Squabbling Bald Eagles
Bird Photography,  Travel,  Wildlife

Photographing Birds and Wildlife at Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located 10 miles from Dover, Delaware near the town of Smyrna.  Dover is a good place to stay with several hotels and multiple restaurants on the southern side of town on North Dupont Highway.  Bombay Hook is only about 15 minutes from this area giving you quick access to the NWR.

If you are traveling from the west across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes to Bombay Hook NWR.  A good address to use in your GPS or navigation app is 2501 Refuge Entrance Rd, Smyrna, DE.

There is a $4 entry fee per car for Bombay Hook.  You need to pay with cash, check or an annual pass like the America the Beautiful Pass.  There is a kiosk at the entrance where you can pay.  For pass holders, you can drive right into Bombay Hook.  I recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass for annual entry into all National Parks and wildlife areas.  It saves needing to have dollar bills or writing a check.

Bombay Hook is open from a 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset daily.

Sunrise at Bombay Hook NWR
Sunrise at Bombay Hook NWR

Where to Photograph Birds and Wildlife at Bombay Hook

There are about 9 miles of roads to drive in Bombay Hook to photograph birds and wildlife.

I find the best approach is to slowly drive around the Wildlife Drive scoping the Tidal Salt Marsh and Brackish Pools for birds.  There are a few hiking trails, but the best action appears to be around the ponds and tidal marsh. 

Bombay Hook is a good place to photograph both in the morning and late afternoon / evening.  The brackish pools (Raymond, Shearness, Bear Swamp) are lit by the morning sun and the Tidal Salt Marsh to the east is lit by the afternoon light.  On a light overcast day, you can photography both sides in the morning and evening and still have decent light.

Also, bring your landscape lens and get into the park before sunrise.  You can get some beautiful sunrise photographs over the Tidal Salt Marsh.

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

Birds at Bombay Hook NWR

I’ve photographed Bombay Hook in both the spring and fall seasons and there are a variety of birds to view and photograph.  The species of birds vary by season but there is always something to photograph and view at Bombay Hook NWR.


Bombay Hook has a variety of raptors to photograph including:  Bald Eagles, Osprey (migrate to Bombay Hook in early spring), Northern Harriers, and Red-tailed hawks.  Bombay Hook is a terrific place to photograph raptors in flight as they fly over the tidal marsh and brackish pools to fish.

Wading Birds

There are plenty of Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets at Bombay Hook.  These are great subjects to photograph them fishing and capturing takeoffs.  Although not a consistent visitor, I have also photographed Roseate Spoonbills at the NWR in September.

Snow Geese on a Foggy Morning
Snow Geese on a Foggy Morning


Waterfowl are present throughout the year, but it is a great place to photograph during the spring migration.  There are a large variety of waterfowl during the migration including:  Mallards, Northern Shovelers, American Black Ducks, Canada Geese, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Pied-Billed Grebes, Mute Swans and more. 

Thousands of Snow Geese migrate to Bombay Hook starting in October and leaving for the artic in February and March.  I’ve photographed a few Snow Geese at Bombay Hook at late as early April.  Make sure to keep an eye out while driving into Bombay Hook on Whitehall Neck Road, Snow Geese will also feed there in the mornings and evenings.


There are variety of shorebirds at Bombay Hook NWR although you will need a longer lens to photograph these smaller birds at the reserve.  Shorebirds at Bombay Hook include the:  American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, and Willet to name a few.


There are also a variety of songbirds and other smaller birds at Bombay Hook but two stand out as my favorites. 

  • Blue Grosbeaks.  I’ve photographed Blue Grosbeaks at Bombay Hook in September
  • Foster’s Terns.  There is a good population of Forster’s Terns at Bombay Hook.  They are a lot of fun to photograph diving for fish or trying to capture them in flight.

Two sources that I used to monitor the bird sightings at Bombay Hook are eBird and the I Love Bombay Hook Facebook Group.

Red Fox Scratching an Itch
Red Fox Scratching an Itch

Wildlife at Bombay Hook

Bombay Hook is also a terrific place to view and photograph wildlife.  I’ve seen and photographed Red Fox, Eastern Cottontail Rabbits, White-tailed Deer, Beavers, Muskrats, and Wild Turkeys.

Landing Mute Swan Pair
Landing Mute Swan Pair

Tips for Photographing Bombay Hook NWR

  • Dress in Layers.  There always seems to be a good amount of wind at Bombay Hook which can make it a lot colder than the posted temperature, especially in winter or early spring.
  • Combine your trip to Bombay Hook with a visit to Blackwater NWR in Maryland.  Blackwater NWR is about 1 hour, 45 minutes southeast of Bombay Hook.  Like Bombay Hook, Blackwater has a wildlife drive where you can view and photograph wildlife and birds from your car.
  • Be ready to photograph from your car.  Have your window down with your camera ready.  I usually have two camera bodies.  One with a longer prime lens – Olympus 300mm f/4 lens + 1.4x teleconverter (effective focal length of 840mm).  The other camera has an Olympus 100-400mm zoom lens (effective focal length of 200 – 800mm).  The zoom lens is handy for closer photo opportunities where the subject is nearer to the car.

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