Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
IN BRIEF: This 13,682-acre refuge is comprised of the southern portion of Assateague Island; a small portion is open to the public, near the southern end, and the variety of shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and terns make the refuge a must-visit by birders, at any season. The refuge is known worldwide for providing pasture rights to 150 semi-feral horses owned by the local firefighting company, which rounds up the horses in a popular “penning” ceremony in mid-July; large crowds of tourists at this time make a birding visit very challenging.
ACCESS: The refuge is open 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. May through September; 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in April and October; and 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from November through March. Restrooms or port-a-johns are always available, either at the Bateman Educational and Administrative Center or the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center. Refer to the website (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/chincoteague/) for information about access to beach areas and other restricted-access areas. No dogs are permitted, not even inside vehicles, and violators will be evicted and possibly fined.
Additional Info: Virginia DGIF Birding Trail Site
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BIRDING CHINCOTEAGUE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was a mecca for eastern birders in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly for those keen to see large numbers of shorebirds. Since that time, management practices have not prioritized habitat for migratory shorebirds, and so the numbers and diversity observed in recent decades—particularly in the small portion of this refuge accessible to the public—have dropped considerably, certainly also abetted by declining populations of most species and the spread of invasive plants here. Nevertheless, because of its coastal location, and its freshwater impoundments (fed by rainwater, thus sometimes dry), this refuge is still one of the top spots in Virginia for seeing a variety of species. The list of species here tops 350, including seven species never otherwise recorded in Virginia: Ruddy Shelduck, Mountain Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Western Marsh-Harrier, White-crowned Pigeon, Little Egret, White-winged Tern—in addition to several recorded only a few times in the state ever, such as White-cheeked Pintail, Garganey, American Flamingo, Great White Egret, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Elegant Tern, Sabine’s Gull, Black-billed Magpie, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Northern Wheatear, Varied Thrush, Black-headed Grosbeak. This mixture of vagrants from the American West, Europe/Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean makes Chincoteague a very special place for Virginia birders, who still make multiple pilgrimages here during migration and winter (a few birders do brave the two million tourists in summer) to see the regular species and hope for something new. Only Craney Island (Portsmouth) and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Virginia Beach) are sites of comparable caliber in Virginia, if also highly restricted in terms of access.
The sections below first describe strategies for birding the main areas of the refuge regularly open to the public, during all seasons. Following that is a brief description of the northern areas of the refuge, which are typically not open (or rarely open, or open under highly restrictive conditions, such as staying inside a moving vehicle). It is important to remember that the status of birds in any given impoundment can change in just a few minutes: a heavy rainfall can make a once-dry impoundment come to life with birds, or can make an impoundment filled with birds unusable by them, with water levels suddenly too high for foraging. Tides also exert some influence, even in areas that are primarily freshwater impoundments, and major storms’ impacts have redrawn the refuge map multiple times since the 1990s. Finally, the once-proud maritime forests of mature Loblolly Pine have been decimated in recent years by Southern Pine Bark Beetle, leaving only a remnant behind. Plans to move the public beach northward by several miles, and to expand roadways for traffic there, will have an impact both on forested lands and on birds, but the effects on birds (and their habitats other than forest) remain to be seen. As these changes come about, this website will be updated as swiftly as possible. For a relatively accurate understanding of the status and distribution of avifauna of the refuge, check eBird (www.ebird.org), as the refuge does not provide a bird checklist online.
Snow Goose Pool and Shoveler Pool
Snow Goose Pool and Shoveler Pool are the main bodies of water visible along the famed 3-mile “Wildlife Loop,” open during daylight hours to walkers and bikers, after 3:00 p.m. for motorists. There is a temptation to wait until the loop opens to vehicles to go birding, and most birders do that, mindful that during most warmer months, the mosquitoes (and in summer and early fall, deer flies) can be intense here, and respite in the air-conditioned bug-free vehicle is welcome between stints of scanning with a scope (requisite here for identifying distant shorebirds). But if there are shorebirds or waterfowl on the far (northern) side of this loop, then they will appear as silhouettes in the afternoon, when one looking to the west/southwest at least. The light is optimal for that section of the loop in the morning. By the same token, a visit in the morning means that the birds on the start of this counter-clockwise are silhouettes if the sun is out. Multiple visits, on foot and by car, can produce impressively different lists, and hardcore shorebirders do just that. Conditions change at Snow Goose Pool, and invasive plants of several kinds have become pernicious, such that large are parts of the impoundment that are unsuitable for most birds, let alone shorebirds. The refuge is working to address that problem.
