Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

Many visitors to Ashland Nature Center have been enjoying our newest attraction – a bird blind! The bird blind overlooks a cluster of bird feeders along Wildflower Brook and is the perfect place to view birds and other wildlife up close.

These excited campers look out from inside the bird blind. The blind was conceived by Joe Sebastiani and built by our ‘Dream Team’. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

These excited campers look out from inside the bird blind. The blind was conceived by Joe Sebastiani and built by our ‘Dream Team’. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

As long as you sit quietly you can watch dozens of birds come to the feeders, bathe in the brook, or just hang out in the trees nearby, and since they are so close you don’t even need binoculars. This makes blinds an excellent way to get children interested in nature since even youngsters can enjoy watching the birds going back and forth. Having said that, just a basic pair of binoculars lets you see a lot more details of the different birds like their beak shapes and feather colors so try borrowing a pair from the visitor center if you don’t have your own. Blinds are also excellent opportunities for photographers as the nearness of the birds means you don’t need an expensive camera with a super-zoom lens – all you need is patience! If you’re lucky you may also see a Red Squirrel visiting from the nearby hemlocks or perhaps a cute little Eastern Chipmunk, both of which are uncommon mammals in the Piedmont. Imagine how memorable it would be this winter to watch a Red Squirrel searching for food in the snow while you’re sheltered inside the blind!

A Purple Finch occupies every port of this popular feeder! Photo by Hank Davis

A Purple Finch occupies every port of this popular feeder!
Photo by Hank Davis

The blind looks out over several types of feeders stocked with different seed mixes and suet cakes which each attract different species of birds. This variety adds a fascinating insight into how different birds feed – some birds like House Finches and Goldfinches perch happily at the feeders and chomp away until they are done while others like Chickadees and Tufted Titmice zoom in and grab one seed before carrying it away to a nearby tree and hammering it open. Woodpeckers and Nuthatches have a remarkable ability to hang upside down on suet cake cages and peck away at the contents while bigger birds like Blue Jays can’t perch very well and prefer to grab whole nuts from table-top feeders.

This Carolina Chickadee feeds on a hanging-dish type feeder. Check out its leg – it’s banded! Photo by Hank Davis

This Carolina Chickadee feeds on a hanging-dish type feeder. Check out its leg – it’s banded!
Photo by Hank Davis

Visiting Ashland’s bird blind will inspire you to buy your own bird feeder or give one to somebody else (they make great Christmas presents for anyone regardless of where they live in the city or countryside). Just hang them from a tree or pole at least a meter from a window (to minimize window strikes) and see which birds you attract. It is probably best to fill them with black oil sunflower seeds since this will attract many birds although some species prefer millet or nyger (thistle). Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin is a great local specialty store for bird food and feeders though most supermarkets also sell seed and suet cakes.

This male Downy Woodpecker is hammering away on a suet cake! Photo by Hank Davis

This male Downy Woodpecker is hammering away on a suet cake! Photo by Hank Davis

For me, watching birds at feeders is both entertaining and soothing and a bird blind stocked with several feeders is the sum of human happiness, as well as a relaxing way to connect people of all ages with nature. Next time you have a free hour or so come and hang out at the Ashland bird blind and see what I mean!

By: Matt Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Thank you to everyone who joined Delaware Nature Society at both our inaugural Meal at the Mill, on Friday, October 14, and a special return of our Autumn at Abbott’s Festival, on Saturday, October 15, in final celebration of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary!

Guests at Meal at the Mill opened the event with a keg-conditioned cocktail from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery while mingling amongst hors d’oeuvres from Abbott’s Grill and touring Delaware’s only preserved, working gristmill. We then conjoined for a family-style, three-course seated dinner featuring seasonal vegetables and free-range chickens grown and raised on Delaware Nature Society’s own Coverdale Farm Preserve, with catering by Abbott’s Grill and menu pairings from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Dinner began with remarks by Brian Winslow, DNS Executive Director, Matt Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager, and Mark Carter, Dogfish’s Director of Philanthropy and DNS Board Member. Special guests of the evening included representatives of Delaware’s Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs (an owning partner of Abbott’s Mill), as well as Councilmembers from the Town of Slaughter Beach (which hosts DNS’s 109-acre Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve) and our hometown Milford City Manager. We amazingly sold out all seats for this event, and were very appreciative of the 93 guests who joined us under the stars to honor the history of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center and celebrate its bright future.

The next day, our Autumn at Abbott’s Festival brought out 350+ community members to enjoy the sunny skies at Abbott’s. This community-minded event highlighted the historic importance of Abbott’s to the lower, slower Southern Delaware culture, and provided several opportunities to explore the natural wonders preserved on our pet-friendly trails and 20-acre pristine pond. Last run in 2008, the event has historically featured a variety of artisan craft demonstrators, children’s activities, hay rides, and tours of our historic Abbott’s Mill. For the 35th we raised the stakes by adding in the Drift’n Kitchen and Heavenly Delights Concessions food trucks, a Dogfish Head Craft Brewery beer garden with lawn games, yoga sessions led by Lewes’ Free Spirited Foundation, aquatic touch tanks from Phillips Warf Environmental Center, guided SUP & kayak trips on Abbott’s Pond provided by Quest Fitness & Kayak, and live music from local musicians Margaret Egeln, the Clifford Keith Trio, and 3CNorth.

Both of these events would not have been possible without the support of all of our community sponsors as well as the 50+ volunteers and DNS staff who helped setup both events and took care of all of the behind the scenes work to make our event a success. Special thanks, as well, to our 35th Anniversary Presenting Sponsors: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, National Wildlife Federation, and M&T Bank.

We would love to have all of you join us again as we continue celebrate Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary throughout 2016. Please visit delnature.org/abbotts35 to explore the full celebration.

Additionally, as part the celebration, we are offering special pricing for Delaware Nature Society memberships at the individual adult and household/grandparent levels. Normally priced at $40 and $55 respectively, we are offering these memberships for $35 through the end of the year, and they can be purchased in person at the Abbott’s Visitor Center, or visit delnature.org/becomeamember to purchase online. A Delaware Nature Society membership includes the following benefits:

  • Membership valid for 12 months from purchase date
  • Free canoe rentals on Abbott’s Pond (*must call ahead to schedule)
  • Free admission to Autumn at Abbott’s Festival & Farm Fun Days at DNS’s Coverdale Farm
  • Free or reduced pricing on DNS programs
  • Priority buying window for DNS’s Native Plant Sale
  • Helping to preserve over 500 acres of wildlife habitat & hiking trails in Southern Delaware and over 2,000 state-wide
  • Discounts at local retail affiliates (including Quest Fitness & Kayaks and East Coast Garden Center)
  • Participation in the Association of Nature Center Administrators’ (ANCA) nation-wide reciprocal membership program

We are actively exploring the possibility of making these annual events at Abbott’s, and are thankful for the positive and constructive feedback we have received from everyone involved. Inaugural and/or returning events always present opportunities to learn and grow, and we will certainly incorporate your feedback when we begin to prep for next year. Thank you again for being a part of our year-long celebration of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary, and please continue to share your event pictures to our Facebook and Instagram pages, or through email at matt@delnature.org.

DANGER FALLS AHEAD: UNSAFE TO NAVIGATE BEYOND THIS POINT

The warning sign at the Raquette Falls Portage trailhead, photo by Carrie Scheick.

“DANGER FALLS AHEAD: UNSAFE TO NAVIGATE BEYOND THIS POINT” read a large white sign with bold red typeface. Next to the sign hung a very poignant visual display, in case the written warning wasn’t enough, the mangled remains of a canoe’s bow torn from its hull with seemingly the same ease as holiday wrapping paper. We sat on the banks of the Raquette River stretching after that morning’s 6-mile paddle and pensively eating our peperoni & cheese sandwiches, subconsciously trying to delay the inevitable that had denoted our trip as “extremely challenging.” If we can’t go down the falls, then we’d have to go up and over them on a 1.25-mile portage with 30-40 lb. backpacks and 60 lb. canoes in hand.

