Wildlife & Habitat

Wildlife & Habitat
  • Tree Planting a Success!

    Tree Planting-Wildlife

    Through funding provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Coastal Program, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge successfully planted 80 acres of hardwood trees on former agricultural fields on March 27-28, 2014 to restore forested habitat as outlined in the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan. 

  • Marsh and Water Monitoring Network

    Water Quality Monitoring


    NOTE:  We have added a fourth "color category" from the Storm Central "Water Drops" depicted on the refuge map for telemetry sonde locations. "ORANGE." Orange will be used when a sonde has been removed from the telemetry network due to technical difficulties. For example, on 01/08/2015, the sonde located at Prime Hook Road was temporarily removed due to ice conditions.

    This marsh and water monitoring network was updated in the fall of 2014 to incorporate better monitoring equipment, and to provide the data on a new website platform. The previous website will only work to explore historical data - it will not show current conditions. For this reason, the dots are now blue. The new system will look and function differently, but it will still include color-coded water drop icons to indicate general water levels near roads. This information does not replace official road condition and closure information from DelDOT, formal weather forecasts, and individual responsibility and judgment regarding driving conditions. The NEW water monitoring website can be found here: https://stormcentral.waterlog.com/public/USFWS

    Because the new website is different than what was used previously, we have prepared a document that will help the public navigate and use the site. Click HERE.

    This monitoring network is a cooperative project between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Coastal Program. The purpose of the monitoring program is to provide real-time water quality and quantity data for refuge management and the general public. The data will be further analyzed in partnership with DNREC scientists, to better understand the movement and characteristics of water in the natural and managed wetland complex of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

  • American Oystercatcher

    American oystercatcher - Keith Ramos/USFWS.

    The American oystercatcher has been identified locally as a focal species of management concern in the refuge’s comprehensive conservation plan (CCP), regionally along the mid-Atlantic coastal plain, and nationally in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, due to increasing threats in breeding and wintering grounds. Loss and degradation of habitats (sandy beaches, tidal mudflats and salt marshes) along the east coast, are directly attributed to human development and beach recreation. These two threats pose the greatest dangers to oystercatcher populations. High predator populations also significantly reduce oystercatcher nesting success. Since oystercatchers share habitat with other coastal specialist birds, conservation efforts on their behalf also benefit other declining beach-dependent species like piping plovers, red knots, sanderlings, whimbrels, black skimmers, least terns, horseshoe crabs and the beach-dune tiger beetle.

    Oystercatchers can be seen year-round on the refuge especially at Fowler Beach Road along the refuge’s barrier island beach habitats. They begin arriving in mid-March when they start forming pair-bonds that last the length of the breeding season from April through early August. The wintering range extends southward along the Atlantic coast from central New Jersey down to Mexico. Many oystercatchers also migrate through late fall resting and feeding in refuge habitats and some stay through until early winter.

  • Red Knot & Piping Plover

    Red knot - Gregory Breese/USFWS.

    Expanding overwash/grassland dune habitats on Prime Hook NWR can result in increased use by piping plovers and red knots during the spring and fall migrations. Currently, from mid to late May hundreds of red knots stop at Fowler Beach and refuel to continue their journey to the breeding grounds. Red knots hatch in late June on the Arctic tundra. Then they embark on a recurring sequence of seasonal flights that carry them to some of the most southerly reaches of Argentina and back again to the Arctic to breed in the spring.

    It is why it is important to restore and conserve refuge barrier island and back-barrier salt marsh habitats that can accommodate red knots along their 9,300 mile migratory journeys. They depend on these habitats to feed intensively to acquire fat reserves they burn off on the next leg of their long annual journeys. The refuge and other conservation partners throughout North America are dedicated to working to conserve and protect this extraordinary bird and other imperiled beach nesting birds.

  • Mid-Atlantic Barrier Island Overwash/Grassland Dune

    Salt marsh - USFWS.

    As outlined in our CCP, the refuge will be restoring and conserving overwash and grassland dune habitats that run parallel to the Delaware Bay. This natural landscape which incorporates the refuge is part of a bigger picture of a NVCS (National Vegetation Classification System) community known as overwash /grassland dunes of mid-Atlantic barrier island habitats. From NatureServe mapping data, this community is restricted to overwash dunes developed on coastal beach habitats of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Over this range less than 3,000 acres currently exist. Mid-Atlantic overwash, grassland dune habitats are globally ranked as G2/G3** and state ranked as S2/S3. It is threatened by a number of human activities especially artificial dune stabilization. Storm overwash and dune blowouts from surf surges and wind erosion are the prevalent natural forcing factors that form this landscape.

    **Determining which species and ecosystems are thriving and which are rare and declining is crucial for targeting conservation towards elements of biodiversity in greatest need. NatureServe and its member programs and collaborators use Conservation Status Ranks based on a one to five scale ranging from critically imperiled (1) to secure (5), preceded by a letter reflecting the appropriate geographic scale of the assessment.
    G - Global
    N - National
    S - Subnational or State
    The numbers have the following meaning:
    1 = Critically Imperiled
    2 = Imperiled
    3= Vulnerable
    4 = Apparently Secure
    5= Secure

  • Back-barrier Salt Marsh Habitat

    Back-barrier salt marsh - USFWS.

    Refuge back-barrier salt marshes are highly dynamic habitats that contain low and high salt marsh zones that are directly connected to Barrier Island sandy beach habitats. Spartina alterniflora (smooth saltmarsh cordgrass) dominates the low marsh zone and readily colonizes soft sediments off the bayward edge. Hydrological conditions require that the area be regularly flooded with marsh elevations from mean high tide to mean sea level with polyhaline (18 to 30 ppt) tidal waters. Tall form alterniflora occurs nearest tidal openings and channels and grades to short-form landward, as the tidal influence and range becomes restricted. Peat development raises marsh elevation and low marsh succeeds to high marsh.

    Restoration to back-barrier salt marsh habitats from currently degraded open water conditions will rely on re-building dunes, restoring edaphic factors, hydrological and salinity regimes needed to support the natural recolonization of smooth saltmarsh grasses in Unit II and parts of Unit III. The first phase of back-barrier wetland restoration is predicting hydrologic responses of formerly impounded open water areas to tidal restoration.

    The Service is currently modeling the refuge’s marsh and structures (breaches opened or closed, and presence/absence of Fowler Beach Road and water control structures in Units II and III), in conjunction with equilibrium conditions that would enable the reduction and/or elimination of tidal flow restrictions. The objective is to return the appropriate tide ranges and storm surge flows that would promote the restoration of salt marsh vegetation in Unit II and partially in Unit III. Reintroducing tidal flow to tide-restricted marsh areas represents a technique that can restore the functions of degraded wetland areas and enhance resilience to climate change effects.

    See the latest marsh restoration updates at Prime Hook.