Winter Birding Weekend offers trips, more

Date Published: 
Jan. 25, 2018

Birds, it turns out, figured out long before humans that winter is a great time to be at the beach. This weekend, humans can hang out with hooded mergansers, brown-headed nuthatches, wood ducks, harlequin ducks, eiders, purple sandpipers, falcons and what Delmarva Birding Weekend organizers call the “snowy trifecta” that is within reach of birding enthusiasts on the peninsula this winter.

Snow geese are always in abundance in the region, blanketing fields along back roads and filling the skies with their familiar black-tipped wings. Snowy owls are much more rare but have been turning up in the beach areas in surprising numbers this winter, thanks to what is called an irruption — a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to places they aren’t normally found.

The third part of the “trifecta” is the tiny snow bunting, which in winter wears a dull brown coat very different from its striking black-and-white plumage in non-winter months.

“The snow bunting really loves our beaches,” organizer and guide Jim Rapp said. For all three to be here in such abundance, though, is “insane,” according to Rapp.

This will be the third Winter Birding Weekend. Although Spring Birding Weekends have been attracting birdwatchers to the peninsula for 22 years, Rapp said the winter weekend came about because of the area’s huge number of migrating birds during the winter months.

“This is their winter vacation,” he said of the birds’ visits to areas south of their home territories. “They’re not breeding, so there are no kids to worry about,” he joked.

In addition to birds, participants in the weekend’s boat trips might luck out and see seals resting on the breakwater near Cape Henlopen.

“We enjoy such a big difference in bird species in winter and spring that it just made sense to host two weekends,” said organizer and Worcester County (Md.) Tourism Director Lisa Challenger. Now, waterfowl, raptor and songbird lovers can enjoy an arctic experience on the peninsula.

The Winter Birding Weekend runs three days — Friday, Jan. 26, through Sunday, Jan. 28. Trips that involve driving and hiking are generally three hours long and cost $25 per person. Boat trips cost $50, which includes a tip for the captain.

There are morning trips and afternoon trips, with breaks for lunch. Trips are located in prime birding in Sussex County and Worcester County. In the evenings, there are free “tally rallies” at Irish Eyes in Lewes and Burley Oak in Berlin, Md.

Last year, participants tallied more than 100 species of birds during the weekend, and weekend totals have topped 200 species in previous years. In addition to checking off dozens of species that grace the area during the winter months, Rapp said, “You get these amazing moments where it just takes your breath away.” He said one of his personal highlights has been the sight of thousands of snow geese on the ocean.

“I can almost guarantee you’ll see something you’ve never seen before,” Rapp said.

This year, the weekend trips have attracted so many birders that organizers have added two more trips to accommodate everyone. While some of the trips have sold out, many still have openings, he said. Each trip is led by local birders with decades of experience.

For more information and to register, go to Rapp said he will also be taking reservations “in the field” throughout the weekend. To register by phone, call Rapp at (443) 614-0261.