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All posts for the month December, 2012

By: Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The Delaware Nature Society’s Naturalist Certification Series concluded last month with 12 graduates.  Congratulations to our new certified Naturalists!  Ruthe Hay, Gary Charles, Judy Charles, Tim Weymouth, Christy Fitzpatrick, Glenda Clay, Dianne Gross, Marian Henderson, Alison Long, Janet Sydnor, Mary Perkins, and Stephanie Seeney were our 2012 graduates.  The course was offered at both Ashland and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

The Naturalist Certification Series students visited the DuPont Environmental Education Center to learn about Aquatic Ecosystems.  Photo by Ruthe Hay

The Naturalist Certification Series students visited the DuPont Environmental Education Center to learn about Aquatic Ecosystems. Photo by Ruthe Hay

The Naturalist Certification Series runs from April to September and each student attends 8 lectures and 8 field trips on such topics as Mammals, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Reptiles and Amphibians, Birds, Insects, Wildflowers, Shrubs and Trees, and Aquatic Ecosystems.  The course has run since 2007 and over 140 people have taken it.

Students get hands-on to learn about nature, and after field trips, record observations and experiences in a journal.  Photo by Reese Robinson

Students get hands-on to learn about nature, and after field trips, record observations and experiences in a journal. Photo by Reese Robinson

Students create a naturalist notebook to capture their experience which includes narrative, field notes, photos, drawings, etc.   Many of our students are school teachers in Delaware who take the course for 60-hours of inservice credit, and pass on their learning and enthusiasm about nature to their school students.  Delaware Nature Society staff also take the course and get trained in natural history and how to approach the study of nature.  Anyone can take the class however, and most of our students just take it for fun!  If you think that searching for Coyote scat, exploring ecosystems, searching for frogs in a wetland at night, seeing all kinds of birds, capturing and identifying insects, learning to correctly identify wildflowers, becoming a local tree expert, and catching what swims in a stream sounds like fun…then this course is for you!

Jim White's reptile and amphibian field trip, where students search for frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards and turtles in a wetland after dark is consistently the favorite of our students.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Jim White’s reptile and amphibian field trip, where students search for frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards and turtles in a wetland after dark is consistently the favorite of our students. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Start making your plans for 2013 if you would like to be a part of this class!  The class is $200 for DNS members and $250 for non-members.  Register here.  If you are a Delaware school teacher, you qualify to get reimbursed for most of the tuition and receive 60 inservice-credit hours if you graduate.  Call us at (302) 239-2334 if you have any questions and would like to take this class in 2013.  Here is the schedule:

Mammals – lecture: April 4, 6-9pm; field trip: April 6, 1 to 4pm – Derek Stoner

Terrestrial Ecosystems – lecture: May 2, 6-8:30pm; field trip: May 4, 8am to 2pm Joe Sebastiani

Reptiles and Amphibians – lecture: May 16, 6-9pm; field trip: May 18, 5:30-11pm – Jim White

Birds – lecture: June 13, 6-8pm; field trip: June 15, 7am to 11am – Derek Stoner

Insects – lecture: August 8, 6-9pm; field trip: August 10, 9am-3pm – Jim White

Wildflowers – lecture:  August 21, 6-8pm; field trip: August 22, 5:30-7:30pm – Joe Sebastiani

Trees and Shrubs – lecture: Sept. 12, 6-8pm; field trip: Sept. 14, 9:00am-12:00pm – John Harrod

Aquatic Ecosystems – lecture: Sept 26, 6-8pm; field trip: September 28, 9am-2pm – Kristen Travers and Lesley Bensinger

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Towering American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) defined much of the eastern forest from the colonial period until the early 1900’s.  Valued by humans and wildlife alike for its bountiful nuts, the tree was also used for lumber and leather tanning.

Stump-sprouting American Chestnuts, like this one at Abbott’s Mill, are typical of most remaining trees, which once constituted more than 25% of the eastern forest. This specimen may be over a hundred years old as it continually battles blight.  Photo by Jason Beale.

The eastern forest was forever changed when an Asian fungus, tolerated by Chinese and Japanese Chestnuts, began its uncontrollable spread in 1904.  By the 1930’s, the American Chestnut was rendered ecologically extinct, with trees  killed outright or condemned to decades of attempted regrowth.  It’s shrubby native cousin, the Chinquapin, also suffered from the blight.  The impact on wildlife, forests, and many rural communities was devastating.

 

Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) attacking a sprout. This sac fungus will kill off the trunk, while the tree will continue to send up new shoots.  Photo by Ed Crawford.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the stump-sprouting chestnuts have inspired people to help restore the chestnut to its former ecological role.  The American Chestnut Foundation (http://www.acf.org/), founded in 1983, has worked diligently to protect remaining chestnuts that show a degree of blight-resistance and has embarked on an extensive project to hybridize American trees with Chinese specimens.  Generations of backcrossing with American specimens have yielded a tree that is approximately 94% American and expected to show a high degree of blight-resistance.  These “BC3F3” trees may be the pioneers that bring thriving chestnuts back to our forests.

 

Dr. Gary Carver, Pres. of the Maryland Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, provides ID tips for distinguishing American and Chinese traits in hybrid and backcrossed trees.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford, Delaware features remnant American Chestnuts, Chinquapins, and the remnants of a former Chinese Chestnut plantation.  Inspired by the story of the chestnut and coupled with  ongoing habitat restoration projects, Abbott’s Mill staff toured Maryland’s American Chestnut Society Chapter’s restoration projects.  We returned and planted four saplings from a surviving American Chestnut (known as a mother tree) as the first step in working with TACF to restore chestnuts in Delaware along with an interpretive trail highlighting the natural and cultural history of the tree.

 

This ~50 ft. “survivor” tree in Maryland provides hope that the American Chestnut could return to the eastern forest.  Photo by Jason Beale.

Please contact Abbott’s Mill Nature Center at 302-422-0847 or jason@delawarenaturesociety.org if you are interested in helping us bring the chestnut back and turn over a new leaf in this tree’s incredible story.