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All posts for the month November, 2011

By Kristen Travers, Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator

Hiking along the new birding trail at Middle Run Natural Area it’s hard not to gaze up at the glorious fall foliage.  As the trail meanders along the tributary of
White Clay Creek, leaves from the forest canopy flutter toward the ground.  I watch one leaf as it falls into the creek and begins to float downstream.  The leaf doesn’t float far until it becomes lodged in front of a large rock along with a clump of other leaves.  Looking along the creek other clumps of partly submerged leaves, called leaf packs, are scattered. 

A leaf pack in a small stream.

I reach under the water and grab a leaf pack that looks to have been in the water for a period of time – the tree leaves are covered in a slimy biofilm of fungi and bacteria that are beginning to decompose the leaves.  Slowly pulling the leaves apart reveals a hidden habitat for aquatic insects.    A large crane fly, a common leaf pack inhabitant this time of year, wriggles out from under a leaf.

Crane fly larvae (Family Tipulidae). Photo by: R. Heringslack

These strange looking insects spend most of their life under the water as larvae using the leaf packs as both a habitat as well as a food supply. Often referred to as shredders, crane flies, along with other aquatic insects that feed on tree leaves, provide an important ecosystem function shredding leaves into smaller pieces that then become food for other aquatic invertebrates.  After living about a year under the water, the larvae pupate and change into the terrestrial adults.  Adult crane flies, commonly seen during summer months, are often mistaken for large killer mosquitoes but fortunately are harmless.  They  may feed on nectar, if anything, as adults.

A face only a mother could love? Actually this view is the end of the abdomen – the two dots are spiracles used to obtain oxygen. The head of the crane fly is small and can be pulled back into the body rather like a turtle. Photo by: R. Heringslack

The next time that you’re out hiking near a stream, look for leaf packs – scoop up a handful of leaves, the slimier the better, and see what you can discover!  Help a stream – and a crane fly – by planting native trees or shrubs in your backyard or at a DNS tree planting event.  Native tree leaves provide a better quality food supply for our local aquatic and terrestrial insects.

Prize Alert:

What is the official aquatic macroinvertebrate of Delaware?

The first person to answer correctly will win the book Delaware’s Freshwater and Brackish-Water Fishes by Maynard Raasch.  Use the “Comments” section to submit your answer (press the little number below the date at the top to comment if you don’t see a comment form).

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader (Second blog in a series about the Delaware Nature Society trip to Costa Rica – 2011)

Think back to when you were a child, at a time when everything you experienced was new.  Each turn in life contained new surprises, new learning experiences, and complete excitement.  Think to Christmas morning or a special birthday as a child, tearing open gifts with enthusiasm, one thrill after the next.  This is a little what a good travel experience is like, and it is probably why so many people do it.  It is certainly what a nature excursion to the tropics is like, especially if you live in the temperate north.  Each bird, flower, insect, and amphibian that crosses your path is probably something you’ve never seen before.  The possible experiences seem endless when you are surrounded by so much life. 

What you don’t know won’t kill you…or will it!  Stepping through the Tirimbina Rainforest Center in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, our guide pointed out something that probably no one had ever heard of before.  Can you find it in the photo below?

Do you see anything interesting in this photograph? Photo by Marilyn Henry

Hiding in the wet leaf litter among the leaves was a Hog-nosed Pit Viper.  This snake is not very deadly, in fact, it is estimated that about 50 people per year are bitten by them in Costa Rica, but no fatalities are known, however deaths have been reported in other tropical countries.  At any rate, I don’t want to step on one, and it is a little uncomfortable to know that there is no way I would have seen this snake if it wasn’t pointed out to me.

Here is another look at the tiny venomous Hog-nosed Pit Viper. It might have only been a foot long. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Other exciting surprises met us in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, which is in the northern Caribbean side of the country.  We stayed at the La Quinta Country Inn, which is set along a boulder-strewn creek near the raging Saraqipui River in a part of Costa Rica that produces lots of Pineapples.  At La Quinta, there are about 10 acres of garden and forest to explore, and even here, lots of fun surprises thrilled us. 

At night, we explored La Quinta with a flashlight. This Smooth-skinned Toad was a nice find. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

By day, we were treated to various activities in this region.  We visited a pineapple plantation, went white-water rafting, enjoyed a cacao (chocolate making) program, a bat mist-netting program with a biologist, and looked for birds and wildlife everywhere we went. 