2016 Teen Naturalists

Our 2016 Teen Naturalists, from left to right, Michaela, Jared, Sofia, John, Daphne, and Emi, photo by Carrie Scheick

Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalist program began in 2000 in its current form, but the Society has run a similar program, called the Junior Naturalists since the late 1960’s. The Teen Naturalists meet once per month for outdoor adventure, nature study, and volunteering for the environment. Each summer, the Teens take a week-long trip somewhere to be immersed in nature. In the past, the Teens have ventured to Ontario, Adirondacks 4 times, Laurel Highlands of PA, the PA Grand Canyon, and the Appalachian Trail in Maine and Maryland. The leaders for this year’s trip were Trudyann Buckley, DNS’s Education Intern, Carrie Scheick, DNS’s Teen Naturalist Program Leader, and Matt Babbitt, Site Manager at DNS’s Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

This summer’s culminating trip for the Teen Naturalists was a 4-night/5-day wilderness paddling adventure on Long Lake and the Raquette River, located near the geographic center of New York’s 6-million acre Adirondack State Park (which is bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Moutnains National Parks combined). Our first day was spent driving from DNS’s Ashland Nature Center to Long Lake, New York, a quaint town bustling with paddling, fishing, and seaplanes founded in the 1830’s. Gordon and Fran Fisher, longtime supporters of DNS who spend their summers in the area at their log cabin, were gracious enough to host our group that first evening for a relaxing swim and paddle in the lake, as well as warm company and a hearty homemade “last” meal.

Enjoying a paddle in one of Gordon Fisher’s handmade Adirondack Guideboat

John & Daphne enjoying a paddle in one of Gordon Fisher’s handmade Adirondack Guideboat, photo by Carrie Scheick.

Tuesday morning we woke up in high spirits to meet the local Raquette River Outfitters to receive our gear and hand off our van, and with it any last semblance of the millennial world of Snapchats, #hashtags, and fast food. After a quick briefing from the outfitters, we set out for a 9-mile paddle to our first campsite on the northern end of Long Lake. Boasting over 100 miles of shoreline of Adirondack wilderness, dotted with a few private homes and summer camps, Long Lake feeds into Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake via the Raquette River, and spans over 3,900 acres with a depth range of 15 – 40+ feet. The lake supports a healthy population of Large/Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Brown Bullhead Catfish, Yellow Perch, and NY state record Brook Trout, and notably provides habitat for Common Loons, Common Mergansers, Black Bears, Adirondack Moose, Broad Winged Hawks, and Bald Eagles. Our first day paddle was spent adjusting our eyes to the very “we’re not in Delaware anymore” mountainous views, exploring coves for blooming American White Water-lilly and Cardinal Flower, quietly observing newly hatched families of Loons and Mergansers, and testing our paddling skills. We made it to camp by midafternoon, which gave us just enough time to pitch tents (and hammocks), take a refreshing dip in the cold lake waters, and enjoy our first backcountry couscous dinner. Being in bear country meant dinner was early and quick so we had enough daylight to collect everyone’s “smellables” along with our remaining food to set up a bear hang on a high branch 100+ feet from our campsite. Evening was spent around the campfire telling stories and filled with dreams of the dreaded challenge that laid ahead in the morning.

Heading to the northern end of Long Lake

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Delaware anymore.” Photo by Matt Babbitt.

 

Some down time in a hammock

Our fearless leader Carrie Scheick taking full advantage of down time after a long first day paddle, photo by Matt Babbitt.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata).

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata). Photo by Carrie Scheick.

