All posts for the month January, 2009

By Brenna Goggin, Environmental Advocate:

Like most people, I have been trying to find ways to save money and cut back on my consumption each month.  While researching topics for the Delaware Nature Society’s Green Living Series, I came across several tips, websites, and news articles that all provided advice on how to become more “Green.”  Green is “in.”  Everywhere you look, there is a billboard, TV commercial, a politician, or an ad emphasizing the importance of going “green.”  Magazines, websites, TV ads are bombarding you with ideas on how you can save money and the environments at the same time.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one place to find all the information at once without having to spend hours researching which product is more efficient or how solar panels really work?  If you answered yes, then the DNS’s Green Living Series might have just what you are looking for!

Throughout the winter and spring of 2009, you can join us through four exciting programs.  These include a tour of the GE Solar Panel Facility on January 26, a Green Cleaning and Home Energy Audit Workshop on February 9, a Build Your Own Rain Barrel Workshop on March 10, and a Green Roof Tour on April 24. 

All four segments will give you strategies for “saving green by being green,” including methods to reduce monthly heating, cooling, water, and electricity bills; furthermore, you will leave with an arsenal of information to help you make smart choices when it comes to reducing your personal impact on the environment. 

In the meantime, if you would like to learn how you could further reduce your environmental impact, visit  Good Guide makes it easy to identify environmentally friendly products with the straightforward rating system based on the product’s health and environmental performance, and the company’s overall environmental and social performance.

If you would like to sign up for any or all of the Green Living Series programs, please visit our website, or call the registrar at (302) 239-2334 ext. 134

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

Here is what it said on the orienteering map…”Orienteering is a competitive sport for people of all ages.  It involves finding your way through unknown terrain with a map and compass.  Using a detailed topographic map as your primary tool and a compass to stay oriented, you try to select and follow the best route between specified points”.  Let me repeat.  “…you TRY to select…”  

The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education was the location for the latest event organized by the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association (  We took 15 Teen Naturalists, (the Delaware Nature Society’s nature and outing club for teenagers), to this event yesterday in order to give this sport a try.

After some instruction in the morning at Ashland, and then again when we arrived at the Schuylkill Center, we were ready to get on with some orienteering.  I impressed upon them that their brains were the most important tool that would get them through the course, not the map and compass.  We soon broke into five groups, each with three eager teenagers.  Two groups elected to try the yellow course, which was for advanced beginners, and the other three groups tried the white course for pure beginners.

Besides our brains, the map and compass are the tools of orienteering.

Besides our brains, the map and compass are the tools of orienteering.

I reminded everyone that once they start the course, they would be on their own.  Sticking together was paramount, and getting lost, er…mis-oriented, was a real possibility in this 350-acre wild area within the city limits of Philadelphia.  My final piece of advice was to communicate with each other effectively, think, take time to read the map, and take a bearing with the compass each time they set off for a new waypoint. 

Groups departed at 5-minute intervals to prevent cheating or lurking on the group ahead of them.  Most groups walked, but a few ran, trying to make a competition out of it. 

Three Teen Naturalists quickly approaching a waypoint while orienteering at the Schuylkill Center in Philadelphia.

Three Teen Naturalists quickly approaching a waypoint while orienteering at the Schuylkill Center in Philadelphia.

Dave Pro and Catherine Owens co-lead the Teen Naturalists with me.  Our job was to monitor the situation and provide assistance where needed.  Within minutes we could see that several of the groups were heading in opposite directions, which is not a good sign when they are doing the same course.  We decided to head them off by doing the courses backwards.  Indeed, we saw exactly NONE of our Teens for about an hour.  Where did they go?  We had a serious time-limit after all…the Philadelphia Eagles were playing the Arizona Cardinals later that day, (I would later regret that I made it back to see the game).  None of us wanted to be involved in a police-helicopter, sniffing-dog, infra-red nocturnal hunt for a lost (mis-oriented) group of teenagers in the Philadelphia wilderness.

"Punching in" at a marker.  At the end of the day, you get a print-out of your total time and times between waypoints.

"Punching in" at a marker. At the end of the day, you get a print-out of your total time and times between waypoints.

The clock was ticking, and a few of the groups began to hit the finish line.  The two fastest groups had slipped by without detection and finished in under 40 minutes.  This was pretty impressive.  Other groups were not as fortunate and discovered for themselves that using a compass backwards will not only put you on private property, but will create long, unintended uphill trudges to backtrack. 

By the last few minutes prior to our scheduled departure and an hour-and-a-half into the event, we were getting worried about our last group still in the woods.  My nightmare of hopelessly tracking wayward teenagers in the city during the Eagles game was cuing, just as this final group joyously returned.  “While we were mis-oriented, we decided to have fun in the woods and explore”, they quipped.  “We turned around when we saw a house and a private property sign”.  They had used their brains after all and everyone enjoyed their exploration and the sport of orienteering.

