If you’re not a nature lover or even someone who appreciate nature, you might still enjoy a trip to the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware. I happen to fall into the category of nature lover, bird watcher, and amateur photography enthusiast making a trip to Bombay Hook something that was perfect for me. But loving nature and enjoying bugs and heat and humidity often go hand and hand and I’m happy to say I found a workaround.
On recent trip to visit Dover, Delaware and its surrounding areas, my itinerary included a “driving tour” of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
My thoughts immediately turned to excitement and disappointment. How in the world can you experience the joy of a wildlife refuge from inside a vehicle? As it turns out, in the warmer months, it’s highly recommended that you only do a driving tour of the wildlife refuge and a few minutes in, I could see why.
Much like the wilderness of Alaska, the 16,000 acres of preserved land in Delaware attracts all sorts of wildlife, including those that belong to the insect family. While inside a motorcoach for our 12 mile drive through the refuge, the windows were covered with all sorts of flying insects that I’m sure would have loved to take a bite out of me. It turns out it was not only a good idea to enjoy the scenery from the comfort of our bus, but I also captured some pretty fantastic views.
As we traveled down the gravel road (s-l-o-w-l-y so as to minimize the amount of dust we kicked up), we had views on both sides of the bus. On the left, you could find freshwater marshes attracting its own unique ecosystem. The water level was actually fairly low on the day we visited. When the rains are heavier, you’ll find much of this area under water.
On the right side of the bus, you could look out at the saltwater marshes that eventually lead to the Atlantic Ocean. Just from turning your head from left to right, you could change your scenery entirely but still see wildlife unique to each.
The scenery itself is beautiful but the real treat is the wildlife that you don’t have to look hard to find while driving through Bombay Hook. If you’re taking a driving tour, though, you’ll definitely want to bring binoculars and your telephoto lens.
Near the visitors center, you’ll see one of the many Purple Martin stations that attract these migratory birds. They’re fairly common to see at these “condos” built just for the birds but they’re also good to have around. They are part of the Swallow family and love to eat those annoying bugs flying around in summer!
Once we starting on our driving tour, it didn’t take long to start spotting wildlife. The easiest birds to spot were found in the muddy areas of the freshwater swamps. You’ll find more common birds like sandpipers but also see some spectacular flashes of color on birds like the Red-Winged Blackbirds.
When looking toward the saltwater side, it wasn’t that difficult to find wildlife there either. Probably the most common bird I saw on our trek was the Snowy Egret. They’re tall, leggy, and bright white making them easy to spot amid the murky waters and green grasses.
Second to the Snowy Egrets were the Great Blue Herons (fun fact: I once published an article in a Virginia magazine about the Great Blue Heron!). If you don’t happen to see them on the ground, they’re easy to recognize while in flight by the S-shaped curve of their neck.
But if you’re looking for something more dramatic, you just might find that too. Bald Eagles were plentiful (we saw at least three) and they’re easily recognizable by their bright white head.
And even if you don’t see amazing wildlife and spectacular birds, you can still see nature at its finest. We were lucky enough to have a guide on our bus with us who pointed out the nest of a Marsh Wren blowing in the grasses right next to the road.
Keep in mind that everything that I saw and that I photographed here, I did from the comfort of an enclosed air conditioned bus. All of these photos are taken through a window. So I’d say it worked out pretty well. If you’re not the outdoorsy type, there’s still plenty to see from the comfort of your vehicle. BUT…
If you are the outdoorsy type and the idea of observing nature from behind the glass just isn’t for you, don’t worry. The Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors the 12-mile wildlife drive and five walking trails (2 handicapped accessible), three observation towers. There are also ample opportunities for wildlife photography and even hunting opportunities (to help with population control).
Things to Know about Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
- Small fee for admission (cash or check ONLY)
- Address: 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, DE 19977
- Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bombay_Hook/