All posts for the month August, 2012

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Jim White leading a bird walk, scanning the skies for birds at Middle Run Natural Area during the Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz. Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

On  a morning where the weather forecast showed rain was a strong possibility, we had not a drop of precipitation for our Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz.  We did have some incredible gray clouds and much-welcomed cool breezes to enjoy on the bird walk that kicked off at 7:00am.   Without even leaving our starting point at the Middle Run Native Plant Garden, we tallied some great birds:  Common Nighthawk, Eastern Kingbird flocks (12 in one tree!), and a family of four Pileated Woodpeckers.  From multiple directions we heard the cu-cuu-cu-cuu calls of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, living up to their nickname of “Rain Crow” as the gray clouds passed by.

Jim White led the group of birders along the Middle Run Birding Trail, with close encounters with Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, and Eastern Wood-peewee.  A true surprise was the juvenile Little Blue Heron that flew right over our heads while we stood in the meadow!    

Round Two of the bird walks, led by Jim White and Amy O’Neil, held more good sightings like Blue Grosbeak, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow.   A total of 27 birders joined this walk, including some very avid youth birders.

An excited group of insect enthusiasts joins Sheila Vincent on a foray into the field to capture butterflies, dragonflies, and other “things with wings.” Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

Our insect guru Sheila Vincent led a wonderful butterfly and dragonfly walk for an enthusiastic group of families, most of who were first-time visitors to Middle Run.   Right away, they caught a female Black Saddlebags– a large and showy dragonfly.  Green Darners and Blue Dasher dragonflies were flying all over the meadow, but proved hard to capture.   

A Common Buckeye gathers nectar from a Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) flower at Middle Run. This is a classic late summer butterfly found in local meadows. Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

The butterflies put on a show, and the youngsters captured them with great skill.  Species like Common Buckeye (above), Eastern-tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Sachem Skipper, Tiger Swallowtail, and Clouded Sulphur all made their way into the nets and camera lenses of these “bug enthusiasts.”  Notable butterfly species captured include the Little Glassywing and the Variegated Fritillary. 

Hana gets a close-up look at an egg-laden female European Mantid at the Middle Run Native Plant Garden– the prize find of the Bio-Blitz! Image by Jim White, August 26, 2012.

The creature that “stole the show” was a female European Mantid with an egg-swollen abdomen.  This docile insect climbed on our hands, posed for photos, and found plenty of appreciative admirers in our group of outdoor enthusiasts.  This species of mantid is not commonly seen in our region, and as the name indicates, is native to Europe.

With nearly 50 people participating in the event, and many taking part in their first-ever bird or bug walk, we all enjoyed sharing a wonderful morning outdoors.   Thanks to all the participants! 

If you are interested in visiting Middle Run Natural Area, the parking lot is centrally located in the middle of this 860-acre park and its 12 miles of trails.  The driveway to the parking lot is located on Possum Hollow Road, just before the entrance to Tri-State Bird Rescue.   To get GPS directions to the site, use this address:   110 Possum Hollow Road, Newark, DE 19711.   

Once at the parking lot, you may want to explore the Middle Run Birding Trail.  Use the  Middle Run Birding Trail Map 2012 as your guide as you explore the area.  Enjoy!  

By Carrie Scheick, Environmental Education Intern, and Phylicia Schwartz, Teacher Naturalist

Carrie Scheick, co-author, overlooking the Adirondacks High Peaks from atop Mt. Marcy. Photo by Dave Pro

The high schoolers involved in the Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalist group, a group that meets once a month for various outdoor activities and gives their time volunteering at DNS events, look forward to a weeklong adventure each summer. Earlier this month the fearless Teen Naturalists and leaders (Joe Sebastiani, Dave Pro, and the two of us) headed to upstate New York to backpack in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. In preparation for the grueling, steep trails of the Adirondacks, we battled hills (and gnats) during our day training hikes at Woodlawn Trustees Preserve and French Creek State Park the week before. Top physical and mental conditions are essential for the intensity of the Adirondack backcountry. Being able to actually climb the mountains is one thing, mentally telling yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other when you feel spent is the other half the battle.

