Environmental Advocacy

Ian Stewart

A major analysis published last week (Rosenberg et al. 2019, Science, downloadable by scrolling down here) makes depressing reading for anyone interested in birds or in nature in general. A team of leading North American researchers analyzed almost 50 years of data from multiple sources and calculated that about 3 billion birds (= 3 thousand million!) have been lost from the continent since the 1970s. This staggering total suggests that over 1 in 4 North American birds have disappeared in less than half a century. Some groups of birds have been hit especially hard, with over half (53%) of all grassland birds disappearing as more and more of their habitat is plowed under to make way for agriculture or development. Shorebirds are close to the hearts of many Delawareans since they famously stop to refuel in the Delaware Bay on their way north to breed and yet these are among the most strongly declining birds, with a drop of 37% in 50 years. The bejewelled warblers, those colorful songbirds which symbolize migration for many birders, have dropped by 38%.

A Rusty Blackbird, one of several rapidly declining bird species

Some of the report’s findings simply confirmed the sad stories recounted by long-time Delaware birders that species which used to be merely uncommon are now very hard to find, like the Rusty Blackbird. However, some of the other findings were much more surprising and perhaps more troubling because they revealed serious declines in groups of birds usually taken for granted as ‘common’ like blackbirds (44%), finches (37%) and sparrows (38%). It is probably not a coincidence that almost all of these species feed their nestlings on insects, another major taxon that has seen dramatic declines.

A male Red-winged Blackbird breeding in a meadow at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

The report wasn’t all doom and gloom however. Waterbirds (ducks and geese) have shown a resurgence (+56%) thanks to better management and protection of wetland and marsh habitats based on millions of dollars raised by the sale of Duck Stamps to hunters and non-consumptive users as well as federal and state wildlife grants. Several birds of prey have also rebounded thanks in part to the ban on DDT, including a remarkable 300% increase in the numbers of the fish-eating Osprey. These success stories show that bird declines can be reversed if we act quickly enough to protect and preserve their habitats since the loss or degradation of their breeding, wintering or migratory habitats is the root cause of almost all bird declines.

Birds provide many ecological benefits like seed dispersal, pollination and control of arthropod pests but are also a source of everyday enjoyment for millions of North Americans who enjoy bird watching or feeding birds. Birds are also an excellent way to stimulate an interest in nature, especially among children, because they are active during the day and present in all four seasons, and many have colorful plumage or attractive songs. In short, birds are perhaps the most visible and recognizable component of most North American ecosystems, and if they are in such a serious decline then many other parts of the ecosystem probably are too. A loss of 3 billion birds in less than 50 years is simply not sustainable.

A mixed flock of sparrows in a typical suburban yard in winter. One day, this may not be a common sight.

Although the challenges birds face are large and on a continental scale, there are several fairly simple ways that you can help birds in your own yard or neighborhood. Try this excellent list from Cornell University!

 

By Shannon Giordano, Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator

Fall is a prime time for planting trees, and Delaware Nature Society has planted quite a few in the last three weeks. Planting trees in the fall can be the best time because the trees are going dormant for the winter and the ground is often very moist, which means when spring comes and the soil starts to warm, the trees will be ready to grow.

In the past several weeks, Delaware Nature Society has planted over 600 trees at three locations. On October 27 at Coverdale Farm Preserve, the planting of 12 enormous Red Oaks and Bicolor Oaks with 9 foot root balls and full canopies began. They were brought in one at a time by truck and are being placed in a section of field that is currently used for feed hay. This planting is part of Coverdale’s 10-year Master Plan. The field the trees were planted in will be turned into a grazing pasture that will house movable animal shelters. These trees were planted in a specific area in order to create a buffer for the Farm’s neighbors, and provide shade and forage for the livestock. All 12 of the trees have been put into the ground and other areas of the farm are designated for reforestation in the future. A big thank you goes to Hank Davis who not only funded the purchase of the trees, but hand selected the trees and is also funding their installation. Hank is a true champion of Coverdale Farm Preserve, and for that we are ever grateful.

Last weekend, two large tree planting events were held on Saturday morning. The first event took place at Middle Run Natural Area where approximately 150 volunteers helped to plant 400 trees. The tree planting is just one aspect of the biodiversity management project that Delaware Nature Society manages at Middle Run under contract with New Castle County. Jim White, DelNature’s Senior Fellow for Land Biodiversity Management, heads up the planting efforts each year. “We are working to increase the park’s forest habitat as well as to increase stream buffers next to Middle Run, which is a tributary of White Clay Creek,” says Jim. Increasing forest habitat provides food and shelter for a wide variety of native wildlife. Stream buffers slow down and filter pollutants and help to reduce erosion. Tree planting also has many other benefits, including making a positive impact on climate change. County Executive, Matthew Meyer also attended the event, lending a hand with the planting. Since 1991, thousands of volunteers have helped to plant about 55,000 trees at this New Castle County park, which is located near Paper Mill and Possum Park roads in Newark.

