Pine Grove Trail

Submitted by Bill Fintel and others

The Pine Grove Trail is a wonderful trail in winter, especially just after a light snowfall, as all the Loblolly Pines and American Hollies hold the snow, often in graceful arches over the path. This is a short trail, 0.8 mile if you just walk the loop, or about 1 mile if you take the two side trails as well.

The official trailhead is at the end of the road which leads to Fleetwood Pond, but you can also begin on the east end of the loop where the trail crosses the road at Turkle Pond. We will begin at the official trailhead and walk north (right) for our guided tour. This first portion of the trail skirts the densest section of the Loblolly Pine forest. When I first walked this trail back in the early 80’s, these pines were young and only about 25 ft. tall. Now they are mature and about 100 ft. tall. This first section is an excellent place to listen for the beautiful song of the Wood Thrush beginning in mid-April, and often still heard in July. Another very vocal songster at this time of year along the entire trail is the Ovenbird, a resident warbler. The Ovenbird got its name from the nest it builds on the ground, because the nest looks like an old clay oven.

After about 0.2 miles, there is a side trail to the left which leads to a dock and marshy overlook. The trail turnoff is marked, but not obvious due to a fallen pine that is part way across the trail entrance. It is a worthwhile diversion, as I have encountered a Bald Eagle perched in a large pine where the marsh begins. If you go in winter, note the extensive greenery in the tops of the deciduous trees out in the marsh. This is Mistletoe, a parasitic evergreen plant. The marsh edge is also a good place in the spring to look for Prothonotary Warblers, suitably nicknamed the ‘Golden Swamp Warbler’. From this overlook return to the main trail and proceed east. This is prime habitat for Pine Warblers, which begin singing in March, and a little farther along, for Pink Lady’s Slippers, a native orchid that blooms in early May.

After about 0.4 miles from where you began, you will come to where the trail crosses the road. If you have not already checked out Turkle Pond, you can walk east on the road about 200 ft. to scan the pond for possible Bald Eagles, and in late fall or winter for waterfowl, such as Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Ducks and Bufflehead, all three of which were present today.

Pick up the trail on the south side of the road and begin walking back toward where you parked. This section of trail has a High Bush Blueberry under story, which is very colorful in the fall. Because of extensive shade, these bushes do not bear many berries. This section of trail is the best location on the Refuge for Yellow-throated Warbler. They return in early April and are present into July. If you have not noticed already, along this portion of trail are many downed pines and hollies. They got so loaded with snow in the blizzards of March 2010 that they bent over and snapped. This area can be excellent during spring migration, which peaks in mid-May. Birds such as Scarlet Tanager and Hooded Warbler are two eye catchers found here.

In late fall, be alert for American Woodcock, a shorebird that lives in the woods, and sometimes is found in the wet areas along this section of trail. A spectacular year-round resident that likes the woods around the Pine Grove Trail is the Pileated Woodpecker. This is Delaware’s largest woodpecker, about the size of a crow. It is frequently seen going from one tree to another with its undulating flight or detected by its loud call and drumming.

After about 0.4 miles from where you left the road, the trail returns to the parking lot and trailhead. If you have time, walk out the south path to the fishing pier. This is an excellent vantage point for watching Osprey fish, especially in early spring when they first return. Belted Kingfishers and the aforementioned waterfowl may also be present, and in spring a Prothonotary Warbler can usually be heard singing and often seen. Hope you enjoy the beautiful Pine Grove Trail! Bill Fintel, November 19, 2010.

Additional thoughts on the Pine Grove Trail from Cindy Hefley and Bill Pritchett, President and Vice President, respectively, of the Friends of Prime Hook NWR.

From Cindy: I enjoy the Pine Grove Trail year-round. My favorite time, however, is after it’s rained in the warmer months and mushrooms abound. Some are found on fallen trees and old stumps, while others pop up from the ground where dead trees are now covered with plant materials. Another favorite thing to look for is the Lady’s Slipper Orchid which appears in the spring. One of my favorite birds to see (and hear) on the Trail is the Pileated Woodpecker. They are here year-round and are very noisy whether drilling on a tree or flying through the woods announcing their arrival. I like to take the short side path near Turkle Pond to look for beaver in the Pond, as well as Egrets and Herons. Depending on the season, a variety of waterfowl can also be seen in the Pond. Since the path to Fleetwood Pond is located at the trailhead, I always check out that area, too! Depending on the season, it’s a great spot to see diverse reptiles and amphibians. Many birds can also be seen since the path is a great edge habitat located next to water.

From Bill: There’s much to love about the Pine Grove Trail. For one who seeks solitude with just the sound of wind whispering through the Loblolly and Eastern White Pines, it has no equal. I really like the informative signs pointing out flora and fauna one encounters along the way. The branch trail overlooking Turkle Pond often allows me to peek through the low trees and catch a glimpse of ducks and geese paddling along close by. Though slightly separate from Pine Grove proper, I follow the short trail from the parking area to a lengthy boardwalk and an observation deck overlooking Fleetwood Pond. My patience is often rewarded with views of Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Bald Eagles, and diverse reptiles. Pine Grove is a wonderful year-round trail which, being fully wooded offers a great buffer from winter winds.