For the people who love hearing a great horned owl hoot eerily at dusk, or watching a great blue heron chow down on an unlucky fish: Humans and birds are flying toward the Delmarva Peninsula for the same reason — the winter migration.
More than a dozen birding outings are planned over the next four months, including: the 2nd Annual Winter Delmarva Birding Weekend, “Beans, Birds & Beers” day trips and the 22nd Annual Spring Delmarva Birding Weekend.
This is an incredible birding area, organizers said, “thanks to an extensive variety of habitat protected by coastal parks, refuges and wildlife management areas.”
“During the Weekends, our guests will hike on private farmland and woodland that are normally off-limits to birders, and our waterborne trips go where the birds are,” stated organizer Dave Wilson. “It’s amazing to tally 100 species in a single day on light hikes and boat trips in our own back yard.”
“This is in our back yards, guys and gals, not Montana,” said organizer Jim Rapp.
Wintertime is packed with the migrating birds following the food sources southward.
“There’s so much food on the coast for the ducks and geese (and also the eagles that like to eat birds and geese),” Wilson said.
“The winter is great,” he said, “because you get really good looks at large birds, ducks, falcons, eagles, ducks…”
Oh, and seals.
Humans love glimpsing furry and flippered animals during outings, he noted. Last year, visitors saw harbor seals and gray seals on the popular Lewes sailing excursion, as well as river otters and red foxes elsewhere.
The events attract both experienced and novice birders — as well as people who just enjoy nature. Some people travel from across the U.S. to see Delmarva’s wildlife.
“They can’t see red knots in their back yards” in Philadelphia and New York, said Rapp.
“People love to see birds and count birds, but mostly people just want to be outdoors, and the Delmarva Peninsula is so beautiful. There’s a lot of beautiful places for people to see,” Wilson said. “It’s really about the experience. People love to be outside and talk to like-minded people.”
In addition, the guides are fun and engaging, not just “bookworms pointing at things,” he quipped.
Registration is completely à la carte, so people can pick and choose their favorite destinations.
Guests will carpool from a meeting point to each wildlife location.
“These trips aren’t long walks. We’ll get out of the car, walk five, 10 minutes max, look at ponds, look at marsh … probably stay at each spot for half an hour or so,” Wilson said. “It depends on the spot. Some spots are hotter than others.”
Participants should bring binoculars and dress for the weather. Telescopes are optional, since tour guides usually have one at each event.
Most outings cost $25 apiece (more for special trips). Delaware sites include Indian River Inlet and Cape Henlopen, while Maryland trips include the Chincoteague Bay, Assateague Island, Berlin Falls Park and Newport Farms (near Berlin).
Each day ends with a Tally Rally, a happy-hour meetup to count the total number of species sighted.
Registration is online (or will be soon) for all events:
• Jan. 27 to 29: Winter Delmarva Birding Weekend. Hiking and boating trips through Maryland and Delaware to view waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, raptors, possibly including swans, harlequin duck, great cormorant, purple sandpiper, snowy owl, crested caracara and 27 species of waterfowl. More than 110 species were tallied during the 2016 winter DBW.
• Saturday, Feb. 25: “Beans, Birds & Beers.” Berlin, Assateague Island and Ocean City, Md. Meet at Urban Nectar Co-op, end at Burley Oak Brewing Company, Berlin.
• Saturday, March 25: “Beans, Birds & Beers.” Cape Henlopen State Park and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Meet at Arena’s Deli, Lewes, end at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Rehoboth Beach.
• April 27 to 30: Spring Delmarva Birding Weekend. Hiking, paddling and boating trips in Maryland and Delaware to view early-arriving spring migrants and late-wintering waterfowl and raptors (174 species tallied during the 2016 Spring DBW, including the prothonotary warbler, black-necked stilt, black skimmer and 14 species of warbler.
In the future, they’re hoping to add special trips to Smith Island, Md., home to one of the northernmost brown pelican nesting colonies on the planet.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded in the region, and previous Weekend tallies have topped 200 species.
“Most folks have no idea how spectacular the winter birding is down here,” stated Rapp. “The sheer number of bald eagles and ducks is mind-boggling. We’re hosting the event on the weekend between the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, so we hope you’ll get off the couch, bundle up, and go birding with us!”
The events are hosted by Conservation Community Consulting, with support from Worcester County (Md.) Tourism and Southern Delaware Tourism. For details, call (443) 523-2201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration and sponsorships are available online by visiting www.DelmarvaBirding.com and www.facebook.com/DelmarvaBirdingWeekend.