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All posts for the month March, 2009

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

Photos by: Henry Seiler

One of my favorite things to do is invent exclusive hikes through preserves and private properties in our area.  A few years ago, I invented one that is 6.5 miles long and connects Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, DE to the Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, PA.  We cross several private and public nature reserves as well as other private property, where I have received permission to cross the land.

In the 6.5 miles, there is only about 1/2 mile of actual road walking.  The rest is through woods, fields, and across small streams.  I led a group recently on this walk, and it again proved to be a pleasant “country ramble” that few get to experience. 

A Wilmington and Western Railroad bridge over Red Clay Creek.

A Wilmington and Western Railroad bridge over Red Clay Creek.

Walking upstream along Red Clay Creek, we were treated to excellent views of Hooded Merganser and a view of the bridge and dam (above) that is very scenic.

Here I am at the 8th Mason-Dixon marker on the PA/DE border.

Here I am at the 8th Mason-Dixon marker on the PA/DE border.

One of the big open areas we cross is state of Delaware and Delaware Nature Society land at Auburn Heights.  This land is currently only accessible with special permission.  One of the more interesting features is the 8th Mason Dixon marker on the PA/DE border.  There is actually a line across the top of the marker to show the boundary.

We follow a gas pipeline right of way through private property.  This stretch goes through a fine stand of deciduous forest.

We follow a gas pipeline right of way through private property. This stretch goes through a fine stand of deciduous forest.

Continuing on, we cross several private properties that I have permission to access on this special “ramble” (as they say in England, I learned). 

Continuing on through scenic private lands in Kennett Twp., PA.

Continuing on through scenic private lands in Kennett Twp., PA.

Eventually, we reach the 300-acre Bucktoe Creek Preserve, a private nature reserve.  Walking along the west branch of the Red Clay Creek, we spotted a pair of Green-winged Teal, a bird which has not been recorded on the property and is infrequently seen in creeks.  This hike allowed us to see what open spaces are off-road in our area and it was encouraging to see so much undeveloped land.  Look for this and other exclusive hikes to come on our web page, www.delawarenaturesociety.org.  We hope to see you on the next one!

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

About five years ago, I noticed my local township workers mowing a wooded bank next to the road to prevent brush from hanging over into it.  I looked closer and found a little, scrawny, mowed-over shrub hanging onto the edge of the bank.  I identified it as an American hazelnut (Corylus americana), and quietly pulled it out of the ground and transplanted it into the wild area in my yard.  This plant is now about 12-feet tall, has numerous stems, and is in its second year of bloom. 

As you walk or drive around right now, you may see hazelnuts in dry hedgerows and forests.  They have long, drooping catkins, which are the male flowers blooming.  In late winter and early spring, the male flower expand and release pollen (about 4-million grains per catkin).  Get close to this multi-stemmed shrub and really inspect it, and you will be in for a surprise.  Look for the little red female flower on the end of a bud and look at it through a magnifying glass.  To me it looks like a red octopus swimming away.

Hazelnuts are fairly common in our area, but seem to slip under the radar for most nature enthusiasts.  They are in the birch family and are related to alders, ironwood trees, hop-hornbeam trees, and of course birch trees.  There are about 15 species of hazelnuts around the world and they are sometimes called filberts.  Alders look similar to Hazelnut shrubs, but they grow in wetlands.  Alder shrubs that are local to our area are also multi-stemmed and have long catkins which are also blooming now.  Alders have small oval cones, which will help you differentiate them from hazelnuts.

The male hazelnut flowers are the long drooping catkins behind the little red female flower on the end of the bud.

The male hazelnut flowers are the long drooping catkins behind the little red female flower on the end of the bud.

In the fall, the female flower will turn into a very nutritious nut that is eaten by many forms of wildlife including Gray Squirrels and Blue Jays.  You had better be quick if you want to harvest the nuts before these clever critters.

Flicking the male flower (catkin) of the American hazelnut will release thousands of pollen grains.  Can you see the yellow cloud of them in this photo?

Flicking the male flower (catkin) of the American hazelnut will release thousands of pollen grains. Can you see the yellow cloud of them in this photo?

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

The Delaware Nature Society runs a birding series every season, usually meeting twice per month on Fridays.  Ironically, we visited Winterthur on a chilly but pleasant first day of spring.  We saw lots of birds and we were treated to close looks of many.  Everything seemed very active and it was as if the birds knew that officially, the seasons had changed.

The Winterthur Museum is in the background across a tranquil pond on the first day of Spring.

The Winterthur Museum is in the background across a tranquil pond on the first day of Spring.

