Environmental Awareness

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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By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Yesterday, Ginger North and I led a Delaware Nature Society trip to Poplar Island, MD.  This is not your run-of-the-mill island, rather it has been reborn from the water, and is a wildlife mecca created by human engineering.  Located in the Chesapeake Bay near Tilghman Island, Poplar Island 100 years ago was 1,100 acres in size, was farmed, had woods, and permanent human residents that hunted the land, and fished nearby waters.  Since that time, erosion whittled away at the island, until only about 5 acres were left in the 1990’s.  It was almost gone.

In 1998, a brilliant project was started to effectively and environmentally dispose of clean dredge spoils from the Chesapeake Bay shipping channel…to re-create the island with the muck pumped from the bottom of the Bay.  The original shape of the island was outlined in a rock barrier to prevent further erosion, the interior of the island was divided into cells, and the pumping began.  In the end, 555 acres will be vegetated upland, and 555 acres will be tidal wetland habtitat.  Studies are being conducted to make this two-mile-long island even bigger!  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland Environmental Service are working together on this huge project.

Our guide shows us where we will go on Poplar Island, an amazing re-creation of an island that was almost lost to erosion.

The boat trip to Poplar Island took about 20 minutes.  In the distance, we could see what looked like a construction site on the water.  Dirt, rock, trucks, cranes, and other machinery were operating in the distance.  Clouds of gulls swarmed above the island, and more cormorants than I could count lined a nearby pier.  We disembarked and our tour began.  After a brief introduction, we boarded a bus to drive the dirt roads and hear about the island’s creation.

One of the large habitat cells at Poplar Island.  This one isn’t finished, but it will become beautiful tidal marsh.

We enjoyed the 20-minute boat ride to and from the island.

We passed cells that were in various stages of completion. Some cells are open water, some are drying spoil, and some are finished and vegetated tidal marsh, teeming with life.  Raised areas have been created for nesting Least and Common Terns.  A rookery area has been created and is used by nesting egrets and herons.  Over 1,000 Double-crested Cormorants nest on another sandy raised area in the marsh.  We saw more than I could count on our visit.  Gulls by the thousand roosted on the island.  Large flocks of waterfowl like Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, and Black Duck fed in the exposed pools.  A huge diversity of shorebirds, from the tall, elegant American Avocet to the tiny, dirt-colored Least Sandpiper fed in the impoundments, marshes, and on drying soil.  Migrant raptors like Northern Harrier and Sharp-shinned Hawks hunted the open grassy areas.  Several Bald Eagles played in the sky above the island.  Dozens of Monarch butterfly swarmed around one bush.  You get the picture…this place is completely alive with wildlife…and the project won’t even be finished until 2029…for the meager price of $1.2 billion.

This cell is finished tidal marsh. An old barge is located in the middle of it and is used by nesting and roosting terns and gulls.

Bald Eagles circled above Poplar Island, and the two-mile-long man-made island was absolutely a birder’s paradise with thousand and thousands of gulls, shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl.

If you are interested in the full bird list from our trip, click here.  The Delaware Nature Society is going to arrange a birding trip to the island in 2013.  To view an interesting video about the island, visit this website: http://vimeo.com/37958136.

We will be back!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This summer, my wife and I took a road trip to Ohio and Michigan.  Along the highways and in all the forests we explored, almost every Ash tree was dead or dying.  The cause?  Emerald Ash Borer, a small green-metallic beetle originally from Asia which was accidentally imported into Michigan.  The adult insect feeds on Ash leaves, but the wood-boring larvae feed on and damage the inner bark and phloem, killing healthy trees in 3 or 4 years.  I can’t help but think of the loss of American Chestnut due to the introduced Chestnut Blight 100 years ago, reducing this once gigantic widespread tree to small, scrawny saplings in our woods.

Among a forest of dead Ash trees at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, near Toledo, Ohio, we came across this sign explaining why they are cutting many of the dead trees.

According to Douglas W. Tallamy in his book “Bringing Nature Home” (2007), Ash species host 150 species of native Lepidoptera larvae (moths and butterflies).  Birds and other wildlife depend on these caterpillars for food.  If the Emerald Ash Borer makes it to Delaware, erasing or seriously diminishing Ash in our local ecosystem, it could have a vast ecological and economic impact.  Not only do plenty of insects eat the foliage, but Ash seeds are food for a variety of birds and small mammals.

