By Alice Mohrman, Education Coordinator, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center
A summer paddling expedition in Abbott’s Pond led us upstream to discover the hidden treasures in the cool shade of Johnson’s Branch.
Point west and follow the expansive water garden of green heart-shaped waxy leaves dotted with the stout yellow flowers. This hardy, native perennial is spatterdock, Nuphar advena, also known as Yellow Water Lily. Used in traditional medicine, and a favorite edible for muskrat and beaver, this plant colonizes shallow water where the thick roots anchor into the muddy bottom of the pond. The bulb-shaped flowers are pollinated by beetles and produce seeds for a variety of waterfowl.
Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculate, are the graceful, yet acrobatic damselfly companions that dance beside your canoe as you meander along the shore toward the narrows. These “perchers” often wait patiently on plants at the stream edge before taking a quick sojourn over the water to capture gnats and other small insects . Look for the territorial males, sporting a blue-green thorax and abdomen with jet black wings, courting brownish females with a distinct white patch or “stigma” on the tip of each wing.
A distinct canopy of trees beyond the active beaver lodge offers interest and respite from the sun. The Atlantic White Cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides, is a towering, ram-rod straight sentinel growing in the bog at the entrance to the stream. An extremely rot resistant evergreen species, this cypress (not really a cedar) tree is able to reach great heights while growing in poorly drained acidic soil! Two of the tallest Atlantic White Cedars are found in Milford, DE and check in at an impressive 72 and 76 feet (DE Big Trees).
A Prothonotary Warbler, Protonotaria citrea, or Golden Swamp Warbler, sings a loud, ringing version of “zweet zweet zweet zweet zweet!” as we navigating the shallows, roots and branches. A soft “psh-psh-psh” sound often brings these curious wood-warblers closer to view. For nesting, this summer resident chooses a tree cavity, usually about 6 foot high, over or near water, to brood a large clutch with up to eight eggs.
Our sample of flora and fauna would not be complete without mentioning Castor canandensis: the beaver. While working the night shift, these engineering animals constructed at least three structural barriers to for canoes. We enjoyed the challenge of maneuvering over, through and around these dams-which are not easy to deconstruct without heavy equipment! After a beaver fells a tree, it trims off the large branches and drags it to the dam site. The logs are forced into the mud with the wide trunk facing downstream. The remaining braches and leaves, or crowns of the trees, are positioned into the current to trap the silt and debris which widens the structure. The beavers add sticks, stones and mud to strengthen the dam, block the water flow and create a new wetland!