Exploring the Delaware Bay Coast
Photography by Jim Flowers Jim Flowers | E-Mail | Posted 09-01-2011
Bombay Hook Sunrise
This will be the second of hopefully a series of articles on locations slightly outside of the WildlifeSouth regional coverage and perhaps even an extension or broadening of that area for the future. The first article was on the Conowingo Dam in Maryland by fellow staff member Lisel Shoffner Powell. As with Lisel, I live outside the normal coverage of the southeastern states and receive correspondence often as to things to see and do in our neck of the woods. I will be covering areas within the mid Atlantic states along with the south central US and my home state of Texas. I will begin with one of the most popular and requested areas from our readers.
The fabled cliché that "Great and Big" things often come in small packages holds ever so true as to the selection and diversity of the natural and wild to be found in the tiny state of Delaware. A few interesting facts about the state are listed below.
Known as the "First State", Delaware was the first state to ratify the federal Constitution on December 7, 1787, thus becoming the first state in the Union. And because of this, according to "Delaware Facts" (from State of Delaware Web page), Delaware is given the first position in such national events as presidential inaugurations. The delegates met at the Golden Fleece Inn on the Green in Dover.
Geographically, Delaware ranks 49th in the nation with a total land area of 1,955 square miles making Delaware the second smallest state in the US. Note: Rhode Island is the smallest state. Delaware is also one of the smallest states in terms of population. Its 1990 Census population count is 666,168, ranking it 46th in population.
As the" Lowest State', Delaware's average altitude is about 60 feet above sea level, making it the lowest average altitude of any state. Delaware also has one of the lowest high points: Ebright Azimuth at 442 feet is the highest point in Delaware. Located at the junction of Ramblewood Drive and Ebright Road in Wilmington, Delaware. Only Florida has a lower high point.
Delaware is rich in avian and wildlife conservation efforts state wide, but one of the largest concentrations of Wildlife Management areas along with State and National Wildlife Refuges can be found along the coastline of the Delaware Bay and its tributaries.
The Delaware Bay is a major estuary outlet of the Delaware River on the Northeast seaboard of the United States whose fresh water mixes for many miles with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is 782 square miles (2,030 km) in area. The bay is bordered by the State of New Jersey and the State of Delaware. It was the first site classified in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The pair of Capes that denote the outermost boundary of the Bay with the Atlantic Ocean are Cape Henlopen of Delaware and Cape May at the southern tip of New Jersey.
The shoreline of the bay consists of mostly tidal marshes and mudflats. There are only a few small communities that inhabit the shore of the lower Bay.
While the Delaware River is the major feeding tributary, other rivers contribute to the supply of fresh water to this major estuary. The Delaware rivers include (from north to south): the Christina River, the Appoquinimink River, the Leipsic River, the Smyrna River, the St. Jones River, and the Murderkill River. From the New Jersey side the rivers include the Salem River, Cohansey River, and the Maurice River. Several of the rivers hold protected status for the unique salt marsh wetlands along the shore of the bay. The bay serves as a breeding ground for many aquatic species, including horseshoe crabs. The bay is also a prime oystering ground.
Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crabs
The Horseshoe Crab
The Delaware Bay region is home to the largest population of the American horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus), which is found along the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to the Yucatan. Often referred to as "Living Fossils", the Horseshoe crab has evolved very little in the past 250 million years. In late spring and early summer mature horseshoe crabs migrate into shore to spawn. Along the Delaware Bay, peak spawning events usually occur with the high lunar tides around the full and new moons during May and June. The Horseshoe crab eggs are the vital source of food for the thousands of migrating shorebirds and provide the needed nourishment for the remainder of their journey to their artic breeding grounds.
The Land Beyond the Bay
Beyond the coastal marsh and mudflats of the bay shoreline lies a very diverse ecosystem. The refuges and the wildlife management areas consist of freshwater streams, lakes and ponds, both coniferous and deciduous forests and upland habitat which attract a variety of wildlife and avian species year round. These areas are surrounded by a rich network of farms growing corn and other grains that through spillage supply food to wintering waterfowl. Cover crops are usually planted after the fall harvest and include cereal grains such as wheat and barley. The cover crops help in the control of soil erosion and runoff that could threaten the bay.
Delware Bay Coastal Marsh
Snow Geese Grazing Corn Stubble
Rose Mallow Blooms
Although the following segments were written with the nature photographer in mind, I will include items and locations of interest to most outdoor and nature enthusiast including hikers, birders, families and students etc. The Delaware Bay coastal area can provide of wealth of learning to the student of nature's delicate ecosystems. Many of the areas noted have a variety of easy hiking trails for a family stroll, wildlife observation and/or photography
Common Buckeye Butterfly, Bombay Hook NWR
The region is of special interest to "birders" with a large variety of species to observe and add to their "life lists". Rare visitors occur and delight the avid bird watcher. You never can quite expect what you might find around the next corner of a trail or the next bend in the roadway. As noted, the bay coastline is somewhat of a shorebird Mecca due to the annual spring Horseshoe Crab arrival and spawn.
As a shopping mall will have "anchor" stores to draw the majority of the patrons, this article will present the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near the northern tip of the coverage area, and the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge at the southern most point as the anchors for our exploration. I will add detail to points of interest nearby and in-between our main anchor points of coverage. This will include state wildlife and conservation areas, refuges and places of interest to the nature lover.
Over the next several months, the rest of the summer and through the fall, I will introduce you to all points on the map above (starting with the northern point and working south) and detail each location and the areas nearby of interest to nature enthusiast through photography and story. This will be a work in progress so check back often... This will be a multi-page article and some segments will contain multiple pages as well. Use the "Next Page" and "Previous Page" navigation at the top and bottom of the article. Enjoy our exploration of the Delaware Bay Coastline. - Jim Flowers
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