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Time for some bird-watching


    A crurious young booby checks out the camera in the Galapagos Islands.

It’s the Year of the Bird and the Centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So grab the binoculars and head to the mountains, the coast or the canyons to observe beautiful creatures in flight.

Here are five places to consider:

1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Perhaps you’ve heard about the cliff-diving blue-footed boobies? Or the 8-foot wingspan of the waved albatross? The latter is also known for an elaborate courtship dance that can include 20 minutes of bowing, honking, whistling and bill clacking. But perhaps the most famous and biologically important of the island birds are Darwin’s 13 finches. The creatures were central to the scientist’s evolutionary theories. Learn more about the volcanic island’s winged population via a cruise or a hotel-based tour.


2. Southern Arizona

Visit this region to see as many as 250 bird species, including more than 15 kinds of colorful hummingbirds, the elegant trogon and a painted restart. Make your way to the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area, a 49,000-acre conservation region, rich with winged wildlife, thanks to careful preservation of the fragile ecosystem. Each January, the Wings Over Willcox festival celebrates the migrating sand hill cranes.


3. Everglades National Park, Homestead, Fla.

Follow paved roads or wooden boardwalks to spot warblers, mangrove cuckoos, herons, egrets and other wading birds in the country’s largest subtropical wilderness area. Eagles, hawks and osprey also abound in this 1.5 million-acre park. Home to 360 species, a World Heritage Site and designated as a Wetland of International Importance, the national park offers a free Junior Ranger program to enhance the experience for young explorers.


4. Falkland Islands

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, this 740-island archipelago is best known for their large and accessible rare bird colonies. Home to as many as 1 million penguins, visitors are eager to see five of the 17 species frolicking in the surf or waddling along the beach. Be on the lookout for the Cobb’s wren, a striated cara-cara and the flightless steamer duck. The islands also serve as the breeding ground for more than 70 percent of the world’s black-browed albatross.


5. Beaumont, Texas

Located on two migratory bird flyways, the Central and Mississippi, and near the Neches River and Pine Island Bayou, the area attracts hundreds of species to the delight of enthusiastic birders. A popular viewing spot, the Big Thicket National Preserve, encompasses 108,000 acres and has been recognized as a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the American Bird Conservancy. Head to the Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands to scope for a variety of species of ducks, snow geese and snowy egrets, along with hard-to-find species such as prairie warblers, red-bellied woodpeckers, eastern screech owls and king rails. Each year, Beaumont participates in the annual “big sit” birding event, a challenge to spot (and hear) as many birds as possible in 24 hours. Check the website for dates and details.


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