All posts for the month September, 2012

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Yesterday, Ginger North and I led a Delaware Nature Society trip to Poplar Island, MD.  This is not your run-of-the-mill island, rather it has been reborn from the water, and is a wildlife mecca created by human engineering.  Located in the Chesapeake Bay near Tilghman Island, Poplar Island 100 years ago was 1,100 acres in size, was farmed, had woods, and permanent human residents that hunted the land, and fished nearby waters.  Since that time, erosion whittled away at the island, until only about 5 acres were left in the 1990’s.  It was almost gone.

In 1998, a brilliant project was started to effectively and environmentally dispose of clean dredge spoils from the Chesapeake Bay shipping channel…to re-create the island with the muck pumped from the bottom of the Bay.  The original shape of the island was outlined in a rock barrier to prevent further erosion, the interior of the island was divided into cells, and the pumping began.  In the end, 555 acres will be vegetated upland, and 555 acres will be tidal wetland habtitat.  Studies are being conducted to make this two-mile-long island even bigger!  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland Environmental Service are working together on this huge project.

Our guide shows us where we will go on Poplar Island, an amazing re-creation of an island that was almost lost to erosion.

The boat trip to Poplar Island took about 20 minutes.  In the distance, we could see what looked like a construction site on the water.  Dirt, rock, trucks, cranes, and other machinery were operating in the distance.  Clouds of gulls swarmed above the island, and more cormorants than I could count lined a nearby pier.  We disembarked and our tour began.  After a brief introduction, we boarded a bus to drive the dirt roads and hear about the island’s creation.

One of the large habitat cells at Poplar Island.  This one isn’t finished, but it will become beautiful tidal marsh.

We enjoyed the 20-minute boat ride to and from the island.

We passed cells that were in various stages of completion. Some cells are open water, some are drying spoil, and some are finished and vegetated tidal marsh, teeming with life.  Raised areas have been created for nesting Least and Common Terns.  A rookery area has been created and is used by nesting egrets and herons.  Over 1,000 Double-crested Cormorants nest on another sandy raised area in the marsh.  We saw more than I could count on our visit.  Gulls by the thousand roosted on the island.  Large flocks of waterfowl like Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, and Black Duck fed in the exposed pools.  A huge diversity of shorebirds, from the tall, elegant American Avocet to the tiny, dirt-colored Least Sandpiper fed in the impoundments, marshes, and on drying soil.  Migrant raptors like Northern Harrier and Sharp-shinned Hawks hunted the open grassy areas.  Several Bald Eagles played in the sky above the island.  Dozens of Monarch butterfly swarmed around one bush.  You get the picture…this place is completely alive with wildlife…and the project won’t even be finished until 2029…for the meager price of $1.2 billion.

This cell is finished tidal marsh. An old barge is located in the middle of it and is used by nesting and roosting terns and gulls.

Bald Eagles circled above Poplar Island, and the two-mile-long man-made island was absolutely a birder’s paradise with thousand and thousands of gulls, shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl.

If you are interested in the full bird list from our trip, click here.  The Delaware Nature Society is going to arrange a birding trip to the island in 2013.  To view an interesting video about the island, visit this website:

We will be back!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The birding has been truly fantastic over the last few weeks.  Migrant songbirds like warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers along with more hawks than we have ever seen at Ashland have caused lots of excitement, and sore necks from looking up all the time!  Yesterday I led a morning bird walk at Ashland Nature Center and there were so many birds we barely left the parking lot.  Included in our total of 51 species for the morning, were 12 species of warbler, 3 species of vireo, 6 species of thrush, and others like Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  If you want to see the full list from yesterday, it can be found at ebird.

Hank Davis got good photos of some of the birds we saw at Ashland yesterday morning. This was a nice, bright Blackburnian Warbler.

At the Ashland Hawk Watch, which is open daily through the end of November, we have had some really exciting days recently.  On September 11th, 2,665 raptors flew over.  On the 16th, 6,305 raptors were tallied, which was our single biggest day at the Hawk Watch ever.  On the 19th, 1,195 raptors were counted.  Most of these hawks are Broad-winged Hawks, which migrate through in huge numbers in September, and it is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles to catch in Delaware.  This is a particularly good year for them here.  Full raptor numbers for Ashland Hawk Watch can be found the Hawkcount site.  Come visit the Hawk Watch soon, and help us scan the skies for hawks!

Bay-breasted Warbler is tough to find and yesterday we found two lurking around the Ashland parking lot. Photo by Hank Davis.

There are a lot of free guided bird walk opportunities with the Delaware Nature Society to catch the phenomenon of migration this fall.  Other than the daily Ashland Hawk Watch, here is a list of what you can do…for free…no registration required!  Of course, if you attend, your membership in the Delaware Nature Society is appreciated.  Directions to most of  these sites can be found at  Middle Run Natural Area can be found on Possum Hollow Road just before the Tri-state Bird Rescue.

Sundays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Mondays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Tuesdays: Middle Run Natural Area, Newark, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Thursdays: Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, Milford, DE.  8am.  Through December 20.

Thursdays: Ashland Nature Center, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Saturdays: Burrows Run Preserve, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September.


Black-throated Green Warbler was one of the more common of the 12 warbler species we saw yesterday morning. Photo by Hank Davis.

By Lesley Bensinger: Education Coordinator, Dupont Environmental Education Center

On September 15th the DuPont Environmental Education Center hosted the 3rd annual Monarch Migration Celebration. Visitors came and viewed monarchs in every stage of development, from caterpillar, chrysalis, to adult. Monarchs were tagged with small stickers in order to help scientists from the University of Kansas study their migration to Mexico. To prepare for the celebration, staff have been collecting monarch caterpillars for weeks. I often saw the caterpillars as they prepared for their metamorphosis, but always missed the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis. That is until Andrea Lane and I set up a digital camera with time lapse capability. Enjoy the video of a DEEC reared monarch. This fella was tagged, released, and is on its way to Mexico. Adios! If you missed the Monarch Migration Celebration there are still several opportunities to interact with these amazing creatures and participate in the National Monarch Watch project. Space is limited and registration is required.  See for more information.
• September 22, 1-3pm: Monarch Migration, Buena Vista
• September 23, 2-4: Monarch Migration, Coverdale Farm Preserve
• September 29, 10-11:30: Wings and Things, Ashland Nature Center

If the video does not show up on your computer, click here to view: