by EJ on 05/07/13
School's almost out and it's time to start thinking of ways to keep the kids occupied during the summer months... there are play dates and summer camps and pool parties and vacations to plan... Consider birding
. It's something that you can start immediately or over the summer and the skills learned from birding are so beneficial for young minds. Plus, birds are everywhere. You can bird in your back yard. You can travel to go birding. Birding is an activity that parent and child can participate in together and can easily become a life long and *inexpensive* hobby.
Kids can be particularly enthusiastic about birding and it's a great activity to keep them engaged and outside. Birding encourages respect and wonder for wildlife, it requires quiet and persistence. It's also a great relaxation technique that can help ease anxiety and promote control and patience. What kid or adult for that matter, wouldn't benefit from that?
If you're on your way to the beach this summer, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
is a fantastic spot to introduce kids to birding. Located in Smyrna, Delaware, the refuge is a sanctuary for wildlife such as deer, beavers, frogs, migrating songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds, turtles, salamanders, red foxes, crabs, Bald Eagles and snakes (nothing poisonous). The park protects one of the last remaining areas of tidal salt marsh in the Mid-Atlantic. Bombay Hook is located smack in the center of the Atlantic Flyway. Therefore, it's as a hot spot for birds and birders alike.
Bombay Hook sits alongside the Delaware Bay and much of the park is comprised of tidal salt marsh made up of cord grass meadows, tidal pools, mud flats, rivers, creeks and tidal streams. The higher lands are comprised of forest and timbered swamps. There is a pretty distracting view of Salem Nuclear Power Plant across the Delaware Bay in the tidal sections of the park, but that seems totally insignificant when compared to all the amazing natural views and wildlife you'll see on a daily basis.
The park is set up for easy wildlife viewing. For those who are unwilling to venture out of their cars (which I actually recommend during heavy mosquito or tick seasons), you can view wildlife, from herons to snapping turtles to red foxes to eagles, from your car. In fact, Bombay Hook features a 12 mile auto tour that meanders through the park. For serious birders, photographers and the plain adventurous, I do suggest checking out the five hiking trails, two of which are handicapped accessible.
Some of the birds our kids have spotted in all our many visits to Bombay Hook include the Canada Goose, the Green-Winged Teal, Double Crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Bald Eagles, American Avocet, the Short-Billed Dowitcher, the Long-Billed Dowitcher, Tree Swallows, the Marsh Wren, Brown Thrashers, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, American Black Duck, Mallards, the Snowy Egret, Redtailed Hawks, Laughing Gulls, Black-bellied Plover, Osprey, Turkey Vultures, Carolina Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird. European Starling, American Robin, Sparrows, Boat-Tailed Grackle, House Sparrow, Ruddy Duck, the Orchard Oriole, Downy Woodpecker, the Tufted Titmouse, sandpipers, Yellow Warblers and the American Crow.
On our most recent trip to Bombay Hook, we walked the entire Boardwalk Trail with our pug, infant and toddler. This trail was child-friendly and offered a lot of scenic views (Tip: The Poison Ivy was heavy in the trees so don't let kiddies wander off the trail). Our three-year old had a blast running up and down the boardwalk, searching for fiddler crabs. He loved to watch the American Kestrels that flew repeatedly over the trail as though performing for us our own personal flight show.
Before You Go:
~ Check out the Bombay Hook Monthly Wildlife
Calendar to preview with your child what you might see. Look up and research the birds and other animals listed in that month online to get your child excited and know what to look for.
~ Check the hunting schedule as part of the park is closed
14 days of the year.
~ Learn some history. During World War II, the Army Air Corps used part of the refuge for rocket training.
When You Go:
~ Consider whether you'll purchase a daily pass ($4/car) or an annual pass ($12/year).
~ Go when there are few or no bugs, mosquitoes unless you plan on staying in your car.
~ Beware of ticks, they can get pretty bad at certain times of year if you venture off the road.
~ Do not feed or touch the wildlife
~ Bring a camera!
~ Bring a notebook for your child to document (or draw) the different birds that she sees.
~ Drive slowly. Wildlife will cross the road, including turtles and red fox. More Info for Kids & Birding
- Pennsylvania eBird's
"Connecting Kids to Birding and Nature..."
- Receive a FREE
"Take A Kid Birding" Bumper Sticker
- Birds & Blooms
"Introducing Kids to Birding"