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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

Virginia-Deleware-Maryland NWR Trip December 2015

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

Studying the National Wildlife Refuge System Website and ebird we decided to visit 6 National Wildlife Refuges in 3 states during our December 2015 Trip including Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

Teresa-Karen-Eastern Neck NWR 12-31-15

November-December 2015 Planning our Next National Wildlife Refuge Trip

Teresa and I usually plan a National Wildlife Refuge Trip over the holiday break between December 24th-January 1st because we do not have to take vacation time off from work but instead use holiday time off. Our Mother's health was declining, Teresa decided she would stay in Lexington, Ky to spend December 24th and 25th with our Mother. I decided to stay in Chapel Hill, NC to spend the holiday with my Husband.


December 26, 2015

Teresa rented an SUV in Lexington, Ky and drove to Chapel Hill, NC on December 26th, we headed to Virginia the next day, December 27th to begin our 3 state National Wildlife Refuge Trip.


December 27, 2015 Eastern Shore of Virginia and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Leaving my house in Chapel Hill by 7am, we had crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel by noon and from the last section of the bridge got a look of the Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, closed to the public and accessible only by boat. We stopped at the Refuge Visitor Center at Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge to get our Blue Goose Stamps. There was a posted schedule for the guided tours to Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, tours were only available Saturday mornings, October through February. We would need to schedule a time to come back to visit this limited access refuge. Established in 1973, Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge was managed as a satellite of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge until 1984 when management was turned over to Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. During the late 1800's Fisherman Island National Island was only 25 acres but has grown to over 2,000 acres, and continues to grow. Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges are located at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, an important migratory bird stopover location along the Atlantic coast. This area is one of the most important avian migration funnels in North America due to the location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. We hiked the Butterfly Trail and Wildlife Trail to the Marsh Overlook and Bunker Overlook where we observed over 40 Yellow-rumped Warblers. From the Butterfly trail we could see the Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center. From the Marsh and Bunker Overlooks we could see the Wise Point Boat Ramp and drove to the ramp for a better view of the shore at the edge of the marsh area along the Virginia Inside Passage.


Karen at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Marsh at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015


Yellow-rumped Warbler at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Karen and WWII Gun Barrel at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, December 27, 2015

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge was originally named Fort John Custis, and was used as a military installation for harbor defense during World War I and II because of the strategic location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The military installations protected naval bases and shipyards in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. The Air Force acquired the Fort John Curtis in 1950 and renamed it Cape Charles Air Force Station and occupied the area until 1981. In 1984 when the Air Force turned the land over to the US Fish and Wildlife it was established as Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge with 1,123 acres. Conservation efforts at Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge include enhancing and restoring habitat for forest and shrub-dependent migratory birds.

By mid afternoon we headed to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and arrived an hour before sunset. We drove the Chincoteague NWR 3.2 mile Wildlife Loop around the Snow Goose Pond where we saw Tundra Swans, Snow Geese and several species of ducks.

We had dinner at Poseidon Pantry and spent the night in the town of Chincoteague. It would be cold the next day but we looked forward to exploring the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. This Refuge was established to protect Greater Snow Geese and Teresa and I are always thrilled to observe large flocks of wintering Snow Geese.


December 28, 2015 Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1943 to protect migratory birds, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge has more than 14,000 acres of salt marsh, fresh water marsh, dunes, beach and upland maritime forest. We arrived at Swan Cove Pool along Beach Rd at 7 am and observed approximately two thousand Snow Geese.

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Red-breasted Merganser at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

American Black Duck at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Ring-billed Gull at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

The freezing cold wind was coming off the ocean across the cove, but with fantastic views of the Snow Geese we stayed in our car using it as a blind and protection from the bitter cold for 5 hours observing and photographing the geese.

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Snow Goose at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Snow Geese at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Periodically we would turn the car giving each of us an opportunity for the better view of the resting geese. There was another vehicle observing the geese, the driver was using his window mounted camera to photograph the Snow Geese.   Both of our cars were at a respectful distance and the geese did not seem to notice us or the freezing temperatures.   

Suddenly another car pulled up, an occupant from the car jumped out and ran toward the geese, flapping his arms above his head. As the geese flushed, Teresa and I opened our car doors, our intention was to stop the geese disturber but before we could even step out of our car we heard the voice of the driver with the window mounted camera, "that's a $10,000 fine for disturbing resting birds".  The geese disturber jumped back into his car and left the area. It was a relief to see the Geese settle back down.  

