Ian Stewart

Every fall birdwatchers throughout the eastern United States wait anxiously by their computers for an email containing this year’s Winter Finch Forecast http://jeaniron.ca/2018/wff18.htm. For almost 20 years now Ron Pittaway, a former naturalist at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario Canada, has been predicting whether this group of small, seed-eating birds that breed in Ontario remain there during the winter based upon how successful the cone crop was that summer. Simply put, if the trees produced a lot of seeds then the finches will have enough food to survive the winter and will stay up north, but if the cone crop was poor they will have to fly south to find food and will ‘irrupt’ into the northern United States or maybe even further south.

Remarkably, Ron’s forecast is usually correct so local birders were thrilled to read his prediction that finches would be travelling south this winter because the cone crop in Canada was poor. Sure enough, about 2 weeks ago people throughout Delaware and south-eastern Pennsylvania started seeing flocks of Purple Finches at their feeders! These look a bit like our resident House Finches but the males are raspberry-colored over their whole body while the females and immature birds are heavily streaked below and have white stripes on their face. Purple Finches are attracted to black oil sunflower seed, especially if it is piled on a horizontal platform feeder.

A flock of Purple Finches at a platform feeder

The Delaware Nature Society’s bird banding program has confirmed that this is an irruption year for Purple Finches. So far this fall we have banded no fewer than 40 of these birds, compared with just 5 in the winter of 2016 and none at all last winter.

Male House Finch (left) and Purple Finch (right) banded this fall

Now people across our region are seeing a second species of winter finch at their feeders, the Pine Siskin. This small, streaky finch has yellowy-green wing patches and a very thin beak which it uses to pry nyjer (thistle) seeds from finch socks or hanging feeders with narrow holes.

Pine Siskin feeding on ground (Photograph by Hank Davis)

The thin beak of a Pine Siskin

Whisper it quietly but this winter we may see two more highly-prized finches which usually remain far to our north. The first of these is the Redpoll, a small streaky finch with a red forehead that flocks in weedy fields and congregates at nyjer feeders. The second is the majestic Evening Grosbeak, a striking yellow, black and white version of our familiar Cardinal which is attracted to platform feeders baited with sunflower seed

All of the above winter finches readily come to bird feeders and best way to attract them to your yard is to provide a variety of seeds in different types of feeders, like hanging tubes of either black oil sunflower or nyjer coupled with platform feeders filled with sunflower seeds or millet. Try visiting Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin for a large selection of seed mixes and feeders.

Flock of Siskins at a hanging feeder (Photograph by Hank Davis)

Another two irruptive winter finches that are much sought after by birdwatchers are the crossbills. The Red Crossbill tends to occur in pines and the White-winged Crossbill in spruces and larches. These intriguing birds are unique in that their upper and lower beaks are ‘crossed’ and are used to prise open pine cone scales to get to the seed within. Crossbills do not usually come to seed feeders but if you want to attract them you could try pulling the old ‘salt block trick’. Apparently they are very fond of salt and can be attracted to platform feeders using chunks of the salt blocks that farmers leave out for cattle and horses!

The winter of 2018/2019 could be a memorable year for winter finches in Delaware, so be sure to take full advantage of it. The best places to search are weedy fields and stands of cone-bearing pine trees in public parks or cemeteries, but you are just as likely to see them at the feeders in your back yard or the Ashland Nature Center bird blind. And maybe consider dropping by our free bird banding sessions to see if you are lucky enough to see a winter finch up close. Bird banding takes place through November every Monday at Ashland Nature Center and every Wednesday at Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, 8am-11am.

 

Recently, Delaware Nature Society hosted an informational session with Dept. of Ag. Environmental Scientist Stephen Hauss at Ashland Nature Center. This came after the insect was documented at Ashland Nature Center by our Hawk Watch Coordinator. There have been other confirmed sightings of the insect in Northern Delaware as well. Delaware is the second state to report the Spotted Lanternfly, which was first found in Pennsylvania in 2014.

Pumpkin carved by Delaware Nature Society Web & Graphic Design Coordinator, Christi Leeson

What is the Spotted Lanternfly?

