All posts for the month February, 2016

By Derek Stoner, Seasonal Program Team Leader

A young Two-toed Sloth nestles on its mother as she hangs upside down in a tree at our lunch stop. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

A young Two-toed Sloth nestles on its mother as she hangs upside down in a tree at our lunch stop. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

The Delaware Nature Society led a trip to Costa Rica recently, journeying from coast-to-coast in this verdant Central American country for twelve days in late October and early November of 2015.  The group, led by Derek Stoner and Judy Montgomery, began our adventure in the capital city of San Jose.  Aboard a tour bus with 20 participants, two trip leaders, a tour manager (Jose Saenz of Collette Travel) and our jovial bus driver Juan Carlos, we quickly exited the big city and headed into the wilds.  Here is the first installment in a series of five posts detailing our discoveries…

How often do you get to have lunch with a sloth?  After a delicious meal at Restaurant Ceibo, we turned our attention to the riot of wildlife that surrounded the building.  Right beside our tour bus, four different Two-toed Sloths could be observed in classic sloth-pose:  hanging leisurely upside-down and half-asleep.  A female with a young baby stole the show, as the youngster (showing very pale blonde hair on its head) changed positions on the nursing female.

Blue Jean Frogs, a species of poison dart frog named for its blue legs on a bright red body, clamber around the base of a Kapok (Ceibo) tree. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

Blue Jean Frogs, a type of poison dart frog named for its blue legs on a bright red body, clamber around the base of a Kapok (Ceibo) tree. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

Soon we loaded up in the bus and continued our day’s journey towards to Caribbean coast.  At the end of a dusty, bumpy road we came to the “boat ramp” which consisted of an eroded bank plunging into the crocodile-inhabited waters of the Tortuguero River.  Jumping aboard with our luggage into a 40-foot long, shallow-draft boat, we held onto the sides of the vessel as we rocketed down the narrow channel of the river.

A Basilisk lizard lounges along the Tortuguero River in Costa Rica. Photo by Derek Stoner.

A Basilisk lizard lounges along the Tortuguero River in Costa Rica. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Along the high banks of the river, we spied droopy-eyed Brahma cattle– the type of bovine that thrives in the heat and humidity of the tropics.  Around one bend we came across a large American Crocodile (12+ feet long) hauled out on the sunny sandbar.   Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and other wading birds flushed and swirled away as our boat encroached on their zone of comfort.

But the real excitement came when we began spotting the beautiful Basilisks, a species of large golden-green lizard that is most famous for its ability to skip across the water on its hind legs.  The moniker of “Jesus Christ Lizard” is what makes this species most famous, and the question in our minds was:  Would we get to see these amazing reptiles actually walk on water?

Stay tuned for the answer to that question and more highlights from our Costa Rica adventure…

By Megan McBride, Farmyard Coordinator

Winter at Coverdale Farm Preserve is always a beautiful time of year. With the vegetables fields in the CSA safely planted with cover crops our main focus becomes the health and happiness of all our unique animals.

Winter on the farm can provide many challenges regarding our animal husbandry. Even when the snow falls and the roads are frozen, all of our cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs still need lots of care. Every day all of the animals receive fresh hay or grain, and special attention is paid to their water. The animal’s access to fresh and clean water is critical to their health. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, the animal’s drinking water is refresh and de-iced. Water is the most important necessity for all of the animals here at Coverdale Farm Preserve, including the farmers. All water, including ground, rain, and snowmelt here at Coverdale eventually drains into the Burrow’s Run creek.  The Burrow’s Run is a vital tributary of the larger Red Clay Creek. Special attention is paid to limiting the amount of wasteful runoff here at the farm. Water conservation practices at Coverdale include planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along riparian buffers and surrounding animal areas to minimize wasteful runoff.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson. 

One might think that all of the animals that are living outside in the winter here at Coverdale might be cold.  Each animal has it’s own natural defense against the cold.   Pigs grow extra fat and burrow in the straw to stay warm.  The sheep have a wooly coat that insulates them.  The goats grow an undercoat of downy hair, known as cashmere.  The cattle grow extra thick hair and their fat helps shield them from winter’s icy wrath.  Extra hair might not seem like much extra warmth, and on it’s own it is not.  The hair traps thousands of tiny pockets of air, which aids in insulation.  Chicken feathers trap pockets of air much like an animals fur.  Most animals can stay out in the cold and not be bothered.  However on a windy or rainy day they seek shelter so the wind and rain do not flatten their air pocket insulation.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

The sheep, goats and chickens have a hard time walking in high snow and prefer to stay in their shelters when the snow is deep. When this happens, as it so often does, the farmers strap on their snowshoes and break a path to their feed and water. The cattle however can easily move in the snow and will be seen more frequently outside on a snowy day.

Sheep on the "snow trail" at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Sheep on the “snow trail” at Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Photo by Christi Leeson.

Although it is cold and snowy now, we are preparing for a very busy spring. Our first lambs and piglets are due in late March and shortly thereafter the vegetable fields will be bursting with life. Remember to eat more vegetables, drink lots of clean Delaware water, and sign up for one of our amazing programs today!

By Matt Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Paddling Abbott's Pond.