Our group assembled early Monday morning to load our packs and gear into the trailer. We all piled into the van to commence our very long drive to upstate New York. Our first stop once we arrived in Keene Valley was at the Mountaineer store to pick up bear barrels. Bear barrels are small, cylindrical barrels that fit in a backpack and are used to store food and “smellables,” anything that could attracts bears to a campsite. These are required for any overnights in the Adirondacks because the area is smack in the middle of black bear country. After unloading, repacking, and reloading our backpacks, we drove up to the Garden parking lot where we would leave the van and trailer to hit the trail. Unfortunately, upon our arrival at the Garden, the lot was full! Disappointed but relatively unphased, we put Plan B into action and camped at a local campground adjacent to the beautiful Chapel Pond. We figured we would have better luck with the parking lot the next morning.

The early morning sun reflecting Chapel Pond. Photo by Carrie Scheick

Tuesday morning we woke up with the sun, quickly packed up camp and drove back up to the Garden parking lot. After squeezing the van and trailer into open spaces, we laced up our hiking boots, hoisted our loaded packs on our backs, and eagerly set out following the yellow trail markers into the beautiful wilderness.

Our goal for the day was to establish a base camp; campsites were first come first serve, so we wanted to find the first available site and snatch it up. We knew that there were campsites near the Johns Brook Lodge (approximately 3.5 miles in) as well as other sites a couple miles past the lodge. We ended up hiking about 4.5 miles total from the Garden lot to what ended up being our home for the week; the boys commandeered the leanto (and quickly proceeded to spread out all their belongings) while the rest of us set up our tents.

A happy camper at Bushnell Falls Lean-to #1. Photo by Adam Carl

It was too late in the day after we set up camp and ate lunch to go for a day-hike, so we spent the afternoon exploring and swimming in the stream near our campsite. The evening was low key with our dinner menu consisting of boil-in-bag brown rice and a freeze dried meal to share with a buddy. After dinner we secured all our food in the bear barrels and we hiked a little ways back up the trail to drop them off for the night. As previously mentioned, the Adirondacks is home to black bears so it is important that we store our bear barrels and brush our teeth far away from our tents. After spitting our toothpaste out in various directions, we hung out until the sun dipped below the treeline and darkness settled. We crawled into our respective tents and leanto shortly after, needing our rest if we were to climb and conquer the tallest peak in New York State the following day.

Wednesday morning we woke early, eager and ready to climb Mt. Marcy, at 5,344 feet. After about a mile and a half, we realized the water filter and the first aid kit were sitting back at camp instead of embarking on our adventure with us. Thankfully we had some swift hikers on our trip (Dave Pro and Joe Cirillo) who knew how to motor, so they turned back to acquire the missing gear while the rest of us moved forward, knowing it wouldn’t be too long before they eventually caught up to us. (Which they did quite quickly!)

The trek up to the summit of Mt. Marcy was an intense hike, scrambling (and occasionally slipping) on the steep, rugged trails of tree roots and slick rocks. We schlepped through mud that squished under our boots and in many places it seemed as if we were simply hiking in a stream bed. Safety on the trail is really important, so we stuck together and took lots of rests as we climbed in elevation and the air became thinner.

Photo by Adam Carl

As we slowly rose in elevation, we saw changes in the vegetation as it shifted from the temperate deciduous forest we are used to in Delaware, to boreal forest, to the alpine zone. The boreal forest is characterized by coniferous forests and the dominant tree species shifted to spruce trees. We got to see a Boreal Chickadee which was really cool; this species has a brown head instead of the black head that distinguishes the Carolina Chickadees we usually see back home. The spruce trees slowly grew shorter as we neared the alpine zone, the high elevation habitat above the tree-line. The alpine zone is characterized by hard rock surfaces, small plants and a short growing season. It is extremely important to protect the alpine vegetation because it takes a long time to grow; it is imperative to only step on or place packs on hard, solid rock when you’re at these elevations (all you hikers reading this make a mental note!)