This is an Ash tree that I found near Kennett Square, PA. It is mostly dead, with water sprouts coming out of the base. It was not attacked by Emerald Ash Borer, but had obvious insect damage from something different (see next photo). This is a typical scene in the areas where the Emerald Ash Borer infests trees to our west, mostly from western PA through Minnesota.

The Ash in the photo above from Kennett Square, PA had obvious insect damage under the bark, with tiny round exit holes from emerging insects. Emerald Ash Borer exit holes are shaped like a capital “D”, so it was some other kind of insect that infested this tree. The larval tunnels of the Emerald Ash Borer are similar in appearance, however.

What is being done now to control the pest?  Mainly, scientists are looking at the natural enemies of this insect in Asia and have gotten as far as testing and receiving permits for release of several insects that attack the borer.  They have released these insects in various Great Lakes states and are determining effectiveness.  Check out this informational video about the project.

Have you seen one of these purple boxes hanging from a tree? This one is along Route 82 north of Ashland along Red Clay Creek. Researchers use this insect trap to determine the presence of the Emerald Ash Borer. So far, they haven’t found any in our area.

Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash Borer is headed towards Delaware.  No one is sure when or if it will get here, but in Pennsylvania it has essentially infested the western half of the state, and new infestation areas spring up all the time.

Humans are helping the spread, and this insect is leapfrogging to new areas, mostly by people that move firewood or other woody debris or nursery stock containing the insect.  In 2012 for example, it leapfrogged to Warrington, Bucks County, PA and was also confirmed in Connecticut, making it the 16th state to confirm infestation.

What can you do?  Do not move firewood!  Buy local and burn local.  If you go on a camping trip to a quarantined area, do not bring your leftover firewood home, since you may bring the Emerald Ash Borer with you.  For example, this website shows the quarantine area in Pennsylvania.

In Delaware, Green and White Ash are extremely common forest trees.  One of the largest trees at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, and one of my favorite individual trees is a humongous Ash along Red Clay Creek.  Ash are a very common street tree as well, and have been planted in many of our neighborhoods and towns, and possibly in your yard.  In the coming years, we may be hearing more about this pest locally and how you might be able to protect individual trees through spraying.  Hopefully through science, we can find a solution soon.  Signing off from Ashland Nature Center…

Here are some websites to learn more about the Emerald Ash Borer:

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/fpm_invasives_EAB.aspx

http://ento.psu.edu/extension/trees-shrubs/emerald-ash-borer

http://www.emeraldashborer.info/

By Lesley Bensinger, Education Coordinator, DuPont Environmental Education Center

During the week of June 26th the rising freshman of Delaware Futures joined DNS at the DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) for a week-long marsh restoration experience.  Delaware Futures helps at-risk, economically disadvantaged youth develop the social, academic, and problem solving skills they need to qualify for college and expand their opportunities. 

Students from Delaware Futures mulch a 250-foot trail at Dupont Environmental Education Center.

During the week of their program at DEEC, students spent their days learning about the Christina River watershed and aquatic life as well as contributed to the restoration of the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge.  The group spent the night each evening  at Ashland Nature Center.

Students in team “The Mighty 6” remove and bundle phragmites. These bundles will be used in areas that receive heavy dip netting traffic to prevent erosion and extremely muddy shoes!

The group of 23 students split into teams to complete four projects: create a trail that provides increased marsh access for other program participants, assemble and install a Purple Martin nest box, remove invasive-exotic phragmites from the marsh, and build foot bridges for crossing wet areas on the trail. 

Students in team “Purple Martins” raise the house they spent the week building. Success!

This is the third year Delaware Futures students have worked and studied nature in the Refuge.  The long term plans for part of the marsh is to create an outdoor classroom that can be used by groups and for summer camps.  These students have unofficially adopted this section of the refuge and will be back in the fall to continue working on this project! 

At the end of the week, student teams each gave a presentation summarizing the week of activities and what they learned to family, friends, program partners and the program sponsor, DuPont’s Clear Into The Future initiative.  Thanks for another great week Delaware Futures! 

Students celebrate the end of the week with a leap!