Spring and fall are the times for shorebirds and waterfowl, and in winter, waterfowl are predominant. Whether hiking, biking, or driving, make sure to spend time in three areas: the start of the loop, where open flats emerge on the left; the northeastern corner, where the road emerges from the woods and scrub and there is often water on both sides (Shoveler Pool on the north side); and the “marsh overlook” on the south side (no real parking, but pull over the best you can, if driving, and walk the short trail to the overlook). There is no point, really, in trying the northern overlook, as even with a scope, the birds are too distant. Water levels will probably be different at these three sites, and birds will likely also differ in their variety and number. Try to count shorebirds carefully: accurate counts of these declining birds have a great deal of value to conservationists, especially in aggregate databases such as eBird.
The attraction of Snow Goose Pool during migration has been the shorebirds, specifically those that favor freshwater flats with very little water to just about 2 inches of water. These include Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper (usually in grassy patches), Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Phalarope. Solitary Sandpiper is also often present, but typically just a few birds tucked up into corners where there are large bushes or trees overhanging or shading the water. Many other shorebirds, of course, do rest and feed to some extent in Snow Goose Pool but are equally or more at home on tidal flats in saltwater. To see the greatest variety of shorebirds in Snow Goose Pool (or any impounded area on the refuge), time your visit(s) to coincide with highest tide(s), so that birds will be more concentrated in roost areas rather than widely dispersed on mudflats, of which there are hundreds of square miles at lowest tides. Rarer shorebirds recorded on this loop include Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff. Hudsonian Godwit has been recorded a few times, but most records are from nearby Swan Cove. On rare occasions in the past when the impoundment was dry and covered with very short grass, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, and American Golden-Plover have put in appearances, but normally these species are found on the Wash Flats in such habitat. In the exceptional autumn of 1980, perhaps over 400 Buff-breasted Sandpipers gathered here in September, probably displaced by powerful westerly winds from their usual mid-continental migration path.
Wading birds and waterfowl also visit Snow Goose Pool. Watch for White-faced Ibis among the Glossy; it has become almost annual here in recent years in May and June, either inside the loop or in Shoveler Pool, just to the north of it. Other rare species of note from this site are Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Purple Gallinule, Great White Egret (African subspecies of Great Egret, with black bill in breeding plumage). Waterfowl are often present in the thousands, including large numbers of Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal in late summer and early autumn, if water levels are suitable. Gadwall, American Black Ducks (and hybrids with Mallard), Mallard, and Canada Geese all breed locally; Mute Swans were here in the twentieth century but not longer breed here. Other regular nonbreeding waterfowl are Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail. Wood Ducks are mostly seen flying from one area to another, as they prefer wooded swamps with more cover. Diving ducks are also generally scarce in Snow Goose Pool, which is rather shallow, though deeper sections might have Hooded Merganser. During the winter months, geese can be abundant, mostly Snow (thousands) and Canada (hundreds or low thousands). Ross’s Geese are regular in the flocks of Snow Geese, and two blue-morph Ross’s are documented, exceedingly rare in the East. Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese have also been picked out of the smaller flocks of Canada Geese. Both Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks have been found in this part of the refuge, though no Fulvous since 1975. Some even rarer waterfowl have been found, and opinions differ as to their “wildness.” The provenance of a Ruddy Shelduck seen here in summer 1979, 1980, and 1982 is unknown; the same is true of a Cinnamon Teal noted here in June 1987. White-cheeked Pintail and Garganey have each been detected twice on this impoundment, and like all waterfowl records, these are open to question but have been treated as records of likely wild birds. If in doubt, always photograph such birds extensively, especially the legs, which can reveal clipped halluces (hind nails) or leg bands, both signs that the birds came from zoos or private collections. And always report interesting birds, no matter what! Comically, a local person in Chincoteague village keeps a free-flying Sandhill Crane as a pet, and that bird occasionally visits the refuge, where it is indistinguishable from wild birds that have occasionally appeared here.
