bReturn to Nature in Delaware
By Sheree Bykofsky
Delaware provides proof that birds are smarter than people. Why? Because birds don’t fly past on the Expressway on their way to other places. They actually take the time to enjoy the sun, surf, forest and flowers, and they feast endlessly on the abundant food sources.
Watching the birds enjoy Delaware is a surprising treat for birders, a.k.a. humans who enjoy observing and studying birds.
One nature trip to Delaware will hook the average person on both Delaware and birding. What a thrill to catch the red glint of the summer tanager and, recognizing its melodic call, know for certain it’s not a cardinal or a robin. Watch the red knot dig horseshoe crab eggs from the strand and know that it has traveled 2000 miles almost non-stop for this little feast. In a short time, it will double its weight on Slaughter Beach and then fly north to Canada to create its own hatchlings; they, in turn, will find their way to South America on their own and repeat the annual cycle of the beautiful shore bird.
Limited only by their ears and eyes, made keener through the use of powerful binoculars, the birders of Delaware and Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia), like chess players, may stand a long time in one place capturing endless details of the seemingly tranquil but actually teeming environment.
From the fresh water to the salty marshes, the deciduous forests to the rocky surf, every day brings bald eagles, peregrine falcons, yellow-throated warblers, screech owls, great blue herons, and snowy egrets scooping eels and other delicacies from the land and sea. Delaware, with its miles of unspoiled coast, provides the perfect respite for world-traveling migratory birds.
Here was my delightful three-day Delaware nature lovers’ itinerary, prepared by Nikki Boone, of Delaware tourism. I recommend every inch of it.
Check into the Brandywine Valley Inn. This is a great location from which to explore northern Delaware’s Brandywine region. Everywhere are stone buildings, old mills along the river, and enormous mansions. Start your birding education at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, which is both sunlit and enlightening. Ranked among the top ten natural history museums in the U.S., the DMNH features a collection of 4,000 bird species.
When the museum closes, the fun just begins. The drive from the museum to the Brandywine Creek State Park is reminiscent of a drive through the Cotswold’s in England. Choose a summer evening when the Park offers its after-dark Owl Prowl. Following an extremely entertaining hands-on lecture, take your newly-found Owl Wisdom into the dark forest led by the Forest Ranger’s lantern. As your guide plays owl calls, you may hear the sounds of Barred, Eastern Screech, Barn, or Great Horned owls, and you may be lucky enough to see one flying. Harry Potter, watch out!
Enjoy your sleep at the comfortable Best Western Brandywine Valley Inn, but be sure to wake up bright and early for a full day of bird-watching. Check out of the hotel, grab your Delaware Birding Trail Guide, and make your way to Delaware City, where you will take a ferry to Fort Delaware State Park on Pea Patch Island. Yes, the fort was a prison during the Civil War, but it is also one of the three largest heron rookeries on the east coast. There is a lovely path to the heron rookery where the viewing platform affords views of hundreds of the 6 to 7,000 adult nesting pairs of herons, ibis and egrets and their offspring. Tour the fort where knowledgeable guides, dressed in 19th century garb, will tell you all about life in Fort Delaware in 1864 as if you were experiencing it first-hand.
A crab cake, shrimp, hush puppies, and coleslaw lunch at the unfortunately named Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic, DE, is alone worth a trip to Delaware. As it is a tavern, no one under 21 is allowed in the restaurant, and credit cards are not accepted. Sambo’s is located along the shore of the beautiful Leipsic River, and if you can tear yourself away from the blue claw crabs served on newspaper-covered tables (no easy feat!), enjoy the view from the deck.
Just minutes away from Leipsic is the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, the larger of the two National Wildlife Refuges in Delaware. Recognized as one of America’s 100 “Important Bird Areas” by the American Bird Conservancy, the refuge covers approximately 16,000 acres and is, at least part of the year, home to 278 species of birds. The Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is especially interesting because it features several different habitats; the salt water habitat remains wild whereas the forest and freshwater habitats are managed.
