Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, Delaware, 19977
American Avocets, August, 2013
Bombay Hook NWR encompasses almost 16,000 acres, almost 12,000 of which are tidal saltwater marshland. It was established in 1937 to protect migrating shorebirds and waterfowl traveling the Atlantic Flyway on their way to and from their breeding grounds each year. A twelve mile auto tour, along with five nature trails and two observation towers, provides access to a small portion of the refuge.
Birding at Bombay Hook is good at anytime of the year. The spring songbird migration starts in April, and by May songbird and shorebird migration peaks. By June, breeding birds such as eagles and ducks are raising their broods and by July, large concentrations of wading birds are present. The fall shorebird migration begins in August. By September, the first Canadian Geese arrive, and in October, large numbers of Snow and Canadian Geese arrive. November is the peak of the fall waterfowl migration, and in December large populations of waterfowl continue to winter in the refuge. In January, a variety of hawks and Bald Eagles are abundant, and the Eagles lay their eggs beginning in February.
Be forewarned that biting flies and mosquitoes are thick here in the summer months. It is a swamp, after all!! So bring bug spray and avoid the trails on hot, humid days in the summer months. When summer weather is cool with low humidity birding along the auto drive is very comfortable.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
Chincoteague and Assateague Islands are barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean that straddle the Maryland/Virginia border. They are known for their wild ponies. Oral history holds that they are descendants of horses that survived Spanish galleon shipwrecks, though scientists now believe they are descended from horses that were kept on the barrier islands by very early colonists who kept them on the islands to avoid colonial duties and taxes. True to form, the horses were grazing in the swamp grass close to the road, though I was more interested in the Cattle Egret that followed them everywhere.
The wonderful thing about Chincoteague and Assateague is that they were designated as national wildlife refuges, so they are not the typical east coast beaches, littered with condos, high rises, or row upon row of huge beach houses. Here, the wildlife ‘owns’ the beachfront. So it’s a wonderful place to go birding. In the summer, herons and egrets breed and forage, including the Tri-Colored and Little Blue Herons. In the spring and fall, migrating shorebirds congregate at Swans and Toms Cove, while a walk on the Woodland trail will reveal the songbirds. In the winter, waterfowl stay as long as the freshwater impoundments don’t freeze over.
Davidsonville Park, Patuxent River Road, Davidsonville, Maryland
Along the Anne Arundel County, Maryland bank of the Patuxent River, in between Central Avenue and Rt. 50, lies a community park called Davidsonville Park. At first glance as you drive into the parking area is that the park is nothing more than a collection of ball fields. Apparently not a great place to find a great variety of birds. First impressions can sometimes be deceiving. There is a paved path that encircles the park, and behind all the ball fields, in front of the woods that buffer the river, is a small pond. The path along the pond runs for perhaps a hundred to a hundred-fifty yards or so. Here, in the brush along the pond and the small saplings between the path and the woods, I have seen dozens of different birds. It’s a great place to spend a couple of early morning hours.
Fishing Creek Marsh, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland
Driving along the road through Chesapeake Beach, you wouldn’t know that this little oasis exists. In fact, the beginning of the boardwalk starts on the back side of the parking lot for the water park.
The path and boardwalk along the creek follows its own history. In the early 1900’s a short line railway called the Chesapeake Beach Railway brought summer visitors from Washington, DC to what was then a resort summer community and amusement park. A two-mile long boardwalk extended at that time along the Chesapeake Bay, which included a bandstand, the amusement park, shops and eateries. The community flourished until the Great Depression and a fire at the resort hotel forced the closure of the railway and the amusement park. The path along which I walked aside Fishing Creek was paved over the old railroad bed of the Chesapeake Railway. Where today’s boardwalk extends over Fishing Creek, I could still see the rotting trestles of the old railroad pointing to the overgrown railway line disappearing into the woods on the other side of the creek.
On the evenings I was there, I saw a variety of wading birds: Great and Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, and a Black-Crowned Night Heron. Ospreys and Bald Eagles were hunting in the creek, Sparrows were flitting through the marsh grasses, and a Rail of some sort was calling from the marsh. Geese were already flying in formation as the sun was setting. I’m curious to come back later in the fall to see what kinds of ducks winter in the protected waters of the creek. All in all, this was a great place to spend a couple of hours birding and observing wildlife.