Phoebes, Robins, Titmice, Cardinals, Chickadees, and Goldfinches were singing.  A Pileated Woodpecker bashed dead wood nearby with its beak, staying just out of sight.  Tree Swallows buzzed by us in the chilled air.  A Muskrat swam in the small stream below the museum, carrying grasses into its burrow.  Two Kingfishers flew past, chattering to each other.  One of the ponds ahead of us contained some ducks, but they were backlit.  We walked further up the path and got them into good light, discovering that they were migratory Ring-necked Ducks.  We watched for a little while and realized that three of the males were putting on a courtship display for a female.  It was amusing to watch the males lay their head onto their back, then quickly thrust it forward, trying to get the female’s attention.  It didn’t look like she had her mind made up.
Ring-necked Ducks were courting in a pond at Winterthur.  Males lean their head back, then quickly thrust it forward trying to get the female's attention.

Ring-necked Ducks were courting in a pond at Winterthur. Males lean their head back, then quickly thrust it forward trying to get the female's attention.

Near this pond, I heard a song that sounded like a garble followed up with the sound of a rusty door hinge.  “schltdt…..SQUEEEEEEEK”!  A Rusty Blackbird!  We saw the male in breeding plumage, all black with a white eye and thin, long beak.  It flew and landed at the edge of a wooded pond, and began doing what Rusty Blackbirds do best…flipping wet leaves in search of food.  We watched until it finished feeding, then got some photos as it flew to a nearby tree to sing again.
The Rusty Blackbird is migrating through Delaware now on its way to remote boreal bogs in Canada to breed.

The Rusty Blackbird is migrating through Delaware now on its way to remote boreal bogs in Canada to breed.

The gardens at Winterthur are a dramatic landscape from which to see birds, not to mention beautiful flowers, specimen trees, and historic buildings.  The open meadows, rolling hills, mature woodlands, arboretum, and gardens make for scenery that defines the beauty of Delaware’s Piedmont.  The activity of wildlife made spring come alive yesterday morning for our group.  Get out and enjoy it yourself!  Winter is over, spring has begun.
"Texturized" by my computer, these Ring-necked Ducks take on more of an artistic look in a Winterthur pond.

"Texturized" by my computer, this photo of Ring-necked Ducks takes on an artistic look in a Winterthur pond.

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

I like insects as much as the next guy — some might even say a bit more.  However, there is one insect that I am getting a little tired of – the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  I guess at first it was fun to see the little bugs scurrying purposely across my computer’s keyboard, when winter’s cold had forced the vast majority of other insects into an inactive state.  But lately it has become a bit much.  At least a hundred of these small triangular-shaped insects have invaded my office – crawling, and in some cases flying, around my work space.  Finding them swimming in my coffee was disturbing but the last straw was when two of them looked to feeding on a Hershey’s Kiss that I left on my desk. 

Marmorated Stink Bugs are swarming in my office!

Marmorated Stink Bugs are swarming in my office!

I decided to do a little research to find out more about these small, robotic intruders and to see if they can be controlled.  Answers to the former were easy to find.  However, answering the “how to get rid of” question remains the mostly unanswered. 

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha shalys) is in the insect order Hemiptera, or “true bugs”, and in family Pentatomidea.  It is native to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan and has only recently been observed in the United States.  The first record seems to have been in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1996.  Remarkably, in such a short time it has spread throughout the East and even has reported in Oregon.  Although this insect does not bite of sting, it is considered a pest in its native range because it feeds on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  The stink bug feeds by inserting its proboscis into a plant’s stem or fruit and then sucking out it’s meal.  This typically does not kill the plant but does leave a scar, making the produce less desirable for sale.  Therefor, the economic impact to Asian farmers can be considerable.  Although this is a nuisance, they are not known to substantially harm our crops — yet.  I have received reports from local gardeners that these insects have been found on squash and other home-grown vegetables and leave behind blemishes where they have fed. 

Enough was enough when I found Marmorated Stink Bugs in my coffee cup and on a Hershey's Kiss.

Enough was enough when I found Marmorated Stink Bugs in my coffee cup and on a Hershey's Kiss.

Here in the U.S. it seems that the biggest problem is that the adult Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs seek out warm places in which to overwinter, resulting in their habit of invading homes and other buildings.  They can be quite numerous in older structures and if sufficiently harrassed (squeezed or stepped on), will, like their name suggests, give off a strong, foul odor.  The smell is a result of concentrated chemicals called aldehydes that are produced and expelled by the insect to ward off predators.  Although not dangerous to humans, the chemicals can be toxic to some birds and other potential predators.

Back to the question of how to control these pests.  It seems that the only effective way to keep the over-wintering adults out of buildings is to seal all openings to the outside; but that’s a lot easier said than done.  And using chemical insecticides inside of buildings should always be limited (for human health reasons).  So, collecting and disposing of the bug carcasses may be the only option.  Time will tell if these invading creatures casue havoc in the U.S. other than just strealing a meal from my sweets supply.

 

Have you seen the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in your house this winter?