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All posts for the month August, 2015

By Jim White: Senior Fellow for Land and Biodiversity

The Christina River has been one of my favorite Delaware canoeing and kayaking destinations for many years. Cruising with the tide on a late summer day is about as relaxing as it can get.  However, if you are like me, the best part of the experience is searching for wildlife such as American Beaver, Great Blue Herons or basking Northern Red-bellied Cooters and soaring Ospreys.  In the last several years, thanks to my friend Hal White (no relation) I have become very interested in dragonflies and the Christina River is a great place to see several of our common species. Scanning the spatterdock and cattails and other shoreline vegetation can result in observing colorful species such as Green Darner, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Spangled Skimmer and Blue Dasher. However, my favorite species that makes the Christina its home is the Russet-tipped Clubtail.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail photographed by Jim White on the Christina River.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail photographed by Jim White on the Christina River.

This large species of dragonfly is only found on tidal freshwater rivers and is not particularity common elsewhere in Delaware. Hal White, in his book Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies, wrote that this species was not recorded in Delaware until 2003 when a University of Delaware student collected it on the Christina River for his required insect collection. Why the species was not recorded earlier is a bit of a mystery but Hal speculates that large tidal rivers are not a place that most skilled dragonfly enthusiasts think of checking for uncommon species.  Since the 2003 lucky find, Hal has confirmed that the Russet-tipped Clubtail is actually fairly common on the river from August through mid-October.  However, although I had been up and down the Christina River many times over the years, I had never noticed this what I now consider, a rather conspicuous insect. That is, until 2008 when Hal and I mounted a mini-expedition by canoe to photograph this handsome dragonfly for his upcoming book.   It did not take long after putting-in, that we observed several Russet-tipped Clubtails patrolling low over the water.  But photographing flying dragonflies from a shaky canoe is a bit of a challenge to say the least.  Lucky for me though, one of them perched on an overhanging branch just long enough for me to get a few photos – mission accomplished.  So if you have a chance to get out along the Christina River keep your eyes peeled for Russet-tipped Clubtails.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail in flight, photographed by University of Delaware Professor, Dr. Michael Moore.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail in flight, photographed by University of Delaware Professor, Dr. Michael Moore.

Check out the next canoe trips on the Christina from the DuPont Environmental Education Center and see what you can find: Saturday, September 26 and Saturday, October 17

Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies  by Hal White available at the Ashland Nature Center, DuPont Environmental Education Center, or on Amazon.com.

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager, and Dave Pro, Ashland Property Steward

The Delaware Nature Society is in the process of converting some of the Coverdale Farm Preserve grassland areas from cool-season, exotic agricultural grasses to native warm-season grasses and wildflowers.  The process takes years, but is well worth the wait.  Our goal is to convert over 50-acres, which will provide a diversity of native meadow species, and create much better habitat for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects, and much more.  Dave Pro and I led a group of DNS members on a walk through the meadow last week to showcase how it is coming along.  The answer…beautifully!  Wildflowers such as Wild Senna and Partridge Pea were in full bloom, as were native grasses such as Purpletop, Indian Grass, and Big Bluestem.  Wild Bergamot was just finishing up its bloom, and multiple species of butterflies were still nectaring from these plants.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow restoration as it appeared during the second week of August, 2015.

The scale of this project is impressive.  For a project of this size, 50 seeds per square foot are planted, representing over 20 native plant species.  The federal government, through a “habitat restoration lease”, pays the Delaware Nature Society to do this project through the Early Successional Habitat program.  To prepare the site for seeding, we first had to wipe out the existing non-native, cold-season grass that existed here.  Then, the meadow was seeded over late-fall, and a cover crop Winter Rye, was also planted to prevent weeds from getting established.  We then had to mow the new meadow several times in the first year to prevent any annual weeds that did get established from flowering.  The young meadow plants don’t really start to show themselves until the second year of growth.  Now that the meadow is established, we were able to conduct a prescribed burn this spring.  This helped to remove built up thatch from previous winter mowings, giving the young native plants room to grow and photosynthesize.

Wildlife has responded to the meadow transformation.  Many species of birds can be found in this location now, and include nesting Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and a variety of sparrows, warblers, and other species such as Orchard Oriole.  With the abundance of flowering plants available, butterfly numbers have increased.  Monarch butterflies were easily seen on our walk last week as they nectared on the remaining Wild Bergamot.  Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Tiger Swallowtail, and Black Swallowtail were all swarming the meadow as well.  In the past, with few flowering plants, we would have had a tough time finding these species here.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

A Black Swallowtail is pictured here nectaring on Wild Bergamot in the Coverdale Farm Preserve Meadow.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.

Another butterfly, the Variegated Fritillary, is a common sight in the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow in August.  Disclaimer: this one is feeding on Red Clover, which is an unwanted weed in the meadow.

Some of the wildflower species that we planted in this meadow include Bush-clover, Tall White Beardtongue, Early Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Marsh Blazing-star, Partridge Pea, and Wild Senna.  Now, other native plants are coming in on their own as well, including Common Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

Wild Senna is a large wildflower that has formed drifts of yellow across parts of the meadow.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

A lucky group of Delaware Nature Society members were able to enjoy the guided walk through the Coverdale Farm Preserve meadow last week.

This is just one of the many habitat restoration projects that the Delaware Nature Society is conducting on properties including Ashland Nature Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Middle Run Natural Area, Dupont Environmental Education Center, and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.  We will offer more free walks for members in the coming months, and we would love to show you some of these wonderful places.