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All posts for the month February, 2014

By Lori Athey, Habitat Outreach Coordinator

What are birds eating right now in your backyard habitat?  If you have trees or shrubs in your yard that hold fruit all winter, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, and even European Starlings are probably enjoying whatever fruits that are remaining. 

Winterberry is a native shrub that holds its fruit all winter, or at least until hungry birds eat it.  Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, and Hermit Thrush are species that will be attracted to this in your landscape.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Winterberry is a native shrub that holds its fruit all winter, or at least until hungry birds eat it. Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, and Hermit Thrush are species that will be attracted to this in your landscape. Photo by Lori Athey.

If you haven’t yet cut back your asters, coreopsis, and coneflowers, seed-eating birds will be pecking at the old flowerheads and on the ground beneath for fallen seeds.  When there is extended snow-cover, it is especially important for birds to be able to access seeds on old flower-heads above the snow, since they can’t get to the ones on the ground.  American Goldfinches are famous for this type of behavior, but others that can be found doing this in the yard include Dark-eyed Juncos, Field Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows and Pine Siskins.

Standing stalks of seed bearing plants like Purple Coneflower provide food for a number of bird species such as American Goldfinches.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Standing stalks of seed bearing plants like Purple Coneflower provide food for a number of bird species such as American Goldfinches. Photo by Lori Athey.

How do you provide food for birds that do not eat seeds or fruits?  Lately, I have seen birds digging through the fallen leaves in my landscape beds.  Did you know that leaf litter is full of insects, spiders, and other goodies that your birds can eat in winter? In addition, toads, fireflys, some butterflies, and other beneficial insects winter in those leaves.  Often, flocks of American Robin, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee and other sparrow species can be seen digging through leaf-litter for protein-packed overwintering insects and spiders.  

Consider leaving leaf litter on your flower beds not only as mulch, but to provide habitat for insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails and other small organisms that birds will seek out.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Consider leaving leaf litter on your flower beds not only as mulch, but to provide habitat for insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails and other small organisms that birds will seek out. Photo by Lori Athey.

So next year, rake those fallen leaves into your landscaped beds for the wildlife. Forget about shredding them –that kills beneficial insects and takes away that nice warm blanket that toads and others crave for their winter rest. Delay cutting back your seed bearing perennials until spring. And yes, add more fruiting shrubs and seeding wildflowers to your landscape next year for the birds too –you can get them all at the Delaware Nature Society Native Plant Sale, May 1-4.

 

Some plants to consider for providing late-winter bird food:

Chokeberry (Aronia species)

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

Bayberry (Morella species) – Yellow-rumped Warblers love it!

Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana)

Pines (Pine species) – (Red-breasted Nuthatches seek out pine nuts)

Cone flowers & Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia species)

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea NOT doubles)

Tickseed & Coreopsis (Coreopsis species)

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Coverdale Farm in the deep snow this morning.  Photo by Michele Wales.

Coverdale Farm in the deep snow this morning. Photo by Michele Wales.

Much like the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service, nothing keeps the Coverdale Farm staff from making their daily deliveries to the resident livestock.  Our deliveries take the form of hay & grain to eat, straw for bedding, and fresh water for drinking.  Our routine chores happen twice daily for 365 days each year for the last 14 years.  But not every day is routine.

Come one, breakfast is ready!!  Photo by Michele Wales.

Come one, breakfast is ready!! Photo by Michele Wales.

This morning, Michele and Dan made the rounds to cows, sheep, and chickens atop many, many inches of new wet snow.  The morning began by breaking snowshoe trails for the ruminants from the pasture barns to water sources, feeding troughs, and the great stone barn.  Shoveling followed as the snow made opening gates very tricky!

Thank heavens for wool coats!  Photo by Michele Wales.

Thank heavens for wool coats! Photo by Michele Wales.

Eager to be fed, all of our “girls” braved the snow (they actually do just fine in the cold temperatures) and gobbled up their morning rations.  Snug in their barn, the chickens were alert and talkative happy for fresh water and a sprinkling of extra grain on the ground to scratch and peck.  Despite the wintry cold our Araucana, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock and Leghorn hens left a nice cache of freshly laid eggs.  

Happy ruminants.  Photo by Michele Wales.

Happy ruminants. Photo by Michele Wales.

Farm Life may not be for everyone but it certainly is for the staff at Coverdale!  Nothing beats a day at our “office.”  Enjoy this Valentine snow…….