Paddling Abbott’s Pond.

Delaware Nature Society is excited to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, a hidden gem of southern Delaware nestled just 4 miles outside of Milford. Abbott’s encompasses 483 acres of towering upland forests, restored native meadows, pristine ponds fed by sinuous streams, mystic Atlantic white cedar swamps and bogs, dynamic saltmarsh and wetland preserves, and Delaware’s only preserved, working grist mill.

ABBOTT’S MILL: 1795 – 1963

Our story begins with the establishment of our namesake in 1795, when Mr. Nathan Willey bought a 20-acre pond and adjoining 7-acre property from Mr. Levon Poynter, to build a stone grist mill powered by an abreast shot water wheel.  A driving economic force of its time, the mill once burned down and was rebuilt in the early 1800’s, and also underwent an addition in 1905-06 to add roller mills to the existing stone mill operation, allowing for the full production of corn, wheat, barely, and oats. During this addition, the mill’s power source was changed from water wheel to water turbine and the Miller’s House was constructed as it stands today.

A few slices of Abbott's Mill history.

A few slices of Abbott’s Mill history.


Preceded by 14 previous owners, Mr. Ainsworth Abbott (pictured above) purchased Lakeview Mill, as he called it, in 1919. During his tenure, he had the foresight to install a new elevator system for mills created by a fellow Delawarean, Mr. Oliver Evans, which allowed Mr. Abbott to operate the mill singlehandedly. This brand new invention by Mr. Evans was the 3rd ever U.S. patent, and was also installed at Washington’s Mt. Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello. In October of 1963, after a long stint at the helm and simple life with his family in the non-electric Miller’s House, Ainsworth decided to hang up his hat and sell the mill facilities and properties to Howard and Frances Killen. The Killen’s, wishing to preserve its historic and cultural importance, decided a week later to sell the mill property to the then Delaware Board of Game & Fish Commissioners (Division of Fish & Wildlife now) in 3 phases: first selling the miller’s house in 1963, then the mill facilities in 1964, and then the pond and adjoining land in 1965.


The mill property went unused until 1975, when the 7-acre parcel along Johnson’s Branch and mill facilities were transferred to the Delaware’s Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs, with the intention of putting the mill and property to use for public recreation and education. In order to see this vision come to fruition, the mill facilities were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and an effort to restore the mill to preserved, working order began. The renovation project was a multi-year effort made possible by a funding partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, Delaware’s General Assembly, and the Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs. Construction work was done by Tappahanna Construction Company, a leader in historic restorations at the time, and included the building of a small classroom facility, which became our current Visitor Center through an addition in 1997.

The historic Abbott's Mill.

The historic Abbott’s Mill.


In 1980, the then Delaware Nature Education Society leased the Abbott’s Mill properties as its 3rd state-wide facility. Our Executive Director at the time, Mr. Norman G. Wilder, had been the head of Delaware’s Board of Game & Fish Commissioners (Division of Fish & Wildlife now) when the state originally purchased Abbott’s, and was therefore able to guide DNS to be the sole lessee. Educational programming by DNS began during the summer of 1980, with construction underway, by Mr. Mike and Susan Palmer, who lived on site and served as the Manager and Teacher Naturalist. Abbott’s Mill Nature Center was officially commissioned on June 7, 1981, as a lasting partnership between Delaware’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs, and DNS.

Let the environmental education programming begin!

Let the environmental education programming begin!


Over these past 35 years, the Nature Center has grown from its 27-acre humble beginnings to include 483-acres of conserved lands throughout Sussex County, including our surrounding Blair’s Pond Nature Preserve/5K Trail, our Isaacs and Isaacs-Greene Preserves, as well as our Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve in Slaughter Beach, Delaware. Robust environmental education and public visitation programs at Abbott’s have reached 188,500 Delmarva students and families since 2000, advancing DNS’s mission to improve our environment by connecting people to the natural world through education, advocacy, and conservation. Abbott’s Mill still runs to this day, with over 100 visitors joining our monthly public tours in 2015, and student groups exploring the history and engineering that keeps it alive. Our long held relationship with the Town of Slaughter Beach has flourished as well, through the continuation of our Annual Horseshoe Crab Volunteer Survey, educating hundreds of students and families about the Town’s seashore and saltmarsh habitats, erecting an Osprey tower at our Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve, and guiding the Town to become Delaware’s 3rd (83rd in the U.S.) Community Certified Wildlife Habitat. We have also had the pleasure of working with the Seaford School District over the past 3 years, establishing Certified Wildlife Habitats as teaching spaces at all 4 of their elementary schools, engaging students, teachers, school staff, and community members through the generosity of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office.

Scenes from the Delaware Nature Society's lands in Sussex County.

Scenes from the Delaware Nature Society’s lands in Sussex County.

abbott's blog 7

We hope you will join us in 2016 as we celebrate this momentous occasion at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center with 4 events throughout the year!

  • An inaugural “Meal at the Mill” , a farm-to-table style dinner featuring produce from DNS’s Coverdale Farm Preserve on Friday, October 14th
Abbott's Mill and Abbott's Pond Road in the fall.

Abbott’s Mill and Abbott’s Pond Road in the fall.