Northampton County Landfill
IN BRIEF: A small county facility with a lake that attracts all manner of birds, if only briefly in the case of many species. Freshwater ducks and waders, open-country birds such as sparrows, and occasional warblers make this a regular whistle-stop by birders during migration and in winter. Birders need to be mindful of the movement of large trucks around the transfer station facility (and the recycling area beyond) and must pull completely off roadways (usually just muddy tracks) to permit the passage of vehicles in this active facility. Complete cooperation with landfill managers’ instructions is vital to maintaining birder access to this unusual property.
ACCESS: Historically, the landfill is open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but on Saturday, from November through February, the facility normally closes at noon. To gain access, drive slowly forward to a point even with the weighing station office, roll down the car window, and show the manager on duty a binocular. She or he will wave the vehicle in. No restroom facilities.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BIRDING THE NORTHAMPTON COUNTY LANDFILL
One of the most unpredictably productive areas for birding in Northampton County is not a managed refuge or park but a former landfill that now serves as a transfer facility for refuse and a recycling facility for utilities and brush. The key to the diversity of species here is the artificial lake on the western side of the facility, which has hosted birds as unexpected as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Bridled Tern, Black-headed Gull, Ross’s Goose, and Eared Grebe. Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk, and Golden Eagle have all been seen here in passage as well. The willows, redcedar, and myrtles surrounding the lake have produced rarities such as Lucy’s Warbler (one of two records in the East), Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Long-eared Owl in December and January and regularly host numbers of roosting herons and White Ibis, importantly a large night-heron roost from spring through late autumn. Along the approaches on Seaside Road, Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull, Mountain Bluebird, Ross’s Geese, and an apparent Black Brant have been seen. Most birders visit the Village of Oyster before or after the landfill, to add a few saltmarsh species. Most birders begin with a check of the lake. In warmer months, there are few waterfowl (other than Canada Geese), but from October through March, a nice array of ducks and geese may be present. Regular diving ducks include Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and Lesser Scaup; Redhead is scarce, and Common Goldeneye is rare. American Wigeon, Gadwall, American Black Duck (mostly hybrids with Mallard to some degree), and Mallard are regular, while Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler are uncommon. Greater White-fronted, Cackling, and Ross’s Goose have all been photographed here and should be sought among flocks of Snow and Canada Geese. Small numbers of Pied-billed Grebe and Double-crested Cormorant are usually present; a single Common Gallinule is often seen in November and early December on the northern fringes of the lake where there is aquatic vegetation or reeds. During warmer months, migrating swallows often visit the lake to bathe and drink, and Black Terns appear irregularly in early September (tropical storm activity in the area increases the likelihood of seeing this species tremendously). For fans of Fish Crow and Black Vulture, the old landfill is unrivaled, and many gulls are present year-round, though Lesser Black-backed is incredibly scarce here, with just a few adults passing through in September typically. A Great Black-backed Gull x Herring Gull hybrid was once found here, one of few documented in the mid-Atlantic states.
In addition to the lake area, it is possible to bird the area around the former (now capped) landfill mass by carefully driving around it (four-wheel drive is advisable). On the eastern side, Loblolly Pine forest harbors Great Horned Owls and other typical inhabitants of the habitat, with uncommon early winter visitors such as Blue-headed Vireo and Black-and-white Warbler often seen. The brushy fringes hold flocks of sparrows in the cooler months; watch for Lincoln’s and White-crowned among the more numerous White-throated, Swamp, and Song, as both recorded on multiple occasions. More open fields have held Vesper Sparrows in fall and winter. Listen for American Pipits overhead; they are sometimes attracted to the open fields or even the old landfill itself. The Lucy’s Warbler detected 31 December 2016 through 4 January 2017 kept company with a Nashville Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler, the latter regularly seen here in late fall and winter. Regrettably, brushy, overgrown habitats attractive to birds like this, and to local species like Northern Bobwhite, continue to vanish as the Eastern Shore “modernizes” its appearance.