A sanctuary in northern Delaware where more than 7,000 raptors passed in one day in 2013.
By Joe Sebastiani | Published: 8/18/2014
Several years ago, I had lunch with another staff member at the top of a hill at the Ashland Nature Center, headquarters of the Delaware Nature Society. We stared as raptor after raptor paraded past us: Red-shouldered Hawks, Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and American Kestrels. I realized this was an amazing spectacle that other birders needed to witness. Northern Delaware did not have an official hawk watch at that time; my goal was to start one.
In 2007, the nature society began the annual Ashland Hawk Watch in partnership with the Delmarva Ornithological Society. Birders have tallied 10,000 to 20,000 raptors each fall at the site, which is now known as Hawk Watch Hill. Every day in the fall, you’ll find a trained hawk watcher who points out birds as they pass. Early in the season, look for Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Osprey, and especially Broad-winged Hawk. The biggest show happens September 15-25, when hundreds or even thousands of Broad-wings can cruise past in a day or a few hours. One day in 2013, more than 7,000 hawks flew by, astonishing observers. — Joe Sebastiani
Joe Sebastiani is the seasonal programs leader for the Delaware Nature Society, president of the Delmarva Ornithological Society, and coordinator of the Ashland Hawk Watch.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Mature oak-hickory forest, hillside thickets, managed meadows, a creek, and a small wetland.
Hilly to flat. Getting to the hawk watch requires walking up the highest hill on the property. A cart is available to transport birders who need assistance; call ahead. Paved areas around nature center can be birded from a wheelchair.
More than 200 species. Hawk watch: Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Broad-winged, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Red-headed Woodpecker, Rusty Blackbird, Common Loon, Common Nighthawk, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin. Forests: Black-and-white, Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Magnolia, and Bay-breasted Warblers, American Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Empidonax and other flycatchers, and Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes. Rarities: Wood Stork, Sandhill Crane, Common Raven, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, Rough-legged Hawk, Pomarine Jaeger.
When to go
From mid-April to late May and from mid-August to the end of November.
Guided bird walks year-round. Annual Big Sit on second weekend in October. Restrooms at hawk watch and in nature center.
Delaware Nature Society property. Trail-use fee $2 for non-members. (Members have free access to trails.) Nature center open 8:30-4:30 Monday through Friday. Grounds open dawn to dusk.
Arrive early in the morning and bird the parking lot and trails; head to the hawk watch in mid- to late morning. Bring a lunch and a scope.
For more info
White Clay Creek State Park
15 minutes southwest of nature center on Hopkins Rd. in Newark, Delaware. Great for migrant songbirds and breeding Cerulean Warbler.
Brandywine Creek State Park
15 minutes east of nature center on Adams Day Rd. in Wilmington. Forests, thickets, and meadows bordering the Brandywine River.