Middle Run Natural Area

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: Tim Freiday, Middle Run Project Coordinator

The group of DelNature staff and volunteers get ready to set off on the annual Bio-Blitz in Middle Run Natural Area.

On Sunday, September 3, 2017, Delaware Nature Society held the annual Bio-Blitz at Middle Run Natural Area. Although rainy at 6:00 am, the skies cleared by 7:00 am and it turned out to be a very productive day with over 200 different species of organism recorded. In the park, 88 species of birds were recorded. Some of the highlights were 20 species of warbler including a Brewster’s Warbler (a rarely seen hybrid), Nashville, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Cape May, and Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers. We had birds everywhere we looked, and had some great views of many. The girdled Bradford Pears continue to provide quality looks at some real quality birds, with American Redstarts, Tennessee, Magnolia, Black-and-white, and Chestnut-sided Warblers perching alongside much larger Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds. We also had a continuing Alder Flycatcher who “pipped” only a few times, and Veery were around today. Surprisingly, a nocturnal Common Nighthawk was also flying around in the late morning.  Check out the close-up Northern Flicker below!

 

All of the checklists for the day in chronological order are at the links below:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38987553

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38976751

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38984241

There have been some excellent photos of some of the fall migrant warblers being posted on the Middle Run flickr account by the likes of Hank Davis and Derek Stoner. You can check out those pictures by following this link:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/middlerunbirding/

Around a 100 insects were identified at least to the family level with the help of UD entomologists Ashley Kennedy and Adam Mitchell. Some highlights from the arthropod realm include a Spiny Oak Slug caterpillar, Hickory Tussock Moth, Locust Borer, Ornate Plant Bug, Cicada Killer, Green Darner and many more. There was a very bright Red Admiral butterfly which must have just emerged. Participants learned about the food web of arthropods in our area, and got a glimpse of how complex it really is. Middle Run has a healthy mix of arthropods, with many predatory spiders and insects signifying an abundance of herbivorous insects. No wonder the birds like it here so much! It’s also not surprising that there are so many insects given the diversity and abundance of plants at Middle Run. At least 50 different species of plants were identified today, with many beneficial native species. Some are very showy and are flowering right now, like the Evening Primrose. We only found a handful of reptiles and amphibians today, but there were some nice ones such as Black Racer, Garter Snake, and American Toad.

Hickory Tussock Moth

Hickory Tussock Moth

This year’s BioBlitz showed how truly special and utterly important Middle Run Valley Park is for the multitude of life that our region supports. From the local birds and insects to the long distance migrants that refuel here, to the people that come and unwind by taking in the natural world Middle Run is a true gem that we should all be grateful for. In appreciating the importance of Middle Run we are shown the importance of conserving natural lands everywhere, and we are called to action to protect our natural world.

This past Tuesday was the first Tuesday Morning Bird Walk at Middle Run of the fall 2017 season. These walks are free and open to the public, and Delaware Nature Society staff will lead them each Tuesday at 8am through October.  The walks are sponsored by New Castle County Parks.  Come join us as we appreciate birds and nature!

Happy Birding!

by Derek Stoner, Summer Camp Co-Director and Conservation Project Coordinator

Eager summer campers scan the skies at Middle Run Natural Area, overseen by camp instructor Sarah Stapley (center) , a former Delaware Nature Society intern and Tri-State Bird Rescue volunteer.

Eager summer campers scan the skies at Middle Run Natural Area, overseen by camp instructor Sarah Stapley (center), a former Delaware Nature Society intern and Tri-State Bird Rescue volunteer.

“Look!  A Baltimore Oriole flying overhead– it has food!  Watch where it lands– oh, there’s the nest!” 

“Over there at the feeder, it’s a hummingbird!”

“No– look over there, an Indigo Bunting is perched on the wire!”

— Summer Campers on a bird walk at Middle Run on Friday, June 20

The 2014 Delaware Nature Society summer camp season kicked off last week with great weather and excellent opportunities for youngsters to get outside at locations that DNS owns, operates, and/or manages around the region.

For the sixth straight year, a unique camp based in the Newark area offered hands-on experiences with conservation projects, volunteer service, citizen science, and nature observation.  The Bird Experience at Middle Run is based at the 860-acre Middle Run Natural Area, and is made possible by a partnership between DNS, Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, and New Castle County Parks.

Each day the campers spent time volunteering at Tri-State’s center to build nest cups for baby birds, clean bird cages, and prepare platters of food for adult birds.  A bird veterinarian showed the students the anatomy of different birds during a dissection session, and oil spill response experts trained the students in proper care of oiled birds.

Campers proudly display their decorated bird boxes in front of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, where they donated their time as volunteers to help orphaned and injured birds.

Campers proudly display their decorated bird boxes in front of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, where they donated their time as volunteers to help orphaned and injured birds.

The campers each built and painted a nest box for birds that will attract House Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, or other cavity-nesting songbirds to their home landscape.  They created “suet logs” out of large dead branches, and will pack the holes full of suet to attract woodpeckers to their backyards.  And every day they walked the one-mile Middle Run Birding Trail and observed great birds like Bald Eagle, Louisiana Waterthrush, Orchard Oriole, Barred Owl, and Scarlet Tanager.  The students entered all of their sightings into the E-bird database of citizen science bird observations, and their efforts helped notch the milestone of Checklist #1,000 submitted for Middle Run Natural Area!

A female Tree Swallow, clutched gently in researcher Ian Stewart's hand, shows a leg band that indicates that she was banded last summer (2013) by Ian on the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm Preserve, 7 miles to the north of Middle Run.

