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All posts for the month March, 2009

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

Hoopes Reservoir in Northern Delaware has been off limits to the public since 1971.  It is a body of water created to be a back up supply of water for the northern Delaware area, with most of the water is pumped up from the Brandywine River. 

Each year, the Delaware Nature Society gets permission from the city of Wilmington to access the land and take a hike.  Today was our day! 

The hike is rugged and there are no trails for the 3-mile length.  Walking along most of the Reservoir, you feel like you are in New England, due to the areas of planted pine and spruce.  There are areas of mature deciduous forest as well with large oak, hickory, beech, and black birch trees.  Mountain laurel thickets shroud some of the slopes. 

The going is rough in places due to fallen trees and thickets, but the 14 participants on the walk led by me and Sally O’Byrne managed to get through.

Participants on the Hoopes Reservoir hike scramble through some brush.

Participants on the Hoopes Reservoir hike scramble through some brush.

Along the way, there is an active Bald Eagle nest to look at from a distance with a scope.  We were able to see one of the adult birds on the nest.  It looked like it was still incubating.

Active Bald Eagle nest at Hoopes Reservoir.  The eagle is not visible, but it was crouched down, incubating.

Active Bald Eagle nest at Hoopes Reservoir. The eagle is not visible, but it was crouched down, incubating.

Waterfowl were visible in the water today.  The best was a pair of Red-necked Grebe, but we also saw a number of Pied-billed Grebe, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Black Duck, and Ruddy Duck.  We also saw a pair of Great Horned Owl and a Red-shouldered Hawk that was screeching at one of the owls.

View along the banks of Hoopes Reservoir.

View along the banks of Hoopes Reservoir.

This exclusive walk is usually given once per year by the Delaware Nature Society.  We hope that you can attend our next one. 

A dedication that few get to see because the Reservoir is closed to the public.

A dedication that few get to see because the Reservoir is closed to the public.

By Margot Chalfant, Land Preservation Coordinator

It’s 8 a.m. on Thursday, February 26 and the Delaware Nature Society’s four-day cross-country ski trip is ready for take-off!  Our party is bee-lining to West Virginia’s High Alleghenies and the White Grass Nordic Ski Lodge for a full adventure.  We weren’t wasting time…rain was predicted to arrive by nightfall, which would certainly wash away the snow and put a damper on our skiing plans.  But how little faith I had. 

By 2 p.m. we were skiing on farmed snow.  Yup, I said farmed.  Not by growing, but rather by trapping windblown snow into pockets formed by a continuous ribbon of snow fence laid along the foot of a mountain and wound throughout an adjacent meadow.  Ingenious!  Captured snow is packed and managed (farmed) keeping a solid base for skiing.  Once I got over my purest ideologies of only cross-country skiing in a totally snow bound landscape (rooted in 3-years of skiing/ living in Colorado), the magic of mountain scenery, crisp clean air, and the familiar rhythm of a kick-and-glide ski stride settled in and I was hooked.

Young skier traverses snow from trails.

Young skier traverses snow from trails.

 

White Grass is not your typical cross country ski lodge…it’s more like a community center.  Both a full-service ski shop with rentals, lessons, guided tours, and retail, it is also a home-style restaurant serving lunch and two dinner shifts.  Reservations are required.  The lodge is surrounded by an extensive network of groomed trails and telemark glades within the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Even with the poor snow conditions and rain, our band found adventure in snowfields high in the mountains.  We hiked up Seneca Rocks and Bald Knob mountains, strolled through Smoke Hole Caverns, and soaked up the thunder of Blackwater, Muddy Creek and Swallow Falls.

At night we ate delicious and wholesome meals accompanied by live mountain music at the White Grass and the (legendary) Purple Fiddle restaurants.  Back at our cabins and beside the open fire we sipped exotic wines, nibbled cheese, swapped stories, and played games.

Frost nipped vegetation atop Bald Knob with extended view of Canaan Valley.

Frost nipped vegetation atop Bald Knob with extended view of Canaan Valley.

 

As we scurried home Sunday to beat the BIG snow storm scheduled to arrive that night, (it figures that Delaware got real snow), I reflected on the weekend.  What makes a community is a sense of welcome that comes from those comfortable in their skin, with real passion for living and a genuine care for others.  As we departed White Grass, manager Chip Chase reached out for my hand said how pleased he was to have met me.  What impressed me is he called me by my name.  What touched me is I had never told him, but he had cared enough to find out who I was- now that’s community!

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant and
    Judy Montgomery, Overnight and Outreach Coordinator
Looking into the eyes of a Gray Wolf.

Looking into the eyes of a Gray Wolf.

While the east coast is blessed to have a rich variety of wildlife, we no longer get to watch packs of wolves roaming the forests.  These top predators disappeared from the region in the 19th century, driven out and killed by early settlers afraid of the “big bad wolf.” 

On Sunday, March 1, we led the Wolves and Waterfowl tour,  travelling to northern Lancaster County to visit the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania.  A unique facility dedicated to educating the public about wolves, the sanctuary is home to nearly 50 wolves living in packs inside wooded enclosures.  

An Eastern Timber Wolf showing its pearly white teeth at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania.

An Eastern Timber Wolf showing its pearly white teeth at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania.

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides educated our group about the biology, behavior, and life history of these animals: Eastern and Western Timber Wolves, Gray Wolves, and Tundra Wolves.  Living in packs, these noble creatures establish a social heirarchy just like in the wild.

