Delaware Birding Trail
Ocean Beaches & Inland Bays Region
Famous for family-friendly seaside resorts, our beaches and bays are also meccas for birds and birders. Excellent birding year round, with migrant and wintering seabirds like loons, gannets, and diving ducks, migrant songbirds, and sand-loving shorebirds.
Cape May - Lewes Ferry
Eastern edge of Lewes
Managed by: Delaware River & Bay Authority
Web site: www.capemaylewesferry.com
Regularly scheduled ferry service offers convenient access to Cape May, NJ, and can be productive for seabirds including gulls, terns, Northern Gannets, loons, and scoters. While the 70-minute trip across the bay's mouth rarely yields shearwaters and other truly pelagic species*, Wilson's Storm-Petrels are frequent from June through August, and jaegers, mostly Parasitic, are regularly seen in spring and fall. The ferry can be taken one way or round trip, with your automobile or as a foot passenger.
*Offshore trips for viewing pelagic seabirds and whales are offered by private companies from time to time. Such trips are in no way associated with the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
Directions to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry:
Follow the ubiquitous blue and yellow signs for the ferry. From Route 1 southwest of Lewes, go northeast on US 9 (King's Highway), bearing right after 1.5 miles to stay on 9, then continuing another 1.5 miles to the "T" intersection with Cape Henlopen Drive. Turn right (E) on Cape Henlopen Drive; the terminal is 0.4 mile farther, on the left (N).
Cape Henlopen State Park
Eastern edge of Lewes
Managed by: Delaware State Parks
Web site: www.destateparks.com/park/cape-henlopen/
Cape Henlopen has just about everything—ocean, bay, dunes, pine forest, weedy fields, saltmarsh, mudflats and freshwater wetlands, all connected by an excellent road and trail network. The park also has the distinction of being the northernmost place on Earth where Brown-headed Nuthatches are readily found. Note that one of the best birding areas in the park, Gordons Pond, is accessed from the north side of Rehoboth Beach, while all others listed here are reached via the main entrance east of Lewes.
Check the habitat garden and feeder area near the Seaside Nature Center, and listen for Brown-headed Nuthatches in the pines beyond the building. From the Cape Henlopen Point parking lot, you can look west (to your left as you face the point) to scan Delaware Bay, or east to look over the ocean. The point is one of those magical birding spots where just about anything might turn up, and often does. It's an excellent spot for gulls, terns, loons, sea ducks, and shorebirds, including Piping Plovers, a few pair of which nest here each summer.
For a great seaside birding hike, try going east to the ocean beach, and heading left (N) to the point, where birds tend to congregate. Continue on around the point and down the bay beach to return to the parking lot, except during the Piping Plover nesting season (March 1 - September 1), when the west side of the point is closed and you must retrace your steps. Please check with park staff for updates on beach closures.
While at the point, watch for migrating raptors in season. A volunteer hawk watch is conducted during September and October, from atop a bunker in the oceanside dunes, about 1/2 mile south of the point. Visitors are welcome to participate.
At the south end of the Lewes section of the park, the Fort Miles Historic Area and Herring Point offer commanding views out over the ocean. The rock jetties at Herring Point often have Purple Sandpipers from mid-October well into May. The pines along the park roads in this area harbor roving bands of Brown-headed Nuthatches—listen for their squeaky, "rubber ducky calls."
The Gordons Pond section of the park is accessed by road from Rehoboth Beach. It's about 0.8 mile each way from the parking lot to the observation platform, past habitats ranging from dry pine woods to mudflats to open water. The wide, gravel trail here is also a favorite with bicyclists. Note that the beach between Herring Point and Gordons Pond is closed when Piping Plovers are nesting there.
Directions for Cape Henlopen State Park, main entrance:
From the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal in Lewes, go left (E) on Cape Henlopen Drive for 0.7 mile to the park entrance station. Upon entering the park, the road reaches a "T" intersection. For the Fort Miles Historic Area and Herring Point, turn right (S). For the Seaside Nature Center, Cape Henlopen Point, and the hawk watch, turn left (N).