As with water birds, so with land birds: try to identify each one carefully here. There are relatively few nesting passerines on this part of the refuge, particularly after most trees have been killed by bark beetles. Falcons are almost always in the air here in October, many of the Merlins and Peregrines pausing to strafe the shorebirds. The state’s first report of Swainson’s Hawk was made here, 21 August 1978, rather early for this western species. Flycatchers seen here include Olive-sided Flycatcher (almost annual; look on the abundant dead snags in trees), Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and once a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, which spent 17-19 May 1990 here, putting on a show. The refuge’s four records of Northern Shrike are split between this area and nearby Swan Cove, October through December, and most of the refuge’s three records of Gray Kingbird are likewise from these locations, so check each “mockingbird” carefully, too. Blackbird flocks have included Rusty and Yellow-headed during October, and autumn swallows should be checked for Cave or even Violet-green. Flights of finches are relatively rare into coastal Virginia, but watch and listen carefully for Red and White-winged Crossbills, Common and Hoary Redpolls (the latter only recorded from just across the Maryland border on Assateague Island), and Evening Grosbeak from October through the winter. Finches are much easier to detect in the early morning, when flying and calling, than after they settle in to feed. Any stand of mature pines is likely to have Brown-headed Nuthatch year-round, and singles or flocks of migrant warblers should be sought in autumn especially, though occasionally there are notable migrants in spring here, too. Red-headed Woodpeckers have increased since the bark beetles invaded; their numbers are augmented by arrivals of migrants in September.
Much of the habitat along this and other short trails on the refuge has been altered by the activity of Southern Pine Bark Beetle, but because these areas still represent the only areas of vegetative cover accessible to the public, they should be walked attentively in the early morning by birders, especially during migration. It is here, or along Lighthouse Trail, where most visitors encounter the lovely pearl gray Delmarva Fox Squirrel, a subspecies that was once listed as Endangered but was downlisted in December 2015 to federally Threatened. Few species now nest in the remnants of woodland, so watch for any sign of migrants, as the spring and especially fall season produce gems such as Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Worm-eating, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Nashville, Wilson’s, and Bay-breasted Warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, and Black-billed Cuckoo. Indeed, any stand of trees, even around the Batemen center, can produce a new species for the day; such is the potluck nature of birding on a barrier island in fall. On very rare occasions, large fallouts of migrants have been documented here, sometimes of warblers and other Neotropical migrants, other times of sparrows, with birds said to be “dripping off the trees” or “jamming the edges of the roads.” During such events, species such as White-crowned Sparrows, Dickcissels, and other birds with generally more westerly migratory routes hint at potential for even more uncommon fare. Rarities found along the trails or road edges include Varied Thrush, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and Northern Wheatear, among many others.
Swan Cove and Black Duck Pool
For birds blown up by storms from the Caribbean—and American Flamingo and White-crowned Pigeon come to mind in this context—Swan Cove is probably the first bit of hospitable freshwater habitat they see if arriving off the ocean. One can imagine the refuge’s Western Marsh-Harrier (December 1994) was also happy to find habitat after its ocean crossing. Such storied birds, seen by few, hint at the potential for birders who make frequent visits to this body of water, just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic.
The hydrology of Swan Cove has changed in the twenty-first century, partly as a result of the relentless storms that have, on multiple occasions, breached the barrier between the cove and the ocean, making its waters more brackish than fresh. On average, the water levels in the cove are higher in the twenty-first century, meaning that shorebirds are far scarcer in most years now. Birds seen here in the past, such as Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Phalarope, are less apt to be seen here if water continues to be so high. Swan Cove is probably the best location for Red-necked Phalarope on the refuge, and that species regularly visits deeper impoundments. The greatest variety of birds in Swan Cove is seen at the western corner and the eastern end. At both locations, there are places to pull a vehicle completely off the causeway—the road that separates Swan Cove on the north side from Tom’s Cove (fully tidal) on the south side. At the western end, waterfowl often congregate, and there is a roost of shorebirds and terns and gulls at most times of year to the north of this spot: Black-headed Gull is often seen here in fall through early spring, as is Eurasian Wigeon (one or a few among the American Wigeon). Diving ducks are plentiful here in winter, including Lesser Scaup, occasional Redhead, and Ruddy Duck; watch for a rare Tufted Duck (one record) among Ring-necked Ducks and scaup. Severe winters in New England south to New Jersey usually bring more such bay ducks into coastal Virginia. This western end is barely visible over the tops of the Phragmites now from the Wildlife Loop, but it is worth putting a scope on it from any and every angle, as it attracts a nice array of species.
