Places We Protect

Ponders Tract

Delaware

Delicate white blooms hang down from the ends of thin branches.
Highbush Blueberry Highbush blueberry at Ponders Tract in Delaware. © John Hinkson

The Ponders Tract Trail System offers excellent bird watching opportunities along more than nine miles of trails.

Overview

Description

In 2004, five years after establishing the Pemberton Forest Nature Preserve with the Pemberton Tract, TNC acquired the 908-acre Ponders Tract from the Glatfelter Pulpwood Company. The Ponders Tract’s strategic location adjacent to the already established preserve and near the Redden State Forest provided an opportunity for expanding unbroken habitat for migrating birds and wide-ranging species. The Tract also contains two headwater streams for the Broadkill River which flows into the Delaware Bay.

Thanks to generous funding from partners and members, and time donated by dedicated by volunteers, the Ponders Tract Trail System provides visitors with the opportunity to view and appreciate birds, deer, amphibians, snakes and an array of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. In addition to thriving wildlife, the trails also provide a glimpse into the tract’s diverse habitats, varying stages of forest succession, examples of active management and secluded spots where nature has been left to take its course. In winter, the Ponders Tract becomes a wonderland for birders and other animal watchers, with a variety of woodpeckers, nuthatches and interesting insects.

Policy Update Regarding Dogs (June 2021): Please note, we are now allowing leashed dogs at the Ponders Tract. Please be sure to bring waste bags to clean up after your dog and take your trash with you. Ticks can be found at the preserve in large numbers from the early spring to late fall—always check yourself and your dogs for ticks after being outdoors. Staying on the trail can help reduce exposure to ticks.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Open daily from dawn to dusk.

Highlights

See birds, deer, amphibians, snakes and an array of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

Size

908 acres

Explore our work in Delaware

A man wearing a blaze orange cap and vest.
Hunting at Nature Preserves A hunter and his dog on a TNC nature preserve. © The Nature Conservancy/Chris Helzer

Hunting on the Preserve

TNC permits deer hunting to maintain healthy deer populations, and prevent over browse within mature and newly established forestlands.

Active deer hunting takes place on this property from September through February. This property is hunted only by individuals selected by the owner.

Be smart, be safe! Please exercise a few safety precautions while visiting the preserve during hunting season:

TNC permits deer hunting to maintain healthy deer populations, and prevent over browse within mature and newly established forestlands.

Active deer hunting takes place on this property from September through February. This property is hunted only by individuals selected by the owner.

Be smart, be safe! Please exercise a few safety precautions while visiting the preserve during hunting season:

  • Stay on established trails.
  • Wear blaze orange (or other bright colors).
  • Be alert for hunters.
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Two signs mark the way for trails at Ponders Tract Preserve. The sign pointing to the left reads, Pemberton Loop. The sign on the right reads Ponders Road.
Exploring Ponders Tract Walk along parts of more than nine miles of trails making up the Ponders Tract Trail System. Pack a lunch and relax at one of the trail side benches to listen to the natural world. © Robert Merhaut

Visit

  • What to Do

    Walk along parts of more than nine miles of trails making up the Ponders Tract Trail System. Pack a lunch and relax at one of the trail side benches to listen to the natural world. Beginning in late April and through early summer, the calls of several frog species can readily be heard across the preserve. Species like spring peeper begin calling in late February while others like gray tree frog can be heard from late May into early June. Nature lovers more in tune to locating plants should search for pond pine, and other plants uncommon in Delaware. 

  • What to See: Birds

    Download the Ponders Tract bird list, grab the binoculars and take advantage of excellent bird watching opportunities, especially during April and May when many species of neotropical migrants pass through Delaware. Some of these migrants make their summer homes at Ponders while others are moving north to their breeding grounds.

    When you visit, listen for bobwhites on Piney Fork Lane. On Ingram Branch Way, look for indigo buntings, grey catbirds and ovenbirds.

    If you visit in late spring, you’ll see and hear an abundance of resident Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, American robins, brown thrashers, Carolina wrens, tree swallows and red-bellied woodpeckers. Add to that the songs of migrating yellow-breasted chat and black-and-white warbler—they’re more easily heard than seen.

    Common bird species include indigo bunting, American goldfinch, Eastern bluebird, Northern bobwhite and Northern cardinal. Passing neo-tropical songbirds include gorgeous scarlet tanagers, shy white-eyed vireos and red-eyed vireos, which sing constantly throughout the day.

    You may occasionally see a sharp-shinned hawk or other raptor looking for a meal as it soars overhead or scouts from a high branch, but some of the most rewarding sightings are rare glimpses of migrating neotropical songbirds such as the blue-and-white vireo and blue-winged warbler, as well as the less colorful, but much noisier warbling vireo. The blue-headed vireo is the first neotropical songbird to arrive each spring, and they usually depart in early May, but when you start to see them, you can be sure that other neotropical birds will soon follow.

  • What to See: Animals

    The area contains small wetlands and vernal ponds that are home to reptiles and amphibians such as Fowler’s toad, Southern leopard frog and the gray tree frog. New Jersey chorus frogs and spring peepers can usually be heard in March but warm days in February can bring them out, too.

    Hessel’s hairstreak, a rare and threatened butterfly, has been observed in stands of Atlantic white cedar, and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel has been documented nearby.