The Seaside Nature Center is 0.5 miles past the "T," on the left (N). The hawk watch is reached by continuing east from the nature center toward the swimming beach. The park road swings left (N) just before the beach; pass the large parking lot, then turn right (E) into the parking lot for the picnic pavilion. The hawk watch is conducted from the top of the bunker. Total distance from the nature center is 0.7 mile. Cape Henlopen Point parking area is at the north end of the park road, 0.5 miles past the turn for the hawk watch.
Parking for the Fort Miles Historic Area is 0.5 mile south and east of the "T" near the entrance. Walk towards the ocean from there for a panoramic view. Be especially alert for nuthatches in the area between the campground and Fort Miles. Herring Point is near the southern end of the road, 1.0 mile south of Fort Miles.
Directions for Gordons Pond:
From the intersection of Route 1 & Route 9 (King's Highway), southwest of Lewes, go south on Route 1 for 3.2 miles, then bear left on Rehoboth Avenue toward Rehoboth Beach. In 0.6 mile, enter the traffic circle, go ¾ way around it, and exit on Grove Street. After 0.1 mile, turn right (NE) on Henlopen Avenue, which bends left (N) after another 1.0 mile, and becomes Ocean Drive. The road ends at the Gordons Pond parking area in another 1.0 mile. From the parking lot, walk north, then follow the foot trail west around the south border of the pond, reaching the observation platform after 0.8 mile.
South side of Rehoboth Beach
Managed by: City of Rehoboth Beach
Silver Lake, a small pond nestled amongst the cottages of Rehoboth Beach, offers thrillingly close looks at a variety of wintering duck species, especially Canvasbacks. It is also the most reliable place in the state to find Redheads, one or two of which can often be picked out from the hundreds of Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks and Mallards. Lesser and Greater Scaup also occur, along with a variety of gulls and other waterbirds.
Directions to Silver Lake:
From the Route 1/Rehoboth Avenue split west of Rehoboth Beach, go south on Route 1 1.1 miles. Turn left (E) on Robinsons Drive, which ends at Silver Lake Drive after 0.3 mile. A good strategy is to park along Robinsons, then carefully cross Silver Lake Drive on foot.
Delaware Seashore State Park
7 miles south of Rehoboth Beach
Managed by: Delaware State Parks
Web site: www.destateparks.com/park/delaware-seashore/
Much of the narrow sand and saltmarsh barrier that separates Rehoboth and Indian River Bays from the open ocean is preserved within Delaware Seashore State Park. Beloved of beachgoers and anglers, the park also has outstanding attractions for visiting birders.
South of Dewey Beach and north of Indian River Inlet, there are a number of short park roads that offer access to the ocean beach or to the Rehoboth Bay shore. New Road and Towers Road (Bay Side), are often very good for ducks, geese, loons and grebes in season. Any of the ocean side roads is worth a peek, both for waterbirds and, in the dune scrub, for landbirds.
Indian River Inlet is a dynamic place, a narrow channel where millions of gallons of water rush back and forth between ocean and bay. All this tidal mixing stirs up a lot of aquatic foodstuffs and brings in a rich mix of bird life.
Check the North Jetty and South Jetty from October through March for sea ducks, including Long-tailed Duck and scoters, and possibly eiders or Harlequin Ducks. Feeding flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls may yield rarities like Little or Common Black-headed Gulls, and the jetty rocks typically host Purple Sandpipers. Offshore, you may see Brown Pelicans (warmer months) or Northern Gannet (cooler months).
On the north shore of the inlet, the North Inlet Marina provides sheltered coves that draw many waterfowl. On the south side of the inlet, there is the very productive South Indian River marsh, which is excellent for marsh sparrows including both forms of sharp-tailed, Clapper Rails, American Bittern, and Tricolored Heron.
