By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager

In these not-so-wintry days with temperatures in the high 60’s, you are the only creature fooled into thinking it is spring.  Plenty of plants, and an abundance of animals are responding as though it is April.  During a walk at Ashland today, with 68 degree heat, I noticed some things that weren’t showing themselves this time last year.  The most exciting show at Ashland right now is the emergence of Wood Frogs.  Get out to Ashland within the week if you want to catch the action.  As I write this, the sound of the male’s “quacking” is percolating through my open window along with a warm breeze.  Listen to the short audio clip of the Wood Frogs calling from a small pond next to the Ashland Nature Center.

Male Wood Frogs like this one are currently "quacking" away, in the hopes of attracting a female to join him in the water.

Male Wood Frogs like this one are currently “quacking” away, in the hopes of attracting a female to join him in the water.

Wood Frogs lay clumps of eggs that will soak up water after they are laid.  The ones below my hand are newer than the ones on my hand.  Can you see the difference?

Once a male and female Wood Frog find each other, she will lay eggs such as these, and the male will fertilize them.

Once a male and female Wood Frog find each other, she will lay eggs such as these, and the male will fertilize them.

Although the American Bullfrog won't lay eggs until later in spring, I was surprised to see one surveying the scene at Ashland on this warm 1st day of March.

Although the American Bullfrog won’t lay eggs until later in spring, I was surprised to see one surveying the scene at Ashland on this warm 1st day of March.

A walk along the floodplain at Ashland Nature Center revealed several plants beginning their growth cycle for the year.  Several are non-native, invasive plants, but others are native.  The warm weather is giving these plants an early start this year, but it isn’t completely unusual.

Snowdrops are an ornamental, non-native plant that is found in the wild sometimes. They are always the first sign of spring here at Ashland, and they are in full bloom currently.

Snowdrops are an ornamental, non-native plant that is found in the wild sometimes. They are always the first sign of spring here at Ashland, and they are in full bloom currently.

Lesser Celandine is blooming along the Red Clay Creek at Ashland right now. Unfortunately, it is a non-native, invasive species that is devastating wildflower diversity along waterways in our area by smothering the native wildflowers.

Lesser Celandine is blooming along the Red Clay Creek at Ashland right now. Unfortunately, it is a non-native, invasive species that is devastating plant diversity along waterways in our area by smothering the native wildflowers.

This Skunk Cabbage is a native wetland plant that is already sending up its leaves in the wet forest.

This Skunk Cabbage is a native wetland plant that is already sending up its leaves in the wet forest.

The small, red female flower of the American Hazelnut is in bloom, but you have to look closely to find it!

The small, red female flower of the American Hazelnut is in bloom, but you have to look closely to find it!

The long, yellow male flowers of the American Hazelnut are much easier to see. This is always one of the signs that native plants are starting the new growth year, and it is fun to spot these shrubs in the woods right now, when they tend to blend in later on in the year.

The long, yellow male flowers of the American Hazelnut are much easier to see.  It is fun to spot these shrubs in the woods right now when they are more obvious.  They tend to blend in later in the year, making them tough to see.  Can you find the small, red female flowers in this photo?

One of the early signs of spring I have NOT noticed yet is the Groundhog.  My guess is that during this early warm spell, they have decided not to show their faces, after  predicting we would have six more weeks of winter.  WRONG!!

Finally, the insects are also out and about.  I have seen Anglewing butterflies, true flies, a dragonfly, and many smaller, unidentifiable forms buzzing around lately.  The prize in this category, however, goes to the inch-long larvae of one of our firefly species that we found crawling on Ash trees.  We found dozens of them, and watched as they scampered around the trunks, looking for smaller insect to eat.

This large Firefly larva was crawling around the trunks of trees on the floodplain. They must have recently emerged, since there were dozens of them. These insects will dine on smaller insects they can catch as they slink up the trunk.

This large Firefly larva was crawling around the trunks of trees on the floodplain. They must have recently emerged, since there were dozens of them. These insects will dine on smaller insects they can catch as they slink up the trunk.

 

By Carrie Scheick, Teen Naturalist Program Leader

The Teen Naturalists kicked off 2017 by orienteering at French Creek State Park in Berks County, PA. This 7,339 acre park was logged repeatedly to make charcoal for the Hopewell Furnace, which operated until the late 1800s. The land was sold to the government in the Great Depression, and managed similarly to the national parks at the time, with the Civilian Conservation Corps building recreational facilities in the park. Today the park land is owned by the State of Pennsylvania and the National Park Service maintains the historic furnace as the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. This park is the largest contiguous forest between New York City and Washington D.C., known for the variety of wildlife and recreational activities, including more than 35 miles of trails.

French Creek State Park is also home to a permanent orienteering course. Orienteering is a sport that combines navigational skills and racing. Participants use a highly detailed map and a compass to move from point to point, trying to complete the course in the least amount of time. We were not that competitive, but we did enjoy the challenge of navigating ourselves through the course around Hopewell Lake.

