In all my years of living just over an hour from the Delaware Bayshore, I had never witnessed the spring shorebird migration spectacle. As you can see in my post about my goals for my big year, two of the species on my hit list were Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone. Thanks to some excellent advice from Anthony Gonzon who suggested Port Mahon Road as the closest place to get a good look at these species, Hannah Greenberg and I headed down to Dover, DE.
We drove straight down Route 1 and were ready to turn onto Port Mahon Road when we noticed a road worker standing at the end of the street holding a stop sign. The man informed us that the road was temporarily closed due to a stuck tractor trailer, and would not be open for another hour or two. After a quick discussion about our intentions of seeing shorebirds, the man suggested we head a bit further down the road and turn left. So, we did!
A little ways down was the road for Little Creek Wildlife Area— a location that neither of us had been to before. The habitat here was amazing. There were swampy woodlands abutting tidal floodplains. After a short trip down a boardwalk, we climbed to the top of an observation tower. The floodplain was mostly dry, with the exception of a meandering stream that was filled with water. We noticed a few shorebirds and terns, all of which were too far to ID with binoculars. After returning to the car, we decided Little Creek would be a fantastic place to return at the right time of day and with the right equipment. So, we continued down the road to the next potential shorebird spot we encountered— Pickering Beach Road.
Near the beginning of the road, Hannah noticed a Spotted Turtle making it’s way across the road. I had never heard of a Spotted Turtle before, but it was aptly named— you could see the tiny yellow spots all over it’s shell. (Life herp for both of us.)
We continued to the end of the road, where there was a row of beach houses. We weren’t quite sure about how to get on the beach until we noticed the parking spots and beach access. From the moment we got out of the car, we knew we were in an awesome spot. Shorebirds and gulls were flying up and down the beach— you could see them over the houses. Another good sign was the late White-crowned Sparrow we saw in the conifers beside the parking spaces! The beach was absolutely littered with shorebirds, Laughing Gulls, and horseshoe crabs. There were so many shorebirds in some places that it looked like the ground itself was moving.
The absolute magnitude of the spectacle was overwhelming— the sounds of hundreds of Laughing Gulls and thousand of shorebirds mixed with the constant fly-bys was breath taking. Immediately we identified Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlin, and a few Black-bellied Plovers. We continued down the beach, keeping towards the houses so as not to disturb the birds. We spent over two hours on that beach, watching the shorebirds feed as the tide went out and flipping over upside-down horseshoe crabs. Amongst the thousands and thousands of shorebirds, we did observe about 25 Red Knot and another 10 or so Ruddy Turnstones. Amazing to finally see these species!! Flyover Black Skimmers were another awesome addition— one of my absolute favorites. Finally, we had to go. Two and a half hours had passed and felt like 20 minutes. Pulling myself away from that beach was so hard to do! If I had been alone, I am sure I would have been there til sunset without even noticing.
On our way back North, we noticed that Port Mahon Road was open, so we stopped for a short visit. I was stilled stunned and in awe of what we had just witnessed, so I hadn’t even begun to imagine what we might see along the road. At the first patch of visible shoreline, we saw hundreds and hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones less than 50 feet away. Mixed in were several hundred Semipalmated Sandpipers, about 60 Semipalmated Plovers, a Black-necked Stilt, some Willet, approximately 75 Dunlin, a handful of Red Knot, a few Least Sandpipers, and a Short-billed Dowitcher. The overall spectacle had been jaw dropping at Pickering Beach, but to be so close to the birds at Port Mahon was just as incredible.
While driving out of Port Mahon, the sun was lowering over the marsh, leaving us with a spectacular scenic view to end our shorebird day. The entire day had been nothing short of awesome— to see that many birds in stunning breeding plumage was incredibly special. It makes me so thankful to think how fortunate I was to be on that beach. Back in college, I used to run 6 miles a day on the beach in the summertime. Now, I am thankful for the ability to stand, to walk, and to witness these kinds of natural spectacles.
On Saturday, May 23rd, we are planning to join the ABA at Mispillion Harbor Reserve. I can’t wait to get down to the bayshore again!