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Bird Watching Hot Spots on the Maryland, Delaware Eastern Shore

Long time birder, Dolores shares some tips and information. Some of her favorite first sightings have been in her own back yard.

Great Egret

(photo by Scott Deamond)

(photo by Scott Deamond)

Any time is a great time to go bird watchiing on Maryland and Delaware's Eastern Shore. Seasoned bird watchers and new birders alike flock to several areas for a glimpse at migratory birds and regulars. The bird watching hot spots mentioned here are easy access, beautiful spots for driving tours or short walks.

Driving around in a car might not seem like our idea of a commune with nature, but a car provides an excellent blind. When you want to walk, stick to the roads and official trails. Bird sanctuaries are havens for birds. Off trail walking can damage habitat and nesting areas.

From mid-October to March migrating waterfowl from the flock to tidewater salt marshes and brackish wetlands. What could be more wonderful on a dull winter's day than to see hundreds of snow geese interspersed with tundra swans bobbing in the austere winter beauty of an open marsh?

Many of these wonderful birding areas are within an easy drive of Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE.; Baltimore, MD.; and Washington, DC. and make for great day trips. If you spend an off-season weekend at the beach, you can make an easy side trip to one of these beautiful spots.

Make sure you pack some drinks and snacks because once you arrive, you'll want to stay for hours.

In addition to the expected local birds and migratories, you may see some wildly unexpected surprises like the Roseate spoonbill that was seen on Rt 54 outside of Fenwick Island just behind the Catch 54 Restaurant a few years ago. How about sitting out on a pier, eating a sandwich and sipping an iced tea while you are watching a spoonbill in Delaware! Unbelievable. White pelicans have been spotted with regularity at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Maryland and a Brown booby( a pelagic bird, unusual in the area) was seen at Assateague Island.

Roseate Spoonbill - A Big Surprise - Who Knows What You Can See If You Really Look! / CC BY 2.0 / CC BY 2.0

Birdwatching at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

7 miles East of Smyrna, Delaware, Bombay Hook offers marvelous birding and beautiful views of fresh and salt water marshes. A road loops through the park and provides views of ponds, woodlands, and meadows as well as the marshes.

Make sure you stop at the Visitor Center for a map and pamphlet. Raymond Poor (Tour Stop #3) is a great spot to see shorebirds including American Avocets. Be sure to check out the observation tower and boardwalk trail if you are looking for migrant songbirds. Shearness Pool is the place to see snow geese and eagles in fall and winter. The views are spectacular so plan for several hours.

Bombay Hook, Delaware

(photo by Scott Deamond)

(photo by Scott Deamond)

Slaughter Beach, Delaware

6 miles East of Milford, Delaware lies Slaughter Beach, famous for the springtime mass spawning of horseshoe crabs. When the prehistoric looking creatures bury their eggs in May and June, hungry birds swoop in for a feast on their way from South America to the Arctic. The Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Semi-Palmated Sandpipers and others put on quite a spectacle.

American Avocet / CC BY-ND 2.0 / CC BY-ND 2.0

Milford Neck Preserve

7 miles East of Milford, Delaware is a stretch that includes Scott's Corners and Big Stone Beach. Highlights of the area include coastal forests, freshwater marshes, sand dunes, and the Delaware Bay. Check out the elusive rails, the Whip-poor-will, and Chuck-wills-widows.

The bay is a favorite for gulls, terns, ducks, and shore birds. In spring, the spawning horse-shoe crabs attracts hungry migratory birds.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Prime Hook is 5 miles northeast of Milton, Delaware,. Drive along Delaware Rt. 16, 1.1 miles east of Delaware Rt 1,and turn left onto Turkle Pond Road where you will find the Visitor Center.

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Broadkill Beach Road traverses the southern portion of the refuge where the headquarters is located. Foot trails and Fowler Beach Road provide great birding featuring freshwater marsh, coastal forest, and slat water wetlands. Check out the snipe, bitterns terns, falcons, ducks, and rails.