A Common Loon (Gavia immer)

A Common Loon (Gavia immer), photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Wednesday morning was greeted with sunshine and oatmeal as we prepared for a 6-mile paddle to leave the still waters of Long Lake and begin our journey down the meandering Raquette River. Our shoulders were glad to meet the current and the shallower river waters meant we could say goodbye to the motorboats and enjoy true wilderness with wonderful viewings of fish, turtles, birds and underwater grasses. Nature observations aside, our attention was focused on finding the “the large rock with a sign on it, you can’t miss it,” as the outfitter had told us the day before. The rock was our queue that the infamous Raquette Falls were fast approaching and it was high time to pull of the river to find the portage trail. We were greeted by a scout group who was returning back to get the rest of their gear, who by disposition alone let us know the portage would be steep and demanding. After our aforementioned pepperoni sandwich lunch, we took several deep calming breaths, heaped on our backpacks and hoisted our canoes overhead, leaving behind the gear we couldn’t fit for a return trip. I took the sweep position on the trail, as the odd one in our 9 person crew, and was worried this portage would break our group like the mangled canoe hanging on the trailhead sign as I passed packs, pieces of gear, and even one of our canoes strewn along the sides of the trail. On the contrary, I was overwhelmed with optimism as I turned the corner to see all six of our teens forsaking the pairs we started in and self-selecting to team up and carry their boats together. Our fate was not that of the broken canoe, we had been forged even stronger by the portage through tears, tenacity, and teamwork.

Along the headwaters of the Raquette River

The crew in full adventure mode along the headwaters of the Raquette River, photo by Trudyann Buckley.

Starting the climb up and over Raquette Falls

Teen Naturalists starting their climb up and over Raquette Falls, photo by Trudyann Buckley.

We returned the trailhead to recoup our remaining gear, rounding our hike out at a solid 3.75-mile portage, recharged our internal batteries by the river’s calming rapids at the, and decided together to forego the campsite at the base of the falls and push downstream for more adventure. Pulling off the river at lucky campsite #7, we quickly unloaded our gear set-up camp, and soothed our aches and pains in the cold flowing river. Not only was that night’s Asian-sesame noodle dinner an unforgettable meal, not just because we would have been happy eating the bark off of trees out of simple exhaustion, but we were also joined by an adult Bald Eagle who secretively watched us eat and then burst out of the trees not 20-30 feet from our group as we were licking our bowls clean. Mesmerized by nature’s magic and full of noodle, we returned to camp to set up our bear hang and relish in the day’s accomplishments by a roaring campfire.

Calming rapids at the bottom of Raquette Falls

Sofia realigning by calming rapids at the bottom of Raquette Falls after our portage, photo by Carrie Scheick.

a post-portage campfire at lucky lean-to #7

Forging the bond around a post-portage campfire at lucky lean-to #7, photo by Trudyann Buckley.

We returned the trailhead to recoup our remaining gear, rounding our hike out at a solid 3.75-mile portage, recharged our internal batteries by the river’s calming rapids at the, and decided together to forego the campsite at the base of the falls and push downstream for more adventure. Pulling off the river at lucky campsite #7, we quickly unloaded our gear set-up camp, and soothed our aches and pains in the cold flowing river. Not only was that night’s Asian-sesame noodle dinner an unforgettable meal, not just because we would have been happy eating the bark off of trees out of simple exhaustion, but we were also joined by an adult Bald Eagle who secretively watched us eat and then burst out of the trees not 20-30 feet from our group as we were licking our bowls clean. Mesmerized by nature’s magic and full of noodle, we returned to camp to set up our bear hang and relish in the day’s accomplishments by a roaring campfire.

Friday morning came quick, with a mindset of having to make it back to Delaware by day’s end. Our 2-mile paddle to our take out, a public boat ramp nicknamed “The Crusher,” felt like two strokes after everything we had accomplished. We quickly emptied our canoes to be left behind for the outfitter, changed out of river clothes, reconnected with our phones (one teen had over 200 texts waiting to be read!), and loaded the van for the ride home, but not without one last adventure. Second breakfast was had by all at the first fast-food joint we could find in nearby Tupper Lake, which also meant our first real bathroom since Tuesday, and then we headed to The Wild Center, and its new Wild Walk – an elevated trail across the treetops – features 81-acres of outdoors, a 54,000 ft2 museum with live animal exhibits, a natural playground, a native wildflower garden and living pond, and hands-on everything. We spent several hours exploring all the exhibits, picking berries along the trail, and recharging before the long drive home full of Friday night New Jersey traffic (a much slower pace than the river’s current).

