Burrows Run Preserve

Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

One of the best ways to connect with nature is to monitor bird nest boxes. Regularly checking the contents of an active nest box lets you watch the whole breeding cycle unfold before your very eyes! It starts with nest building, progresses through egg laying and nestling rearing and then (hopefully) ends with the young birds successfully leaving the nest.

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Using an mirror to count Bluebird eggs

The Delaware Nature Society has a team of eager volunteers who monitor over two hundred boxes spread throughout several properties and every year brings more data and surprises. Our most common occupants are Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds and House Wrens but most years we attract a few Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens and Tufted Titmice. One year we had a White-breasted Nuthatch use one of our boxes – who knows what species might show up next?!

Chickadee on nest

Opening this nest box revealed a Carolina Chickadee sitting tightly on a nest. In these cases we leave the bird alone and retreat.

Checking boxes lets you see for yourself the many differences between each species in the way their nests are built, the shape and color of their eggs, and the appearance of their nestlings, as well as the nesting quirks of different birds. Did you know for instance that House Wrens often add spider cocoons to their nest, probably because the spider hatchlings eat arthropod pests mixed in among the nest lining?

Wren nest with spiders

House Wren nest lining dotted with spider cocoons

Our boxes remain in place year-round and provide winter refuges for both welcome and (slightly) unwelcome guests. Eastern Bluebirds roost in our boxes overnight during the winter, presumably to help them stay warm, and sometimes bundle together in the same box. Last winter one of our boxes at Coverdale Farm Preserve had an enlarged entrance hole and was filled with acorns from the huge old Red Oaks that line the driveway. This was probably a squirrel using the box to cache a supply of acorns to chomp on if a sudden snowfall made food hard to find.

chewed box

acorns

Mice also like to spend the winter in our boxes so we have to bump them out to allow the birds to nest. Can you spot the two mice jumping out of the box?

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We have been cleaning out our boxes to get them ready for spring and the birds are checking them out already so nesting isn’t far away! We can always use an extra person or two to help monitor nest boxes at Coverdale Farm or the Red Clay Reservation near Greenville, or Abbott’s Mill near Milford, so if you want to get involved just give us a call on (302) 239-2334. Boxes only need to be checked once a week and monitoring them makes a great excuse for talking a walk on a summer evening or weekend at these beautiful sites. All of our data are submitted to Cornell University’s ‘Nest Watch’ scheme so we are contributing to science as well as simply enjoying nature.

If you’d rather put up your own nest boxes why not join our upcoming program (April 27th at Ashland followed by a field trip to Coverdale on April 29th) to get advice on how to design and position boxes in order to attract nesting birds to your property? Having birds nest in a box you built yourself is a tremendously satisfying experience that may be repeated for many summers to come!

Tree swallows on box

A pair of excited Tree Swallows start building their nest in a brand-new box

By Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree” (Joyce Kilmer, 1913).

Trying to identify trees is a lot of fun and can be done by anyone with both patience and a good field guide because almost all trees belonging to the same species have the same general appearance in terms of their size, bark, and leaf shape and arrangement. Still, sometimes one comes across a specimen that stands out from the others, perhaps because of its unusual appearance or location. These are my four favorite trees found on DelNature lands.

1) This massive American Sycamore is affectionately known as “Old Mr Knobbles” and is a much-visited centerpiece of the Ashland Nature Center floodplain. Although there are several huge Sycamores growing along the creek they all have a single vertical trunk whereas this specimen has two equally thick trunks, one of which seems to defy gravity by growing almost horizontally!

American Sycamore, Ashland Nature Center

“Old Mr Knobbles” American Sycamore, Ashland Nature Center

2) This Gray Birch stands alone in the corner of the hilltop behind Coverdale Farm. There was a pair of Gray Birches standing side by side here for many years but one was blown down by a storm in the spring of 2016, leaving this distinctively-colored tree standing forlornly against a dramatic backdrop of sweeping fields.