Later check into the first-rate Microtel Inn & Suites in Delaware’s Capitol City of Dover. Have dinner with the locals at Roma Italian Restaurant, which is known for its tasty chicken parmigiana. Over a nice dinner and a goblet filled with Merlot, you’ll want to make a list of the 84 bird species (plus don’t forget the muskrat!) that you saw on your birding itinerary.
Rise and shine! The historic city may be calling you to explore the newly-renovated State House, but this is a birding itinerary, and so fill yourself up on the generous breakfast buffet and make your way to my favorite spot in Delaware, Big Stone Beach at the Milford Neck Wildlife Area, the Dupont Nature Center at the Mispillion Harbor Reserve, and, just a few miles further, Slaughter Beach. In May, the number and variety of birds can only be described as breath-taking. As one naturalist puts it, Slaughter Beach is Delaware’s Serengeti. And there’s a reason for that. This strip of Delaware is extremely important because it features the largest concentration of spawning horseshoe crabs in the world, a number one delicacy to migratory birds. Crabs. Eggs. Birds. Birders. Paradise.
Just one more stop on your fabulous itinerary is one of the most charming towns on the planet: Lewes, Delaware. Filled with quirky antique shops, boutiques, and fine restaurants, the town is best known for being home to the Delaware side of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Before hopping on that fun, scenic, and relaxing Ferry (with or without your car), enjoy one more stop on your Delaware birding tour, Cape Henlopen Park. Here’s your chance to see the endangered Piping Plovers, nesting Osprey, bald eagles and so much more. Or rent a kayak from Quest Fitness and tour the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
If time allows and you’re not yet ready to return to civilization, you may want to spend a few days among the lucky Delawarians who have discovered paradise in the small state. The Peninsula On The Indian River Bay is a gated community that offers weekend, week-long or monthly condo and vacation home rentals across the bay from Rehoboth. Both those who live and those who visit the sprawling property are smarter than birds. Boasting an unparalleled resort lifestyle, The Peninsula offers the average swallow the opportunity to live like an eagle. Surrounding Delaware’s first private Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course designed along the waterfront, the resort offers: a thrilling 13,000 sq. ft. wave lagoon, a private beach with a water taxi to Rehoboth, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, nature trails, a state-of-the-art fitness center, serene and inviting outdoor and indoor pools, a full-service spa, and a first-rate restaurant The Terrace Grille.
Relax and frolic in a world of luxury and stunning beauty. From the most modest condo unit to the million dollar mansions, every accommodation is furnished with opulent, beautiful and comfortable furnishings and beds and state-of-the-art electronics. Even if you don’t decide to move in, like the birds you’ll surely return again next year.
Are you Bombay Hooked yet? That’s what I thought. See you in Delaware!
If You Go:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE 19807
302 658 9111
Brandywine Creek State Park
41 Adams Dam Road
302 577 3534
Best Western Brandywine Valley Inn
1807 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803
302 656 9436
Fort Delaware State Park
Delaware City, DE 19706
Park office: 302 834 7941
283 Front Street
302 674 9724
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
2591 Whitehall Neck Road
Smyrna, Delaware 19977
302 653 6872
Roma Italian Restaurant
Rt. 113 & Exit 95 off Rt. 1
302 678 1041
Microtel Inn & Suites
1703 Lebanon Road
302 674 3800
Milford Neck Wildlife Area:
Dupont Nature Center
At the Mispillion Harbor Reserve
2992 Lighthouse Road
Milford, DE 19963
302 422 1329
6 miles East of Milford
302 422 1329
Managed by: Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife
The Delaware Birding Trail
Cape Henlopen State Park
Cape May/Lewes Ferry
800 643 3779
The Peninsula On The Indian River Bay
26937 Bay Farm Road
Millsboro, DE 19966
302 947 4717
DLITE: Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experience
443 944 8097