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Bombay Hook - Bear Swamp Pool

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

'The Circle', Great Egrets in the Bear Swamp Pool

"The Circle", Great Egrets in the Bear Swamp Pool

I enjoy the more isolated areas of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the Bear Swamp Pool is usually one of my first stops in the early morning hours after I enter the refuge before the crowds arrive.

Nesting Black-necked Stilt

Nesting Black-necked Stilt

The fresh water impoundment is roughly 240 acres in size and is composed of mud flats, muddy islets, small grassy islands, areas of deep water, and shorelines that vary from marshy grasses to woods. It attracts many of the tall wading birds that inhabit the refuge in the summer as well as many species of shorebirds, ducks and both Snow Geese and Canada Geese.

Some of the long-legged waders observed at the Bear Swamp Pool include Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tricolor Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Glossy Ibis. Other nesting inhabitants may include Pied-billed Grebes, Common Moorhens, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Shovelers, Least Bittern, and Black-necked Stilts.

While scanning the salt marsh adjacent and to the east of the pool, one might observe a Northern Harrier or Short-eared Owl hunting the grassy areas along with shorebirds and rails on the banks of the guts and bays at low tide. The auto tour portion of the Bear swamp loop provides excellent opportunities for photography and wildlife observation of many species.

Green-winged Teal hen
Green-winged Teal drake

Green-winged Teal drake (L) and hen (R)

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Song Birds prevalent along the loop and pool include the Eastern Kingbird, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, American Goldfinch and the ever so common Red-winged Blackbird.

Raptors commonly viewed in the Bear swamp area include but are not limited to the Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, and an occasional sighting of a Peregrine Falcon or Golden Eagle.

'Road Warrior' An Immature Bald Eagle tests on the auto tour roadway

"Road Warrior" An Immature Bald Eagle tests the auto tour roadway

The Bear Swamp loop is a great place for photographing some of the beautiful Bombay Hook sunrises. The image used on the opening page of the Delaware Bay Coast article was taken from the Bear Swamp loop section of the auto tour route.

With slow travel and careful observation of the grasses along the some of the pool ditches along the tour route, it may be possible to view an elusive Least Bittern. I've observed and photographed four different Least Bitterns clinging to the reeds within a two hundred yard stretch, just after the first curve of the loop along the edges of the impoundment. Also, check the exposed stumps for basking Eastern Painted turtles.

The island at the upper end of the loop, just before you enter the wooded area, is a very popular late summer rookery for both the Black and Yellow-crowned Night herons. The night herons can also be seen at close range fishing from the banks of the island near the loop at one of the water control gates.

The remainder of the Bear Swamp pool loop will now continue through wooded areas that contain vernal ponds, marshy swamps and upland habitat. The ditches both to your left and right along the wooded portions are popular with Wood ducks. Slow travel and careful observation can pay off with photographic opportunities of this species. This area is also a good place to observe and photograph wood warblers that include the American Redstart, Yellow-rumped warbler and the occasional Orange-crowned warbler.

A Least Bittern studies his surroundings in the Bear Swamp Pool

A Least Bittern studies his surroundings in the Bear Swamp Pool

Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Screech Owls are common but rarely seen. However, diligent observance of the Wood duck box openings may present the "peek-a-boo" of an Eastern Screech owl or its young. The vernal pond within the last section of woods on the left, near the end of the loop before opening to upland habitat, is often home to Muskrats providing occasional opportunity for observation and photography.

The Bear Swamp Loop will end at a "T" intersection where a right turn will take to you a short distance before you turn left onto the Finis Pool access road and the continuation of the auto tour. This area was once cultivated fields (see note below) and can offer a diversity of birds and wildlife for observation.

Listen for Bobwhite Quail calling and if you're lucky you may catch a glimpse of these birds along the roadside collecting gravel.

Note: Bombay Hook is not without controversy. Up until a couple of years ago, the refuge allowed cooperative farming throughout as with many of the other refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system.

As part of a lawsuit settlement, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced it would stop the "alleged" illegal planting genetically engineered crops on all its refuges in 12 states in the northeast, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

According to PEER, the lawsuit had charged that FWS "had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with private parties, allowing hundreds of acres on its Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware to be plowed over without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)."

It's not the first time that GMO crops in national refuges have sparked controversy, and although this latest lawsuit is a success for the conservation and food safety groups who filed it, additional litigation is being prepared elsewhere to address the 75 other wildlife refuges nationwide that could be growing GMO crops illegally.

Eastern Painted Turtles basking on a stump in the Bear Swamp Pool

Eastern Painted Turtles basking on a stump in the Bear Swamp Pool

I, along with many others who frequent the refuge, have mixed feelings on the subject. The grain spillage from the harvested fields provided a food source and the cut fields gave a resting place for the thousands of Snow and Canada geese that winter on the refuge. The birds now have to forage on the nearby farms with the risk of hunter's guns as well as crop destruction for the local farmers. I would like to see the farming resume but with non-GMO crops. Almost all of my hunting friends agree and would like too see the birds have a safe place to feed and rest as well.

The Finis Pool access road will travel through more upland habitat and woodlands before arriving at the pool. This is another prime area for spotting a Red Fox as well as White-tail Deer and Wild Turkeys along the woodland edges. Birds along the route will consist of wood warblers, other song birds, raptors and owls. Be sure to check the small vernal pond to your right just before you arrive at the Finis Pool for Wood ducks.

Continued on the next page ...

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