A female Tree Swallow, clutched gently in researcher Ian Stewart’s hand, shows a leg band that indicates that she was banded last summer (2013) by Ian on the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm Preserve, 7 miles to the north of Middle Run Natural Area.

The Friday Finale for the camp meant a visit from University of Delaware researcher Ian Stewart, who is conducting a multi-year study of nesting Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds at DNS’s Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Ian demonstrated his bird banding technique on a male Tree Swallow he  captured at an active nest box near the camp location.  Upon releasing the male back at the nest site, he checked inside the box and found the female sitting on the pair’s four nestlings.  And then the big surprise came: the female was already banded!  And she wore one of Ian’s bands that he recognized.  We immediately guessed that the female was one banded at Middle Run last year when Ian visited the same summer camp.  But then came the unique twist: by checking his records, Ian discovered that she was actually banded last summer at Coverdale Farm!

That little aluminum band tells us that the swallow grew up at Coverdale last June 9th, learned to fly and feed that summer, likely flew all the way to Central America for the winter, and then returned north to nest this Spring, settling in and raising young just 7 miles short of where she was born last year!  This type of information that is able to be gathered by scientists points to the real power of bird banding efforts.  Less than 5% of all banded birds are ever recovered, but a recapture like this one adds to the treasure trove of data that bird researchers rely on to further unravel the mysteries of the birds.  Tree Swallows are a common bird, and yet this unique discovery adds another layer of knowledge to our understanding of this species.  And sometimes luck plays a big role in the discovery of banded birds!

The video of highlights from the week of camp shows the many ways that the campers interacted with wildlife and made a difference for bird conservation.  Enjoy watching!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

After flying across the parking lot at Tri-State Bird Rescue, the Evening Grosbeak alighted in a cherry tree and fed on wild grapes for a few moments. Image by Derek Stoner, November 12, 2012.

A bird is sometimes more than just a bird.  Or, simply put, some birds take on a greater meaning because of the context in which they appear.   For a short fifteen-minute span this morning, the stars aligned and the “perfect bird” appeared at an ideal place to be enjoyed by an appreciative audience.

After a morning of working at Middle Run Natural Area, I’d stopped by Tri-State Bird Rescue to chat with their Executive Director, Lisa Smith.  We of course talked about birds and discussed the interesting migrant songbirds seen this Fall just outside the windows at the center.  But the staff has been very busy indoors lately, taking care of birds caught in oil spills resulting from Hurricane Sandy.  The staff and volunteers soldier on, helping out one oil-coated bird at a time…

As I stepped out the front door of Tri-State, I noticed a bird call I’d never heard before.   Briskly walking toward the sound, I soon found myself near Trail Marker 3 on the Middle Run Birding Trail.  There at the top of an ash tree was a bird with a very large beak, and I knew what it was before even raising my binoculars.  An Evening Grosbeak– right in front of me! I madly dashed back to my car and grabbed a video camera, digital SLR camera, and a spotting scope.

The Evening Grosbeak, an adult female, perched at the top of a tree at the front door of Tri-State Bird Rescue for 10 minutes, to the delight of staff and volunteers watching below! Image by Derek Stoner, November 12, 2012.

The grosbeak then flew over my head and landed near the end of the Tri-State parking lot, fetching up on a cherry tree adorned in wild grape and Oriental Bittersweet vines (first photo).  I alternated between videotaping and photographing the bird, while frantically trying to dial the Tri-State number on my cell phone.   I wanted other people to see this great bird!

Incredibly, the grosbeak then flew and landed in a  cherry tree right above the front entrance to Tri-State!  I hurried over and set up the scope on the bird and hollered to nearby volunteers to alert the staff inside.  Soon a number of staffers, including the director Lisa, came outside to see the Evening Grosbeak.  Several folks told me that the had never seen this species before, and a couple said that they had seen them at their feeders in the late 1980’s. 

The appreciative crowd below this Evening Grosbeak had long looks through the spotting scope at a species that has not been seen in this region in a long time. Image by Derek Stoner, November 12, 2012.

Now, what makes this bird particularly special is the context.  For the past few weeks, a few lucky people have reported Evening Grosbeaks coming to their backyard feeders in the regions.  Small flocks of these seed-eaters descend upon offerings of sunflower seeds and devour the seed quickly.   But to see just a single Evening Grosbeak, out in the wild and away from a feeding station– that is a unique observation.  And of all the places to land– right above the front door at a bird rescue and research facility!?  We watched the bird preen, clean its beak, and make “contact calls” as it sat on a branch for ten minutes.   As with many bird sightings, being at the right place at the right time led to an exciting observation.

The Evening Grosbeak is an “irruptive” species, spending most winters much further north in the boreal forests where they breed.  The American Birding Association chose to feature this bird as their “Bird of the Year” and their website offers a lot of fun facts about this massive finch species. 

This winter, likely due to an extensive failure in the cone crops that this species favors, Evening Grosbeaks are heading south and being seen in places that they have not appeared for decades.  I saw my first (and only) previous Evening Grosbeaks way back in 1990 at our family backyard in Lancaster, PA.  Even then, they seemed super rare and exciting.    

In the coming weeks, perhaps this region will be inundated by Evening Grosbeaks and we will become tired of them, taking down our bird feeders because they eat too much expensive seed.  Or, more likely, these birds will remain somewhat elusive and a “lucky few” observers will get to see this iconic species from the Northern Woods.   Only time will tell.  Until then, keep a close eye on your feeders for this beautiful visitor from the North.