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All posts for the month July, 2013

By Ian Stewart, Naturalist Certification Series Student

About a dozen of the Delaware Nature Society’s Advanced Naturalist Club and Naturalist Certification Series recently spent an unusual but enjoyable Thursday night standing up to our waists in a swamp in rural Delaware! We were on the Herpetology field trip of the Naturalists’ Certification Series, a popular program run by the Nature Society in which various experts give an indoor lecture on the biology and identification of such diverse organisms as birds, mammals, insects, trees and wildflowers. The lecture is followed by a field trip a few days later to allow us to put into practice what we learned.

Jim White, our Herpetology instructor whetted our appetites with a fascinating lecture about the surprisingly large number of species of amphibians and reptiles likely to be encountered around the Delmarva peninsula, and then one evening in July we found ourselves standing on the edge of a swamp deep in Blackbird State Forest. Luckily we had been blessed with perfect weather. The air was warm and the water was pleasantly cool as one by one we bravely stepped into the swamp and started off our search by dragging a large vertical net slowly through the water. This caught a variety of aquatic arthropods and also a few Green Frog tadpoles which proved quite a challenge to hold!

 

Our group wades into the vernal pool at Blackbird State Forest at night.

Our group wades into the vernal pool at Blackbird State Forest at night.

We then split into smaller groups and plunged into deeper water, sweeping our flashlights and headlights back and forth through the vegetation to spot amphibians hidden among the leaves and reeds. Our first catch of the night was a Cricket Frog, a small, neatly patterned frog which gets its name because its constant, high pitched trilling call sounds like a household cricket.

Cricket Frog

Northern Cricket Frog. Image by Ian Stewart.

 

By now we had started to get the hang of wading through deep water while holding a net in one hand and a flashlight in the other and soon one of our group skillfully netted a Barking Treefrog. This is a striking, lime-green frog whose dog-like croaks could be heard all around us, although finding the source of the croaks proved much more challenging!  This species is a Delaware endangered species, so it was a rare sound indeed.

Barking Treefrog and Northern Cricket Frog.  Image by Ian Stewart.

Barking Treefrog and Northern Cricket Frog. Image by Ian Stewart.

A shout of excitement then went up as someone spotted a large Bullfrog submerged among a raft of grass. Incredibly, Jim was able to creep slowly up to the frog and then in one swift movement grab it with his bare hands! He then showed us the correct way to hold frogs so that they can’t escape but also don’t get hurt. The Bullfrog was a beautiful specimen and everyone got great looks at its huge eyes and webbed feet.

A Bullfrog showing the correct way to hold one.  Image by Ian Stewart.

A Bullfrog showing the correct way to hold one. Image by Ian Stewart.

Just as we were about to leave, Becky Meister and I came across a small snake patterned with light and dark brown bands. We were unable to capture it as it slithered around in some dense vegetation but we were able to get a sufficiently decent photograph of its body that Jim was able to identify it as a Common Water Snake. We then photographed a small, dark green frog covered in large black spots which Jim later identified as a Southern Leopard Frog, a new one for the evening. This frog gets its name from the large black dots on its back and must have been a young one as it still had a tail stub left over from its days as a tadpole.

A close-up look at a Barking Treefrog.  Image by Jim White.

A close-up look at a Barking Treefrog. Image by Jim White.

After posing for a group photograph we paused to savor the experience of standing in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, lit only by the silvery full moon while countless numbers of frogs called incessantly around us. It was the perfect ending to a memorable evening!

Group

Here we are after our night of herping! Image by Jim White.

Photos and story by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Today, Ian Stewart, a University of Delaware Biologist visited the Bucktoe Campout camp at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve to conduct a bird banding session.  We all learned what banding is, how it is used for research on birds, and how much training goes into learning how to band birds.  We learned that banding is when you take a tiny metal ring and put it on a birds leg.  The band has a unique number that goes into a database with the US Geological Survey so that scientists can look it up if the bird is ever found again.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

After Ian explained a little bit about his research on Tree Swallows, we went out to some active nest boxes on the preserve to see if we could band, measure, and learn about Tree Swallows and Bluebirds that use the boxes.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

At the first nest box we visited, we found a nest of Tree Swallows with three fully feathered young.  They were old enough and big enough to band.  We got to hold the birds, which doesn’t hurt them, band them, weigh them, and measure their wings.  Believe it or not, they weigh more than their parents at this stage!  Their wings were only about half as long as an adult Tree Swallow though.

Cool!  A baby Tree Swallow!

Cool! A baby Tree Swallow!

After we banded the nestlings, we set up a little trap to catch one of the parents as they came back to the nest to deliver food to the young.  In less than a minute, it worked!  The adult still had the food in its bill when we examined it, which was really neat to see what the babies were eating.  We then banded it, measured its wing length, and weighed it.  After releasing it, it went back to the box to check on the family.

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings.  It caught lots of little hover flies!

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings. It caught lots of little hover flies!

After all of this banding, we visited a Bluebird nest which had four eggs.  Since they were still in the incubation phase, we did not trap the adult for banding, because they might abandon the nest.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs.  This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs. This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Finally, on our last box, we found a Tree Swallow nest that had tiny little young that were only a few days old…too young for banding.  We also didn’t trap the adults since their naked young would get cold quickly, so we examined the young nestlings and quickly left the area.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

None of these activities hurt the birds, and now we have a record of the banded ones.  Next year, we will look to see if they come back to the area.  If someone else at a banding station finds one of them on their migration or wintering grounds, we will find out where they went.

In all, it was a great experience and a treat to learn some real science, and see these creatures up close.  Thanks Ian!

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian!  I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian! I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.