Named by Captain John Smith for the Native Americans who once lived nearby, the Nanticoke River represents one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most productive tributaries. The surrounding 725,000-acre watershed supports a rich array of wildlife, including more rare plants than any other landscape on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Over the years, the Conservancy and its partners have protected an estimated 20 percent of the Nanticoke River watershed, including in southern Delaware at the Conservancy’s Middleford North Preserve. Located just upstream from Seaford, the preserve hugs a portion of Gravelly Branch, a last undisturbed portion of the Nanticoke River watershed that hasn’t been channelized or dredged. It’s a place that retains the river’s wild and scenic character in the face of burgeoning development.
A Home for Imperiled Species
Deciduous swamps and upland forests boast a wide range of tree species, including red maple, blackgum, loblolly pine and sweetgum. Groves of Atlantic white cedar trees provide the sole caterpillar-stage food source for a population of the globally imperiled Hessel's hairstreak butterfly. The area is also home to globally and locally imperiled rare plant species such as seaside alder, Parker's piperwort and Long's bittercress. It provides feeding, staging, and nesting habitat for more than eighty species of migratory birds, including Eastern wood-peewee, American redstart, black-and-white warbler, Blackburnian warbler, Louisiana waterthrush and worm-eating warbler. As an undisturbed stretch of the Nanticoke River, the preserve provides important spawning and nursery grounds for species of fish including striped bass, hickory shad and river herring, as well as resident fish such as largemouth bass, redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish and golden shiners.