At a Glance
Hours: This is a driving tour on public roads, which are open 24/7. Be respectful of residents, especially after dark.
Tips: Well worth spending half a day. ◾ Bring a scope. ◾ Plan your drive for low tide. ◾ Gas up in Cambridge! ◾ No restrooms.
Best Seasons: Year-round. Summer has less diversity but is of course good for breeders and for terns.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks (includes offshore waters): Taylors Island SE, Golden Hill SW, Barren Island NE, Barren Island CE, Honga NW, Honga CW, Honga SW, Honga SE, Richland Point NE
2843 Hoopers Island Road, Church Creek, MD 21622
Hooper’s Island, located in southwestern Dorchester County, epitomizes the Saltmarsh habitats of the Eastern Shore, where the land meets the water and waterman have long made a way of life through crabbing, oystering, and firing. Hoopers Island is great for birding because, as the extreme extension of a southward-facing peninsula, it tends to be a migrant trap. Most maps say Hooper but in local parlance, the possessive is almost always used. And in fact, it is a series of islands, including Upper, Middle, and Lower Hooper’s Islands, along with some little islets. The islands are joined to each other and to the mainland by a series of causeways and bridges carrying Hooper’s Island Road/MD Route 335.
Upper Hooper’s Island holds two main towns: Honga and Fishing Creek. These are very old fishing villages in a scenic area worth the visit just to see the watermen’s houses and culture, their long white workboats, and Loblolly Pine poles ready in spring for installation to hold offshore pound nets. Another fishing village, Hoopersville, is located on Middle Hooper Island near the south end of Hoopersville Road. Lower Hooper’s Island is uninhabited and can be reached only by boat.
The way to bird this area is simply to drive south as far as you can go on Hooper’s Island Road, a narrow, winding road with good views on both sides of open water and bays, with a mix of saltmarsh and Loblolly Pine hummocks. Note that along the way, the name of the road changes to Hoopersville Road. Don’t let that worry you; just keep heading south. The area is best in winter and early spring for waterfowl. In extreme high tides, some of the roads will be submerged, so plan the timing of your visit carefully.
Almost all the land along the road is privately owned, so stay on the public roadbed if you get out of your car. There are few places to pull over or park, so take care and be respectful of the local residents by not blocking the road. See tips in the “Birdlife” section below on specific places to look for birds.
Some of the side roads along the way are also worth exploring. Note that Meekins Neck Road north of Hooper’s Island is a narrow road through heavily hunted land and is not recommended for birding.
Upon reaching the end of Hoopersville Road on Middle Hooper’s Island, take a last look around and then drive slowly back north, savoring the views of a vanishing way of life and an ecosystem hanging on in the face of sea-level rise.
Over 150 species have been reported on eBird from the Hooper’s Island area. A number of eBird hotspots cover the area, including:
- Upper Hooper’s Island – 152+ species
- Hooper’s Island Bridge – 119+ species
- Hooper’s Island — Cat Cove – 41+ species
- Middle Hooper’s Island – 149+ species
On the way to Hooper’s Island, the marsh just west of Smithville Road, where Route 335 crosses Great Marsh Creek, has Clapper and Virginia Rails and Seaside Sparrows. About 1.9 miles farther south, Swan Harbor Road goes off to the west (may be labelled Tar Bay Road on some maps). In its middle there are often considerable raptor migrations from mid-September until early November, especially accipiters, vultures, and buteos. In addition, Sika Deer are sometimes seen. The marsh here also has Clapper and Virginia Rails. Continue westward to Bayview Drive where Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Warblers, and the occasional Delmarva Fox Squirrel are possible. Peer westward over the lawns to the long sandbar where there are often Bald Eagles, gulls, terns, waterfowl. This is the best place in the county for a few Sanderlings.
Return to Route 335 and continue south for another 2.4 miles, where you will leave the mainland at the bridge over Fishing Creek. One can, with care, find a place to park and legally walk up to the middle of the bridge, affording looks in season of a few waterfowl, loons, and grebes, as well as an extensive panorama to the west, with views of distant Barren Island (a unit of Blackwater NWR). Tundra Swans by the hundreds are often on the east side of Barren Island in winter, and a few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets still nest on the island, down from many hundreds of nine different species of heron and egrets, when the island was a mile longer (erosion). Formerly, perhaps still, Barren Island boasted a few Narrowmouth Toads, scarce in Maryland.