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive and destructive insect native to China, India, and Vietnam and is known to attack many hosts including grapes, apples, stone fruits, walnut, willow and tree of heaven. It is also known as the hitch-hiker bug as it has traveled far and wide “hitch-hiking” on vehicles and other outdoor items.

Why is this a bad bug?

Delaware’s #1 industry is agriculture. The Spotted Lanternfly is a potential threat to a wide variety of crops including grapes, peaches, apples, and timber.

What to look for

The adult Spotted Lanternfly is 1 inch long and a ½ inch wide when resting and has a wing span of about 2 inches. The forewings are grey with black spots, and the hind wings are red with black spots. The head and legs are black, and the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. The immature stages of the Spotted Lanternfly are small, round, and black with white spots, and develop red patches as they grow.

Spotted Lanternfly Adult

Spotted Lanternfly Adult

 

Spotted Lanternfly Nymphs

Spotted Lanternfly Nymphs

The Spotted Lanternfly egg mass can be difficult to spot due to its color and being small. A fresh mass will have a grey putty-like covering on top of them, blending in to the bark of the tree it’s on. An older mass that has hatched will be brown and look dried and cracked.

Lanternfly egg mass on a rock

Lanternfly egg mass on a rock

It is believed that the Spotted Lanternfly needs to feed on Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) to reproduce but will feed on other hosts as well.

What to do

If you see a Spotted Lanternfly in any of its stages, it is important to report the sighting. The Delaware Department of Agriculture asks that anyone who sees a Spotted Lanternfly to follow the below steps:

  1. Take a picture: With the GPS function turned on your smartphone or a camera with GPS, take a photograph of any life stage (including egg masses). Upload your photograph to Facebook or Instagram, using the hashtag #HitchHikerBug. If you don’t have GPS capabilities and/or access to social media, submit the photograph via email to HitchHikerBug@state.de.us and include your name, contact information, and the address or georeference of where the photo was taken.
  2. Collect a specimen: Suspected specimens of any life stage can be collected and placed in a vial or plastic zip-lock bag with the name and contact information of the collector and turned into the Delaware Department of Agriculture CAPS program for verification. This insect is considered a threat to some crops and early detection is vital for the protection of Delaware businesses and agriculture.
  3. Report a site: If you can’t take a specimen or photograph, send an email to HitchHikerBug@state.de.ussubmit using this form or call (302) 698-4586 with a message detailing the location of the sighting and your contact information.

For more information, See the Department of Agriculture’s Spotted Lanternfly checklist.

Other things to know

The coloring of the Spotted Lanternfly indicates that it could be toxic to dogs and there have been reports of dogs becoming ill after eating them. Pet owners should be careful to keep animals from eating the insect in any stage of its life.

Spotted Lanternfly Fact Sheet

Ian Stewart

Jewelweed is a colorful native annual wildflower that is common in damp marshy areas where it grows as a thin bush about 4 feet high. It is also known as ‘touch-me-not’ because of its curious habit of expelling its projectile seeds when the flowers are handled or brushed against. Jewelweed is a classic folk remedy because the juice of its leaves and stems is a well-known antidote to stings and rashes from stinging nettle, which it often grows close to.

Jewelweed growing along the boardwalk at Ashland

Many Delawareans are familiar with jewelweed as it is often found in shaded suburban gardens and parks, but few people realize that there are two species and they usually grow right next to each other! The most common is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is also known as orange jewelweed. This has bright orange petals densely covered with red spots and a long ‘nectar spur’ which curls along the bottom of the flower. The second, less-common species is yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), which is also known as pale jewelweed. This has larger, yellow flowers with only a smattering of red spots and a shorter nectar spur which dangles downward. The leaves of yellow jewelweed have more veins and are more deeply toothed than those of the orange jewelweed. In my experience, spotted jewelweed outnumbers yellow by about 5 to 1.

Side by side views of spotted (left) and yellow (right) jewelweed showing the differences in petal pattern, the length and angle of the nectar spur, and leaf venation

Jewelweed is pollinated by both hummingbirds and bees and watching these insects crawl into the depths of the flower to access the nectar pooled up in the spur is a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon! If you’re very lucky you may get to see a hummingbird feeding from the nectar spur.

