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Bombay Hook - Fall and Winter

Photography by Jim Flowers Jim Flowers | E-Mail | Posted 09-01-2011

An 'abstract' Fall photographic scene with Snow Geese arriving on a crisp late October day

An "abstract" Fall photographic scene with Snow Geese arriving on a crisp late October day

The Four Seasons of Bombay Hook

The seasons along the Delaware Bay Coast bring a variety of sights, sounds and a huge diversity and variety of fauna and flora to the refuges and wildlife areas along its shores. There is always something new to view and photograph around every corner of the roadways and trails we travel and explore. I love my home state of Texas and its two seasons and perpetual climate of warm and not quite so warm weather, but the seasonal differences in the Mid Atlantic region keep my attention fresh with so many new things to see and experience on a yearly basis.

Due to the close proximity of my coverage area (roughly 50 miles) of this article, the seasonal patterns, migrations and presence of the various flora and fauna will apply to all locations throughout the Delaware Bay Coastal area.

A view of the fall foliage from the Shearness Pool Auto Tour route.

A view of the fall foliage from the Shearness Pool Auto Tour route.


The Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge's popularity begins to peak with visitors and photographers during the late summer. It's a time for anticipation of the fall and winter months and the arrival of thousands of migrating ducks and geese. Shorter days and cooler temperatures will signal the colorful change in the refuge woodlands and upland habitat and sights and sounds will abound.

The month of August will bring increasing numbers of migrating shorebirds on their southward journey along with the early migrating songbirds and warblers to fill the refuge woodlands. Duck numbers will begin to increase with the arrival beginning of both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal. Cardinal flowers, rose mallow and meadow beauties are just some of the flora in bloom around the refuge ponds and upland habitat during this late summer month.

The cooler days of September will see the duck numbers continue to increase and the first travelers of the Atlantic Flyway population of Canada Geese will begin to arrive. Late migrations of songbirds and shorebirds will be present and the Tickseed sunflower, goldenrod and Joe-Pye-weed will be in-flower.

Large numbers of the American Avocet can be viewed in the shallower pools during the month of October. Greater Snow Geese will start to arrive along with larger flocks of Canada Geese from points north. Ducks will be on a steady increase as American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails and Mallards begin their fall migration. Flora will include the Bur marigolds at bloom in freshwater pools.

Migrating Short-billed Dowitchers rest in the shallows of the Raymond Pool

Migrating Short-billed Dowitchers rest in the shallows of the Raymond Pool

A Northern Shoveler prowls the waters of Shearness

A Northern Shoveler prowls the waters of Shearness

The peak of the waterfowl migration will occur in November with the arrival of the Gadwall, American Widgeon, Wood Ducks, Northern shovelers, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers along with the remaining mallards, pintails and black ducks. Tundra Swans and an occasional Mute will join the final numbers of arriving Canada and snow geese and will add to the existing population already in the area.

Autumn is a magical time at Bombay Hook with the new arrivals and the departing of the previous guests while the colors of the landscape turn to flame red, oranges and yellows to paint a dramatic image against a crisp blue sky. Photographic opportunities are numerous to create lasting memories of nature at its finest.


Winter's chill signals the season of the "Raptor" and the leafless branches make observation and photography a snap. The refuge is less populated with the human form and its source of transportation. Weekdays can offer solitude to the visitor and one might not see another visitor for hours on end. I've been known to play hooky from my obligations and enjoy these days of opportunity. There's plenty to see and do from the warmth of ones automobile.

A Northern Harrier (marsh hawk) patrols the upland habitat of the Bombay Hook refuge

A Northern Harrier (marsh hawk) patrols the upland habitat of the Bombay Hook refuge

December will offer high populations of wintering birds, especially waterfowl foraging in the cut fields of the refuge or resting on the impoundments and ponds. Arriving early before dawn can afford one excellent views and photography of serene winter sunrises and then followed by the ever so famous Bombay blastoff of the Greater Snow Geese whom call the refuge home during this frosty season.

Eagles can be seen perching in the bare woodland edges searching for an easy meal. The Barred and Great Horned Owls will establish territories and begin their winter courtships. The Finis Pool is a good location to hear the hoots of the Barred Owl and the taunts of the Great Horned Owls.

January is prime time for observing and photographing Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks whom are common during winter months. Northern Harriers can bee seen hunting the marsh and upland habitats of the refuge. Scanning the marsh adjacent to the Bear Swamp Pool may offer the reward of the Short-eared Owl in the early morning hours and just before dusk. The refuge eagles will begin preparing their nests.

Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle (L) and Red-tailed Hawk (R) perch in the nearby woodlands overlooking the Bombay Hook impoundments

During the month of February, Bald Eagles will have laid their clutch and the incubation period will begin. Large Flocks of pintails will arrive with the first mild weather of the month to begin their returning spring migration.

There may be periods when Bombay Hook can become a frozen wasteland and this may force wintering waterfowl further south. But with the thaws that occur often populations will return.

Continued on the next page ...

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