A dozen Delaware adventures for spring birdwatching pleasure

Reed Hellman

Avid birders regard Delaware’s bay shoreline as “The Shorebird Capital of the World.” During spring migration, 210 species from around the world feed non-stop for two weeks in the Delaware Bay. The back bays and tidal flats swarm with hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds and a diverse roster of other species.

As the Delaware River widens into Delaware Bay and dumps into the Atlantic Ocean, it forms a “hurdle” of open water that migrating birds have to transit as they head north or south. Delaware’s beaches, bays, and marshes offer respite, shelter, and ready food for often exhausted migrators before the long, open water flight to Cape May, N.J.

Waders_in_flight_Roebuck_Bay
Waders in flight in Roebuck Bay.

Delaware’s mid-latitude location puts it in the path of migrants arriving and departing throughout the year, ensuring varied, dynamic birding. Spring migrators may begin transiting Delaware Bay later in March, but shorebird numbers reach their peak from about May 15 to May 30. The spring begins with colorful migrant songbirds and ends with the summer breeding season. The spring waterfowl migration peaks in March. Spring raptor migration extends from late March through early May, and is best observed along ocean dunes and the Delaware Bay shore.

A series of National Wildlife Refuges and Delaware State Wildlife Areas line the western shore of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, offering numerous access points for birders. Many birders make the DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Reserve their first stop. Located adjacent to some of Delaware’s richest birding beaches, the center’s outdoor decks and large windows offer superb views of the migratory shorebirds and, in the spring, spawning horseshoe crabs.

Moving tides — rising or falling — are prime times for birding the tidal regions. Food washes in or out, and the birds feed closer to shoreline observation points. Productive shorebird spots include the Raymond, Shearness, and Bear Swamp pools at Bombay Hook and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuges; Ted Harvey, Woodland Beach, Little Creek, and Milford Neck Wildlife Areas; Port Mahon Road east of Little Creek; and the bayshore areas of Milford Neck.

Along Delaware’s oceanside, favored locations include the jetties at the mouth of Indian River Inlet for long-tail ducks, and Cape Henlopen State Park around Cape Henlopen Point and at Herring Point. Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach holds flocks of canvasbacks and ruddy ducks. Brant, goldeneye, common loons, horned grebes, buffleheads, and red-breasted mergansers favor the inland bays, from the Dewey Beach area south toward Indian River Inlet.

Fort Miles at Henlopen State Park holds spring migration bird walks April 5, 12, 19, and 26, and May 3 and 10.

On Saturday, May 21, the DuPont Nature Center will host its Peace, Love & Horseshoe Crab Festival, 10:00am–3:00pm. This annual event lets children, families, community members, and nature center visitors celebrate the Mispillion Harbor and its importance as a habitat for horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds.

For more information

DuPont Nature Center: dupontnaturecenter.org

Delaware State Parks: destateparks.com

National Wildlife Refuges: fws.gov

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