Almost anywhere from Old Salty’s Restaurant on Upper Hooper’s Island, down to Hoopersville on Middle Hooper’s Island, during January through March, there are sometimes a thousand or more Redheads in their typically very dense flocks, especially on the Honga River to the east. These may be accompanied by Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, abundant Bufflehead, sometimes hundreds of Canvasbacks and, even in mid-winter, there are Horned Grebes and Common Loons.
Anywhere in this area, numbers of Bald Eagles are possible year-round, and Ospreys are positively abundant as breeders. The experimental jetties south of Ferry Narrows Bridge, west of the road, at high tide, sometimes have roosting Dunlin, a few Sanderlings, and other shorebirds, plus numerous gulls (especially Great Black-backed) and terns. On very rare occasions, a few Purple Sandpipers have been seen, as well as Great Cormorant. Long-tailed Duck and Surf Scoter are most often seen near the big, high bridge here. Far offshore, due west of Old Salty’s on tiny Opossum Island, Brown Pelicans occur, especially May to October. Northern Gannets are usually seen very far to the west over the Chesapeake Bay, several miles out or so, but occasionally turn up even on the Honga River. The saltmarsh south of the big bridge is good for a few Clapper Rails.
Since this is a driving tour, it is great for those who are mobility-impaired, as most of the birding is from the car.
A large area that includes Hooper’s Island, Blackwater NWR, and Fishing Bay WMA as well as other state and private properties has been designated as the Southern Dorchester County Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.
If one never gets to Smith or Tangier islands, driving through Hooper’s Island is a good consolation prize, offering views of a vanishing way of life and an ecosystem imperiled by sea level rise. ◾ Check out the “Birding in the Heart of Chesapeake Country” brochure produced by the Dorchester County Tourism Office and MD DNR. You can also pick up a printed copy at the Sailwinds Park and Visitor Center in Cambridge. The brochure outlines five birding/driving tours through Dorchester County (including Taylor’s/Hooper Island), and also has an overview of birds and habitats in the county. ◾ There is no local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society centered in Dorchester County, so many local birders are members of the Talbot Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative presentations, all free and open to the public.
Highly recommended: Watch the film, “High Tide in Dorchester,” produced by the Bay Journal. The film documents the ongoing sea level increase and its already noticeable effects in Dorchester County.
Parking is often somewhat precarious, usually just pull over to the side, carefully. There are few shoulders except south of Ferry Narrows Bridge, adjacent to Great Marsh, and at the eateries.
From US Route 50 in Cambridge: Take MD Route 16 south to MD Route 335, bearing right at the T-junction at Golden Hill. MD Route 335 eventually becomes Hooper’s Island Road and then Hoopersville Road. From the T-junction of Route 335 with Smithville Road, the paved road extends 12.9 miles to its end at Hoopersville on Middle Hooper’s Island.
Dorchester County: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge ◾ Cambridge – Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park (Dorchester County Side) ◾ Cambridge – Great Marsh Park ◾ Cambridge – Oakley Street ◾ Cambridge – Sailwinds Park & Visitor Center ◾ Chesapeake Forest – North Tara Road ◾ Elliott Island Road / Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area (Eastern Section) ◾ Taylor’s Island
Caroline County: Adkins Arboretum ◾ Choptank Marina ◾ Daniel Crouse Memorial Park ◾ Idylwild Wildlife Management Area ◾ Martinak State Park ◾ Skeleton Creek Road & Bethlehem Road ◾ Tuckahoe State Park (Caroline County)
Talbot County: Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park (Talbot County Side) ◾ Black Walnut Point Natural Resources Management Area ◾ Claiborne Landing ◾ Mill Creek MOS Sanctuary ◾ Pickering Creek Audubon Center ◾ Poplar Island
Wicomico County: Cedar Hill Marina & Park ◾ Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area ◾ Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area – Nutter’s Neck ◾ Pemberton Historical Park ◾ Roaring Point & Nanticoke Harbor ◾ Tyaskin Park & Wetipquin Park ◾ Ward Museum & Schumaker Pond
Bottomland Deciduous FarmyardLawn, Ballfields, Golf Course Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Open Ocean, Bay, or EstuaryRivers & StreamsSalt or Brackish Marsh
Features:Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHuntingWater View
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Eastern ShoreDriving Tour (Roadside Birding)Water Trails