An Eastern Timber wolf uses his powerful jaws and strong teeth to tear at a chunk of meat.

An Eastern Timber wolf uses his powerful jaws and strong teeth to tear at a chunk of meat.

We brought along a huge bag of beef parts salvaged from a butcher shop, fatty chunks of meat and bone that would provide good nutrition for the sanctuary’s wolves.  Four Eastern Timber Wolves enjoyed this feast, using their powerful jaws and teeth to devour the big hunks of flesh in short order.  These animals possess tremendous strength! 

A swarm of Snow Geese flies overhead as our participants take photos, and cover their heads!

A swarm of Snow Geese flies overhead as our participants take photos, and cover their heads!

After the wonderful wolf tour, we headed to the nearby Middle Creek Wildlife Area.  Over 5,000 acres of land are managed for wildlife, and the 400-acre lake attracts huge numbers of migrating waterfowl.

Each year in late February through mid-March, massive flocks of Snow Geese stop at Middle Creek to fuel up in nearby farm fields before heading northward again on their journey to their Arctic breeding grounds.  

A female Snow goose, wearing neck collar MP32, was banded by scientists on her breeding grounds on Bylot Island, above the Arctic Circle.

A female Snow Goose, wearing neck collar MP32, was banded by scientists on her breeding grounds on Bylot Island, above the Arctic Circle.

Many of these geese spent the winter in Delaware, as we know by identifying the geese that scientists have marked with special yellow numbered collars.  These amazing geese are so prolific that they are destroying their Arctic breeding grounds by eating all the vegetation there.

A blizzard of Snow Geese at Middle Creek Wildlife Area in Pennsylvania.

A blizzard of Snow Geese at Middle Creek Wildlife Area in Pennsylvania.

The huge numbers of Snow Geese and thousands of Tundra Swans made the skies at Middle Creek look like a feathered blizzard.  Bald Eagles flew over, flushing the geese in walls of white, giving photographers plenty of chance to burn the memory on their cameras.  Our group of visitors from the Delaware Nature Society made memories, too, on our Wolves and Waterfowl tour.

     – Report and photographs by Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

Observing owls in the wild is one of the most exciting of outdoor experiences.  However, finding an owl and getting a good look at it can be a fairly difficult proposition.  This said, every February for the last 20 or so years I have led a field trip for the Delaware Nature Society to search for as many owl species as possible in a single day.  There are seven species of owls that are known to be in the mid-Atlantic states during the winter:  The Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl, Barn Owl, and Northern Saw-whet Owl.  In addition an eight species, Snowy Owl, also shows up in out area from time to time. 

On this year’s trip, fourteen participants accompanied my co-leader Michele Wales and me.  The first stop of this year’s trip was just up the road from the Ashland Nature Center to look for Barred Owls.  Only seconds after I played a recording of the owl’s call, a beautiful Barred soared in to give all of us a great look.  Not wanting to disturb the owl too much we left as soon as it flew back into the spruce trees.

Barred Owl by Hank Davis

Barred Owl by Hank Davis.

Our next stop was at my house in Hockessin to observe a Great Horned Owl that was nesting in the woods of the Burrows Run Preserve.  Unfortunately, as we searched with our scopes for the distant nest I discovered that it was not there.  Closer inspection revealed that a nest had fallen out of the tree, probably as result of a recent windstorm.  We were disappointed, of course, and all hoped that the owls would be able to find a new nest and start over.  While at my house I also decided to peak into an owl nest box where I had recently observed an Eastern Screech Owl.  Unfortunately, on this day the bird was not in the box.  Despite our initial quick success with the Barred Owl, it was now clear that we were going to have to work pretty hard to find the remaining species. 

Our next stop required a long drive to northern Chester County, Pennsylvania to look for the Long-eared Owls that had been reported there recently.  Fortunately, after arrival we easily located the owls and in just a few minutes were able to get great looks of at least 7 individuals.  So after disappointment at my house, the day was again looking up.  With renewed good spirits, we headed back to Delaware to continue our search for more owl species. 

As we cruised down Route 9, I decided to stop at an acquaintance’s farm to check out a silo where a Barn Owl often roosts.  Sure enough, the owl was in the silo and, as usual, it flushed out as I approached.  The owl flew over the group waiting patiently outside and into an adjacent barn, giving everyone a great view.  Barn owls have been using this particular silo for as long as I have been doing owl trips. 

Barn Owl by Hank Davis.

Barn Owl by Hank Davis.

After a few more unsuccessful attempts to find Great Horned Owls, we drove south to Port Mahon Road at the town of Little Creek, Delaware.  Here we were hoping to observe Short-eared Owls as they hunted the salt marsh for their rodent prey.  As the sun set over the Dover air base’s jet fuel storage tanks we scanned the marsh for anything flying.  Several Harriers and a few Great-blue Herons held our attention for a few minutes until we spotted a Short-eared Owl flying low over the marsh in the distance.  Although not particularly close, everyone in the group got a fairly good look, leaving is just enough time to try to pick up one more owl species on the way home. 

As darkness fell, we stopped along a back road off Rt. 9.  After a few seconds of playing a recording of a Screech Owl call, a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl flew in and landed in a tree just off the road, calling back to the tape.  I was able to illuminate the owl with my flashlight for all to observe.  As we watched, a second Eastern Screech Owl, possibly the first one’s mate, joined in and started a call.  Although we observed only five owl species, we managed to see 12 individual owls, and several participants were able to get some very good photographs, including the images by Hank Davis included in this blog.