Hiking and Bird Watching in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a wildlife sanctuary expressly for migratory birds, located east of Milton, DE in southern Delaware.

Translated from the Dutch words Priume Hoek, meaning Plum Point, Prime Hook was named by European settlers in the 1600s for the land’s abundance of purple beach plums.

Established in 1963 on 10,000 acres along the western shore of Delaware Bay and an important stop for migrating birds along the Atlantic flyway, the refuge contains a variety of habitats, including freshwater and salt marshes, woodlands, grasslands, ponds, and forested areas, supporting hundreds of species of birds and a variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

The refuge is open to the public for wildlife-oriented recreation. There are several hiking trails which loop around, bringing you to the variety of habitats and providing enough hiking — there are six miles of trails — to carry you through several hours. 

You pass by bird blinds and wildlife observation areas while hiking, see old farm lanes, now forgotten except for those hiking, and have the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife. 
It was early October: the summer birds had left. The winter fowl had not yet arrived. All we saw, besides the heron fishing for their dinners in the marshes, were a couple of deer.
Still, there were little hidden surprises — a bright yellow bloom, the texture of a pine cone, marsh grasses in seed. And egrets in trees.
While hiking, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel, a little larger than its Eastern Grey Squirrel cousins. Bald eagles, osprey, hawk, snow geese, and a variety of duck are common.
For a guide to what to expect during the month you’d like to visit: check out the refuge’s “calendar.” November and March are peak migration periods for fowl, and offer excellent opportunities to see a wide variety of birds.

There’s also a water trail for canoeing or kayaking, which we tried to paddle. Because we were there in early October, the only access to the water trail was via the Prime Hook Creek, accessing it from the Brumbley Family Camp Park (in fact, before you decide to head into the water, check the website for information about what’s open — peak migratory fowl season and/or controlled hunting season will result in closures). 

Delighted to find that we could still do some kayaking in the refuge, we located the access point and put in. Unfortunately, we paddled 20 yards (if that), only to discover that trees had fallen over the canal, obstructing our progress. Reluctantly we turned around and reloaded our kayaks onto our parked vehicle, a little disappointed we didn’t get to experience the refuge from water level.
You can find the water trail at Paddle Coastal Delaware, a website offering 16 water trails in Southern Delaware.
Know before you go: During the warmer months at the refuge, mosquitoes and other biting insects can be very bothersome. Deer flies occur in large numbers on the refuge from June through August. Ticks are common on the refuge and can transmit Lyme disease. Please stay on all designated trails and take appropriate precautions to avoid ticks and other insects.
Getting there: 11978 Turkle Pond Rd, Milton, DE 19968

Hours: The refuge may be visited ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset seven days a week.

Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/prime_hook/

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