Remember that this geographic location is a real crossroads, so examine each bird carefully to make sure that rarer Eurasian or Asian species have been ruled out. Check this spot multiple times per day; the light is always good here. Farther east, the pullout near a tiny island (and across from the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center) is a place of renown in American birding. Within a few feet of this tiny island, all four godwit species, White-crowned Pigeon, American Flamingo, Western Marsh-Harrier, Elegant, Roseate, Arctic, and White-winged Terns, and Sabine’s Gull (May and September records) have rested, along with less-earth-shattering Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Red Phalarope, Gray Kingbird, Northern Shrike, and Cave Swallow. Needless to say, this area should be checked as often as possible: American Flamingo has appeared here no fewer than five times 1969-1985, sometimes following tropical storm passage. So sit a spell; the refuge’s most recent records of Elegant Tern (September 2001) and White-winged Tern (September 2002) were discovered by birders who had planted themselves here. Spending a few hours during a rising tide (or inclement weather, when ocean-loving terns like Roseate and Arctic would be more likely to take shelter) might be fruitful. Follow the end of the road to the left, to check the easternmost bit of Swan Cove, visible from the sandy parking area; some birds there are not visible from the main road, and a few Piping Plovers are often there at high tide. When approaching or departing Swan Cove, be sure to pull in at least briefly to check Black Duck Pool along the Beach Road to the north. Although usually only a handful of egrets are around, check for shorebirds and waterfowl, and examine each bird closely. The 1992/1993 Little Egrets and the 2008/2009 Great White Egrets used this pool at times. Cattle Egrets are frequently seen with the horses on the opposite side of the road, at least during the warmer months.
If Snow Goose Pool supplies the dabbling ducks and Swan Cove the bay ducks, then Tom’s Cove (and the beach) offer the rest of the checklist, the sea ducks, grebes, and loons. From October into May, the deep waters of Tom’s Cove provide good foraging for piscivorous ducks, including Surf and Black (and a few White-winged) Scoters, Greater and Lesser Scaup, and occasionally Common Goldeneye. Horned Grebes and both Common and Red-throated Loons often abound, and there are records of Eared and Western Grebes here. On the margins of the cove, Clapper Rails are often seen in the Spartina marsh, and shorebirds feed and roost on mudflats and sandy areas, while American Oystercatchers appear as soon as shellfish reefs are exposed by falling tides. High tide and subsequent falling tide are the best times to visit Tom’s Cove: shorebirds that disperse widely for foraging during lower tides typically congregate near the northeastern corner of the cove to roost during high tide. Watch for Whimbrels and Willets in particular; Chincoteague has two records of European Whimbrel (with white rump), from April 1991 and August 2003. Both Bar-tailed Godwits found here (2014, 2018) favored this roost or the similar roost across the road in Swan Cove. A Brown Booby perched on old pilings here (30 September 1972), as did a male Magnificent Frigatebird (20-28 September 1998); records of these tropical species in Virginia now span late winter through late autumn. Well south in the cove, there are ruins of an old fish factory out in the water, on which Purple Sandpiper has been seen resting (and sea ducks have surely foraged around), but this is out of scope reach. That species is otherwise difficult to find in Accomack County
Currently, there are plans to stop maintaining the beach parking lot at the end of Beach Road; this website will be updated as soon as possible after this lot closes. At present, this is the only barrier island beach in Virginia that is accessible by car and is in fact the only view of the Atlantic Ocean available to the public on the entire Eastern Shore. Among photographers, this is a popular location to observe and photograph Snowy Owls in winter. Harassment of these birds, however, has reached very high levels, and all observers are encouraged to intervene when witnessing this. A walk on the beach where there are mature dunes is likely to produce Ipswich Sparrows in winter, perhaps a few Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspur on rare occasions. A Northern Wheatear was here 2 October 1982. In summer, the swales behind the dunes are home to nesting Field Sparrow and (Atlantic) Song Sparrow, both somewhat scarce, and farther back into scrub and short maritime forest, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, House Wren, and occasionally Orchard Oriole sing from May through August at least.