 

Orienteering orientation. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Orienteering orientation. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

 

After a quick introduction, the Teens began to familiarize themselves with the compass, map, and map legend. Orienteering maps are incredibility detailed – roads, fences, trails, streams, hills, depressions, rocks, vegetation, etc. are accurately located. The Teens oriented themselves from our starting point in the parking lot to “control #1”. We set off in that direction, searching for a post with an orange and white square at the top.

 

he red lines and control numbers designate the orienteering course. Photo by Carrie Scheick

The red lines and control numbers designate the orienteering course. Photo by Carrie Scheick

 

Check out this super detailed legend! Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Check out this super detailed legend! Photo by Carrie Scheick.

 

Where are we? Where are we going next? Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Where are we? Where are we going next? Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Each post had the control number and letter code on the marker post placard. The letter code is recorded for competitive orienteering, to prove you made it to that location.

We recorded the letters in hopes that they spelled a word upon completion of the course, but they unfortunately did not. Photo by Carrie Scheick.

We recorded the letters in hopes that they spelled a word upon completion of the course, but they unfortunately did not. Photo by Carrie Scheick.

 

Our orienteering adventure took us on and off trail…

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

 

…over logs and through boulder fields…

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

 

…across crossable and un-crossable streams…

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

 

…up and down hills and to the very edge of the park.

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

 

There were times we needed to pause and look at the map…

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

 

…but we were always excited when we successfully made it to each marker.

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Photo by Hannah Greenberg

 

The misty rain and fog provided us with beautiful scenery in the woods. We saw and/or heard multiple species of birds including Mallard, Pileated Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, and Eastern Bluebird. There was a variety of fungi including puffball fungus, polypore fungus, and witch’s butter fungus. A Northern Watersnake took advantage of the mild temperatures and came out to say hello to us at the dam.

 

Mallards on a foggy Hopewell Lake. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Mallards on a foggy Hopewell Lake. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Photo by Carrie Scheick

Check out the bright orange color of Witch’s butter fungus. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Check out the bright orange color of witch’s butter fungus. Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Northern water snake. Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Northern water snake. Photo by Carrie Scheick.

For most of the Teens, this was their first experience orienteering. They all enjoyed the challenge, as it gave additional purpose to their hike and time outdoors. This outing was a great way to kick off the year!

Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Photo by Carrie Scheick.

Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

Photo by Hannah Greenberg.

The Teen Naturalist program is open to teens ages 13-17 who have an interest in studying nature, adventuring outdoors, volunteering, and meeting other teens who enjoy these same activities. You can register at www.delnature.org/programs or contact us at (302) 239-2334 for more information and the program schedule.

Ian Stewart, Ornithologist

Many visitors to Ashland Nature Center have been enjoying our newest attraction – a bird blind! The bird blind overlooks a cluster of bird feeders along Wildflower Brook and is the perfect place to view birds and other wildlife up close.

These excited campers look out from inside the bird blind. The blind was conceived by Joe Sebastiani and built by our ‘Dream Team’. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

These excited campers look out from inside the bird blind. The blind was conceived by Joe Sebastiani and built by our ‘Dream Team’. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

As long as you sit quietly you can watch dozens of birds come to the feeders, bathe in the brook, or just hang out in the trees nearby, and since they are so close you don’t even need binoculars. This makes blinds an excellent way to get children interested in nature since even youngsters can enjoy watching the birds going back and forth. Having said that, just a basic pair of binoculars lets you see a lot more details of the different birds like their beak shapes and feather colors so try borrowing a pair from the visitor center if you don’t have your own. Blinds are also excellent opportunities for photographers as the nearness of the birds means you don’t need an expensive camera with a super-zoom lens – all you need is patience! If you’re lucky you may also see a Red Squirrel visiting from the nearby hemlocks or perhaps a cute little Eastern Chipmunk, both of which are uncommon mammals in the Piedmont. Imagine how memorable it would be this winter to watch a Red Squirrel searching for food in the snow while you’re sheltered inside the blind!

A Purple Finch occupies every port of this popular feeder! Photo by Hank Davis

A Purple Finch occupies every port of this popular feeder!
Photo by Hank Davis

The blind looks out over several types of feeders stocked with different seed mixes and suet cakes which each attract different species of birds. This variety adds a fascinating insight into how different birds feed – some birds like House Finches and Goldfinches perch happily at the feeders and chomp away until they are done while others like Chickadees and Tufted Titmice zoom in and grab one seed before carrying it away to a nearby tree and hammering it open. Woodpeckers and Nuthatches have a remarkable ability to hang upside down on suet cake cages and peck away at the contents while bigger birds like Blue Jays can’t perch very well and prefer to grab whole nuts from table-top feeders.

