Coverdale Farm

Story and photography by Jim White, Senior Fellow for Land and Biodiversity

Although I have seen it many times, I still always pause at the sight of an American Kestrel. This smallest, and most colorful, of North American falcons is a master of flight. It can soar high — or hover dragonfly-like over open lands while searching for prey, suddenly plummeting downward, swooping onto some unsuspecting meadow vole or large insect.

As part of our ongoing cavity-nesting bird box program at the Coverdale Farm Preserve, seven American Kestrel nest boxes have been installed over the years and are maintained and monitored each nesting season. This year the Delaware Nature Society joined with a nationwide program that focuses on increasing the American Kestrel population throughout the United States. Surveys have indicated that the species has suffered dramatic declines throughout much of its range. The lack of adequate foraging habitat and nesting sites are possible reasons for this decline. As part of this nationwide program, Delaware Nature Society Land and Biodiversity Management staff have monitored the nest boxes weekly this year for adult activity.

Because the open meadows of the Coverdale Farm Preserve are excellent habitat for kestrels, we were confident that at least one pair would take up residence. We were not disappointed. On March 13th we observed a male perched on one of the boxes. Three days later a female appeared. Throughout the rest of March and into mid-April the pair was frequently seen hunting over the meadows of the preserve, catching meadow voles and jumping mice. Finally on April 23rd we discovered three eggs in the box. A few days later there were five eggs.

Then on March 31st we observed five, some may say “cute”, nestlings.

On June 14th, biologists from the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife captured and placed identification bands on the nestlings, so that they could be identified if recaptured in the future. The team also took measurements to determine the age and health of the nestlings. We were glad to learn that all five nestlings looked healthy and had plenty of body fat. After “processing”, the nestlings were carefully placed back into their nest box, and the team left them to continue to grow and fledge (probably in a week or so).

So next time you visit the Coverdale Farm Preserve be sure to look up: you may just see one of these beautiful falcons!

P.S. Interestingly enough, on June 9th, staff discovered a second active nest with three eggs. We are hoping that this nest will also be successful.

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 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!

Raising Broiler Chickens at Coverdale Farm Preserve

By Dan O’Brien, Community Supported Agriculture Farmer, Coverdale Farm Preserve

This season, the farmers at Coverdale Farm Preserve are trying something new. Farm Director Michele Wales and Community Supported Agriculture Farmer Dan O’Brien have started a small pilot program of raising broiler chickens for our farm-meat chicken production. These chickens live in a protected hoop house that is used for growing cucumbers and tomatoes during the CSA season. The chicken poop provides an excellent source of nitrogen to the plants throughout the growing season.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O'Brien.

Our Hoop House provides a living quarters for our Chickens, and their droppings will provide fertilizer for crops grown here next year. Photo by Dan O’Brien.

The chickens are fed a mixture of naturally grown grains, such as corn and wheat, along with a high protein mixture of soybean mash and vegetable scraps. The chickens will be processed after about eight weeks. “We want to really connect our Delaware community to where their food comes from” says Farmer Dan. “The goal of this pilot program is to determine the demand in our foodshed for small scale, locally produced poultry. Ideally we would like to be able to offer our sustainably produced poultry throughout the year to all people visiting Coverdale Farm Preserve” says Farm Director Michele Wales.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken.

Join us December 12 and 13 for our course on how to process a chicken, December 12 and 13, 10am to 4pm.  Photo by Dan O’Brien.

Coverdale Farm Preserve is offering a hands on program that will teach all aspects of on farm chicken processing. “This is not a program for the faint of heart” says Farmer Dan. The program will be held on the weekend of December 12th and 13th, from 10am-4pm both days. To sign up for the program please visit Delnature.org or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134.