Stay on the trail and step on only rocks in the alpine zone. One footstep on an alpine plant can kill it. Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Once in the alpine zone, much of the trail became large, steep slabs of rock, requiring us to hone our rock climbing skills (little did we know we would need them even more the following day but more on that later…)

Trails go straight up in the Adirondacks sometimes. Photo by Adam Carl.

After what seemed like a long ascent, we finally reached the summit of Mt. Marcy, a whole 5,344ft high. It seemed like we were on top of the world, I mean we kind of were, just look at these views!

Mt. Marcy Summit. Photo by Adam Carl.

After spending what seemed like too short of a time on top the mountain, we began our descent. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent similarly to the day before with some much needed stream time after hiking over 8 miles. Before bed that night we had story time with Joe, who read us excerpts from a book that discussed the right way to, ahem, go to the bathroom in the woods. A thoroughly entertaining piece of literature.

Thursday was our longest and most challenging day of hiking. We did a loop of 9.5 miles and two mountains. We climbed Basin Mountain, 4,827ft in elevation and Saddleback Mountain with an elevation of 4,515ft. These mountains may not have been as high as Mt. Marcy but the climb was much more steep and intense. At one point during our climb near the top of Saddleback Mountain, we were scaling up rocks with not too much to hold on to and a long ways to fall! Talk about exhilarating!

We enjoyed a bit of lunch after summiting our second mountain of the day and then began our descent back to base camp. As we descended down the mountain we walked through a year-old landslide brought on by heavy rains from Hurricane Irene. It was amazing to see how little soil is on the mountainside and how trees and plant life are able to grow with such little support.

Landslide caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. Photo by Adam Carl.

Friday morning we broke camp early and made great time back to the van; we were ready to head home. After eating freeze dried dinners and granola for a week straight, our stomachs were eager to eat some “real food,” so naturally we stopped at Five Guys on our ride back. As we pulled into the familiar parking lot of Ashland, relief spread through the van, knowing that mattresses and showers were shortly into our future. We all parted with smiles, satisfied that we enjoyed the time together that week, and knowing that we all survived the challenging but rewarding experience of hiking in the Adirondacks.

If you know someone who is 13 to 17 years old who would likes to study nature, be adventuring outside, and might like a trip such as this, tell them about the Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalist group.  Find information here about registering for the 2012-2013 season.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Get out and enjoy some great birds along the Middle Run Birding Trail! These campers in our Young Ornithologists camp enjoy looks at a Baltimore Oriole today. Image by Derek Stoner, August 20, 2012.

The Date: Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Time:  Anytime between 7:00am and Noon (Start early or sleep in a bit!)

The Place:  Middle Run Natural Area in Newark, Delaware 

The Event:  The Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz and the First Annual Pledge to Fledge Celebration

The Purpose:  To Have Fun and Enjoy Birds

Eastern Kingbirds are flocking to the hedgerows at Middle Run right now, as they gorge on the fruits of cherry, sassafras, and sumac trees. Image by Derek Stoner.

With bird migration in full swing, venture out this Sunday to Middle Run Natural Area and help us celebrate the joys of watching birds.   Colorful birds like Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, and Scarlet Tanagers are just a few of the sights you may see.

The Pledge to Fledge component of this event is a global effort to increase appreciation of birds and their habitats.  The mission is simple: introduce more people to the enjoyment of watching birds!  Your assignment:  bring along a friend, relative, neighbor, or anyone else you know that will enjoy a fun nature walk full of interesting birds.   They will thank you!