I have to admit that I wasn't too excited to go to the pineapple plantation. However, some of the greatest moments of hilarity ocurred on our tour there, mostly due to our guide, who should be in stand-up comedy. This farm turned out to be Costa Rica's largest organic pineapple farm. Next time you are in the grocery store, if you see organic pineapple from Dole, it is may be from this farm. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Even at pineapple farms you can see wildlife, and maybe get a little wild.

A fruit (maybe pineapple) feeder at the farm attracted a group of male and female Passerini's Tanagers. Quite a sight! Photo by Marilyn Henry.

Everything starts to look good while sipping a pineapple cocktail!

One of our lucky participants sipping a pineapple cocktail. Never discount farm tours on a nature trip. Farms are nature too! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We heard that our rafting trip down the Sarapiqui River was going to be a flatwater experience.  We were told to take our cameras, binoculars, etc.  When we arrived at the river, it looked like the Brandywine Creek after a few days of hard rain.  We overheard the rafting leader talking to Jose our trip guide.  Over and over again in Spanish, the rafting leader kept saying “rapidorapido“.  I didn’t need five years of Spanish to understand what he meant.  The river was not flatwater, there were rapids!

Our group was flexible for sure. Cameras were safely stowed in the van and life-vests and helmets were donned. Into the (class I) rapids we went!!

After the rafting trip, many wet people in the group said that we should have done the class III section of this river.  Maybe next time.  We were flexible for sure, and now…confident!  This group was a lot of fun!  Although birds were the main star of the show, we saw so much more in Costa Rica.  On the rafting trip, we took a break to look for frogs.  Our guides knew just where to find a Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog. 

Handling poison dart frogs isn't something I would recommend, which is why no one in my group held it. We let our Costa Rican whitewater rafting guide pick this one up! Soon after he passed out from the pain and swelling, and we had to float him down the river to the nearest hospital! (Just kidding...he washed his hands and all was well). Photo by Ken Henry.

Finally, before we left La Quinta Country Inn, we were serenaded by Howler Monkeys in the trees.  Howler Monkeys were seen in most places on our trip, but most of the time, you just hear them deep in the forest.  This one came out in the open.  Their sounds are crazy, and if you want to hear one, try this link

This Mantled Howler Monkey picked fruit lazily in the tree as we were departing La Quinta. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Stay tuned for the next part of our amazing trip…Arenal Volcano! 

By Daniel Malcolm, Community Supported Agriculture Farm Manager:

We recently wrapped up the second growing season of the community supported agriculture program at Coverdale Farm. With two seasons now under our belt we can now look back and see the progress we’ve made.

June crop in the CSA farm field. Photo by Ashley Malcolm

The CSA farm membership was 160 this year and the land under cultivation was approximately 6 acres. We grew hundreds of varieties of vegetables and harvested well over 30,000 pounds (all without the help of synthetic amendments). There were five terrific seasonal farm employees who helped plant, weed, and harvest all the crops. Each Monday and Thursday we would be out in the field by 6:30am to begin harvesting for the shareholders, and by 11am were ready to distribute the freshly harvested and washed vegetables.  Our shareholders are a terrific bunch and through weekly pickups and farm events their support has been truly sustaining.

The hoophouse was a new addition in 2011. The added heat and protection allowed us to harvest our first tomatoes June 20! Photo Ashley Malcolm

Registration for CSA is limited for 2012 so if you’re interested in registering, contact Fiona to get on the waitlist (302) 239-2334 x. 134.

An abundant August half share. Photo Ashley Malcolm

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Ten Delaware Nature Society members accompanied me to Costa Rica over the last few weeks for a trip entitled, “A World of Nature”.  It sure was!  Led by Jose Saenz working for Collette Vacations, we were treated to 12 days of rainforests, 220 species of birds, 4 species of monkey, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, rubber spiders, a volcano, white-water rafting, lots of good food, and some heavy rain periodically.  We were in the rainforest after all. 

Tortuguero National Park was our first destination.  Our lodge was accessible only by boat, as is everything in the park.  Boat trips through the swamp forest occupied our time there, as did birding on the grounds of the beautiful Evergreen Lodge.  If you have never been to the tropics before, the birds can be completely overwhelming on day one.  More than once, I had to tell our group to “take a deep breath…take it one bird at a time”.  A swirl of toucans, trogons, warblers, tanagers, hummingbirds, flycatchers, and euphonias bent the eye and mind in the first hour of light.

We took three nature explorations by boat the first day of the trip.  The video below highlights some of our special sightings including a daring water rescue of a Three-toed Sloth, a White-faced Capuchin Monkey leaping about 45 feet out of a tree, and Great Curassow, one of our really good species we found on the trip.  There will be more to come about our fantastic trip, but for now, enjoy the video…