Because of its position on the Atlantic Flyway, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal place for birds to rest, feed, nest, or winter. This makes the refuge a great place for bird watching. Over the course of the year, a variety of bird species passes through the refuge, staying anywhere from a day to a few weeks to several months. Some species even spend the entire year at the refuge.
Some of the popular sites to observe birds are at Swan Cove Pool along Beach Road. Herons and egrets can be seen in the borrow ditches around the refuge, and the hunting blind in Tom’s Cove, near Beach Road, is a favored perch for some birds, including double-crested cormorants. The Woodland Trail is an excellent place to observe songbirds, and Snow Goose Pool, in the Wildlife Loop, is a popular spot for many bird species.
A checklist of birds that have been identified on the refuge is available at the refuge visitor center or by clicking the link below.
Bird Check List (PDF - 4.01 MB)
Visitors may also borrow a pair of binoculars, free of charge, from the refuge visitor center, to help with their birding experience.
Bird Survey notes from Clyde and Joelle
January 10, 2014
The first shorebird survey of 2014 was a frozen one. Most of the impoundments were covered in ice which does not provide much habitat for our shorebirds. In fact, the only shorebird we found using the impoundments were greater yellowlegs. Still we found a total of 593 shorebirds (using tidal areas such as Toms Cove and our beaches) of 7 species which is higher then any of our counts in December? Does this mean spring is on the way? I wish.
If you are into gulls, the beach to the south of the parking area is your best bet with 456 of the 966 gulls we found on the entire Refuge. This is also where we found one snowy owl just 1/2 mile south of the Old Coast Guard Station. Please remind birders and photographers not to disturb these owls by approaching them too close. Refuge volunteers Wes and Susan Brown told us they found a glaucous gull this week on the Overwash south of the parking area. This is an uncommon species on the Eastern Shore and well worth looking for.
Our next survey will be Saturday, January 25th.
December 27, 2013
It was a beautiful day looking for shorebirds on the Refuge. Most impoundments were covered by ice in the morning but had mostly melted by the afternoon. Few shorebirds were found during the survey (405) of 6 species. Dunlin were the most common (213) with sanderling being next (116). This is the first time we have missed lesser black-backed gulls this year. Though these numbers were low, the Refuge is filled with geese, ducks, swans and bald eagles. Tom's Cove has the best variety of birds this week so point the public in that direction if they are looking for birds.
Our next survey will be January 10, 2014.
October 30, 2013
Water levels were good for shorebirds and the increasing number and diversity of waterfowl. The snow geese are back! Numbers of shorebirds were up from last week (1,433) mostly because of the large number of dunlin (881) in the pond across from the National Park Service visitor center. The surprise find was two piping plovers on the Hook. It is a bit late for that species to still be this far north. The number of gulls on the Refuge (mostly on the beaches) is quite impressive with 979 herring gulls and 784 greater black-backed gulls being observed. Large flocks of tree swallows and black scoters were impressive to see flying south. The first horned grebe seen this year is a sure sign of approaching winter.
Thanks to Bear Starr for his fine assistance on this week's survey
September 26, 2013
Numbers of shorebirds continued to fall (1,022) as are the number of species (11). This is caused by the lateness of the fall shorebird migration and the extreme dryness of the Refuge's Impoundments. Not much the Refuge can do about that without more rain coming our way.Still, it is well worth doing the survey with many delightful sightings. The bar-tailed godwit continues to be seen along with a very large group of willets (195) across from the NPS visitor center. It continues to attract birders from out-of-state and even from Canada on the date of our survey. The Fall raptor migration is in full force with the most bald eagles seen on one survey this year (8) and several peregrine falcons. The number of terns continues to amaze us with 532 royal terns, 140 Forester's terns, 97 black skimmers and lesser numbers of other tern species most of which can be found on Swans Cove pond along with most of the shorebirds. So, visiting birders should be directed to the beaches and Swans Cove for the best water bird sightings.
September 6, 2013
With no recent rains, water is limited to just two of the Refuge's impoundments. Therefore, most of the shorebirds were found on Old Field and Swan Cove Impoundments and along the beaches. Despite the limited shorebird habitat, over 4,000 shorebirds were counted of 20 species.
