Middle Run Natural Area

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.

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.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Jim White leading a bird walk, scanning the skies for birds at Middle Run Natural Area during the Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz. Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

On  a morning where the weather forecast showed rain was a strong possibility, we had not a drop of precipitation for our Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz.  We did have some incredible gray clouds and much-welcomed cool breezes to enjoy on the bird walk that kicked off at 7:00am.   Without even leaving our starting point at the Middle Run Native Plant Garden, we tallied some great birds:  Common Nighthawk, Eastern Kingbird flocks (12 in one tree!), and a family of four Pileated Woodpeckers.  From multiple directions we heard the cu-cuu-cu-cuu calls of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, living up to their nickname of “Rain Crow” as the gray clouds passed by.

Jim White led the group of birders along the Middle Run Birding Trail, with close encounters with Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, and Eastern Wood-peewee.  A true surprise was the juvenile Little Blue Heron that flew right over our heads while we stood in the meadow!    

Round Two of the bird walks, led by Jim White and Amy O’Neil, held more good sightings like Blue Grosbeak, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow.   A total of 27 birders joined this walk, including some very avid youth birders.

An excited group of insect enthusiasts joins Sheila Vincent on a foray into the field to capture butterflies, dragonflies, and other “things with wings.” Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

Our insect guru Sheila Vincent led a wonderful butterfly and dragonfly walk for an enthusiastic group of families, most of who were first-time visitors to Middle Run.   Right away, they caught a female Black Saddlebags– a large and showy dragonfly.  Green Darners and Blue Dasher dragonflies were flying all over the meadow, but proved hard to capture.   

A Common Buckeye gathers nectar from a Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) flower at Middle Run. This is a classic late summer butterfly found in local meadows. Image by Derek Stoner, August 26, 2012.

The butterflies put on a show, and the youngsters captured them with great skill.  Species like Common Buckeye (above), Eastern-tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Sachem Skipper, Tiger Swallowtail, and Clouded Sulphur all made their way into the nets and camera lenses of these “bug enthusiasts.”  Notable butterfly species captured include the Little Glassywing and the Variegated Fritillary. 

Hana gets a close-up look at an egg-laden female European Mantid at the Middle Run Native Plant Garden– the prize find of the Bio-Blitz! Image by Jim White, August 26, 2012.

The creature that “stole the show” was a female European Mantid with an egg-swollen abdomen.  This docile insect climbed on our hands, posed for photos, and found plenty of appreciative admirers in our group of outdoor enthusiasts.  This species of mantid is not commonly seen in our region, and as the name indicates, is native to Europe.

With nearly 50 people participating in the event, and many taking part in their first-ever bird or bug walk, we all enjoyed sharing a wonderful morning outdoors.   Thanks to all the participants! 

If you are interested in visiting Middle Run Natural Area, the parking lot is centrally located in the middle of this 860-acre park and its 12 miles of trails.  The driveway to the parking lot is located on Possum Hollow Road, just before the entrance to Tri-State Bird Rescue.   To get GPS directions to the site, use this address:   110 Possum Hollow Road, Newark, DE 19711.   

Once at the parking lot, you may want to explore the Middle Run Birding Trail.  Use the  Middle Run Birding Trail Map 2012 as your guide as you explore the area.  Enjoy!