Birding in Delaware at Trap Pond State Park, a baldcypress ecosystem.
After a wonderful trip aboard the Mummichog II for the Cape Water Taxi Ecotour to explore the ecosystem of the Indian River Bay in southeastern Delaware, today we headed to southwestern Delaware to explore a fresh water ecosystem.
Trap Pond State Park, near Laurel, DE in southwestern Sussex County features the northern-most natural stand of baldcypress trees in the US. This baldcypress ecosystem is a wonderful place for birders to observe Pileated Woodpecker, Prothonotary Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Barred Owl, Wood Duck, and many other birds who frequent swampy habitats.
The Delaware State Parks along the state’s Sussex County shores are popular and well known. Not too far to the west lies a park with a completely different nature dynamic.
If the shore parks are all about saltwater, freshwater reigns at Trap Pond State Park, located east of Laurel. According to the Delaware State Parks website, the park is an outgrowth of days long ago when freshwater wetlands covered that portion of what is now Sussex County. In other words, the park was once part of a huge swamp.
Trap Pond State Park offers many boating opportunities to enjoy the park, including paddle boat, canoe, and kayak rentals, and a pontoon boat tour of the baldcypress ecosystem led by park naturalist Will Koth. This tour is about 90 minutes long, and Will described the history and ecology of this area while pointing out birds, turtles, beaver lodges, and other unique characteristics of this natural area.
Much of Sussex County was freshwater swamp prior to the European settlement. Baldcypress trees are tough and resistent to rot, making them a prized wood for settlers who wanted to build homes and other buildings in this area.
In the late 1700s Trap Pond was created by man for the construction of a dam to power a sawmill for harvesting of this valuable timber. The baldcypress trees were all harvested at that time, so what appears now is a second growth baldcypress forest.
In the 1930s during the Depression, the federal government purchased about 1000 acres from desperate farmers and workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps was sent to create recreational facilities on this land.
The state of Delaware took over management of the area in 1951, naming the area Trap Pond State Park. The park consists of 3653 acres in 8 sections, although most visitors visit the main area around Trap Pond. And birders enjoy the 5 mile long Loblolly Trail that encircles Trap Pond.
Much of the forest cover in the park away from the pond is Loblolly Pine, another great southern Delaware ecosystem for birders.
Most of the visible baldcypress trees from the pontoon boat are about 75-100 years old, but Will told us that in the James Branch section is the jewel of the park–the over 600 year old baldcypress tree called “The Patriarch.”
Will Koth told us that while Baldcypress trees are conifers, they are not evergreen. They lose their needles every autumn, and grow new ones in spring. The trees drop their seeds into the water where they will float away and sprout when they are exposed to oxygen along the shore.
Some seeds sink to the bottom where they can remain viable for more than 5 years, sprouting when water levels drop or they become dislodged from the mucky bottom.
After the depression and the end of the lumber operations when the Baldcypress trees had all been cut down, the swamps were drained and the area became more and more agricultural. Soon thereafter scientists and naturalists noticed that many fish were dying off in Trap Pond. It was soon discovered that the cause of this was from runoff into the pond from dairy farmers and chicken farmers. This livestock waste polluted the water, changing the nutrient balance, and resulted in the death of the fish.
The state of Delaware has worked with farmers over the years to keep the livestock waste and other agricultural pollutants out of this freshwater ecosystem.
We saw several Pileated Woodpeckers flying along the edge of the pond, and a Great Blue Heron perched in a tree. Eastern Kingbirds perched in the Baldcypress branches, flying out to catch a yummy insect snack, and then returning to the same perch.
Will pointed out an abandoned beaver lodge that he told us that beavers were again adding new sticks to, either for a new lodge or for a feeding platform.
And many turtles, mostly Red-bellied Turtles, perched among the flared base and knees of the Baldcypress trees.
And, lots of Dragonflies! Including this Common Whitetail:
Many many thanks to Will Koth, park naturalist at Trap Pond State Park for sharing his knowledge and love of the nature of the park with us during the pontoon boat tour of the Baldcypress ecosystem!
And thanks to rangers, volunteers, and naturalists at parks across the country:
After our pontoon boat tour with naturalist Will Koth, we visited the Baldcypress Nature Center, which is filled with interactive interpretive displays about the nature and history of Trap Pond State Park.
The rangers were very excited about a new display of a Gray Fox that had recently been created by a local taxidermist, and the fact that they had received an award for their entry into the cardboard boat race that their summer camp kids program had participated in.
I discovered a story by Theresa Gawlas Medoff about her adventures at Trap Pond State Park which has more detail about the park and the recreational activities offered there that you may also enjoy: Baldcypress Trees: A Big Attraction at Trap Pond.
Trap Pond State Park is part of the Delaware Birding Trail, and many birders visit this natural gem throughout the year.
Wildlife gardeners can play an important role in protecting nearby beautiful natural areas like Trap Pond State Park. Ecosystem Gardens full of native plants that support abundant wildlife act as buffer zones to protect water quality and wildlife corridors so animals and birds can extend their range outside of these protected areas.
And visiting local natural areas will give you ideas about the vegetative communities that will work well in your wildlife garden.
More adventures in Delaware Birding:
Carole Sevilla Brown gardens for wildlife in Philadelphia, PA and travels around the country teaching audiences large and small about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife.
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