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All posts for the month September, 2011

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Each fall, at about this time, a strange white blob, about the size of a volleyball, starts growing from the side of a silver maple tree near the entrance to Ashland.  If you take the walkway from the parking lot to the center, you can’t miss it.  A week or so after it appears, it develops long, stringy strands that dangle downwards like little fingers.  This beautiful, but slightly scary sight is a Bearded Tooth mushroom (Hericium erinaceus).  Among its other names are Lion’s Mane, Hedgehog Mushroom, Satyr’s Beard, and Pom Pom Mushroom.  If you want to see it, you’d better hurry up.  Soon it will start to rot and insects will damage it.  But right now, it looks really cool. 

This Bearded Tooth, a type of mushroom, is currently growing along the entrance walkway to Ashland Nature Center.

This is an edible mushroom, but only when it is young and first appears.  It is said to have a similar texture to seafood like octopus and squid and the flavor of lobster.  In Chinese cuisine, where they call it the “Monkey Head Mushroom”, it is substituted for pork or lamb.  Apparently, this fungus is saprobic and parasitic, meaning that it feeds by decaying dead wood in the tree, but also attacks living tissue for nourishment.

It is easy to see why another name for this fungus is the Hedgehog Mushroom. I took this photo looking up at the fungus.

This fungus is found in Europe, Asia, and North America.  Apparently it is quite rare in Europe.  Do you want to try it without the hassle of finding and picking it?  Here is a website I found where you can purchase “canned Monkey Head Mushroom” from China.  Good luck!  And don’t pick the one at Ashland!! 

Maybe you can find this mushroom for sale in a can!

By Brenna Goggin: Environmental Advocate

Monday, August 8th started out like every other day. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and summer campers were arriving to tackle all of the state’s environmental issues, or at least try. The first day campers learned how the legislative process works, listened to School House Rock (“I’m just a bill…), and debated their first piece of legislation.

Day two started out with a long drive down to Lewes to learn about wind energy and tour the University of Delaware’s 2-megawatt wind turbine. Did you know that this wind turbine produces enough power to meet all of UD’s Lewes campus energy needs and powers about 120 homes in the area?  Since some of our campers received letters from their constituents (they were elected officials after all!), they had several questions regarding the dangers wind turbines pose  to birds and bats, the cleanliness of wind energy, and how it compares to other energy sources like fossil fuels. Graduate student Blaise Sheridan walked the campers right up to the turbine to explain how the energy travels from the turbine to the power station. Blaise and Chris Petrone also took us through a kite exercise to show how the wind currents are stronger and therefore can produce more energy the higher up they are.

Conservation Action Force campers walk towards the University of Delaware Wind Turbine near Lewes.

Day three and four were spent learning about climate change, the food cycle, and sustainable agricultural products. The campers went through several hands-on activities to learn about the greenhouse effect, the importance of even small creatures in the circle of life, and how to build your own sustainable, eco-friendly farm. Ideas ranged from raising yaks to dinosaurs, but the main task of the day was to control the waste, runoff, and other environmental side effects of farming in a safe and economical way.

Finally, we traveled to the Delaware state capitol to bring our issues to the attention of people with power! Campers toured Legislative Hall, met with Senator Bushweller to discuss some of their environmental concerns, and learned the history of the first state. In the afternoon, the camp made a presentation to Deputy DNREC Secretary Dave Small where their issues and concerns were voiced. 

The grand finale of the camp was to take action for the environment and speak to legislators at the Delaware State Capital.

In the end, the Conservation Action Force campers learned current environmental issues through hands-on activities, and gained experience with effectively voicing their concerns.  In this way, environmental education comes full circle.

If you have a conservationist in the making at home, consider this camp in 2012!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

In my opinion, the greatest wildlife spectacle that occurs in the northern Delaware Piedmont is the fall migration of the Broad-winged Hawk.  Ashland Hawk Watch at the Ashland Nature Center, is the perfect location to witness the amazing sight of hundreds or thousands of these raptors migrating through in a single day.  This is the week to venture to the Hawk Watch to witness this amazing migration exhibition!

Broad-winged Hawks are moving through Ashland Nature Center this week. Visit the Hawk Watch to view hundreds or even thousands in a day. Photo by Matt Sileo

The Broad-winged Hawk is a raptor of extensively forested areas, such as those in New England and eastern Canada.  Very few Broad-winged Hawks are thought to nest in Delaware due to the extent of deforestation here.  Thousands of Broad-wings from up north migrate in large groups that may contain hundreds of birds travelling together.  These birds pass through the northern Delaware Piedmont on their way to South America for the winter.  Their movement through Delaware lasts about a week to 10 days.  Few Broad-wings migrate along the coastal plain of Delaware.

Here are the numbers from this past week.  On September 16, we observed 2,910 Broad-winged Hawks pass Ashland.  On the 17th, we saw 579, and on the 18th…278.  We are reasonably sure that more are on their way, due to thousands of birds still being reported at hawk watch sites further north.  Treat yourself to a taste of fall and witness migration as it happens through the beautiful Broad-winged Hawk.

This perched Broad-winged Hawk was a bird that nested in northern Chester County, PA in 2008. These crow-sized raptors feed on frogs, mice, birds, snakes, and other things they find on the forest floor. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The Ashland Hawk Watch is a joint project between the Delaware Nature Society, Delmarva Ornithological Society, and the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife – Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.  Ashland Hawk Watch is free and open to the public, and operates daily with staff and volunteers on-site from September 1 through November 30.  For the latest Ashland Hawk Watch hawk migration data, visit the HawkCount website.  There is still plenty of hawk-watching left to do this fall.  Take some time to enjoy the views and the raptors at the Ashland Hawk Watch.   

 By Kar DeGeiso, Teacher Naturalist

An adult Northern Mockingbird perches in a thicket. Image by Derek Stoner.

As I walked over the bridge to the DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) recently, I saw a gray bird with a long tail and flashes of white on its wings.  These fieldmarks are the hallmark of our resident Northern Mockingbirds.

Mockingbirds, often called “Mockers,” can mimic other bird songs and man-made devices like cell phones. They are one of three birds in our area that are mimics, in the bird family known as Mimidae.  The other mimics are Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird.

These birds have a series of phrases that are repeated 2-6 times before going on to another song. They often have over 150 distinguishing songs and can actually learn new ones throughout their lifetime. Both male and females sing, but it’s the single male that is usually found continually singing, even into the nighttime.  Mockingbirds also make a scratchy “chat” call to warn off intruders or when they are disturbed.

A young Northern Mockingbird investigates a Tiger Moth caterpillar crawling by. Image by Derek Stoner.

Mockingbirds are very territorial and have been known to chase animals and even people from their area, especially if they have a nest nearby.  They eat a wide variety of fruit and insects.  The area under the DEEC bridge is perfect Mockingbird habitat with open areas loaded with insects and native bushes loaded with fruit.

A fledgling Northern Mockingbird stretches its wings. Image by Derek Stoner.

Because the female lays 2-6 eggs and can have offspring 2-3 times during the summer, the five Mockingbirds in our area are probably from the same family.

As you walk over the bridge at DEEC, take a look and see if you can observe one of our resident Mockers.