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All posts for the month October, 2013

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity:

Ringing cell phones can be an interrupting bother, and sometimes I yearn for the days when phones resided in buildings or on street corners, not in your pocket. However, last Tuesday, while at the Dupont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) in Wilmington for a meeting, I was very thankful for the new phone technology. While also at DEEC that morning, past DNS board member Greg Inskip observed a snake that he was not familiar with, and immediately took several photographs of the snake on his cell phone. Greg then showed the photos to Joe Sebastiani who immediately called me (cell phone to cell phone), reporting that he thought he was looking at a photo of a Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata), a snake rarely observed on Delmarva.  Within minutes I was able to see the snake photographs myself, and concur with Joe’s identification.  It was indeed a Queen Snake – the first to be found at or near the Russ Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge where DEEC is located, making it a very exciting find.

This is the Queen Snake found by Greg Inskip at the Dupont Environmental Education Center on October 22, 2013.  Photo by Greg Inskip

This is the Queen Snake found by Greg Inskip at the Dupont Environmental Education Center on October 22, 2013. Photo by Greg Inskip

The Queen Snake typically is found in relatively high quality freshwater marshes or streams. It also seems to live only in areas that have healthy populations of crayfish, on which it feeds.  The marshes at the Peterson Refuge have undergone extensive restoration over the last 15 years by the Delaware Department of Fish and Wildlife. This restoration has greatly increased the overall health of the refuge’s marsh ecosystem, which probably explains why we are finally seeing the Queen Snake inhabiting the refuge.

This relatively small to medium-sized snake rarely grows longer than 42 inches. It is the most aquatic snake in our area and spends much of its time searching underwater for crayfish that have recently shed their exoskeleton and become “soft-shelled”.  Its “eel-like” slender brown body, with yellowish lateral stripes running from the nose to tail, is perfect for slipping into crayfish burrows and under debris. This snake rarely bites when handled, but like many snakes, it will emit a strong musky-smelling fluid. 

So while cell phones may be a pain at times, I encourage you to use them to photograph any amphibian or reptile that you find and to call me or send me a text message to report your find (302-593-9622).  

Jim White, author of Reptiles and Amphibians of Delmarva, took this photo of a Queen Snake on May 21, 2013 near Middletown, DE.

Jim White, author of Reptiles and Amphibians of Delmarva, took this photo of a Queen Snake, sunning in a shrub, on May 21, 2013 near Middletown, DE.

By Sally O’Byrne, Teacher Naturalist

The weather could not have been more perfect for the first ever Delaware Nature Society trip on the Lower Brandywine – a trip through the rarely experienced urban wilderness of the Brandywine on the Coastal Plain.   We launched our canoes at the abandoned ‘Up the Creek’ Restaurant boat ramp at low tide.   This boat ramp is almost directly on the confluence of the Brandywine and Christina Rivers.  The water in the Brandywine was crystal clear, and we could see the bottom for virtually the entire trip.

Launching onto the Brandywine River.

Launching onto the Brandywine River.

Much of this trip took us past old  industrial sites which are now being used for a different purposes.   Canoeing at low tide allowed us to see old boat slips, docks, and foundations that gave a clue to the river’s industrial past.

Floating past age-old industrial sites.

Floating past age-old industrial sites.

We traveled under the Amtrak RR bridge, and it was obvious that this bridge was built to rotate open for tall boats – Boats that most likely traveled up to the mills at Superfine Flour Mills, which were at Market Street.

This bridge once rotated to let tall ships sail up the Brandywine River.  Can you see the large gear?

This bridge once rotated to let tall ships sail up the Brandywine River. Can you see the large gear?

Market Street marks the head of navigation, where the Piedmont hits the Coastal Plain, and this is where we turned around.   We saw the Brandywine Water Treatment facility, Superfine Land Condos, and shouted to office workers who were jealous of our day on the water.

A beautiful scene on the lower Brandywine River.

A beautiful scene on the lower Brandywine River.

We finished our canoeing and returned to the former Up the Creek Restaurant, with kudos to our urban explorers, including 93 year old Dr. Bob!   (could he hold the title for oldest Delaware Nature Society canoeist ever?)

Here we are at the end of our trip at the old Up the Creek Restaurant.

Here we are at the end of our trip at the old Up the Creek Restaurant.

Hope to see more of you on this trip next year!