Deciding to leave the protection and warmth of the car we hiked the Woodland Trail where we saw Brown-headed Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers and our first look of the Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel and Chincoteague Ponies. Owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, 150 Chincoteague Ponies are allowed to graze at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Teresa loved reading the Misty of Chincoteague books by Marguierite Henry as a child and she was more excited to see the ponies than the Brown-headed Nuthatches, maybe.........

Squirrel at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Chincoteague Pony at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Chincoteague Pony at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

Chincoteague Pony at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015


Karen at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, December 28, 2015

To finish our day at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge we drove the 3.2 mile Wildlife Loop around Snow Goose Pond where we saw Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Tundra Swans and a couple of Bald Eagles. As we left Chincoteague we drove on Highway 175-Chincoteague Rd past the sign for Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1971 when 373 acres of land was transferred to US Fish and Wildlife from NASA Wallops Flight Center. The Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge comprised of salt marsh and woodlands is not open to the public.

We headed to our hotel in Georgetown, Delaware to spend night to be ready to bird at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge the next day.


December 29, 2015 Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1963, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is located on the west shore of the Delaware Bay and has 10,144 acres. The habitat at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge includes salt marsh, freshwater marsh, ponds and impoundments, wooded swamps and upland grasslands and forest.

Birding around the Headquarters building and bird feeders we reported Dark-eyed Juncos, Ruddy Ducks, American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers. While waiting for the Visitor Center to open at 9am we hiked the Observation Point Trail in light to heavy rain and reported on ebird approximately 300 Snow Geese, 5 species of ducks and 3 species of sparrows.

Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Northern Shoveler at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

While driving around looking for ebird hotspots at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge we spotted over 10,000 Snow Geese landing and taking off from a field along Little Neck Rd, located in the Prime Hook State WMA.

Snow Geese-Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Snow Geese at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

We visited and birded the areas along the beaches including Shorts Beach and Slaughter Beach where we saw Scaup, Black Scoters, Surf Scoters, Common Loons, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.

Driving on the county roads we saw thousands of Blackbird flocks with mainly Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbirds at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Red-winged Blackbirds at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Red-winged Blackbirds at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

Red-winged Blackbirds at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015

While birding at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge-Broadkill Marsh we observed 6 species of ducks and took videos of 31 Long-billed Dowitchers to post on ebird, for confirmation of our sighting

Long-billed Dowitcher at Prime Hook NWR, December 29, 2015


We headed to our hotel in Dover, Delaware.


December 30, 2015 Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Arriving at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge at 7:00 am we stopped at the Visitor Center to get our Blue Goose Stamp, the refuge brochure and refuge map. Proceeding along the Wildlife Drive we stopped to hike the wooded trail to the 30 foot observation tower overlooking Raymond Pool with a panoramic view of the 95 acre freshwater impoundment where hundreds of Canada Geese, Snow Geese and Tundra Swans were flying, landing and resting.

Observation Tower at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Another photographer joined us on the Raymond Pond Overlook platform, he set up two cameras with long zoom lenses. One of the lens was mounted on gimbal head and a heavy duty tripod. He offered the lens to Teresa and she mounted her camera on his lens and tripod. Teresa could not stop using this extended lens the generous photographer had offered. Teresa continued use of his lens while he went to a dental appointment. I was frustrated because there many hiking trails and a wildlife drive we could visit, but Teresa was content to spend seven and half hours at this one location. The sky was overcast and the temperature was cold but Teresa didn't seem to notice and used the lens continuously until the owner returned.


Teresa with borrowed Lens at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015


Tundra Swan at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swan at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swan at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015



Tundra Swan at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swan at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swans at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swans at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Tundra Swans at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015


Banded Snow Goose at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Once she took her camera off the lens and tripod she had to sit on the platform steps, she was weak from lack of food and standing in one position for 7.5 hours. There wasn't much daylight left when we left Raymond Pond Overlook and headed down the Wildlife Drive. Established in 1937, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge has 16,271 acres with a variety of habitats including, freshwater man-made pools, mudflats, salt marshes, woodlands, and upland fields. This National Wildlife Refuge is situated along the Delaware Bay and 80% of the habitat at the refuge is tidal salt marsh.

Along the Wildlife Drive we stopped at Shearness Pool and could see in the distance more than 10,000 Snow Geese landing and taking off in a large pond area.

