All posts for the month March, 2012

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Answer the following questions about nature.  E-mail your answers to  The person with the most correct answers wins a $5 gift certificate for any Delaware Nature Society program.  You have until 11:59 p.m. April 3rd to send in your answers.  The winner will be announced on Wednesday, April 4th.  THE ANSWERS ARE POSTED WITH EACH QUESTION.


1. This Cabbage White is a moth that is actually from Europe, but is naturalized in eastern North America. True or false? FALSE. THE CABBAGE WHITE IS ACTUALLY A BUTTERFLY.

2. This albino Eastern Bluebird was found at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve several years ago. True or false? FALSE. THIS IS AN ALBINO EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, NOT AN EASTERN BLUEBIRD.


3. The old name for this duck is the Oldsquaw. True or False? TRUE.


4. Monarch butterflies like this one pictured grow up from caterpillars that only eat milkweed, and by doing so, become toxic. True or false? FALSE. THE BUTTERFLY ABOVE IS A VICEROY.


5. A honeybee colony is almost completely populated by female bees like this forager. True or false? TRUE.


6. This orchid is called a Showy Orchis and is native to Delaware and can be found blooming in the woods in spring. True or False? TRUE.

7.  Go to the Staff Contributors section of the blog, above.  What kind of Turtle is Jason Beale holding?  C. RED-BELLIED COOTER

a. Eastern Painted Turtle, b. Snapping Turtle, c. Red-bellied Cooter, or d. Mud Turtle

8. In that same section, Jim White is holding a: B. SNAPPING TURTLE.

a. Eastern Painted Turtle, b. Snapping Turtle, c. Red-bellied Cooter, or d. Mud Turtle

9.  The name of the wetland at the entrance to Ashland Nature Center is called: B. WAXWING MARSH.

a. Snapper Swamp, b. Waxwing Marsh, c. Pollywog Bog, or d. Kingfisher Meadows

10. Osprey usually return to Delaware around which holiday? C. ST. PATRICK’S DAY.

a. Easter, b. President’s Day, c. St. Patrick’s Day, or d. Earth Day

Photos and story by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

A group of 8 birders accompanied me this morning on a walk around Ashland to look for birds and other natural wonders.  We observed migration, a recently hibernating animal, courtship, a secretive mammal, edible plants, poisonous plants, nest building, and lots of birds.  Once spring starts unfurling, its progress is quick.  Day to day, plants and animals race forward with growth and reproduction.  This morning, we enjoyed being  witnesses.

All eyes were glued to nature this morning, as there was a lot to see around Ashland Nature Center, and spring is revealing itself quickly.

Today’s group contained every skill of birder, from a past President of the Delmarva Ornithological Society to someone who had never gone birding.  When a new birder comes on a walk, it is exciting for everyone.  People want to share in the excitement when someone sees a Bluebird or Tree Swallow for the first time.  It is fun to help less experienced birders locate something they have never seen and hear, “Wow…thank you!”.  Everything gets attention, even a European Starling building a nest, which we saw today.  Starlings are gorgeous this time of year.

Even plain-looking birds have a litte extra zip in the spring. Look for the slight bit of irridescent gold on the neck of this Mourning Dove. The powder blue eye ring is also a nice touch.

It was a surprise to see a Box Turtle out and about today.  I don’t recall ever seeing one in March.  Usually at this time of year, they are hidden somewhere, still deep in hibernation.  Then again, this spring is not typical.

We came across a groggy Box Turtle on the walk today. It was a male that had not even opened his eyes from his winter sleep. If you recall, we have a Box Turtle marking and recapture program at Ashland that is over 25 years old. This turtle was unmarked. Was it new on the scene?

Small mammals are usually very hard to find and see in nature.  During the walk today, I heard some rustling in the leaves within a blackberry patch.  I thought it was going to be a White-throated Sparrow scratching for food.  It turned out to be a small mammal called a Meadow Vole.  This rodent is smaller than a rat and looks like a fat, overstuffed mouse with a short tail.  Meadow Voles are rather cute, as you can see below.  It was tough to get a photo of this one deep in the thicket.

The Meadow Vole is one of the most common mammals in our area. It is a major source of food for hawks, owls, foxes, and other predators.

WARNING:  The following content contains explicit material that has to do with courtship and mating animals.  Proceed only if you are: 1. over 18 years of age, or 2. a salamander.