Story and Photos by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader

February can be boring as an outdoor enthusiast.  This year, it is especially true, with winter tightly gripping our region, and at least once a week we get slapped with another winter storm.  After a while, I start to lose enthusiasm for hiking on ice-crusted snow with face-numbing wind chills and frozen fingers and toes.  I can give you something to look forward to this week, however….the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  Starting this Friday, February 14th, and running through Monday, February 17th, the Great Backyard Bird Count wants your bird observations.

Search for wintering ducks like the fish-eating Common Merganser during the GBBC this weekend.  Look for these birds on any body of open water, even small creeks like the Red Clay Creek.

Search for wintering ducks like the fish-eating Common Merganser during the GBBC this weekend. Look for these birds on any body of open water, even small creeks like the Red Clay Creek.

The GBBC is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada.  The purpose of the count is to take a snapshot of bird populations around the world during mid-winter when birds are not migrating, during the leanest of times.  You can enter your sightings from anywhere during the 4-day period, whether it is your backyard, a park, wildlife refuge, the middle of a city, or while you are on vacation in Africa.  Anywhere in the world counts.

If you are birding in your yard during the GBBC, you probably will have lots of White-throated Sparrows coming to the feeders.

If you are birding in your yard during the GBBC, you probably will have lots of White-throated Sparrows coming to the feeders.

Participating is fun!  At the minimum, take a look at the birds in your yard, local park, neighborhood, or wherever you are for 15 minutes, and report what you see to the Great Backyard Bird Count website or eBird.  Either way, the data is going to the same place.  Each year, the data is used to track trends in bird populations on a global scale and is one of the biggest citizen science efforts anywhere where YOU provide the data.

Join the Delaware Nature Society on one of our field trips, this Friday February 14 through Monday February 17.  We will search the state of Delaware for as many species as we can find for the GBBC.

Join the Delaware Nature Society on one of our field trips, this Friday February 14 through Monday February 17. We will search the state of Delaware for as many species as we can find for the GBBC.

The GBBC has been running since 1998 and is always held in February for 4 consecutive days.  Last year in Delaware, 134 species were found during the Count.  The year with the highest species count was 2009, with 147 species tallied.  I would like to challenge you to get out at least once this coming Monday through Friday to get out somewhere, or at least look at your feeders from the warmth of your home, identify the birds you see, and report them to the GBBC.  I think we can beat 147 species in Delaware and make a real contribution to science together, resulting in a better understanding of the winter patterns of birds around us, benefiting their conservation.

Beautiful species such as this Swamp Sparrow await your discovery during the GBBC.  Get outside, make some observations, and report them for science, and the conservation of birds.

Beautiful species such as this Swamp Sparrow await your discovery during the GBBC. Get outside, make some observations, and report them for science, and the conservation of birds.

If you would like to join the Delaware Nature Society on guided field trips during the GBBC, we have them every day this Friday through Monday.  Visit the Delaware Nature Society website or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134 to register.

Friday, February 14:

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, 8am – noon.  Enjoy a pancake breakfast and exploring around the center, Blair’s Pond, and the Issacs-Greene Preserve.  Leader: Jason Beale.  Member/Non-member: $7/$10

Coverdale Farm Preserve, 8am – 11am.  Enjoy a big, hot breakfast and a walk around Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Leaders: Sheila Vincent, Joe Sebastiani, Derek Stoner, and Jim White.  Member/Non-member: $15/$22.

Saturday, February 15:

Sussex County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center (7am) or Abbott’s Mill Nature Center (8:30am) and travel by van to birding hotspots in Sussex County.  We will look for Snowy Owls, and visit places such as Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Henlopen State Park, and Indian River Inlet in search of sea ducks, marsh birds, gulls, and other winter specialties.  Leaders: Jason Beale and Joe Sebastiani.  If you meet at Ashland – Member/Non-member: $25/$35.  If you meet at Abbott’s – Member/Non-member: $15/$25.

Sunday, February 16:

Kent County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center at 8am and travel by van to bayshore locations including Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Little Creek and Ted Harvey Wildlife Areas.  Leader: Bill Stewart.  Member/Non-member: $20/$30.

Monday, February 17:

New Castle County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center and travel by van to visit areas along the Delaware River from Fox Point State Park to Delaware City to find raptors, rare gulls, ducks, and marsh birds.  Leader: Derek Stoner.  Member/Non-member: $15/$22.