Directions for Savage's Ditch Road:
From the Route 1/Rehoboth Avenue split west of Rehoboth Beach, go south on Route 1 for 6.6 miles. Turn right (W) onto Savage's Ditch Road. Walk west 100 yards from the west corner of the parking area to view the bay.
Directions for the Indian River Inlet area:
The inlet is about 5 miles north of Bethany Beach, or 7 miles south of Rehoboth Beach. For the North Jetty, bear right (SW) off Route 1 just north of the inlet bridge. Turn into the north inlet parking lot, and walk east along the inlet's north shore, under the bridge. Also on the north side of the inlet are the North Inlet Marina, and the trail head to Burtons Island (see below).
For the South Jetty, park at the day use area just south of the inlet bridge and walk east. The South Indian River marsh (one good viewpoint is just south of the bridge, west of Route 1) can also be viewed from the southern edge of the campground.
Two other places within Delaware Seashore State Park, Burtons Island and Thompson Island, which are isolated forest patches and outstanding migrant "traps," are especially noteworthy but can be difficult to access. Call the park office for current information.
James Farm Ecological Preserve
4.5 miles west of Bethany Beach
Managed by: Center for the Inland Bays
Web site: www.inlandbays.org
On the southeast shore of Indian River Bay, the James Farm is well situated to attract migrant and wintering species, and is a prime site for a birding walk at any season. From the parking area, trails lead through old fields, mature forest, and out to viewpoints over the bay and saltmarsh. Owned by Sussex County, the preserve is managed by the Center for the Inland Bays, who use it as an outdoor classroom in addition to managing it for biodiversity.
Directions for the James Farm Ecological Preserve:
From the intersection of Routes 1 & 26 in Bethany Beach, go north on 1 for 1.2 miles, then turn left (W) on Fred Hudson Road, which ends in 1.3 miles at Cedar Neck Road (Road 357). Turn right (N) on Cedar Neck Road, and go another 1.3 miles. The parking lot for the James Farm is on the left (W).
Assawoman Wildlife Area
3 miles southwest of Bethany Beach
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife
Tucked just inside Delaware's southeastern corner, Assawoman Wildlife Area is a quiet oasis amidst burgeoning beach communities. Given the refuge's bayside location, one might expect waterbirds to be the main attraction; however, the mix of loblolly pine forest and wildlife food crops is often excellent for landbirds, too. The main road leads to Mulberry Landing, passing an observation tower which is worth the climb. In summer, flocks of Black Skimmers forage here, and egrets may blanket the area in white. Check the wooded edges in this area for landbirds, too, including Brown-headed Nuthatches. There is a photography blind located at Mulberry Landing. Side roads to Strawberry Landing and Sassafras Landing are also rewarding. It's easy to spend half a day here at any season.
Directions for Assawoman Wildlife Area:
From Route 1 in Bethany Beach, go west on Route 26 0.1 mile. Turn left (S) onto Kent Ave and follow it 1.4 miles. Just after the Assawoman Canal bridge, turn left (SW) onto Double Bridges Road. After 3.3 miles, turn left (SE) onto Camp Barnes Road. Follow Camp Barnes Road, bearing left at 0.6 mile, and continuing another 1.1 miles to the wildlife area entrance (Mulberry Landing Road), which is on the right (E). Follow signs to Mulberry Landing, Strawberry Landing, and Sassafras Landing.
Next Sites: Cypress & Pine Region - Click to continue.
The Delaware Birding Trail is a joint project of the following:
- Delaware Audubon Society
- Delmarva Ornithological Society, dosbirds.org
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control,
Division of Fish & Wildlife, dnrec.delaware.gov
This project was funded, in part, through the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife with funding from the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program, Division of Federal Assistance, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Original Text by Jeffrey A. Gordon
Delaware Birding Trail by Jeffrey A. Gordon is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.