A bee burrows into a jewelweed flower in search of nectar

The bee’s back is now coated in pollen from the pollen stalk dangling above it. The bee may now pollinate the next jewelweed it enters!

Both jewelweeds have a long blooming season from late spring through the early fall and are an attractive native wildflower to plant in a damp, shaded corner of your yard to attract pollinator insects and hummingbirds.

Learn more about how you can garden for native plants and wildlife by certifying your yard as a wildlife habitat through the Delaware Nature Society

https://www.delawarenaturesociety.org/what-we-do/protecting-habitats-wildlife/garden-for-wildlife/

 

By Annalie Mallon, Ashland School Program Coordinator

Waterfalls, wild blueberries, black bear warnings, and winner of the 2018 Pennsylvania River of the year! What more could you possibly ask for on a summer trip into the Pennsylvania wilderness? Every summer the Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalists head out for a week-long adventure, and these are just some of the things that were encountered on this year’s trip.

Teens enjoying lunch at the Canyon Vista Summit

Teens enjoying lunch at the Canyon Vista Summit. Photo by Annalie Mallon

Earlier this month, the teens and leaders (Courtney McKinley, Lauren Powell, and myself) embarked on a 4-day backpacking trip through the Loyalsock State Forest in northern Pennsylvania. After stuffing our packs to a full 40 pounds each with food, supplies, and gear, we were excited to see what this week in the wild would bring us. Our plan was to hike a popular section of the Loyalsock Trail, a rugged trail weaving its way through the state forest for 59 miles. We were going to hike the trail starting at Dutchman falls, branch off of it to hike the Link trail that travels through Worlds End State park, and then reconnect with the Loyalsock, circling back to where we started, thus creating a 25 mile loop (DCNR map below). Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Map

Prior to the start of our trip we had been persistently checking the weather forecast in hopes of seeing nothing but four days of gorgeous sunny skies and no humidity. Instead what we were presented with was a forecast for severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, and damaging winds. During our drive up the PA turnpike it occurred to us that we may not want to get stuck in the backcountry in heavy rain and damaging winds with nothing but the gear on our backs. Our plan for day 1 was quickly rearranged and we decided to start our trip in Worlds End State Park at a group campsite and cross our fingers that the forecast would change so we could start backpacking on Tuesday.

When we arrived at Worlds End we were greeted by a gorgeous valley full of pines and ferns snaking its way along the Loyalsock Creek. We set up camp and decided to find a place along the creek to swim and eat. Cheerful that we did not yet have to carry our heavy packs on our backs, we found a sunny spot next to the roaring creek scattered with smooth stones and perfect sitting rocks. We swam in the cold mountain water and created small rock cairns while we ate our hoagie dinners. A perfect start to our week!

Exploring the Loyalsock

Exploring the Loyalsock and building rock cairns. Photos by Annalie Mallon.

Photo of a rock cairn

Tuesday morning welcomed us with (shockingly) more sun. With no cell reception we took a short trip to the park visitor center to check the most updated forecast, but to our dismay it had gotten even worse! Tuesday afternoon was apparently bringing several storms and Wednesday was bringing heavy rains, winds, and possible hail. To backpack or not to backpack, that was becoming the major question. After discussing the pros and cons of the situation we changed our plans for the second time that week. We decided to hike, sans backpacks, the Canyon Vista Trail in the state park; a 4 mile loop that takes you up to an elevation of 1,750 feet with stunning views of the creek below. The climb was definitely worth it, the views were spectacular, and the trail itself meandered through a thick deciduous forest scattered with fungi, ferns, and trickling mountain springs. We enjoyed our lunch with a view at the peak and then visited the rock garden where we tested our fear of heights by jumping across crevices, and also explored caves in massive boulders.

Teens enjoying the views of the Canyon Vista Trail and Rock Garden

Teens enjoying the views of the Canyon Vista Trail and Rock Garden. Photos by Annalie Mallon.

