By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader
Each year in the Spring we take the Delaware Nature Society Teen Naturalist group for an overnight somewhere. Last week, we spent a night at the Mallard Lodge near Smyrna, DE. The Mallard Lodge is owned by the Delaware Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you take a training course, your group can stay at the lodge for free if you are studying the wetland ecology of the surrounding area.
Last Wednesday was a complete wash out. It was raining a little when we arrived and unpacked, and when we went out for dip-netting in the marsh…heavy rain! Twenty minutes later, after having bagged ourselves a few silversides, mummichogs, and grass shrimp, we were soaked through to the skin. Good thing they have aquariums and live animals at the Aquatic Resource Education Center next door.
Later that day, the rain slowed and we were able to tour around Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. One of our best sighting was a Black-necked Stilt on the roadway eating waterlogged worms.
A Black-necked Stilt at Bombay Hook NWR, DE.
In the evening, we put on our waders and went into the nearby freshwater marsh to look for frogs and birds. Spring Peepers and a few New Jersey Chorus Frogs were calling, but it was fairly cold and we didn’t see any. It was fun to squat down in the marsh and watch Green-winged Teal and Wilson’s Snipe zoom past us as they looked for a night-time roost.
A Teen Naturalist looks for frogs at the Aquatic Resource Education Center near Smyrna, DE.
In the evening, Jason Beale from Abbott’s Mill Nature Center showed the Teens how to start a fire with a bow drill and a hand drill. Several of us successfully started a fire, others at least got a good coal to burn.
Starting a fire with a bow drill. I was impressed that they started fires!
The next day was a completely different story weather-wise. We woke to a wonderful sunrise, singing birds, and warmer temperatures. Our traditional morning walk at the Mallard Lodge is a 5-mile round-trip jaunt to the Delaware Bay. Winding our way down Lighthouse Road heading east, we crossed pristine and expansive brackish marsh. We heard the “kuk kuk kuk…” of a Clapper Rail and saw it flush. We saw about 10 Northern Harriers cruising by looking for a meal. A dead Least Shrew on the trail was one of the highlights of the trip for Rachelle. Who knew a dead shrew would be so entertaining!
Sunrise at the Mallard Lodge, Smyrna, DE.
Beach combing at Woodland Beach, DE.
On the hike back to the Mallard Lodge from the beach, it had warmed up enough for snakes to come out and bask. We saw 2 Eastern Ratsnakes and 3 Northern Black Racers, which were a thrill for everyone.
We caught a Northern Black Racer while it basked in the morning sunshine.
To end our trip, we went seining and beach-combing at Woodland Beach. The Teen Naturalists enjoyed catching lots of mummichogs, Atlantic silversides, striped killifish, and thousands of small grass shrimp. This is an incredible area for observing wildlife and learning about Delaware’s coastal ecosystem. If you are a school teacher or scout leader, take the training at the Mallard Lodge so you can inspire your students or group with this enriching experience.