    Follow the Frog Pond Trail to find some amazing amphibians. If you walk quietly along the Ingram Branch Way you might see a snake basking on the trail on warm sunny days during the cooler months. Commonly seen snakes at this preserve include Rat snakes, Black Racers, Garter, and Eastern hognose. And everywhere you go, watch for bees, butterflies and other bugs, especially tiger beetles on the trails.

  • What to See: Plants

    The return of green to the landscape is always a welcome sight as the various wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees put out their leaves. Starting in February you can see signs of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) as its unique mottled purple flower sprouts up in areas with wet soil. The large green leaves follow soon after but don't be surprised to see the flower growing up through ice and snow. Skunk cabbages are one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, meaning they have the ability to raise their own temperature. Much like a warm-blooded mammal, the wildflower can regulate its temperature well above the outside temperature throughout the day and night.

    In late March you may start to notice little purple flowers growing on 3" to 6" tall plants along the sandy trails. The birds foot violet (Viola pedanta) does not reproduce vegetatively like most other violets; reproduction is by seed only.

    Arguably the most beautiful flower to bloom at Ponders Tract during the year, the pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule), starts blooming in late April. This member of the orchid family will bloom for several weeks, and are commonly found growing under pine trees. 

  • Citizen Science: iNaturalist

    We are creating a citizen science database of all kinds of life—from lichens to ants, mushrooms to plants, birds to mammals and everything in between for our preserves in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

    TNC's roots began with local citizens and scientists concerned about special places and species. That legacy continues today. Across our lands, we are utilizing iNaturalist—a digital platform that gives users an opportunity to share and discuss their findings.

    Of the 14 preserve projects in iNaturalist, nine have observations recorded; help us increase that number and our understanding of the species—good and bad, native as well as invasive—that can be found on TNC lands across the state. This information can also help guide and inform our conservation staff's management and monitoring decisions.

  • Preserve Guidelines

    While on the Ponder’s Tract, please do:

    • Take precautions against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and sunburn. We suggest sturdy footwear; tuck pant legs into socks/shoes; insect repellant; sun protection; and drinking water. Watch for poison ivy.
    • Stay on marked trails.
    • Remove all litter from the preserve. This is a “carry-in carry-out” preserve. Trash barrels are not provided.
    • Have fun exploring nature.

    Please Do Not:

    • Feed or disturb wildlife.
    • Hunt, trap, fish, dig, pick or otherwise remove plants, animals or other artifacts from the preserve.
    • Bring motorized vehicles, ATVs, bicycles, horses, onto the preserve, except in the designated parking area.
    • Bring alcohol or firearms on the preserve.
    • Camp, make fires, or smoke while visiting the preserve.
Aerial drone view looking down on a forest trail.
Volunteers in Action Volunteers from Chesapeake Utilities begin work along a trail. Many accomplishments at the Ponders Tract Trail System are are due in large part to volunteers. © Robert Merhaut

Restoration at Ponders Tract

Reclaiming Coastal Forest

Soon after acquiring the Ponders Tract, TNC began an ambitious and aggressive restoration effort to reclaim coastal hardwood forests that once covered much of the site. Utilizing a mix of state-of-the art timber thinning, old-fashioned manual labor and controlled burns, TNC has transformed 240 acres of loblolly pine plantation into a native coa...

Soon after acquiring the Ponders Tract, TNC began an ambitious and aggressive restoration effort to reclaim coastal hardwood forests that once covered much of the site. Utilizing a mix of state-of-the art timber thinning, old-fashioned manual labor and controlled burns, TNC has transformed 240 acres of loblolly pine plantation into a native coastal forest of oak, hickory, tulip poplar, sassafras, red maple and other hardwoods. In 2017, we conducted the first prescribed burn in the chapter's history on 110 acres of the preserve.

In other parts of the tract, TNC transformed former logging roads into more than nine miles of public trails, opening for public access in 2010. Accomplishments at the Ponders Tract Trail System are largely due to volunteers, who put in an enormous amount of time planting trees, building the kiosk, clearing trails, constructing and installing benches, putting up trail and interpretive signs and monitoring conditions.

CRITICAL HABITAT: WHAT’S AT STAKE

The Ponders Tract serves as a crucial stopover for neo-tropical birds such as the black-and-white warbler and ovenbird. The Tract also contains small wetlands and vernal ponds that harbor reptile and amphibian species including Fowler’s toad, southern leopard frog and the gray tree frog. Stands of Atlantic white cedar emerge from rivers and streams that eventually flow into the Delaware Bay. Hessel’s hairstreak, a rare and threatened butterfly, has been observed in this portion of the preserve, and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel has been documented nearby.

OUR PARTNERS

USDA Forests Service Forest Legacy Program, State of Delaware, Sussex County Land Trust, Delaware Landowner Incentive Program, Vision Forestry, Boy Scouts of America and the many volunteers who have helped to restore lands and provide trail side amenities.

TRAIL SYSTEM IMPROVEMENTS DONORS

  • Bank of America
  • Delaware Community Foundation
  • Delaware River & Bay Authority
  • DuPont Clear into the Future
  • Mary Pat Meyer
  • Brett Snyder and Anna Quisel
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