Ocean City Today

Nesting tours offer close look at variety of shorebird species

By Brian Gilliland | Aug 03, 2017
Photo by: File photo Black skimmers

(Aug. 4, 2017) People flocking to Ocean City generally have the beach on their minds, but the shorelines of the barrier island, along with the ecological diversity of the Worcester County overall makes for some of the best birding, along with fishing, swimming and paddling, for miles.

Ocean City has long been port to head boats and charter boats, on which people pay for a few hours of fishing fun.

That idea is being adapted slightly to offer the same kind of experience to birders, but without anything else to do but search and see the many species the island ecosystem has to offer.

Conservation Community Consulting, the group that has run the Delmarva Birding weekend for 22 years and other events, joined charter boat Capt. Brad McCabe of Bay Time Charters to begin offering the tour in June.

Now that the tours have taken shape, Dave Wilson, half of the CCC team with Jim Rapp, is ready to start crowing about them.

“We’ve done the Delmarva Birding Weekend for 22 years, and have the Beans, Birds and Beer events in Worcester and Sussex counties, but we took a step back and thought we were missing something,” he said. “I did a lot of work on Skimmer Island and the four others the Army Corps of Engineers built with dredge spoil while I was with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.”

Those islands were installed by the Army Corps specifically to mitigate habitat loss in the Ocean City area for nesting shorebirds. Some of them don’t even have names, but they do have protections in place for the birds.

Boaters are subject to fines by Natural Resources Police for stepping foot on the sand there while birds are nesting, which is generally late spring to early fall.

Trips cost $400 for six people, or about $75 per person. Snacks and beverages are provided, along with binoculars to help spot shy shorebirds.

“We put in at the downtown harbor and ride north up the west channel to Tern Island. Oystercatchers are there now, and a few other things. Then we’ll head up to the islands north of the Route 50 bridge,” Wilson said. “We’ll stop at Skimmer Island to see royal terns and black skimmers. We might also see black-crowned night herons, which are nice to see during the day.”

Black skimmers are listed as threatened or endangered in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

“Then we’ll go down the bay to Mach 12 and farther south to Mach 14 where other species are common, like common terns and other terns. We end at the South Point spoils where you can expect the full complement of egrets and herons,” Wilson said.

He called this spot the grand finale.

“Tri-colored herons, pelicans and snowy egrets are in the area, but it’s a lot of fun and a lot of species. We could see seven different species perched in one tree,” he said.

From there, it’s a 15-minute trip back to the harbor, for a 28-mile journey to end.

“We’re doing signups on the website, www.delmarvabirding.com, and we’re flexible on times. There are some dates listed on the site, but you can also suggest a time. We can also work on the price if, say, you’ve only got 4 people,” he said.

Birds aren’t the only wildlife, nor are they the only interesting views that can be explored during the excursions.

“The wild horses on Assateague are always a big hit, and we usually see them, but it’s also an excellent way to get a feel for what OC looks like from the bayside,” he said. “You go from highly-developed condos to complete wilderness.”

Wilson himself, or an approved guide, will always be on board to ensure no one misses a thing.

“Right now is an amazing time to get the shorebirds that went north, bred and are now returning south. Even if you’re only in Salisbury, you don’t see common terns or black skimmers — some of these birds you can’t see anywhere else on the East Coast,” Wilson said.

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