The skies of Delmarva are the I-95 of avian migration. Every autumn, thousands of birds of hundreds of species pass through the region on their way to warmer climes in Florida, the Caribbean, or South America. Others get this far and decide to winter over here, where the weather isn’t exactly Camelot, but where the rains and snows and severe conditions seem content to stay on the other side of the Bay. Come spring, it all reverses.
Many ornithological organizations rate the Atlantic Coast along Delmarva as one of the richest as well as one of the most critical and most at-risk areas for birds in North America. Nearly 400 species of birds have been counted in the water and along the shoreline and in the wetlands of Delmarva. The largest Great Blue Heron rookery is on Pea Patch Island in Delaware Bay. The eggs of the humble Horseshoe Crab are a critical food source for migrating shorebirds.
Dedicated bird watchers plan their vacations, if not their entire lives, around visiting Delmarva during the migrations. With cameras, high-powered binoculars, and wet weather gear, they flock to their favorite viewing spots with the same single-minded intensity that the feathered objects of their passion seek out the best feeding places. That’s led to the creation of spring and autumn birding festivals, with checklists of birds to look out for, guided tours of birding ‘hot spots,’ and evening comparisons of sightings, possible sightings, and flights of fanciful imaginings.
But while the transitional seasons see the largest number of species, Delmarva is still a birder’s delight the rest of the year. Assateague Island and the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge are particularly popular with both shore birds and bird watchers. Paddlers, meanwhile, reach places where they’ll see birds land-bound birders might miss. The Pocomoke River and the new water trails around Smith Island are particularly good for that. Charter boats leaving Ocean City travel 10 or more miles offshore to see Razorbills, Atlantic Puffin, Skua, and other true ocean birds.
The tourism offices have checklists and suggested places to view. On-line resources include birding clubs and information about the birding weekends. It’s another great way to enjoy the richness of Delmarva.