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Monday, October 31, 2022

Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Mott

Hanging around in the Philadelphia area for family, friends and logistics, we haven't been able to enjoy outdoor adventures as much as we would like; but today the weather was nice and we had no other commitments, so we looked about for a day's adventure.

We found Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the nearby Fort Mott State Park, which provided us a nice balance of hiking, history -- AND a lighthouse!

First we set out to explore the wildlife refuge.  Located about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia in Pennsville, New Jersey, Supawna Meadows NWR maintains over 3,000 acres of pristine natural land. The Delaware Bay and estuary are wetlands of international importance and an international shorebird reserve. The brackish water tidal marshes and coastal forests that make up nearly 80 percent of the refuge provide waterfowl with a feeding and resting area, particularly during the fall and spring migrations. American black ducks, mallards and northern pintails are common winter visitors. Sandpipers and other shorebirds use the refuge marshes as a feeding area during the summer as well as during the spring and fall migrations. 

The refuge provide crucial habitat for thousands of migrating birds coming from as far away as South America and Alaska.  In 1967, conservationists from Philadelphia began purchasing land in Salem County, New Jersey to hold in trust for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which purchased the first 653 acres in 1971 and officially named it in 1974.  We hadn't heard of the Supawna Meadows before we researched this outing, and we were eager to get out into it:

This area has just passed the peak of leaf color.  Many of the trees still had colorful leaves, but many leaves have fallen and they littered the ground in the wooded preserve:

Many national wildlife refuges provide little on-site information about the flora and fauna a visitor encounters.  This little refuge is different; we found many informative signs, such as this one which sat strategically under a tuliptree and found assistance from the tree in illustrating its point:

Not all of the leaves have turned colors.  This ivy still greens up the rough bark of its host tree:

One site in the refuge is a cemetery with a poignant tale.  This family burial plot belonged to the Dunham and Fowler families.  A school teacher member of the family contracted smallpox in Philadelphia and infected the rest of the family, which resulted in the deaths of several family members.  Instead of burial in the public cemetery, family members were buried here to quarantine their remains.

The trail network in the refuge includes several small loops off Cemetery Road, a dirt road extending from where we encountered the small cemetery:

We didn't expect to find much wildlife in the refuge -- other than migrating birds -- but we did spot a deer and a groundhog (which we were too slow to photograph), and some smaller animals such as this beautiful autumn-colored butterfly:

The refuge provides a couple of birdwatching blinds, but it appears they have not been maintained in years, and the meadows have grown up around them to the point that very little observation is possible.  Still, Kathy bravely searches for birds from the blind in the photo below:

Although the refuge is said to host many migratory birds, there are also few bodies of water large enough to accommodate migrating waterfowl.  Here is the largest pond on the tract, which, while small, was beautiful in its autumn dress:

The pond was obviously originally a farm pond.  A large barn huddles nearby in the wild meadow:

It has seen better days, but it has a great deal of character.  The NWR management have cleaned it out and stabilized it, but it does not store anything at present:

Just up Lighthouse Road from the Supawna Meadows NWR is Fort Mott State Park, which hosts and memorialized Fort Mott, a fort begun before the Civil War and continuously updated over the years into the early 1900's to protect Philadelphia and other communities from attacks up the Delaware River.

Fort Mott was designed after the American Civil War as part of a three-fort coastal defense system for the Delaware River. The fortifications seen today were constructed in the late 1890s. By the end of World War II due to advances in military technology, the fort was considered obsolete. Visitors can wander through the old gun batteries, following interpretive signs with detailed descriptions of the fort. The park museum houses displays on Fort Mott’s place in history and technology used in defending the river. The Delaware River is just beyond the fortifications, with a shoreline that offers good spots for walking and picnicking. 

The fort boasts two watchtowers, neither of which is accessible to the public.  This one, the primary watchtower, had two levels -- one for spotters to identify invading ships and measure their location and speed, and another for mappers to calculate and determine firing trajectories for the cannon located in batteries at the fort:

The fort had -- and visitors today have -- a spectacular vista across the Delaware River at a spot about 60 miles upstream of the Delaware Breakwater and 35 miles south of Philadelphia:

The fort consists of multiple gun batteries, protected on the eastern, land-side by a moat and a parados (in Spanish, literally, "rear door," but in actuality a long mound of earth meant to protect the batteries from fire from the rear).  The parados mound was built of the spoils of dredging the moat alongside it.  In spots, tunnels provided access for soldiers through the parados:

The fort itself, while stabilized and solid enough for visitors to walk on and around it, nevertheless has many sections that have decayed and are but shells of their original design:

The park boasts a small beach, complete with driftwood, beach glass, shells, rocks and tidal water.

We walked out to a large ferry dock where tourists, during the summer, can board a ferry to visit the larger Fort Delaware out on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River.  After appreciating the panoramic view of the river from the dock, we walked over to the beach and Kathy searched for sea glass, rocks and other sandy souvenirs.  She actually pulled in quite a haul from that short beach! 

This was the first time Kathy found sea ceramics (like sea glass, but made of broken shards of ceramic pots, etc., worn smooth by water action).  She was pretty pleased with the profits from this day's venture!

Until next time, stay thirsty, my friends!

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