Just two hours from Reading you can experience the wonders of bird migration and wildlife spectating right from the comfort of your vehicle. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, located near Smyrna, Del., has a 12-mile refuge loop that allows you to get close enough to a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and passerines to hear their wings beating as they fly over the freshwater pools, salt marshes and woodland trees.

The loop gives you access to just a tiny portion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, which covers about 16,000 acres and borders 8 miles of the Delaware Bay.

There are five short walking trails, and biking is welcome along the refuge drive as well. Two of the five trails are wheelchair accessible.

There are three 30-foot observation towers to climb, too. During an Oct. 7 visit, the view from the Raymond Trail Tower was still very obscured by foliage. Mosquito repellent was a must. Despite liberal application of a natural-based spray, several pests were successful in their hunt for blood.

Avocets numbered highest in the bird count for the day, more than 50. The wading shorebirds with an upward- curving bill already had their winter plumage of black, white and gray. The most entertaining birds to watch were the two northern harriers hovering over the marsh grasses bobbing straight up and down, leaving no doubt how the harrier jump jet got its name.

The quarter-mile boardwalk trail takes visitors out into the salt marsh and is beautiful at sunset. At the trail head, downy woodpeckers flitted in the treetops.

"Waterfowl populations are at their peak in November and December," the refuge's brochure states. "More than 150,000 ducks and geese use the refuge at this time."

During the Oct. 7 trip, our party of two witnessed, in addition to the birds mentioned above, more than 50 Canada geese, 16 snow geese, 13 wild turkeys, 10 ruddy ducks, two bald eagles, eight American wigeons, six mallards, seven northern shovelers, four great blue herons, five great egrets, five snowy egrets, seven yellowlegs, four double-crested cormorants and one eastern phoebe. Visit ebird.org to find out what birders have seen more recently.

The highlight of the trip was getting to watch two red foxes. One crossed the road back and forth in front of us and then commenced hunting in the meadow. The other, definitely a male, put on a 10-minute show for us as he circled and pounced on a corn snake in the middle of the road and then dispatched it for dinner.

Admission is $4 per carload, $2 per adult hiker or biker and free for children under age 16. Admission is free for anyone holding an Interagency Annual Pass or Interagency Senior Pass. Active duty military personnel and their family can get a for free or a lifetime Interagency Senior Pass is just $10 for anyone age 62 and older.

Contact Special Sections Editor Susan E. Miers Smith: ssmith@readingeagle.com or 610-371-5048.