Ten Great Birding Destinations

Some of the best birding locations are on military bases

  • Chris Eberly
  • Oct 01, 2005
An abbreviated version of this list appears in the article “Bases Loaded,” written by National Wildlife Senior Editor Laura Tangley.


Commander Navy Region Southwest – south coastal California

Installations: Naval Base Coronado, Naval Base Point Loma, Naval Base San Diego.

Location: San Diego County (CA); Point Loma, Coronado Island, Silver Strand, and Imperial Beach.

Size: approx. 9,000 acres for 5 separate tracts. Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach includes half of Tijuana Slough NWR.

Best time to visit: year-round

Habitats: fresh and salt water marshes, estuary, beaches, coastal scrub.

Bird species: YEAR-ROUND: Light-Footed Clapper Rail, Brown Pelican, Black Skimmer, Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, Wrentit, Bushtit; WINTER: Western Snowy Plover, Red Phalarope; BREEDING: California Least Tern, Elegant Tern, Hooded Oriole, Least Bell's Vireo.

Access requirements: Tijuana Slough Refuge trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset (no fee); bike path looking into Navy tern nesting colonies on Silver Strand open to public.

Contact Information: Tijuana Slough NWR, 619-575-2704 or -3613, Navy Natural Resources Office, 619-545-4743.


Vandenberg AFB – central coast of California

Location: Santa Barbara County (CA), near Lompoc.

Size: 99,000 acres, with 35 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. Waterfowl Natural Resource Area and Ocean Beach open to public.

Best time to visit: year-round

Habitats: riparian, fresh and salt water marshes, estuary, chaparral, coastal sage and dune scrub.

Bird species: Western Snowy Plover, California Least Tern, Oak Titmouse, Bell’s Sage Sparrow, Tricolored Blackbird, White-tailed Kite, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bushtit, Wrentit.

Access requirements: 24 hour advance notice of visit required for Waterfowl Natural Resource Area. Ocean Beach access restricted to 0.5 miles from Surf Station (end of Highway 246) March 1 – 30 September to protect nesting snowy plovers. No fees. Excellent year-round bird viewing at the Santa Ynez River estuary from Ocean Beach County Park, but there is no beach access from the park during snowy plover nesting season.

Contact Information: 30th Security Forces Fish and Wildlife Office, 805-606-6804.

More details: Winging It, May 2003 (accessible from checklists page, www.dodpif.org


Fort Huachuca – southeast Arizona

Location: Cochise County (AZ), just west of San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and 8 miles north of the Mexican border.

Size: 73,272 acres.

Best time to visit: year-round

Habitats: high elevation riparian, montane grasslands, Chihuahuan desertscrub, Madrean woodlands, pine-oak and mixed conifer forests.

Bird species: Mexican and Steller’s Jays; Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, Gray Vireo; Gray, Sulfur-bellied and Vermilion Flycatchers; Elegant Trogon, Buff-Breasted Flycatcher, Montezuma Quail, Gould’s Wild Turkey, Mexican Spotted Owl, Zone-tailed Hawk.

Access requirements: Driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance required for vehicle pass. No fee. All adults need photo identification. Canyon areas: bird tapes/calls prohibited, daylight hours access only, group size limited to 12, stay on trails, no smoking.

Contact Information: Natural Resources, Wildlife Section, 520-533-7083.


Fort Carson – southeast Colorado

Location: El Paso and Pueblo Counties (CO), just south of Colorado Springs.

Size: 137,000 acres.

Best time to visit: early summer, fall.

Habitats: grasslands, foothill shrublands, riparian woodlands, wetlands, montane woodlands.

Bird species: YEAR-ROUND: Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch; MIGRATION: waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds; SUMMER: Lazuli Bunting, Say’s Phoebe, Black-headed Grosbeak, Vesper, Brewer’s and Lark Sparrow, Plumbeous Vireo, Lesser Goldfinch; WINTER: “Pink-sided” Junco, Mountain Chickadee, Clark’s Nutcracker.

Access requirements: Turkey Creek Recreation Area, on Highway 115, is open to the public from dawn to dusk (no fee). It has many horse trails going from a grove of willow trees into montane woodlands. Across Highway 115 is The Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon Preserve, also good for birding.

Contact Information: Fort Carson Wildlife Office, 719-576-8074. Also see (Fort Carson is site #22).


Avon Park AFR – central Florida

Location: Highlands and Polk Counties (FL), 9 miles east of Avon Park at the end of County Road 64.

Size: 106,000 acres. Approximately 82,000 acres are open to public access on a regular basis for hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, and other related activities.

Best time to visit: year-round

Habitats: dry prairie, upland hammocks, oak and sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes.

Bird species: Florida Scrub-Jay, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrow, Short-tailed Hawk (spring through fall), Swallow-tailed Kite (spring and summer), Crested Caracara.

Access requirements: Outdoor Recreation Permit required ($8 weekend permit; $35, annual permit, July 1-June 30).

Contact Information: Outdoor Recreation Office, 863-452-4254; recorded message about status of range, 863-452-4119 x5, or visit www.avonparkafr.com.

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