All posts for the month March, 2011

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator


The first blooming Bloodroot of the season at Ashland: right by the front door! Image by Derek Stoner.

Spring officially arrived this past Sunday, March 20, but our observant contestants helped to record 12 Signs of Spring before the actual season began!    The past two weeks (March 7-13 and March 14-20) have been full of new sightings.

Here’s how it all unfolded: 

On March 13, Amy and Jim White found an Eastern Phoebe singing by the Ashland Covered Bridge.  These early-arriving flycatchers like to be near water, where they feed on emerging aquatic insects like stoneflies.  This sighting ended Week 3, bringing us to a total of 9 Signs of Spring observed.

On March 15, Joe Sebastiani and others reported the first Tree Swallows investigating nest boxes at Ashland.

An Anglewing butterfly rests on the ground. Can you tell which species this is? Image by Derek Stoner.

On March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) an Anglewing butterfly was seen near the Ashland Marsh.  These early-emerging butterflies are actually two very similar species: the Comma and the Question Mark.  Because they are so difficult to tell apart, we call them by their family name: Anglewing.

Finally, on March 20, the official First Day of Spring, the first Bloodroot at Ashland bloomed, right by the front door of the nature center.  Named for the bright red sap that Native Americans used as a pigment, Bloodroot has one beautiful white bloom per plant.  Their bloom period is about one week. 

After 4 weeks of observation, a total of 12 Signs of Spring have been accounted for at Ashland.  What will be next?  Certainly the Spring Beauty should bloom soon, and Barn Swallows might arrive in the next couple weeks.  Lots of other signs– not on our list– are being observed each week.  What are you seeing? 

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader

Each month, we take our Teen Naturalist group out for nature study, outdoor adventure, or volunteering for the environment.  Last Saturday, we ventured to White Clay Creek State Park for some geocaching, hiking, and a disc golf championship.  Instead of just hiking around, we used a GPS unit to locate a number of Geocaches in the park.  Strung together, these caches determined where we would hike that day.  For Geocaching, all you have to do is plug the cache coordinates into the GPS unit, and hit the GO TO button.  The GPS arrow points the way, and it also tells you how far away you are from the cache.  The caches are usually old metal boxes or other containers hidden in thickets, hollow logs, or other such places.  They usually contain some kind of treasure to take with you, as long as you put something in the cache yourself.  You have to use your brain to decide where to go, because sometimes the GPS points across ponds and through rose thickets.  As we found out, the most direct way to a cache is not always the best. 

Geocaching at White Clay Creek State Park may require a pair of clippers or a machete!

Along the way from cache to cache, we came across some interesting things.  We found several deer skeletons.  One of them provided several of the teens with take-home bones, and we aged another deer to 1&1/2 years old by looking at the teeth.  We saw a groundhog, two Bald Eagle chasing each other, and also flushed a Wilson’s Snipe in a wet field.  Our hike started at the Delaware Nature Society’s Mortenson Property adjacent to the park, went around the lightly-used Big Pond area, and ended way down Fairhill School Drive.  We had to walk all the way back to the van, so it was about a 5-mile hike all around.

Teen Naturalists are usually very happy when we find old bones and other dead things that repel most people. Here is the group after finding our first cache called "Gnarly Trees" which had a deer skeleton nearby.

After Geocaching, a few Teen Naturalists enjoy some thrilling lunchtime conversation.

Rock Climbing in Delaware.

Geocaching was the excuse to get outside, observe nature, explore, and breathe some fresh air.  The Teen Naturalists always seem to have fun no matter what we are doing, even if they are losing to me in disc golf. 

If you know someone who is 13 to 17 years old who might enjoy our Teen Naturalist group, please contact us if you want to check out the schedule or register for the 2010-2011 season which runs through August. 

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator


The first Wood Frog egg masses of the season are now gracing the Ashland Marsh, as of March 7, 2011. Image by Derek Stoner.


The Wood Frogs are breeding!  On Sunday night(March 6), after a long day of rain and temperatures in the upper 50’s, Wood Frogs emerged en masse and hopped their way to the marsh, ponds, and puddles at Ashland.This morning, March 7, Sarah Stapley ventured down to the marsh and discovered the first egg masses are laid and in plain view along the boardwalk.   I visited the spot with my camera and counted 23 egg masses, and at least 20 Wood Frogs in sight.  The males are loudly calling, sounding like chuckling ducks. 

Also emerging Sunday night were the first American Toads of the season.  These toads may not likely start breeding right away, as they prefer warmer temperatures for their egg-laying activities.

And yet another Sign of Spring was spotted the day before,  March 5, when  Bethanie Delfunt’s group spotted two Garter Snakes slithering around near the Ashland Marsh.

So what Sign will be next?   What Signs of Spring are you seeing around your yard or local natural area?

Signs of Spring Contest Update:

Week 2:  Groundhog(Feb. 28), Snapping Turtle(March 1), Garter Snake(March 5) American Toad(March 6).

Week 3(so far): Wood Frog egg masses.

After 3 weeks, 8 Signs of Spring out of 20 have been observed at Ashland. 

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A burst of blooming Snowdrops along a sunny bank at Ashland. Image by Derek Stoner.

At the end of the first week of the Signs of Spring Contest, February 21-27, a flurry of emergences occurred. 

On February 24, Amy White reported the first Skunk Cabbages blooming, in the old marsh across Barley Mill Road from Ashland. 

On February 25th, Jill Constantine and Sarah Stapley reported finding Snowdrops in full bloom near the covered bridge.  Also on that day, Spring Peepers started calling in the Ashland Marsh– a relatively quiet chorus, but a start nonetheless.

Not the first, not the second, but maybe the third Groundhog seen at Ashland this year. Observed March 2 outside the butterfly house at the center. Image by Derek Stoner.

A new week (February 28 to March 6) is underway, and already a couple of new sightings are being reported. 

On February 28, Jean Beattie spotted a male Groundhog dashing by the front door of the nature center.   Later that evening, a light rain and temperatures in the mid-50’s coaxed the first Wood Frogs to emerge.  After dark, I found a female Wood Frog crossing the driveway on her way to the marsh.  As is (my) tradition at Ashland, I captured her and put her in a holding cage overnight. 

The "First of Season" female Wood Frog poses before heading into the marsh for the breeding season. Image by Derek Stoner.

The next morning she made the rounds at the office, proudly on display as the “First Official Wood Frog of 2011” before heading outside for a quick photo session and release into a puddle near the marsh.  Overnight the puddle had developed a skim of ice, so that frog was dipping into some chilly water for her first swim of the New Year.  Wood Frogs are incredibly hardy amphibians, and well-known for their ability to deal with icy and snowy conditions during their early emergences.   And in other early-emerging news, Jim White spotted the first Snapping Turtle of the year on March 1 in the Ashland Marsh.

Now we wait for the big numbers of Wood Frogs to make their way down to the marsh and begin the egg laying extravaganza.  That is the next big sign we are waiting for: Wood Frog Egg Masses! 

Signs of Spring Contest Update:

For clarification purposes, sightings of Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow and House Wren must be of birds that are returning to the property and spending time at Ashland.  This is to differentiate from migrants that simply fly over and do not land on Ashland turf.

For those keeping score, we already have 5 of the 20 Signs of Spring accounted for at Ashland: Snowdrops and Skunk Cabbages blooming, Spring Peepers calling, Groundhog and Snapping Turtle.

What Signs of Spring are you seeing around your homes and local natural areas?