The second planting event last weekend was held at DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC). The Rotary Club of Wilmington planted 200 trees in the Russel Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge with staff from the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife.  The project was funded by members of the Rotary Club who donated $2,000 for the trees along with funding from DNREC. The tree planting is part of an effort over the past 20 years to restore the freshwater tidal marsh with native plants to provide habitat for waterfowl, song birds, deer, raccoon, beaver, and even river otter. The Rotary Club of Wilmington planted the trees as part of a challenge to all Rotary Clubs across the globe. International Rotary President, Ian H.S. Riseley challenged every Rotary club to make a difference by planting one tree for each of its members between the start of the Rotary year on July 1, 2017 and Earth Day on April 22, 2018.

A sincere thank you to everyone who was a part of each of these events!

By Guest Blogger: Martha Corrozi Narvaez

Associate Policy Scientist, Water Resources Agency, Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware

On an unseasonably warm Sunday in February I walked hand-in-hand with my 4-year old son along Wilmington’s riverwalk that parallels the magnificent Christina River. As we walked we passed by couples, families, runners, and people of all types with the musings of ice skaters in the background. My son and I talked about the ducks swimming by, the swift current carrying sticks and other debris and the “mean people” that littered their bottles and trash in the river. I couldn’t help but think that just a few years ago I would not have been able to share this experience with him. I am fortunate to share such an experience with him and I also feel fortunate that I understand the complexity and state of this river.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

Christina River on a warm winter day.

It is easy to see that the Christina River has undergone an urban renaissance resulting in the Chase Center, Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Christina Riverwalk, a variety of restaurants, high-rise residential buildings, the Blue Rocks stadium, and the DuPont Environmental Education Center’s wildlife refuge. This growth is spurred by people’s desire to be near the water and the aesthetic qualities it provides, yet beyond this beauty there is a complex, natural system at work.

The headwaters of the Christina River lie within the state of Maryland and enter Delaware west of Newark. The White Clay, Red Clay, and Brandywine creeks are tributaries of the Christina River. The Christina River is freshwater yet tidal from just south of the town of Christiana to its confluence with the Delaware River at Wilmington. Extensive tidal freshwater wetlands, including Churchmans Marsh, exist along the lower Christina. The majority of the Christina River watershed is located in New Castle County (DE). The Christina River is a mostly urbanized watershed with over 50% of the land cover developed. The watershed is the site of the Port of Wilmington, an important shipping link, and one of the largest importers of orange juice, Chilean grapes, bananas, and automobiles nationally.

Wilmington's Christina Riverfront

Wilmington’s Christina Riverfront

The Christina River has its share of historic contamination. There are numerous contaminated sites bordering the river. Samples have indicated that there are toxics present at elevated levels in the water bodies of the Christina River watershed and fish consumption advisories have been posted for the river. According to the USEPA’s water quality standards the Delaware portion of the Christina River requires varying levels of pollution reduction for nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.

Although the Christina River has fallen victim to years of industry, improper land use and anthropogenic influences the story of the river is a positive one. The state is working diligently to clean up and redevelop the toxic sites along the river. The Christina River is also demonstrating improving trends for many water quality parameters. According to a recent article on water quality trends in Delaware’s streams by Gerald Kauffman and Andrew Belden, water quality trend analysis for long term (1970/1980-2005) and short-term (1990-2005) trends show improvement in the Christina River for numerous water quality parameters including: dissolved oxygen (DO), total suspended sediment (TSS), total phosphorus (TP), and total Kjedahl nitrogen (TKN). Positive trends for these parameters indicate improving conditions in the river. Additional parameters, including bacteria, which levels have historically been increasing, show a leveling off for long-term and short-terms trends over this same time period, another good news story.

We know that the Christina River is not a pristine, natural river system yet research shows that there are positive signs for the health of the water body. The efforts by so many locally, state-wide and regionally to improve the water quality has had a positive impact. And as the riverfront becomes more popular and a destination in the region, it is my hope that individuals will learn more about the river and help protect this valuable resource through individual stewardship. And over the years as I continue to walk along the riverfront I will feel fortunate to be able to share this river, which inspires and motivates me, with so many people, especially my son.

Join us at DEEC on April 16 at 3:30pm for National Water Dance to celebrate the Christina River through dance performances and exploration of the marsh for the wildlife calling it home.

To find out more about efforts to improve and protect our waters or how you can have impact, check out the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign website, Facebook, or Twitter!

By Greg Gagliano, Backyard Habitat Coordinator:

My name is Greg Gagliano, and I am the Certified Wildlife Habitat Coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society.  One of the main aspects of my job is to help homeowners, schools, and communities to create environmentally-friendly landscapes that support wildlife habitat.  The impacts of these efforts can be quite impressive and include an increase in biodiversity on individual properties, cleaner water runoff entering local streams, and a better connection between people and nature.  The Certified Wildlife Habitat Program is an opportunity for anyone to make a positive impact on the environment right in their own backyard.  Take a look at this video about the Certified Wildlife Habitat Program and let me know if you would like to have your property certified.  You can reach me at (302) 239-2334 ext 142 or greg@delawarenaturesociety.org.  This video was produced by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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