If you're looking to get out and commune with nature, there's no better time to do so than during the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge 50th anniversary year.
The refuge, a part of the national Fish and Wildlife Service, was established along the coastline of the Delaware Bay in 1963 under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. It's intended to provide a habitat for birds traveling from winter refuges in the southern hemisphere to summer nesting areas in the north.
Bill Jones, visitor service manager at Prime Hook, said refuge managers have planned a myriad number of activities throughout the year to celebrate this golden anniversary.
A lecture series already has begun as well as environmental activities for preschoolers, so next up will be the Spring Discovery Hike, planned for 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Unlike previous hiking activities, this one is aimed at people who don't get outside very much, Jones said.
"This is a general walk that's geared to beginning hikers to encourage them experience nature," he said. "Our guide will stop often and point out objects of interest. Sometimes we'll just stop for an opportunity to listen to nature itself."
Five days later, on April 18, beginner and experienced bird watchers will get the chance to learn more about the different bird species migrating through the area.
"You'll see yellow warblers, bluebirds and pine warblers," Jones said, and the volunteer bird watcher accompanying each group will help identify the birds by their distinctive songs.
The April 18 bird field trip, like the April 13 discovery hike, is free and open to the public.
The upcoming weeks will be particularly interesting as this is the time horseshoe crabs emerge from the bay to spawn on Delaware's beaches. Prime Hook is a prime location for this event because the flocks migrating northward somehow know the crabs will be laying their eggs just in time for their arrival.
"Some of these birds fly nonstop several thousand miles and stop here," Jones said. "By then, they've used up a lot of their feeding reserves. When they arrive during spawning time, they spend a few weeks fattening up and then head north."
Refuge managers are planning additional events throughout the year to include a family archery shoot on May 6 and May 13, followed by another bird field trip.
The refuge is considered one of the best existing wetland habitat areas along the Atlantic Coast. Endangered and threatened species management activities also provide habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel, nesting bald eagles and migrating peregrine falcons. The refuge's 10,000 acres are a diverse landscape featuring freshwater and salt marshes, woodlands, grasslands, scrub-brush habitats, ponds, bottomland forested areas, and agricultural lands. These cover types provide habitat for approximately 296 species of birds, 38 species of reptiles and amphibians and 37 different mammals.
Page 2 of 2 - The refuge is open daily from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. The Visitor's Center is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. On weekends, the Visitor's Center is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. December through March and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April through November.
Admission always is free.
For more information on upcoming anniversary programs, go to www.fws.gov/northeast/primehook or call (302) 684-8419. The Refuge is on Turkle Pond Road, near Milton. To get to there, follow the signs on Delaware Route 1 to Broadkill Road (Route 16). Drive one mile; there will be a sign on the left.