Gray Birch, Coverdale Farm Preserve

Gray Birch, Coverdale Farm Preserve

3) The great majority of trees have just one trunk but this monster Bitternut Hickory hidden away in the woods of Coverdale Farm Preserve has no fewer than six! Although one of the trunks is fairly small and another two are joined at the base it is still an unusual tree as the six trunks form a neat crown that supports the many branches.

Bitternut Hickory with Six Trunks, Coverdale Farm Preserve

Bitternut Hickory with Six Trunks, Coverdale Farm Preserve

4) Swamp Oak. This striking pale gray tree is tucked away in a dark corner of Burrows Run Preserve. As with White Oaks the trunk is relatively smooth near the base but begins to peel and flake further up the tree. However the peeling is so pronounced on Swamp Oaks that the bark seems to hang in sheets like plates of armor!

Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

The Plate-Like Bark of a Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

The Plate-Like Bark of a Swamp Oak, Burrows Run Preserve

There are many beautiful trees scattered around our properties. Next time you walk our trails be sure to look carefully into the woods – you may find your own favorite tree!

By Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator

Spring has just arrived…HOORAY! However, at Coverdale Farm, we have been working as if this verdant season has been here for weeks! Our 352-acre preserve is a dream-come-true for the green thumbs on staff that grow food for our CSA members; grow gardens to teach children about food plant life cycles; grow feed for our livestock; and manage the natural areas for biodiversity.

Timing is everything to make these gardens and fields thrive. Working early in the cold winter months we comb through seed catalogs; make field maps and garden plans; and devise management strategies to generate abroad range of desired products: organic vegetables, plant based “classrooms,” nutritious hay, and wildlife habitat.

Here’s a brief peek into what it takes to make the farm a booming center for food and ecology.

Community Supported Agriculture Program

By the time we have rung in the New Year, CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien has already ordered his seeds, planned his field rotations, and created his planting timeline. Several weeks ago Dan sowed several hundred vegetable seeds indoors in starter trays sandwiched between heat mats and lights. He worked with a local grower in Pennsylvania to raise thousands of plants that will eventually find their way into our 7-acre CSA site. Within the last month, as soon as the soil could be worked, Dan was out preparing the field for planting. He has already sown hearty cool- loving crops like peas, potatoes, carrots, and beets.

In February Dan and DNS Land Management staff members Steve and Josh, built a 2,000 square foot hoop house. This unheated, protective structure will allow Dan to extend the season of certain crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. The hoop house enables these “high summer” crops to be transplanted out earlier in the spring and remain in the field longer in the fall. In addition to this new house, Dan has 2 other hoop houses that he will use for season extension and seed germination. We still have shares available for the 2013 CSA season. Please visit our website www.delawarenaturesociety.org under “conservation corner” for registration details.

CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien with his shiny, new hoop house. Photo by Steve Johnas.

Education Gardens

Grey winter months set Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales to dreaming of purple carrots, orange eggplant, and hundreds of heirloom tomatoes in all colors but red. Striving to show the genetic diversity of common and not-so-common foods that can be grown in our region, Michele focuses primarily on growing heirloom varieties. The goal of the 1 ¼ -acre education garden is to show all stages of the plants’ life from seed to flower, to fruit, and back to seed. This area of the farm grows an endless list of earthly delights like strawberries, rhubarb, and grapes to tomatoes, basil, potatoes, saffron, and lots of flowers. Seeding begins in the dark days of winter in an 80-degree greenhouse space generously provided by Gateway Garden Center. Michele sowed close to 900 seeds in mid-March, will transplant the thriving seedlings in April, and bring them to the farm in May. The garden will come alive through the work of children and farm education staff sowing seeds and heeling in transplants after the danger of frost has passed.

Thanks to Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin (www.gatewaygardens.com) for the greenhouse space and seeds to help our gardens grow!

Farm Program Coordinator Michele Wales seeding heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Jim Wolfer.

