The Wild Shore Takes Flight
|OBJECTS APPEAR CLOSER: Birdwatching at Chincoteague (John Karen Hollingsworth/courtesy, USFWS)|
On the seaside of the Eastern Shore peninsula, a ribbon of undeveloped barrier islands protects pristine salt marshes, vast tidal mud flats, and thriving fish and shellfish populations. On the bay side, countless estuaries and exposed mudflats dot the shoreline. And because much of the peninsula is owned by conservation groups or government agencies, the area is protected from development, and wildlife thrives here.
Birds are especially abundant. Like clockwork each fall, favorable wind currents push millions of migrant songbirds, raptors, and shorebirds through the area in waves. Weary from their journey south along the Mid-Atlantic flyway, birds find precious refuge in a mosaic of wetlands, sandy beaches, and maritime forests along the shore. Because birds hopscotch down the coast, fall birding is good just about everywhere, but it can be especially productive in the southern tip, where birds concentrate before the next leg of their journey.
To witness firsthand the spectacular fall bird migration, check out the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival, held each September. The festival is a chance for both experienced and novice bird watchers to access the shore's finest birding hotspots with expert guides.
The festival kicks off in the artsy harbor town of Onancock with a keynote address by renowned author and world birder Pete Dunne. You'll find other activities and guided tours during the festival at several places along the shore from Cape Charles in the south to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in the north. Traveling from venue to venue will allow you to sample the area's best birding sites along with the historic small towns, fisherman's wharves, wineries, and quaint B&Bs that flavor the shore. To increase enjoyment and reduce environmental impact, participation in the field trips is limited, so register soon.
You won't be disappointed. The shore is designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Site, and a long-term ecological research site for the National Science Foundation. Yet despite these ecological accolades, the Eastern Shore is not as well traveled as other hotspots on the Atlantic flyway, so visitors who come here get all the nature with none of the crowds.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication