Birdwatching Abounds in Ocean City

Birdwatching Abounds in Ocean City

Birds are fascinating creatures.  The combination of their stoic beauty and awe-inspiring ability to effortlessly glide through the air, defying laws of physics, has always mesmerized onlookers.  Here in Maryland, birds are ingrained in our culture more so than most people even realize.  From bird carvers who make lifelike decoys to dedicated hunters who wade out into frigid waters at 5am in pursuit of ducks and geese to the mascots of local sports teams and colleges (Ravens, Orioles, Shorebirds, Seagulls, and Hawks), there is an undeniable connection between the local culture and the birds above.

This ornithological obsession nothing new.  In fact, the infatuation with birds in this region can be traced back to America’s infancy.  Accounts written during Captain John Smith’s earliest excursions up the Chesapeake are riddled with detailed descriptions that marvel at the majestic beauty and the prominent prevalence of birds soaring through the skies.  While some species have come and gone from the region in the centuries since, there is no arguing that winged wonders still dazzle the eye and captivate the minds of those staring up from below.

Because of its position directly along the Atlantic Flyway, Ocean City, Maryland offers exceptional opportunities for bird watching.  Hundreds of unique bird species, from all over the Western Hemisphere, have been identified and recorded on the Delmarva Peninsula; and when spring and fall migrations are in full effect, few places on the East Coast are as ideal for birding as Ocean City and the surrounding areas.  The presence of wetlands, creeks, rivers, forests, farms, fields, barrier islands, and other geographical features, along with vast natural food sources, provide habitats that attract innumerable amounts of both native and migratory species of birds, and, as a result, flocks of birdwatchers as well.

The popularity of birding on Delmarva is so great that there are many local groups and organizations dedicated to spreading knowledge about birds, leading guided tours in prime bird watching areas, and organizing annual bird counts.  The Delmarva Ornithological Society and the Worcester County Department of Tourism are just two of many entities that work together to promote birding around the region and grow the local birding community.

You don’t have to be staunch birder, however, to enjoy the bounty of the area’s beautiful birds.  Ocean City and the lower shore have endless parks, ponds, refuges, and other epicenters for bird watching where veterans and novices, alike, can view some of the most amazing creatures on the planet.

Some of the best spots to view birds are listed below:

-The Assateague National Seashore’s endless marshes, forests, and dunes form an immense natural landscape that is as appealing to native birds as it is to migrating passersby.  Given the time of year (early spring and fall are best to avoid summer crowds), a walk through Assateague’s marshes or along its many winding trails through the woods can expose observers to a plethora of pelicans, plovers, gulls, songbirds, and other shorebirds, as well as many migrating species looking to take a break from their journey.

Skimmer Island is named for the black skimmers that populate it. Photo credit: www.gogobot.com

– West Ocean City contains many ponds, such as the Griffin Ponds and Elliot’s Pond, that are home to varying species of ducks, herons, egrets, and grebes.  Exploring these ponds, which are much smaller in size than Assateague, is a great way to get acclimated with birding and gives observes the chance to view a variety of species without requiring excessive effort.

-If you’re looking for a good spot inside the city limits to catch a glimpse of something other than seagulls, the inlet and its jetty rocks overlook dozens of diving ducks, eiders, terns, and other native shorebirds.  The inlet is also a great spot to see birds soaring across the sky on their way up or down the Atlantic Flyway.

-Just up the road from the inlet, on 4th Street, the parking lot and boardwalk provide great vantage points for observing waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, American Oystercatchers, terns, and black skimmers populating the nearby mud flats.

A snowy white owl was recently spotted on Assateague- the first such sighting in 65 years.

-If you’re willing to venture away from the beach, and into other parts of Worcester County, you can find even more remarkable locations for birding in the forests and fields between Berlin, Snow Hill, and Pocomoke, as well as along the rivers, streams, bays and wetlands that make up the lower Eastern Shore.

Whether you are a life-long birder seeking out an elusive species, or a beginner who barely knows how to use a pair of binoculars, the Ocean City area is bliss for birdwatchers, any time of the year.  Plan your own trip, take a group tour, or just look to the sky next time you’re strolling around down the shore- regardless of how you go about it, bird watching in Ocean City is sure to provide you a scintillating experience you won’t soon forget.

Tips for Beginning Birders:

  • Invest in a field guide with pictures and descriptions of species, and a pair of binoculars to make observing and identifying birds easier.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and shoes for weather which can be cooler near open water.
  • Carry sunscreen, sunglasses and/or a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Know what kinds of birds you are looking for and where you’re most likely to find them- in a tree, on the ground, in the water, etc.
  • Join a birding group or organization and increase your knowledge by talking with more experienced birders.
  • Be courteous to your fellow birders. Speak quietly and turn off cell phones during trips.
  • Record your bird sightings in a journal or on a check list so you can track your observations over time.

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