Seawatching is done rarely here, it seems, but as with any other Atlantic beach, there are numerous possibilities. Large flights of sea ducks, mostly scoters but with a few fancier species (Common and King Eiders) have been reported in October through December, along with substantial flights of Northern Gannets and Red-throated Loons at this time. Razorbills have also been seen moving southward in early winter, though not in the thousands, as sometimes seen at Virginia Beach. Dovekie is rarely reported, but more scanning during irruption years would surely produce many more records, as the species is often seen from Ocean City, Maryland, less than 25 miles north of the refuge. There are reliable reports of single Common Murre and Thick-billed Murre from the beach here, and likewise more scanning in winter should produce further records of both.
Checking each gull in the beach or on the parking lot is wise at any time of year. Lesser Black-backed Gull is fairly common year-round here, and Iceland Gull is regular in winter, Glaucous less common but often reported. Black-headed Gull sometimes makes an appearance from late autumn through early spring, and Franklin’s Gull has appeared at least four times in autumn, September through November. Little Gull is rarely reported in fall/winter but has been found several times in summer at Chincoteague. Terns should also be scrutinized carefully, particularly after the passage of storms. The only time an observer was stationed there during a tropical cyclone was 20 August 1981, during offshore hurricane Dennis, and 2 Bridled Terns were scoped; several dead Sooty Terns were found here following Hurricane David in 1979 as well. When large groups of feeding terns are noted offshore, spend time watching them, especially in the afternoon, when jaegers come in to pirate fish from them. Shorebirds use the beaches for much of the year. Nowadays, the largest counts (in the thousands) of Sanderlings come from the beaches, and with them in late summer through early autumn are usually Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Western Willets, Whimbrels, and smaller numbers of Semipalmated Plovers. Shorebird surveys have turned up a remarkable array of birds in this habitat, including species that do not usually forage on ocean beaches. Occasionally, cetaceans are observed, mostly Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, but a few other species have been seen on the ocean or were found as beached specimens (report all of these, and any sea turtles on land, to refuge personnel right away).
Spring flights of seabirds are rarely reported, though there are May reports of Roseate and Arctic Terns, which could be seen through early September here as well. Seawatchers in mid-May to early June regularly observed a few Sooty Shearwaters winging their way northward here, at least during strong easterly winds, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels can appear in small numbers any time from May through August. Other species of tubenose, and perhaps South Polar Skua and jaegers, could be observed during persistent easterly winds in late May, as occurs at Cape Hatteras frequently. In June and July, occasional “die-offs” of shearwaters have included Great, Sooty, Manx, Cory’s (including Scopoli’s), and Audubon’s. Some of these birds have been found dead or ailing on the beach, but others were seen swimming or flying over the ocean beyond the surf line. These events are thought to be caused by prey scarcity and calm weather conditions that do not permit these birds to move to more productive feeding areas to the north.
One of the wildest places in Virginia is just to the south, called “The Hook” locally, or Fishing Point. This is the southern terminus of Assateague Island. With the northern end of Wallops Island to the south, it borders the inlet to Tom’s Cove and, beyond that, Chincoteague Bay. Such locations around the world seem to draw birds like magnets, probably because of their remoteness and the close proximity to concentrated tidal activity (and thus fish). The fact that this area is closed to the public for most of the year means that birds can rest here between bouts of foraging without being flushed constantly or driven off entirely, as at many Atlantic coast locations. At most times of year, large flocks of resting gulls, terns, pelicans, cormorants, and shorebirds can be found here. As late as the 1980s, a pair of Wilson’s Plovers nested here, and one can sometimes still be found here in spring or summer. Piping Plovers still nest here, thanks to protection by the refuge, and counts of 30 or more are typical. Black Skimmers and Least Terns also nest or attempt to nest in most years. The few birders who have made the trek to the Hook when it is open to the public (usually in winter; check with the refuge visitor centers) have marveled at the abundance and variety of waterbirds here. Uncommon shorebird sightings here include a flock of 19 Hudsonian Godwits 6 August 2013 and a Red Phalarope 7 July 1974. Curlew Sandpipers were recorded here every spring 1981-1987. Black-legged Kittiwake, Little Gull, and Black-headed Gull have all been found around the Hook. With regular ornithological attention, this spot would surely rank among the most notable in eastern North America.