Driving on the Wildlife Drive we stopped to bird at the Bear Swamp a 240 acre freshwater impoundment where we reported over 2000 Snow Geese and a couple hundred Canada Geese. The Snow Geese in this area had dark mud on their heads and feet from feeding in the black mud from the Bear Swamp mud flats. As we continued along the drive we spotted a Fox and a Cooper's Hawk.

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Snow Geese at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Fox at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Cooper's Hawk at Bombay Hook NWR, December 30, 2015

Our next hotel night was in Dover, Deleware.


December 31, 2015 Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Our first stop at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge was the Causeway where we could see with our scopes a couple hundred Tundra Swans in the Chester River.

At the Tubby Cove boardwalk we saw thousands of Lesser Scaup and Canvasbacks resting in Tubby Cove. The view behind the blind was incredible with hundreds of ducks busily swimming in the calf pasture cove. There were so many ducks hidden by the brush, it was nearly impossible to get an exact count. I had my new scope and did most of the counting, a scope was needed for the estimated count and the duck IDs, we listed Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallards, American Black Duck, Redhead, Bufflehead and Ruddy Ducks.

Scaup at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

A couple of times the ducks took flight as a rapture flew overhead, filling the sky with waterfowl.

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015




Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015


From the Bayview Butterfly Trail Observation Platform we counted 63 Bufflehead and 273 Common Goldeneye in the Chester River. From the eastern side of the island at Bogles Wharf we saw more Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks and Common Goldeneyes.

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015


Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Common Loon at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Established in 1962, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is a 2,285 acre island in the Chester River providing habitat for over 240 bird species and is a major staging site for Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Cedar Waxwing at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Brown-headed Nuthatch at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Bald Eagle at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Bald Eagle at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Turkey Vultue at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Fox at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

European Starlings Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

Sunset at Eastern Neck NWR, December 31, 2015

The habitats at the refuge include brackish marsh, natural ponds, upland forest, and grasslands. There are 6 miles of roads and hiking trails open to the public most of the year.

Our last night in a hotel for this trip was in Cambridge, MD on New Year's Eve. We found a Mexican Restaurant not too far from our hotel and placed a to go order.


January 1, 2016 Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1933, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands and has 3 major habitats including: forest, marsh and shallow water and is a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge referred to as the "Everglades of the North" manages 28,894 acres. The name "blackwater" comes from the tea-colored waters of the local rivers, which are darkened by the tannin, picked up as the water drains through peat soil in the marshes.

Our first ebird checklist at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was the Little Blackwater River Crossing on Key Wallace Drive where we had a total of 9 species of birds including two Bald Eagles. After passing the Little Blackwater River, the 3.5 mile Wildlife Drive was the first left from Key Wallace Drive. While driving on the Wildlife Drive we took the first left to the observation point, where we enjoyed scenic views of the Blackwater River and reported on ebird 600 Canada Geese.

Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Bald Eagles at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Great Blue Heron at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Our first hike of the day was the 0.3 mile Marsh Edge Trail, one of the four trails at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The short but pleasant hike took us just a little over an hour and we reported on ebird, Brown-headed Nuthatches and 4 species of woodpeckers. Back on the Wildlife Drive the Squirrel Crossing Caution Sign was the location where we observed the Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrels.

Squirrel Sign at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Squirrel at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

As always we stopped to watch the large flock of Snow Geese, approximately 2000 resting on the Blackwater River. As the Bald Eagles flew overhead, the Geese would pick up from the water, circle around, only to land again in the exact location they just left.

Snow Geese at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Snow Geese at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Snow Geese at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Tundra Swan at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015


American White Pelican at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015

Visitor Center at Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015


We also reported 1150 Canada Geese, 250 Mallards and 100 Tundra Swans on our ebird checklist for the Wildlife Drive. We stopped by the Visitor Center, stamped our Blue Goose books and spent some time birding around the Visitor Center.


Blackwater NWR, January 1, 2015


We drove the Wildlife Drive for one more look at the large flock of Snow Geese but decided we should check out another ebird hotspot for this refuge. We spent about 30 minutes along the Maple Dam Rd but only saw a few individual birds of 5 species. It was late in afternoon and with a 7 hour drive to get back to Chapel Hill, we left this amazing Refuge.


Visited 6 National Wildlife Refuges in 3 states

Eastern Shore Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, 12/27/15

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, 12/28/15

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Deleware, 12/29/15

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Deleware, 12/30/15

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland, 12/31/15

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland, 1/1/16

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