By: Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

Last week, while cleaning out the rafters of the Coverdale Farm Education Building, my co-worker, Dave Pro and I discovered a bat hibernating in the rafters.  The building is slated for extensive renovations so we had to disturb the bat from its winter rest and relocate it to another building.  Bats can be tricky to identify and I wondered what species we had found.  I knew that most species of bats that occur in our area usually migrate away from Delaware in winter because of the lack of suitable hibernating sites such as caves and mines.  However, at least two species are known to overwinter here – the Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) and the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus).  Our bat did not have the distinctive reddish fur of the Red Bat, so I assumed it was a Big Brown Bat.  Over the years I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that assuming things when trying to identify wildlife can result in misidentification.  So my wife Amy and I examined the bat closely, taking body, limb, and ear measurements and photographing things like the hairs on the feet, and structures of the ear and wings.  These are all traits that can be used to identify bats.  Although we found that the identification was not as easy and straightforward as we were hoping, we were able to confirm that our bat was indeed a Big Brown Bat.

Big Brown Bat by Jim White.

Big Brown Bat by Jim White.

Big Brown Bats have adapted well to the presence of humans and use houses, barns, and other structures as communal summer roosts and nursery sites.  In winter, individual Big Brown Bats also use human structures for hibernation.  These sites, which are usually near their summer roosts, are warm enough to keep their bodies from freezing but cold enough to allow them to hibernate.  Attics and basements of heated structures often provide these conditions.  At these hibernation sites, Big Brown Bats enter into torpor as body temperature falls and metabolism is reduced.  However, this species is more tolerant of cold temperatures than most other bats and on unusually warm winter days it can become active and even fly to seek water.  In early spring the bats leave their hibernation sites to return to the communal roost sites to breed and spend the summer.

It is my hope that our bat will find its new hibernation site adequate, allowing him to survive the winter and rejoin his fellow bats in spring. 

On warm evenings from spring through fall, the Ashland Nature Center is a great place to watch Big Brown Bats as they swoop across the evening sky in search of their insect prey.

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

The adult Naturalist Certification Class at Abbott’s Mill is focusing on Winter Tree and Shrub ID this month.  While it may seem strange to spend time studying deciduous (leaf-losing) woody plants during their dormancy, it helps sharpen your botany skills throughout the rest of the year.  The lack of leaves takes away obvious clues and demands that the naturalist stick to branching patterns, buds, leaf scars, and bark.

Black Cherries (left and right) with Red Maples (center) silhouettes

Black Cherry (left and right) and Red Maple (center) silhouettes

Branching patterns are probably the best starting place by classifying the tree as opposite (twigs and buds directly across from one another) or alternate (twigs and buds occurring in zig-zag pattern). 

Alternate branching pattern of Sassafras

Alternate branching pattern of Sassafras

Opposite branching trees and shrubs are represented by just a few species that can be remembered as: MADCap Buck, where M = maple, A = ash, D = dogwood, Cap = caprifolicaceae (the family composed of the honeysuckles, elderberries, and viburnums), and buck for the buckeye (aesculus spp). 

Opposite branching pattern of Flowering Dogwood

Opposite branching pattern of Flowering Dogwood. Note small buds near twig end also opposite.

 Buds can be categorized by number (single, paired, or clustered), shape (rounded, pointed, etc.), scales (single, double, overlapping, or no scales).  Below is a somewhat pointy bud cluster, typical of this southern red oak and other red oaks.  White oaks tend to have more rounded buds in their clusters.  Next is a tuliptree with its two-scaled “duck bill.” 

Clustered buds of Southern Red Oak

Clustered buds of Southern Red Oak


"Duckbill" of the Tulip Tree bud

"Duckbill" of the Tulip Tree bud

 A Leaf Scar is where a leaf stem (petiole) was attached during the growing season.  They can be of a variety of shapes from circular, “U’s” or “V’s”, or unique.  The “Monkey Face” of the black walnut is a classic example.

"Monkey Face" of Black Walnut Leaf Scar

"Monkey Face" of Black Walnut Leaf Scar

Bark is a useful for ID in any season.  Common descriptions include smooth (ex. holly and beech), checkered (persimmon), rectangular (white oak), furrowed (ash, hickory, and tuliptree), and an variety of others.  Black cherry bark is a good example of a mnemonic or memory-jogger.  The dark, flaky bark has been described as “Burnt Cornflakes”, “B” for black and “C” for cherry.

"Brunt Cornflakes" bark of a Black Cherry

"Burnt Cornflakes" bark of a Black Cherry


Checkered bark of Persimmon

Checkered bark of Persimmon

I would encourage you to look closer at the trees and shrubs around your residence.  Not only will your identification skills grow, but you may notice how birds like Brown Creepers investigate species with exfoliating or peeling bark for dormant insects and what tree species Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers favor for drilling their wells.