Here’s a list of my top seven bird and wildlife photo hotspots. In no particular order:
#1 Bosque del Apache, New Mexico – http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=22520 – Bosque del Apache (Woods of the Apache) is a 57,191-acre national wildlife refuge 18 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico. More than 300 species of birds migrate to the Bosque each year. Great place for blue herons, mallards, snowy egrets, sandhill cranes, roadrunners, Ross,’ Canadian and snow geese, bald eagles, Coopers and red-tailed hawks and wild turkeys. Surely no place in the western US can boast such a concentration of birds and wildlife. ??The migrating geese and cranes start to arrive in earnest at the Refuge in November.
Any visit between mid-November and early January should yield a Refuge filled with tens of thousands of birds. Visit http://www.friendsofthebosque.org/ for more information. NOTE: This is probably the last year Bosque will be on my list. The refuge management and police are not easy to deal with. They don’t like photographers and will use pretty much any excuse they can to harass you. Be careful and avoid them if possible.
#2 Northwest Trek Eatonville, Washington – http://www.nwtrek.org/ – This is a great place to photograph deer, elk, moose, bear and a number of other birds and animals native to the northwest. There are several options here. You can enter the park and ride the tram around the free roaming area. There aren’t many photographic opportunities from the tram but it does give you a good idea of the lay of the land. You can also arrange to take a special photography tram. These are offered every quarter. In either event, you can also walk around the staged exhibits and this is where the best shots are. Even though some people would refer to these as cages, they are really natural enclosures designed to mimic the animals natural habitat. Some favorites here are the porcupines, snowy owls, raccoons, deer and elk.
#3 The Alligator Farm St Augustine, FL – http://www.alligatorfarm.com/ – is an amazing place that offers bird (and alligator) photographers a chance to photograph birds in breeding plumage from as close as four feet. In late spring and early summer, you can photograph baby chicks at arms length. The birds nest here because of the alligators. By the way, The Alligator Farm boasts every type of alligator and crocodile found in the world. The place is extremely photographer friendly and a yearly pass ($60) entitles you to early entry.
#4 Arizona Sonora Dessert Museum – http://www.desertmuseum.org/ – This is a great place to photograph all sorts of raptors, lizards and other dessert wildlife. It’s close to Tucson and there are many other bird photo opportunities in the same general area. Also don’t miss the nearby Saguaro National Park.
#5 Yellowstone Park – http://www.nps.gov/yell/ – Yellowstone (particularly in the Fall) is an amazing place to find and photograph bison, grizzly and black bear, wolf, coyote and fox. Access is simple. Backgrounds are beautiful and wildlife abundant. Just pay attention to the rangers when they tell you to move on. They have little sense of humor. Avoid in the summer too crowded.
#6 Baxter State Park Maine – http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/ – If you want to photograph moose, this is the place. Just be careful. Moose kill more humans in North America than bears and wolves combined. Go in the Fall to catch the rut combined with great colors.
#7 Denali National Park http://www.nps.gov/dena/ – Go in Autumn. You will see caribou, moose, grizzly and black bears. You may see the wolf pack. Also possible is beaver and Alaska’s state bird, the Willow Ptarmigan. Note you can’t drive your car all the way into the park. You’ll have to take a bus to the interior unless you rent a night in one of the two or three privately-owned hotels operating in the park – all of which are expensive.
This is just a starting point. There are many places around the USA and the world that you can find and photograph birds and animals. These are just some of my favorites. Hopefully you will enjoy them too.