Service Road: Wash Flats area (access limited)
This 12-mile stretch of the refuge comprises most of the freshwater impounded areas (some having tidal influences from ditches into Assateague Channel) north of Snow Goose Pool. The various areas have different names and nicknames. Refuge personnel name most of them simply as “C Pool,” “E Pool,” etc., but some are known as Farm Fields, Old Fields, and the like. This account will simply lump all of them together. A series of large impoundments that stretch almost to the Maryland border can be legally reached on foot, and at least one impoundment of note can be reached legally by bicycle, but the northern seven miles cannot be biked legally. In summer and early autumn, the insect life here reaches Biblical proportions, and so most birders are content not to visit this stretch, despite the many records of rare birds here (a full mosquito suit would eliminate biting insects, but these are very warm to wear in summer and make birding with a scope difficult). A concessionaire occasionally is permitted to drive a “safari bus” through this part of the refuge to see horses, but stops are few, and birders wanting to scan for scarcer species are invariably disappointed by this expensive option (the horses can be seen just as easily near Black Duck Marsh). By the same token, those who do make the 16-mile roundtrip hike, braving the insects, may surely claim bragging rights.
Shorebirds are the main attraction along the Service Road. For 13 years, the entire refuge was surveyed intensively by Claudia P. Wilds, who found numerous records of interesting shorebirds here: many records of Buff-breasted and Baird’s Sandpipers and American Golden-Plovers; multiple records of Curlew Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Ruff; and the state’s only record of Mountain Plover (16-17 October 1976), one of only three records for the East. Such birds have been documented less frequently since the 1980s, but records do continue, despite changes in survey protocol. Observers lucky enough to find optimal water levels in August and September should enjoy large numbers of Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover, and Dunlin (later in fall), dozens of Stilt, Spotted, and Pectoral Sandpipers, dozens or perhaps hundreds of Western Sandpipers, and usually smaller numbers of Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Sanderling, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Solitary Sandpiper, some of these also seen on the west side of the road, in flats of Assateague Channel, where Marbled Godwit, American Oystercatcher, and Whimbrel are also regular. Spring migration here is similar, but westerly migrant species such as Long-billed Dowitcher, Hudsonian Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s, Buff-breasted, Western, and Stilt Sandpipers are quite rare in spring here. White-rumped Sandpipers can be seen in the dozens during May in some years, if water levels are right for them. Long-billed Curlew has been noted twice here in summer, single birds in 1974 and 1975, and 2 birds in 2013. Black Terns are regular here in August and early September; watch for White-winged Tern as well, recorded at least seven times here 1963-1980. During her shorebird surveys, Claudia Wilds found the first Elegant Tern for eastern North America (20 June 1985). The potential for new vagrant species here is very high; 20 additional species of shorebird have been detected in the East between Florida and New England, any of which could appear here.
Although the pine forests along this stretch of the refuge have been badly damaged, there are still a few forest species such as Eastern Wood-Pewee present during the nesting season, and migrants of all sorts should be looked for in spring and fall. In late summer and early autumn, Lark Sparrows are regular along open stretches of the Service Road, and Clay-coloreds appear in September and October in most years. A Sprague’s Pipit (28 September 1976) and a Chestnut-collared Longspur (5 June 1977) appeared here, and Claudia Wilds detected Virginia’s second Sage Thrasher on the Service Road (10 October 1985). The presence of so many western open-country species suggests that vagrants drawn from similar habitats and geographic areas, such as Western Meadowlark, Lark Bunting, Smith’s Longspur, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, and Brewer’s Sparrow, could turn up here, and all have appeared in the East in autumn/winter in the past.