As we have grown to expect while birding the Refuge, suprises continue to impress us with 2 buff-bellied sandpipers, the first of the fall season. The famous bar-tailed godwit continues, and there still are almost 2,000 sanderlings on the beaches, 359 willets and 186 lesser yellowlegs. We now have over 200 lesser black-backed gulls mostly on Wild Beach. Non water bird highlights included a lark sparrow, the second seen on the Refuge this fall and a flock of bobolinks, a species that is regularly found in fall migration nearer the southern end of the Virginia Eastern Shore but was the first time we have recorded it on the Refuge.
Our next survey will be Thursday, Sept. 12th.
August 22, 2013
Despite the lack of rain sufficient to maintain water levels appropriate for certain shorebird species in all the Refuge's impoudments, enough water was present in a few ponds to attract a wide variety of shorebirds. We counted 8,720 individuals of 23 species which is excellent for Virginia. Like last week, big numbers of sanderlings (2,333), semi-plamated sandpiper (2,110) and semi-palmated plover (1,274) were to be found on the beaches and drying impoundments. Species which we we delighted to find were the famous bar-tailed godwit on Swans Cove Pond, a Wilson's Phalarope and an American Golden Plover both on Old Fields Impoundment. We do not see the phalarope every year and this is only the second American golden plover we have found this year. Also worth a special note are the high numbers of ring-billed gulls (164) and lesser black-backed gulls (139) on the beaches. Ring-billed gulls are common on the Refuge in the winter but this is a high number for this early in the season. The unexpectedly high number of lesser black-backed gulls continue to make the Refuge's Wild Beach the place to go to see this species on the East Coast of the USA.
Our next survey will be Thursday, August 29th.
August 15, 2013
With our cool weather during this exciting fall shorebird migration, the Refuge was a fine place to survey forshorebirds this week. Though we did not see the famous and very rare bar-tailed godwit during the survey, others did and it continues to attract a flood of out-of-state birders to our shorebird blessed Refuge. Look for it with a good variety of shorebirds and terns in the pond across from the National Park Service Visitor Center. The Refuge impoundments are getting a bit low on water because of the lack of significant recent rain but the Refuge continues to support good numbers and speciesdiversity. We counted 9, 912 individual shorebirds of 21 species. High counts were for sanderling (2,842) mostly on Wild Beach but some scattered through the impoundments, semi-palmated sandpiper (2,018), and semi-palmated sandpiper (1,136). Eight species of terns continues to provide a great opportunity for those who enjoy seeing species from this group (which includes us). A high count of 68 sandwich terns is a high count in our 4 years of doing the survey. The most rare species we found on the survey was not even a shorebird: one lark sparrow was seen on the Wash Flats cross-dike fence. Though we have seen this species in past years during fall migration, it is considered rare in this area. We would like to thank Bill and Sharon Purcell for helping with the survey and all the past volunteer work they have done for National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Our next survey will be Thursday, August 22.
August 6, 2013
Fall shorebird migration continues to be strong at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with dry, mudflats, and shallow water levels in the Refuge's impoundments attracting large numbers of those species (least sandpiper, semi-palmated plover) which prefer this habitat.
We counted over 15,000 individuals of 20 species. Most common were the semi-palmated sandpiper (3,916), sanderling (3,664), least sandpiper (1,344), and lesser yellowlegs with a surprising1,024 individuals (though not a record, is a high number of lesser yellowlegs for our Refuge surveys and Virginia). These numbers are conservative since we saw over 2,000 small sandpipers which were too far into the Refuge's large impoundments that we had to mark them down as "peeps" but were most likely one of the above listed species(we also left 240 yellowlegs unidentified to species). Finding 253 red knots, mostly on Wild Beach, was exciting including one with a transponder which was placed on the bird to track its migration between the Artic and its winter range near the southern tip of South America. The sighting causing the most delight was the American golden plover found by Joelle on South Wash Flats, the first of the year and a shorebird we only see a few times each year on the Refuge. Both the beach and ponds seen from the Wildlife Loop are good places to direct visitors who are looking for shorebirds.
Also of note were the 8 species of terns found which includes post breeding dispersal/fall migration species such as black, Caspain and asurprisingly high number of sandwich terns (20) scattered along the beach and a few of the impoudments.
We wish to thank Bill Hohenstein, a DC birder with a home on Chincoteague, who is very experienced with the Refuge birds and was a big help with the survey as well as a pleasure to be with.
Kevin Holcomb and Alex Lamoreax will be conducting the survey next week while we are out of town which we appreciate. Our next survey will be Thursday, August 15th.