Wild Center’s Wild Walk

Scenes from the Wild Center’s Wild Walk, photos by Carrie Scheick.

Sofia with log to ear

Sofia said it works just like a seashell, photo by Carrie Scheick.

searching for berries

The crew searching for berries, for like a solid 20 minutes, photo by Trudyann Buckley.

We made it back to Ashland late that evening, with our bellies full of “real” food and thoughts of dinners with Bald Eagles, lean-to campfires, and care-free paddling seeming quite distant. Nature’s magic hadn’t left us though, for as we were making the last few turns off the highway, a radio DJ in some far-off sound booth decided to press play on the quintessential road trip song, Queen’s “Bohemian Rapsody,” timing it just right to carry us in to the parking lot as the last head-banging verse came alive. A van that was asleep most of the ride awoke at the first sound of the song (I did crank the radio up to 11), and the whole crew began in unison “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see. I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, because I’m easy come, easy go, a little high, little low. Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me.” The Ashland parking lot didn’t have a “DANGER tests and grades / college applications / back to DNS jobs AHEAD” sign as we puddled in, but after a week of being forged in the Adirondack wilderness the song was a fitting reminder that anyway the autumn winds head blew us into calm waters or another portage, it didn’t really matter to us.

View of Raquette River

Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to us, photo by Carrie Scheick

To see more photos from this trip, check out the photo album on our Facebook page.

If your teen is interested in joining the yearlong Teen Naturalist program, contact us at (302) 239-2334 for more information and the full schedule.

By: Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

Delaware birders are out in full force at this very moment and one of their main targets is migrating warblers. Warblers are small, colorful songbirds which flit actively from tree to tree picking off insects with what the field guides usually describe as thin pointed beaks (also known as ‘bills’). But are warbler beaks really all small and pointed? We have handled several warblers during the Delaware Nature Society’s bird banding project and a closer view reveals a surprising amount of variation in the size, shape and color of their beaks.

The Northern Parula is one of the smallest warblers and has a very thin and pointed beak which it uses like fine tweezers to glean tiny arthropods from leaf surfaces.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

The Prairie Warbler also has quite a sharp beak but it is shorter and more rounded than the Parula’s. Its beak is jet black unlike many of the other warblers which have brownish two-toned beaks with the upper mandible being darker than the lower.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

The Mourning Warbler has a fairly substantial bill for a warbler. Mourning Warblers tend to feed on or near the ground and perhaps eat larger insects or grubs.

Mourning Warbler.

Mourning Warbler.

Waterthrushes are relatively dull, streaky warblers that live along streams where they pick arthropods from the surface of the mud and rocks. There are two species, the Louisiana and the Northern, which look very similar but can be partly distinguished by their beak length. The Louisiana was once known as the ‘large-billed waterthrush’ and you can see from these photos that their beak is indeed longer and a little heavier than the Northern.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

The American Redstart has an unusual beak for a warbler. When seen from above (or more commonly, from below!) its beak is broadly triangular and looks more like that of a flycatcher than a warbler (see the photo below). It’s probably no coincidence that Redstarts often feed by leaping off branches and grabbing insects in mid-air. The conspicuous bristles around the base of their beak may help them trap these insects.

American Redstart (left) and Northern Waterthrush Beaks

Comparison of beak thickness in American Redstart (right) and Northern Waterthrush (left)

Another warbler with an unusual beak is the Yellow-breasted Chat. The Chat is a large, stocky bird that some people do not even consider a warbler, and it has a correspondingly huge, stout beak with a rounded upper mandible. Chats have such a big beak that they can chomp on insects such as grasshoppers that that are too big for the other warblers and can also eat berries.

Male Yellow-breasted Chat

Male Yellow-breasted Chat

Insects and other arthropods are the staple food of all warblers and yet the variation in the size and shape of their beaks suggests that each species eats different prey. This partly explains why some species are usually seen actively hunting in the upper canopy of either deciduous or pine trees while others creep slowly around on the ground, perhaps waiting for an arthropod to emerge. Warblers are passing through Delaware as we speak so next time you see one, take a good look at its beak and see if you can guess what it feeds on!