Great Cypress Swamp, Delaware

Access is limited to the cypress swamp 4 miles west of Selbyville as much of the area is privately owned. Drive west on RT 54 from US 113 towards Gumboro. Before the 3 mile mark, you will find yourself in a beautiful swamp. Drive on, look to the left for Hudson Road, about 5 miles from US 113. the unpaved Hudson Road takes you to Bethal Rd. Endangered birds such as the Hooded Warbler and watch list birds like Chuck-wills-widow and Summer tanagers nest here.

Delaware Bay

(photo by Scott Deamond)

(photo by Scott Deamond)

Pokomoke River State Forest and Park, Maryland

With Shad Landing on the south side of the Pokomoke River and Milburn Landing on the north, Pokomoke offers a continuation of the great cypress swamp of Delaware. Home to Bald eagles, waders. Pileated woodpeckers, warblers, American turkey, Bob Whites, and American woodcock, this beautiful area is easily traveled by car or canoe. The knees of the bald cypress poking up through the tea colored water will make a canoe trip seem like an adventure into mystery. With birds.

Great Black Backed Gull

(photo by Scott Deamond)

(photo by Scott Deamond)

Ocean City Inlet, Ocean City, Maryland

A few steps away from the Ferris Wheel and historic merry-go-round of Ocean City's Boardwalk, the inlet links the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. Across the inlet lays Assateague Island where you may spot wild ponies. Gulls, terns, loons, and cormorants, Brown pelicans, and migratory ducks can be seen in fall, winter, and early spring. You may even see Bottle-nosed dolphin!

At one time, Ocean City and Assateage were linked, were, in fact, one long barrier island that was cut in two during a hurricane in 1933.

Assateague Island National Seashore

A few miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, you can see what the overbuilt resort must have once looked like - pristine beaches, pine woods, rolling sad dunes, and salt marshes.

Check out migratory birds and winter pelagics like the gannets that can be viewed flying over the ocean. A couple of surprise visitors were documented at Assateague in the past few years including a Brown booby, and a White faced ibis. Snowy owls have been spotted and photographed in the dunes in winter.

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, Maryland

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland offers 25,000 acres of mixed evergreen/deciduous forest, tidal marshes, and fresh water ponds. The scenic wildlife drive covers 4 miles where you can glimpse these pristine areas from your car, or meander along on a bike. Hiking and paddling trails are available as well.

Blackwater hosts approximately 35,000 geese each winter, and 15,000 ducks. Tundra swans abound, along with more bald eagles that I've ever seen in any one place in my life. Blackwater can almost guarantee a bald eagle sighting.

In the past year, an amazing addition to Blackwater has been a visiting flock of white pelicans, rarely seen in the area. In early April of 2010, I visited Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and was thrilled to see 24 white pelicans in full breeding mode. They grow a distinctive knob on their beaks during breeding time.

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is located off Route 50. Turn right (if you are approaching from the west) or left (if approaching from the east) onto Route 16 (Church Creek Road). Make a left onto Egypt Road and travel 7 miles to where it dead ends onto Key Wallace Drive. Look for the brown refuge sign.

Great Blue Heron at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

(photo by Dolores Monet)

(photo by Dolores Monet)

American White Pelicans at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland

photo by Charlie Lentz -

photo by Charlie Lentz -

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook, Delaware


Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on February 25, 2011:

Stacebird - of course this article is limited. There are so many wonderful spots to see birds in the Delmarva area and I greatly appreciate your suggestion. Maybe I will check this one out myself.

Stacey M Hollis from Washington DC on February 24, 2011:

Hi Dolores, it's neat to see someone letting the world know how beautiful our part of the world is! I've been a birder for twenty years (have reached the ripe ol' age of 27, ha) and I am from the DC metro area, so of course I've spent many a vacation on the Assateague Shore and done some serious birding in Chincoteague (saw my first peregrine and brown-headed nuthatch there!). I spent the year of '08 working on the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge where I did shorebird and marsh work as a field biotech. I noticed you didn't happen to mention this refuge! It's a star because of the incredible density of migrants that converge there (being that it is the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula) before crossing the mouth of the bay. Literally CLOUDS of tree swallows (check out a nice picture and my account of the experience of watching them here on my blog: If you haven't been there, definitely check it out next fall!

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