DELMARVA ALMANAC

The Delmarva Birding Weekend

by Jim Rapp

The Delmarva Peninsula is one of the country's premier birding areas, thanks to an extensive variety of habitat protected by our coastal parks, refuges and wildlife management areas. During spring migration, birders can observe hundreds of species on Delmarva's barrier islands, in tidal salt marshes, cypress swamps, upland fields and forested land. More than 400 bird species have been recorded in the region.


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Birding is the recreational hobby of observing species of wild birds, and learning about their characteristics and behavior. You may not consider yourself a "birder," which implies that you own expensive optics and travel to sustain your fervor for all things feathered. You may not even consider yourself a "bird-watcher:" someone who knows the basic birds of the backyard, or can at least tell a hawk from a hummingbird.

Forget about the labels -- most of us stop to take in the wonder of the bird world when we are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a majestic Bald Eagle soaring over a Chesapeake marsh, or drive by a Great Blue Heron stalking it's prey along a roadside ditch, or hear the eerie hooting of a Great Horned Owl at dusk.

If you enjoy spending a few glorious spring days outdoors appreciating Delmarva's avian awesomeness, you still have time to register for the 20th Annual Delmarva Birding Weekend. Held April 23 through 26, this birding festival celebrates the spring migration of warblers, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors, and the birds that call the Delmarva Peninsula home year-round. In late April, you'll see waterfowl that winter here before they migrate north, and early-arriving warblers and shorebirds that have just flown in from the Caribbean and South America.

As all weekends should, the Delmarva Birding Weekend starts on a Thursday, and features boat trips, paddling treks, and expeditions by foot. All field trips are lead by expert guides. Just bring a pair of binoculars, dress for the weather, and there's a good chance you can see over 150 bird species.

Seriously -- if you plan your field trips to a variety of Delmarva habitats over the four days of the Birding Weekend, and you keep a list of all the birds you see, 150 species is very attainable. The total average species list for the Weekend is 170 to 190. In 2009, 204 different species of birds were reported!

If you need some help planning your itinerary for the four-day Weekend, here are some suggestions:

On Thursday, start the weekend with a day of birding along the Delaware Coast that will begin at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, just northeast of Dover, Delaware. Your guides will meet you at the Visitor Center, where one of your first sightings is likely to be the Purple Martins that have recently returned to the nesting houses and gourds out front. Just standing in the parking lot will help you start the Weekend off with 10 to 15 species that can be found right around the Visitor Center and adjacent fields.

Your guides will then lead a caravan along the 12-mile wildlife drive, with stops along the way to break out the spotting scopes and view wading birds, waterfowl and shorebirds in the tidal flats and expansive pools. This should be a good spot to check off Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet, two large shorebirds that are usually found at Bombay Hook in late April.

By the end of your morning trip, you should have your first 40 or 50 birds checked off your list. Grab lunch on the way to your next stop: the Dupont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor. This is a great spot to add a few more shorebirds, such as the American Oystercatcher and Black-bellied Plover. Although early in the migration season, the federally threatened Red Knot has been recorded here during the Delmarva Birding Weekend. By the end of Day One, you should be in the range of 60 to 70 species on your list.

On Friday, you've got some choices to make between hiking trips, kayaking excursions, and nighttime owl prowls. To bump up your species total and see some songbirds, register for a morning trip at Redden State Forest just east of Bridgeville, Delaware. You'll certainly add some warblers, flycatchers and vireos here. By noon, you should easily have crossed the 100 species mark on your list.

In the afternoon, head over to Fenwick Island for the Trail to Rails kayak trip on Rehoboth Bay. Elusive Clapper Rails can be heard and sometimes seen in the winding guts of the salt marsh.

Stop in Berlin, Maryland, around happy hour for a craft beer and Tally Rally at Burley Oak Brewing Company. Scoot out around 6:30 pm to make the Owl Prowl at Shad Landing near Snow Hill, Maryland, which starts at 7. With some luck, you'll be able to check off Barred Owl and Eastern Screech Owl, and you should go to bed slightly exhausted but happy with the 100-plus species on your list.

It will be difficult to choose an itinerary for Saturday with so much offered. You can opt for an all-day boat trip to World-Famous Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, and spot some late-leaving winter ducks or a recently arrived Yellow-crowned Night-heron. You can explore the marshes of Somerset County, Maryland, or take a kayak or pontoon boat trip on the Pocomoke River surrounded by singing Prothonotary Warblers.

To hit the 125 species mark, register for the Shorebird Explorer boat trip that tours behind Ocean City and Assateague Island at 2 pm. This trip should provide Common Loons, Purple Sandpipers, and federally threatened Piping Plovers on the mud flats behind Assateague. Enjoy the Tally Rally at M.R. Duck's dock bar in Ocean City after the boat trip.

Finish out Saturday with a twilight trip at Assateague or the marshes east of Snow Hill. A perfect end to the day is being serenaded by Chuck-will's-widows as the sun sets along the Maryland coast. You should be very close to 150 species by bedtime.

If you need just a few more species to make your goal, Sunday offers two trips on private lands that are normally off-limits to birders. You can also end your Delmarva Birding Weekend with a beautiful, bird-filled morning kayak trip on Ayers Creek near Berlin. With each trip, you are sure to add at least one or two species that you did not encounter the days before.

If boasting a 150 species list isn't enough, you'll feel even better knowing that you've helped Delmarva's birds by promoting birding and habitat conservation. Birders, both novice and experienced, make an important statement about the economic value of birds and their habitats through the money they spend in local hotels, restaurants, and shops. Participants are encouraged to remind local businesses that they are here to enjoy Delmarva's natural areas and the birds that inhabit them.

There's still time to register! Visit www.DelmarvaBirding.org for more information.