This Carolina Chickadee feeds on a hanging-dish type feeder. Check out its leg – it’s banded! Photo by Hank Davis

This Carolina Chickadee feeds on a hanging-dish type feeder. Check out its leg – it’s banded!
Photo by Hank Davis

Visiting Ashland’s bird blind will inspire you to buy your own bird feeder or give one to somebody else (they make great Christmas presents for anyone regardless of where they live in the city or countryside). Just hang them from a tree or pole at least a meter from a window (to minimize window strikes) and see which birds you attract. It is probably best to fill them with black oil sunflower seeds since this will attract many birds although some species prefer millet or nyger (thistle). Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin is a great local specialty store for bird food and feeders though most supermarkets also sell seed and suet cakes.

This male Downy Woodpecker is hammering away on a suet cake! Photo by Hank Davis

This male Downy Woodpecker is hammering away on a suet cake! Photo by Hank Davis

For me, watching birds at feeders is both entertaining and soothing and a bird blind stocked with several feeders is the sum of human happiness, as well as a relaxing way to connect people of all ages with nature. Next time you have a free hour or so come and hang out at the Ashland bird blind and see what I mean!

By: Matt Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Thank you to everyone who joined Delaware Nature Society at both our inaugural Meal at the Mill, on Friday, October 14, and a special return of our Autumn at Abbott’s Festival, on Saturday, October 15, in final celebration of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary!

Guests at Meal at the Mill opened the event with a keg-conditioned cocktail from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery while mingling amongst hors d’oeuvres from Abbott’s Grill and touring Delaware’s only preserved, working gristmill. We then conjoined for a family-style, three-course seated dinner featuring seasonal vegetables and free-range chickens grown and raised on Delaware Nature Society’s own Coverdale Farm Preserve, with catering by Abbott’s Grill and menu pairings from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Dinner began with remarks by Brian Winslow, DNS Executive Director, Matt Babbitt, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager, and Mark Carter, Dogfish’s Director of Philanthropy and DNS Board Member. Special guests of the evening included representatives of Delaware’s Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs (an owning partner of Abbott’s Mill), as well as Councilmembers from the Town of Slaughter Beach (which hosts DNS’s 109-acre Marvel Saltmarsh Preserve) and our hometown Milford City Manager. We amazingly sold out all seats for this event, and were very appreciative of the 93 guests who joined us under the stars to honor the history of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center and celebrate its bright future.

The next day, our Autumn at Abbott’s Festival brought out 350+ community members to enjoy the sunny skies at Abbott’s. This community-minded event highlighted the historic importance of Abbott’s to the lower, slower Southern Delaware culture, and provided several opportunities to explore the natural wonders preserved on our pet-friendly trails and 20-acre pristine pond. Last run in 2008, the event has historically featured a variety of artisan craft demonstrators, children’s activities, hay rides, and tours of our historic Abbott’s Mill. For the 35th we raised the stakes by adding in the Drift’n Kitchen and Heavenly Delights Concessions food trucks, a Dogfish Head Craft Brewery beer garden with lawn games, yoga sessions led by Lewes’ Free Spirited Foundation, aquatic touch tanks from Phillips Warf Environmental Center, guided SUP & kayak trips on Abbott’s Pond provided by Quest Fitness & Kayak, and live music from local musicians Margaret Egeln, the Clifford Keith Trio, and 3CNorth.

Both of these events would not have been possible without the support of all of our community sponsors as well as the 50+ volunteers and DNS staff who helped setup both events and took care of all of the behind the scenes work to make our event a success. Special thanks, as well, to our 35th Anniversary Presenting Sponsors: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, National Wildlife Federation, and M&T Bank.

We would love to have all of you join us again as we continue celebrate Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary throughout 2016. Please visit delnature.org/abbotts35 to explore the full celebration.

Additionally, as part the celebration, we are offering special pricing for Delaware Nature Society memberships at the individual adult and household/grandparent levels. Normally priced at $40 and $55 respectively, we are offering these memberships for $35 through the end of the year, and they can be purchased in person at the Abbott’s Visitor Center, or visit delnature.org/becomeamember to purchase online. A Delaware Nature Society membership includes the following benefits:

  • Membership valid for 12 months from purchase date
  • Free canoe rentals on Abbott’s Pond (*must call ahead to schedule)
  • Free admission to Autumn at Abbott’s Festival & Farm Fun Days at DNS’s Coverdale Farm
  • Free or reduced pricing on DNS programs
  • Priority buying window for DNS’s Native Plant Sale
  • Helping to preserve over 500 acres of wildlife habitat & hiking trails in Southern Delaware and over 2,000 state-wide
  • Discounts at local retail affiliates (including Quest Fitness & Kayaks and East Coast Garden Center)
  • Participation in the Association of Nature Center Administrators’ (ANCA) nation-wide reciprocal membership program

We are actively exploring the possibility of making these annual events at Abbott’s, and are thankful for the positive and constructive feedback we have received from everyone involved. Inaugural and/or returning events always present opportunities to learn and grow, and we will certainly incorporate your feedback when we begin to prep for next year. Thank you again for being a part of our year-long celebration of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center’s 35th Anniversary, and please continue to share your event pictures to our Facebook and Instagram pages, or through email at matt@delnature.org.