Upon reaching the wetland at Ashland, we searched for tadpoles and frogs.  We found plenty of Wood Frog tadpoles, and very tiny tadpoles of the American Toad.  Then we discovered the Red-spotted Newts.  Newts are large salamanders that live in the wetlands and pond at Ashland.  We found two of them that were engaged in some kind of ritualistic activity. 

These Red-spotted Newts were up to something. But what??

According to Jim and Amy White’s book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva (published in 2002 and available for sale at the Delaware Nature Society), this is what our newts were doing…”The more typical type of courtship behavior (of Red-spotted Newts) occurs if a male encounters an unresponsive female, in which case the male swims above the female, grasps her with his enlarged hind legs just in front of her forelegs, and then whips his tail erratically [the hula dance] and rubs his forelegs alternately on pitlike glands on the side of his head and on the female’s snout, presumably transferring chemicals that stimulate the female to mate.  In this type of coursthip, the male may remain clasped to the female for several hours before he finally releases her, deposits one or more spermatophores, and then tries to guide her over the spermatophore so that she can pick up the sperm capsule with her cloacal lips”.  This was on page 53 of a book you seriously need to purchase.

There will be free bird walks at Ashland Nature Center every other Thursday at 8am on these dates: April 12 & 26, and May 10 & 24.  Alternately, there will be free bird walks at the Middle Run Natural Area (Possum Hollow Road entrance) at 8am on April 3 & 17, and May 1, 15, & 29.

Of course, we saw birds on today’s bird walk as well.  If you want to see the list, please click this link:

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird…widely known, but not intimately known.  Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy.  It may live almost in our midst unnoticed.  Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization.   – Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of North American Shorebirds, 1927.

Call it a Timberdoodle, Mud Bat, Bog Sucker, Labrador Twister, Big Eyes, Blind Snipe, Brush Snipe or Swamp Bat…officially it is known at the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor).   Finding them with our members is an annual rite of spring for the Delaware Nature Society.  Some years it is easy.  Other years, the Bog Sucker foils us.  This year, we thought it would be the latter.

The privately-owned Bucktoe Creek Preserve is our traditional Timberdoodle tromping terrain.  Complete with wet, swampy woods for feeding, thickets for nesting, and open areas for displaying, it is usually heaven for the Woodcock.  Larry Lewis and Kathleen Pileggi led the trip this year.  They struck out the first two outings for the birds at Bucktoe.  For the third outing, Larry decided to move the search elsewhere.  At Marsh Creek State Park, Chester County, PA, they finally saw the birds at point blank range, and had a wonderful show.  Woodcocks make you sweat it out sometimes! 

Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.

Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.  – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949.

Rachel Cameron got a photo of this Woodcock at dusk during its flight display.

Our group was lucky to find a "peenting" American Woodcock prior to dusk with enough light to see it well. Photo by Rachel Cameron.

If you would like to see a short video taken by Rachel Cameron, a participant on the trip last Wednesday, March 21, click the link below.

woodcock video


By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

The Bloodroot at Ashland burst into bloom on March 13, and already was dropping petals just five days later on March 18. Image by Derek Stoner.

The fourth and fifth weeks of the Signs of Spring Challenge featured a flurry of new observations, most likely due the incredible stretch of warm weather that is literally pushing the petals forth on flowers.

On March 12, mulitple observers reported the return of the Eastern Phoebe, with a vocal male calling all day near the covered bridge.  Then on March 13, a class working in the marsh discovered the first Garter Snake of the season wiggling through the grass.  Also that day, the first Bloodroot of the season was noted in bloom, right at the front door to the nature center.  This particular  flower bloomed exactly a week earlier than it did in 2011.

This week, on March 19, we had two observers share with us new sightings on March 19:  an Anglewing butterfly flying along the floodplain trail and a Spring Beauty in bloom near the covered bridge. 

At the exact half-way point of the 10-week Signs of Spring Challenge, 13 of the 20 Signs of Spring are already accounted for and recorded.   Although lots of Signs seem early, this is exactly where we were in 2011: 13 Signs recorded by March 23.  

Now we wait for the Final Seven Signs:  Water Snake, Snapping Turtle, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Robin building nest, and Trout Lily and Violet blooming. 

What Signs of Spring are you seeing in your yard?