of coastline, the hilly Piedmont and a photogenic mountain spine. Conveniently, the eastern edge of the state forms an important link in the Atlantic Flyway, which means for bird watchers the sky might very well be the limit. While migratory bird numbers ebb and flow seasonally, there are a number of places to enjoy a variety of bird species year round, some of which are located a stone’s throw from urban centers.
Bird watchers interested in both local bird life and some of the state’s most scenic spots will do well to consider destinations like Cape Lookout National Seashore and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in the Outer Banks.Take a drive cross state, stopping to enjoy urban parks close to Raleigh like Lake Crabtree County Park or Miller Park near Winston-Salem, before beating a retreat, binoculars in hand, for the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge:
The Outer Banks are one of North Carolina’s top tourist destinations, but it’s also a magnate for birders. Try Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, an narrow island sanctuary, for a glimpse of both sea birds and species drawn to freshwater ponds. Note that weather systems can dramatically and quickly effect bird numbers in these parts.
Cape Lookout National Seashore:
This stretch of barrier islands east of the mainland is undeveloped and inaccessible by road. Visit by ferry or boat for a glimpse of wild horses and good year-round birding. Look for shorebirds, hawks and songbirds in spring and fall; ducks and geese in winter. Endangered Piping Plover are also seen here. Farther off shore spot pelagic species like shearwaters and petrels
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge:
This 50,000 acre refuge in eastern North Carolina takes in the state’s largest natural lake as well as farm land, marsh and stands of timber. Consequent to its location on Atlantic Flyaway, Mattamuskeet hosts large numbers of migratory birds and wintering waterfowl. In addition to large flocks of geese and more than twenty duck species, watch also for Osprey, Bale Eagles and Peregrine Falcons.
Though surrounded by urban sprawl, this 40 acre park sounds a sparrows siren song for city birders. Paved trails provide ready access to various habitats including stands of pine, where Yellow-crowned Night-Herons nest in season and woodpeckers, the White-breasted Nuthatch and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can also be sighted. Watch along the paths for vireos, warblers, tanagers, flycatchers and more.
Historic Bethabara Park:
History enthusiasts with a penchant for bird sightings won’t want to overlook this historic park. Between marsh boardwalk and meandering trails look for the likes of woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Wood Duck, Eastern Phoebe, vireos, warblers, tanagers and even the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Morrow Mountain State Park:
More than 30 miles of trail provide easy access to some of the best birding in the Uwharrie region, particularly during spring migration. Scope for Bald Eagle, Prothonotary Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager and the Great Crested Flycatcher, amongst other species, as you range from river to mountain path.
Scenic Blue Ridge Parkway cuts across this mountain ridge, which makes it both easily accessible and sometimes crowded. Dodge the area’s busy period by visiting dawn or dusk, when a birder might sight Ruffed Grouse, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, migrating songbirds and more. Birding is at its peak from about mid-April to mid-October.
Lake Crabtree County Park:
Conveniently close to “The Triangle” cities, this 735-acre park consists of a large flood control lake and several miles of trail. Birding is good here year-round, though migrating songbird numbers peak in spring and fall. Watch in summer for nesting songbirds like the Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting and more.