Explore Pea Patch Island, an oasis for history and nature lovers.
A short trip from Battery Park on the Three Forts Ferry will bring you to Pea Patch Island. While Civil War buffs will find exactly what they’re looking for within the historic walls of Fort Delaware, nature lovers will be just as pleased with the bird sanctuary at the north end of the island.
Recently recognized by the Audubon Society as a bird sanctuary of “continental significance”, this oasis of natural beauty is home to the largest heronry of mixed species on the East Coast. Nine species of wading birds can be found here including the Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis and Tri-colored Heron. There is a nature trail and an observation tower for viewing the heronry.
Pea Patch Island — Heronry/Mixed Wading Bird Colony
Pea Patch Island is a 310-acre island located in the Delaware River estuary near Delaware City (SAMP 1998). There are nine different species of wading birds, including herons, egrets, and ibises known to have nested in breeding colonies on the island. In a 2003 study of the heronry 3285 heron nests were surveyed (DNREC 2006). This heronry is the largest on the east coast north of Florida, and is continentally important due to this unique occurrence. There are tidal creeks within extensive tidal marsh areas on the island. There are also large areas of coastal plain woodlands including stands of tall trees and shrub-dominated patches.
Dragon Run Natural Area — Creek and Marsh
Dragon Run marsh is the largest freshwater marsh system in the northern part of Delaware. Diverse freshwater wetland plants occur here including arrowhead, marsh mallow, water lily, duckweed, cattails and arrow arum. Extensive wildlife use includes muskrats, turtles, waterfowl and other migratory birds. In addition to the marsh, the Dragon Run ecosystem includes open stream channel and forested wetlands, part of an extensive riparian corridor that includes adjacent upland forests.
Grass Dale Center — Meadows and Wetlands
The Grass Dale area is a unique natural area that is a part of Fort DuPont State Park. Six major habitat types are found within a 100-yard radius including woods, tidal marsh, freshwater freshwater pond, hedgerows, meadow and scrub (DE Audubon 2002). These habitats are attractive to a diversity of wildlife. The catalog of flora and fauna now stands at 134 bird, 84 plant, 47 insect, 16 mammal, 9 amphibian, 1 minnow and 1 crustacean species (DE Audubon 2002). The meadow areas of Grass Dale provide habitat potential for many birds including grassland species. Grass Dale wetland areas include extensive tidal marsh and a freshwater pond.
Delaware City Lands at Branch Canal — Tidal Wetlands
This area is an undeveloped city owned parcel that contains extensive tidal marsh area, scrub edge habitat and some coastal woodland fringe. This area is predominantly a complex of tidal marsh and open water and has been observed to be used as foraging areas for long-legged wading birds including great egrets.
Delaware River — Waterway and Shoreline
This section of waterway and shoreline occurs from Fort DuPont northward to the Valero refinery area. The River is a major fish migration and habitat area. The River corridor is also used as a bird migration route, foraging areas for birds that consume fish and it also provides resting and roosting area for waterfowl and other water birds. The shoreline area includes tidal fringe marshes that provide erosion protection, water quality enhancement and habitat for wildlife foraging and cover.
C&D Canal Wildlife Area — Impoundments and Marshes
The impoundments are managed by DNREC as habitat for large numbers of waterfowl including ducks and geese, and they provide resting and roosting areas as well as foraging habitat. The impoundments are used as part of a managed hunting area and water levels are controlled to meet the habitat management objectives. The impoundments and marshes are also used by wading birds, shorebirds and marsh birds. The freshwater marsh areas are also utilized by reptiles and amphibians and mammals including muskrats.
Gunning Bedford School — Fields and Woods
The Gunning Bedford School site includes fields, scrub edge and coastal plain forests. The forest areas are part of the extensive riparian corridor of Dragon Run providing a wildlife movement and habitat corridor, supporting native plant community diversity and protecting water quality of the wetlands and stream channels. There has been high bird species diversity observed in this area and the school site is part of the Christmas Bird Count program that annually surveys designated sites for winter bird diversity.
Fort DuPont State Park — River Edge and Marsh
The river edge along Fort DuPont contains a variety of coastal habitats and plant community types including tidal marshes (low and high), meadows, scrub and deciduous forest. This is an area that is known by birders for having a high diversity of water birds and land birds that can be viewed at different times including seasonal variation during migration periods.
Canal Lands Mount Laurel Geologic Formation — Fossil Deposits
Deposits from the dredging of the C&D Canal have been placed in dredge material spoil piles along the Canal. The deposits are from the Mount Laurel Formation which includes material deposited during the late Cretaceous Period approximately 65 to 85 million years ago. Fossils found in the formation include Beleminites, Mosasaurs, sharks and dinosaurs (Fossilguy 2004). Areas identified for viewing fossils occur in deposits located near the base of the Reedy Point Bridge immediately south of Delaware City.
For more information about the important bird areas in Delaware, visit www.delawareaudubon.org