The season of the great migration is upon us and the birdwatchers are cleaning their binoculars, waterproofing their hiking boots and studying their field guides in preparation. Many North American songbirds already started heading south back in late August, but the vast majority of these, along with raptors, waterfowl, woodpeckers and more will pass through the Lake James area in the weeks to come. In fact, between now and the end of November can be the most exciting birdwatching of the year. Here at the state park, a few spots have proven themselves season after season to be especially productive for seeing lots of different kinds of birds and/or lots of individuals. The small woodlot on the west side of the Paddy’s Creek Area bathhouse is one of these. As the sun rises in the morning, these trees are among the first to receive its warming rays. When the temperature rises insects become active and that’s exactly what travelling warblers, vireos, thrushes and flycatchers are looking for after flying all night. Get there early enough and you could spot American redstarts, Baltimore orioles, Eastern pewees, red-headed woodpeckers, Cape May, palm, chestnut-sided, black-throated-green and black-and-white warblers – to name but a few. Another top spot is the Paddy’s Creek Area bridge. Park at the pull-off or the Holly Discovery Trail lot and walk out to the middle of the bridge gangway, facing the lake. This can be an especially good location to watch for thrushes, catbirds and other fruiteating migrants that feast on the berries of the black locust tree that grows on the south side of the creek.
If it’s eagles, hawks and falcons that get your juices flowing, the lower parking deck at the Paddy’s Creek Area swim beach has been a terrific vantage point for migrating raptors. September cold fronts push southbound broad-winged hawks by the hundreds, riding the northwest winds on their way to South America. Later in the season, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks can be spotted coursing by, along with the occasional merlin or bald eagle.
It’s a great time to be outside enjoying one of Nature’s most brilliant spectacles. See you at the park!