Summer Camp

By Sally O’Byrne, Teacher Naturalist

In August, five intrepid boys joined intern AmandaWerner and I for a week of camping, conservation, and science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for the Summer at Hawk Mountain camp.  We arrived and set up camp at one of their Adirondack Shelters, our home for 3 days and nights.

Our Adirondack Shelter at Hawk Mountain.

Our Adirondack Shelter at Hawk Mountain.

We met Dr. Goodrich, one of the biologists at Hawk Mountain, on our first afternoon, and learned of the international raptor research taking place.  Wednesday was devoted to our ‘service learning’ project – in other words, doing some grounds maintenance to pay for our week.  Cutting back road vegetation to comply with county requirements was our job, and the boys grabbed the clippers and chopped and bagged for the morning.

Working on our service project at Hawk Mountain.

A trip to the river for a swim was the afternoon refresher.

We swam in the Little Schuylkill River.

We swam in the Little Schuylkill River.

 Thursday was the first day of the Hawk Mountain Fall Migration count, and we were there, helping to see the first raptors traveling south along the Kittatinny Ridge.

We watched the skies for migrant raptors on the first day of the fall migration count.

We watched the skies for migrant raptors on the first day of the fall migration count.

 We then hiked one of the most challenging trails, tackling boulders along the ridge-top and then downhill to the River of Rocks.  We found it was a super snake finding day, and we spotted 3 different species along the trail.  Here is the Copperhead we found, the first one documented at Hawk Mountain for many years.

We found a copperhead on the trail, the first documented at Hawk Mountain in years.

We found a copperhead on the trail, the first documented at Hawk Mountain in years.

After that ‘athletic day’, everyone slept well.

We were exhausted and slept-in after all the activities!

We were exhausted and slept-in after all the activities!

 And after campfire breakfast of leftover chile and black beans, we cleaned our site and headed back to Ashland.

Here we enjoyed a late, leisurely breakfast.

Here we enjoyed a late, leisurely breakfast.

 I hope to see some enthusiastic Raptor counters and campers next year for another Summer at Hawk Mountain trip!

 

Photos and story by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Today, Ian Stewart, a University of Delaware Biologist visited the Bucktoe Campout camp at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve to conduct a bird banding session.  We all learned what banding is, how it is used for research on birds, and how much training goes into learning how to band birds.  We learned that banding is when you take a tiny metal ring and put it on a birds leg.  The band has a unique number that goes into a database with the US Geological Survey so that scientists can look it up if the bird is ever found again.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

After Ian explained a little bit about his research on Tree Swallows, we went out to some active nest boxes on the preserve to see if we could band, measure, and learn about Tree Swallows and Bluebirds that use the boxes.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

At the first nest box we visited, we found a nest of Tree Swallows with three fully feathered young.  They were old enough and big enough to band.  We got to hold the birds, which doesn’t hurt them, band them, weigh them, and measure their wings.  Believe it or not, they weigh more than their parents at this stage!  Their wings were only about half as long as an adult Tree Swallow though.

Cool!  A baby Tree Swallow!

Cool! A baby Tree Swallow!

After we banded the nestlings, we set up a little trap to catch one of the parents as they came back to the nest to deliver food to the young.  In less than a minute, it worked!  The adult still had the food in its bill when we examined it, which was really neat to see what the babies were eating.  We then banded it, measured its wing length, and weighed it.  After releasing it, it went back to the box to check on the family.

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings.  It caught lots of little hover flies!

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings. It caught lots of little hover flies!

After all of this banding, we visited a Bluebird nest which had four eggs.  Since they were still in the incubation phase, we did not trap the adult for banding, because they might abandon the nest.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs.  This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs. This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Finally, on our last box, we found a Tree Swallow nest that had tiny little young that were only a few days old…too young for banding.  We also didn’t trap the adults since their naked young would get cold quickly, so we examined the young nestlings and quickly left the area.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

None of these activities hurt the birds, and now we have a record of the banded ones.  Next year, we will look to see if they come back to the area.  If someone else at a banding station finds one of them on their migration or wintering grounds, we will find out where they went.

In all, it was a great experience and a treat to learn some real science, and see these creatures up close.  Thanks Ian!

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian!  I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian! I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.

 

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!

By Carrie Scheick, Environmental Education Intern

As an intern at the Delaware Nature Society, I help out with a number of different camps this summer.  I was lucky enough to accompany the Beginning Backpackers led by Brad Reynolds this past week.  We wasted no time lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trails.  After a number of day-hikes to prepare for our overnight, our group hiked 6 miles on Thursday from Ashland Nature Center to Bucktoe Creek Preserve to camp for the night.  We had to then retrace our steps back to Ashland the following day without our fearless leader and guide Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader.  While there were a couple veteran campers returning for the second year, for many of the other campers, this trip was their first time camping.  The hike from Ashland to Bucktoe crosses the Delaware Nature Society’s Red Clay Floodplain property, Auburn Heights State Park, Auburn Heights Preserve, private properties, and Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  This hike can be characterized as exclusive because the Delaware Nature Society receives permission to cross private property; these are the only campers that will trace this unique path this year.  

The route from Ashland to Bucktoe follows old railroad tracks that pass through Piedmont rock outcrops. As one of our first rest stops along the way, these cool, wet rocks were quickly dubbed as “natural air conditioning” as the kids took a break to lean up against them seeking relief from the humidity and heat.

Many of the properties did not have specific trails to follow, so we blazed our own trails.  Pants were essential for this hike to avoid (or at least attempt to avoid) stinging nettle and ticks as the campers bushwhacked through dense vegetation and trekked through fields, some with grass as high as their shoulders.  “It was so pretty!” said Izzy, commenting on the areas where we were hiking.  “It felt like we went so far because of so many different landscapes we walked through.  I saw things you only see in National Geographic or movies!”  They remained in good spirits as they kept trudging forward, pushing themselves physically and mentally towards the goal of our camp at Bucktoe. 

Blazing our own trails through the Delaware wilderness!

We crossed open fields in the hot sun a few times. Obviously, we drank lots of water!

After we got to camp, we dropped off our backpacks and headed down to the creek to cool off.  Most of the girls shredded their boots to sit in a deeper part of the water, while the boys preferred to skip rocks or explore along the banks. 

Laura, Michael, Izzy, and Iris taking advantage of the cool Red Clay Creek.

Over the two days of hiking, we saw a variety of different wildlife.  We saw a wood duck mother and her ducklings in the Red Clay Creek and another in Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  The fields were lined with milkweed attracting a number of Monarch Butterflies.  We also saw a rare Pipevine Swallowtail, a beautiful kind of swallowtail due to its black and iridescent blue wings.  A snapping turtle played camouflage among the rocks in Bucktoe Creek, and both Colby and Kerry found a newt during their explorations.  We saw White-tailed deer fawns scampering through the brush ahead of us and the boys glimpsed a fox as they walked up to the picnic tables for breakfast on Friday morning.  Grace really enjoyed the assortment of wildlife we saw on our trip. “I don’t see those every day!” she said.

Iris, Grace, and Izzy were super excited about the Red Admiral butterfly that decided to hang out with us for a bit at the picnic table before dinner on Thursday night.

A chorus of “Finishing!” was the first response I got when I asked the campers to pick a favorite part of their trek after we successfully made it back to Ashland on our own.  Finishing this trek gave us a great sense of accomplishment; we hiked over 25 miles within a week!  Though we left Ashland Friday afternoon sore and eager to tend to our aching feet and a few blisters, Colby perfectly summed up our Beginning Backpackers experience: “It was all good.”