It was around this time that the storms finally started rolling in. We quickly started to make our way back down the mountain, picking up our pace with each crack of thunder that came from overhead. I truly don’t think anyone has ever scrambled 2.5 miles down a rocky mountain trail as quickly as we did in that short 30 minute stretch. Upon catching our breaths and rehydrating at the bottom of the trail we decided that whatever the forecast did or did not predict, we certainly did NOT want to get caught in thunderstorms while in the backcountry. So instead of backpacking that afternoon….

We got ice cream and went swimming instead!!

I know what you must be thinking at this point, this is SO not a true Teen Naturalist adventure trip into the wilderness. Family campgrounds with actual bathrooms, not carrying 40-pound packs on our backs, and now Ice Cream?? Believe me, we would have LOVED backpacking those 25 miles if it wasn’t for that darn weather forecast! But alas, weather is weather, so of course we visited the Worlds End State Park swimming hole and ice cream shop. The creek water was FREEZING but oh so refreshing after our fast paced descent down the mountain. The sun had also come back out so we were quite content. While swimming, we started to brainstorm some plan C options for the afternoon and evening (remember, storms and rain still in the forecast). We officially decided to leave Worlds End and head south to Ricketts Glen State Park!

If you have never visited Ricketts Glen State Park, I highly recommend you do. It makes for a perfect weekend camping trip with beautiful trails and excellent waterfalls. We found an awesome campsite (somehow we scored a site right on Lake Jean!), and set up camp for the night. Then we found the blueberries. Oh. My. Goodness. The wild blueberries. They were EVERYWHERE. Bushes just bursting with the sweetest, yummiest, freshest blueberries. We spent a majority of our time that evening picking and devouring the little berries, and once again we were not complaining that we were not backpacking.

Wild blueberry bush and bowl of blueberries on a table

Blueberries galore! Photos by Annalie Mallon.

Wednesday morning brought nothing but clear skies once again, so we decided to hike the famous Falls Trail in the park. The full trail is a 7.2 mile loop with 21 gorgeous waterfalls ranging in heights from 11 feet to 94 feet. We hiked the smaller 3.2 mile loop that follows two separate branches of Kitchen Creek as it cuts down through the Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen valleys and comes together at “Waters Meet”. The sedimentary rocks that are exposed throughout the hike were formed over 370 million years ago and the waterfalls that cut through the rocks are magnificent. We spent the hike enjoying the falls, looking for salamanders, and even came across a HUGE snapping turtle!

Photo of Newt on a rock and teen holding a large snapping turtle

A red-spotted newt in its juvenile Red-Eft stage and Jared holding a HUGE Common Snapper. Photos by Courtney McKinley

Teens Hiking the Falls Trail

Hiking the Falls Trail photo by Courtney McKinley

After finishing our hike we enjoyed a picnic lunch, a small catnap on a lakeside beach, and more swimming, and then (SURPRISE!) made another new plan. We now were headed to our third PA state park of the trip; Hickory Run State Park! The campsite we chose was surrounded by pines and located next to a lovely trickling mountain stream. Unhindered (okay, maybe just a tad hindered) by the park ranger’s warnings of a “major bear problem,” we enjoyed our first lovely blazing campfire of the week with some classic scary stories and marshmallows before heading to our tents for our final sleep.

We awoke Thursday to our last day of perfect weather, and with bittersweet feelings we began to say our goodbyes to the gorgeous PA wilderness and start our journey home. Reflecting on our wild week full of last minute plans and reminiscing on some favorite Teen Naturalist trips of the past, our van ride went by in a snap and we pulled into the Ashland driveway with nothing but smiling faces (perhaps due to the fact that we did not end up backpacking 25 miles).

Group photo of teens and leaders in front of the Ganoga Falls

The Teens and Leaders next to Ganoga Falls at Ricketts Glen. Photo by Courtney McKinley

If you know a teenager, who is 13 – 17 years of age, that would like to join the Delaware Nature Society Teen Naturalists, please contact me at (302) 239-2334 ext. 120. The Teen Naturalists meet once per month, study nature, adventure outside, and go on a trip like this every August.