Feed Hay Fields

In late January and early February, Farm Steward, Jim Wolfer keeps his eyes on the ground and ears tuned to weather forecasts. Jim is looking for snow-free acreage and temperatures that reach above the freezing point. During periods of freezing and thawing, Jim will sow the seeds of red clover in our 9-acres of feed hay fields. This is known as frost seeding and is a method that this plant needs for successful germination. By March, on dry ground days, he is mowing down crop “residue” like corn and sunflower stalks from last year as well as spreading our farm-generated compost. By late May he will be mowing the hay, bailing it, and storing over 15 TONS of it in the stone barn to feed our cows and sheep next winter.

Farm Steward Jim Wolfer surveying the winter hayfield. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Native Warm Season Grass Meadows

In the late fall of 2012, Land Manager Dave Pro was drilling the seeds of over 15 species of native grasses and wildflowers into 25 rolling acres of former agricultural fields. For the last 15 years Dave has been working to transition farm fields into native meadows that provide rich habitat for ground nesting-birds, mammals, and a wide diversity of insects including native pollinators. Gearing up for the growing season, Dave spent hours in March mowing down last year’s growth to open the landscape to the sun’s rays and to control woody shrub invasion. In addition to mowing, these native meadows thrive and excel against competitors through the implementation of fire. Dave schedules the early spring prescribed burn by paying attention to several key factors: wind speed, wind direction, humidity, precipitation, and the emergence of new plant growth. Once these factors have aligned, a regional team of highly trained wildfire fighters descend upon the preserve to artfully and safely employ this management technique. If all of the necessary criteria are met Dave and his skilled crew will be setting fire to 6-acres of well established meadow as early as this Thursday, March 28 or a date to be determined the week of April 1. We invite you to witness this exciting event. Please call 302.239.2334 to register. Space is limited. This very spontaneous offer is FREE with details to be communicated as soon as we have them to share.

Land Manager Dave Pro keeping a few steps ahead of a meadow fire. Photo by Derek Stoner.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The birding has been truly fantastic over the last few weeks.  Migrant songbirds like warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers along with more hawks than we have ever seen at Ashland have caused lots of excitement, and sore necks from looking up all the time!  Yesterday I led a morning bird walk at Ashland Nature Center and there were so many birds we barely left the parking lot.  Included in our total of 51 species for the morning, were 12 species of warbler, 3 species of vireo, 6 species of thrush, and others like Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  If you want to see the full list from yesterday, it can be found at ebird.

Hank Davis got good photos of some of the birds we saw at Ashland yesterday morning. This was a nice, bright Blackburnian Warbler.

At the Ashland Hawk Watch, which is open daily through the end of November, we have had some really exciting days recently.  On September 11th, 2,665 raptors flew over.  On the 16th, 6,305 raptors were tallied, which was our single biggest day at the Hawk Watch ever.  On the 19th, 1,195 raptors were counted.  Most of these hawks are Broad-winged Hawks, which migrate through in huge numbers in September, and it is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles to catch in Delaware.  This is a particularly good year for them here.  Full raptor numbers for Ashland Hawk Watch can be found the Hawkcount site.  Come visit the Hawk Watch soon, and help us scan the skies for hawks!

Bay-breasted Warbler is tough to find and yesterday we found two lurking around the Ashland parking lot. Photo by Hank Davis.

There are a lot of free guided bird walk opportunities with the Delaware Nature Society to catch the phenomenon of migration this fall.  Other than the daily Ashland Hawk Watch, here is a list of what you can do…for free…no registration required!  Of course, if you attend, your membership in the Delaware Nature Society is appreciated.  Directions to most of  these sites can be found at www.delawarenaturesociety.org.  Middle Run Natural Area can be found on Possum Hollow Road just before the Tri-state Bird Rescue.

Sundays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Mondays: Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Kennett Square, PA.  8am.  Year-round.

Tuesdays: Middle Run Natural Area, Newark, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Thursdays: Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, Milford, DE.  8am.  Through December 20.

Thursdays: Ashland Nature Center, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September and October.

Saturdays: Burrows Run Preserve, Hockessin, DE.  8am.  September.

 

Black-throated Green Warbler was one of the more common of the 12 warbler species we saw yesterday morning. Photo by Hank Davis.