We will hold two bird walks: one beginning at 7:00am until 9:00am and another going from 9:30am to 11:00am.   A butterfly and dragonfly walk will also be held from 10am until Noon.   Expert leaders will guide the walks, and binoculars and spotting scopes will be available for use.

Come on out and enjoy a morning with the birds– and bring a friend! 

For directions and event details, click here:  Middle Run Bio-Blitz 2012 Flyer

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This summer, my wife and I took a road trip to Ohio and Michigan.  Along the highways and in all the forests we explored, almost every Ash tree was dead or dying.  The cause?  Emerald Ash Borer, a small green-metallic beetle originally from Asia which was accidentally imported into Michigan.  The adult insect feeds on Ash leaves, but the wood-boring larvae feed on and damage the inner bark and phloem, killing healthy trees in 3 or 4 years.  I can’t help but think of the loss of American Chestnut due to the introduced Chestnut Blight 100 years ago, reducing this once gigantic widespread tree to small, scrawny saplings in our woods.

Among a forest of dead Ash trees at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, near Toledo, Ohio, we came across this sign explaining why they are cutting many of the dead trees.

According to Douglas W. Tallamy in his book “Bringing Nature Home” (2007), Ash species host 150 species of native Lepidoptera larvae (moths and butterflies).  Birds and other wildlife depend on these caterpillars for food.  If the Emerald Ash Borer makes it to Delaware, erasing or seriously diminishing Ash in our local ecosystem, it could have a vast ecological and economic impact.  Not only do plenty of insects eat the foliage, but Ash seeds are food for a variety of birds and small mammals.

This is an Ash tree that I found near Kennett Square, PA. It is mostly dead, with water sprouts coming out of the base. It was not attacked by Emerald Ash Borer, but had obvious insect damage from something different (see next photo). This is a typical scene in the areas where the Emerald Ash Borer infests trees to our west, mostly from western PA through Minnesota.

The Ash in the photo above from Kennett Square, PA had obvious insect damage under the bark, with tiny round exit holes from emerging insects. Emerald Ash Borer exit holes are shaped like a capital “D”, so it was some other kind of insect that infested this tree. The larval tunnels of the Emerald Ash Borer are similar in appearance, however.

What is being done now to control the pest?  Mainly, scientists are looking at the natural enemies of this insect in Asia and have gotten as far as testing and receiving permits for release of several insects that attack the borer.  They have released these insects in various Great Lakes states and are determining effectiveness.  Check out this informational video about the project.

Have you seen one of these purple boxes hanging from a tree? This one is along Route 82 north of Ashland along Red Clay Creek. Researchers use this insect trap to determine the presence of the Emerald Ash Borer. So far, they haven’t found any in our area.

Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash Borer is headed towards Delaware.  No one is sure when or if it will get here, but in Pennsylvania it has essentially infested the western half of the state, and new infestation areas spring up all the time.

Humans are helping the spread, and this insect is leapfrogging to new areas, mostly by people that move firewood or other woody debris or nursery stock containing the insect.  In 2012 for example, it leapfrogged to Warrington, Bucks County, PA and was also confirmed in Connecticut, making it the 16th state to confirm infestation.

What can you do?  Do not move firewood!  Buy local and burn local.  If you go on a camping trip to a quarantined area, do not bring your leftover firewood home, since you may bring the Emerald Ash Borer with you.  For example, this website shows the quarantine area in Pennsylvania.

In Delaware, Green and White Ash are extremely common forest trees.  One of the largest trees at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, and one of my favorite individual trees is a humongous Ash along Red Clay Creek.  Ash are a very common street tree as well, and have been planted in many of our neighborhoods and towns, and possibly in your yard.  In the coming years, we may be hearing more about this pest locally and how you might be able to protect individual trees through spraying.  Hopefully through science, we can find a solution soon.  Signing off from Ashland Nature Center…

Here are some websites to learn more about the Emerald Ash Borer: