Bucktoe Creek Preserve

All posts tagged Bucktoe Creek Preserve

By Dr. Ian Stewart, Ornithologist and Naturalist

Thanks to a generous donation, Ashland Nature Center and nearby Bucktoe Creek Preserve are hosting a bird banding project that the public is welcome to visit. Bird banding is an important tool for scientists and conservationists since tagging individuals helps us figure out if they remain in the same site year-round, or in the case of long-distance migrants, where they spend their summers and winters and which routes they take. Basically, birds are caught in fine nets erected along trails then carefully removed and fitted with a uniquely numbered metal band before being released. Because the birds’ welfare is the highest priority, we check the nets every 10-15 minutes and do not operate them on very windy or rainy days. Also, it requires many years of practice with extracting and banding birds before one can be granted a federal license to do so.

A Wood Thrush in a mist-net.

A Wood Thrush in a mist-net.

With the help of a crew of volunteer assistants (Steve, Angie, Kelley and Carol), we have caught over 150 birds from 25 species, primarily Gray Catbirds, Tufted Titmice and Northern Cardinals (and yes, they bite!), but also some really neat birds like Brown Thrasher, Willow Flycatcher and Northern Flicker. We obtain as much data as we can from each bird including its age, sex, body size and molt status to answer questions about how these vary between sites and different habitats. It’s much easier to work out the age or sex of bird species if you are actually holding them, and banding birds helps you notice many things you’ve never seen before. For example, the Tufted Titmouse in the top photo below is an adult, but the one in the bottom photo is a juvenile, as can be told by the yellow eye ring and yellow flanges (the fleshy corners of the beak left over from when it was a nestling).

An adult Tufted Titmouse.

An adult Tufted Titmouse.  Can you see the small tick just above the right side of the eye?

A juvenile Tufted Titmouse.

A juvenile Tufted Titmouse.

Also, the male Eastern Towhee in the bottom photo below was likely hatched last year (2014) since it still has some brown juvenile feathers on its head while the one in the top photo was likely hatched in 2013 or even earlier as it has a solid black head. Look at those amazing red eyes!

An adult Eastern Towhee.

An older adult Eastern Towhee.

A juvenile Eastern Towhee.

A younger Eastern Towhee.

Some features on certain birds are only evident when you see them up close. For instance, the bright red eye of this Red-eyed Vireo is hard to see in the wild because they usually forage quite high up in the trees. In the hand, the red eye is striking and you can also the see the small hook at the end of the vireo’s bill, a feature that distinguishes them from warblers.

A Red-eyed Vireo up close, where it is easy to see the red eye and the hooked bill.

A Red-eyed Vireo up close, where it is easy to see the red eye and the hooked bill.

Note that mist-netting is an unpredictable business and so if you visit the banding station, we can’t guarantee you will see a bird being caught and banded. Cooler mornings can produce over a dozen birds though we catch fewer birds on hot, humid days, probably because the birds are less active. Nevertheless, even on quieter days, several lucky visitors have seen some great birds, including Downy Woodpeckers and a Northern Flicker. Woodpeckers are especially interesting up close, as one can see their unusual toe arrangement with 2 toes pointing forward and 2 pointing backward, unlike the standard arrangement of 3 toes forward and 1 back. This helps woodpeckers climb up tree trunks, as does their stiffened, spiky tail feathers.

The underside of a Flicker showing its distinctive toe arrangement and spiky tail feathers.

The underside of a Flicker showing its distinctive toe arrangement and spiky tail feathers.

In addition to its scientific value, bird banding is a fantastic educational tool, allowing for both adults and children to see birds up close.  By providing this experience, the Delaware Nature Society is helping people better appreciate key bird characteristics like their feathers and differences between species in plumage color and the shape of their feet or beak.  We are also banding nestlings of a variety of species found breeding in our nest boxes, including Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens, but also Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees. If we are lucky some of these may turn up as adults next year! Dozens of children attending our summer camps have enjoyed checking out the nest boxes for eggs and nestlings, and some have been lucky enough to hold a baby bird!

Happy campers at Ashland Nature Center holding baby Eastern Bluebirds.

Happy campers at Ashland Nature Center holding baby Eastern Bluebirds.

Banding takes place at Ashland Nature Center on Monday and Tuesday 8am -11 am, and at Bucktoe Creek Preserve 8am – 11am, and will run through September. There is no charge to attend the banding, but for non-DNS members visiting Ashland, a trail fee applies.  We hope to see you at the banding station soon!  Songbird migration has started, and you never know what will turn up in the nets.

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.

 

Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The subject line in an email I received this week read “Wood Duck Box Update…OH MY GOODNESS!”

Jill Kennard emailed me to report that she and her husband Jeff went out to put up predator guards on several Wood Duck boxes they volunteered to build, install, and monitor at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  While checking the contents of the boxes, they made an exciting discovery…Eastern Screech-owls!

Upon inspecting Wood Duck boxes at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Jeff and Jill Kennard discovered roosting Eastern Screech-owls in two of the boxes, and got this photo.

Upon inspecting Wood Duck boxes at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Jeff and Jill Kennard discovered two roosting Eastern Screech-owls, and got this photo.

In the photo above, the owl looks dead.  It isn’t, but it is trying to act that way.  When surprised during the daytime, they freeze up and try to pretend like they are not there, only flying away if they absolutely have to.  Also, what looks like poop (or more scientifically scat), is actually a pellet of indigestible fur and bones that the owl coughs up.  Yummy!  From the looks of it, this owl has used the box for a while as a day-time roost.

Here is a photo of the other Eastern Screech-owl that Jeff and Jill Kennard found.

Here is a photo of the other Eastern Screech-owl that Jeff and Jill Kennard found.

Notice that there are fewer pellets in this box.  Perhaps this owl only uses this box for a nap once in a while, or has recently started using it.  Normally, these little owls roost in a hole in a tree, but will also spend the day sleeping in a very dark, protected spot such as an impenetrable conifer tree.

How can you see these owls yourself?  First, I recommend that you install a box for them in your yard.  If you are the handy type, you can search for plans to build such a box on-line.  If you would rather purchase one, Screech-owl boxes sell for $49 at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Hockessin, DE.  Of course, if you are a Delaware Nature Society member, you will get 10% off.  As long as you don’t let squirrels take over the box, you might get Screech-owls to roost and peer out occasionally.  Also, sometimes the owls set up shop for the summer and raise a family.

If you install a box in your yard, make sure you can see the entrance hole, as Screech-owls frequently take a look around during the daytime, like this one at my house.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

If you install a box in your yard, make sure you can see the entrance hole, as Screech-owls frequently take a look around during the daytime, like this one at my house. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Sometimes Eastern Screech-owls nest in bird boxes.  These three chicks were raised in a box at the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Sometimes Eastern Screech-owls nest in bird boxes. These three chicks were raised in a box at the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Another way to see these owls is to go on a guided program to look for them.  Delaware Nature Society is offering two of these soon.  On Sunday, January 27th at 4:30 p.m. at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, we are offering a free Bird and Owl walk for Families.  Maybe you will see one of the owls in the photos above.  Hot chocolate and snacks will be provided too!  Call (302) 239-2334 if you are attending.

For adults and teens, register for the Owls and Other Winter Raptors trip, Sunday, February 10th, 8am to 7pm led by Jim White, DNS Associate Director of Land and Biodiversity.  This trip meets at Ashland Nature Center, and you travel around to find as many species of owls as you can in a day.  On most of these trips you get to see Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Barred Owl, Barn Owl, and Short-eared Owl.  Sometimes if you are lucky, Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls are found.  Once in a while, Snowy Owls are found, but there aren’t any in the area so far this winter.

I thank Delaware Nature Society members and volunteers Jill and Jeff Kennard for volunteering to design, build, install, maintain, and monitor Wood Duck boxes, or should we say, Screech-owl boxes, at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird…widely known, but not intimately known.  Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy.  It may live almost in our midst unnoticed.  Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization.   – Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of North American Shorebirds, 1927.

Call it a Timberdoodle, Mud Bat, Bog Sucker, Labrador Twister, Big Eyes, Blind Snipe, Brush Snipe or Swamp Bat…officially it is known at the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor).   Finding them with our members is an annual rite of spring for the Delaware Nature Society.  Some years it is easy.  Other years, the Bog Sucker foils us.  This year, we thought it would be the latter.

The privately-owned Bucktoe Creek Preserve is our traditional Timberdoodle tromping terrain.  Complete with wet, swampy woods for feeding, thickets for nesting, and open areas for displaying, it is usually heaven for the Woodcock.  Larry Lewis and Kathleen Pileggi led the trip this year.  They struck out the first two outings for the birds at Bucktoe.  For the third outing, Larry decided to move the search elsewhere.  At Marsh Creek State Park, Chester County, PA, they finally saw the birds at point blank range, and had a wonderful show.  Woodcocks make you sweat it out sometimes! 

Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.

Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.  – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949.

Rachel Cameron got a photo of this Woodcock at dusk during its flight display.

Our group was lucky to find a "peenting" American Woodcock prior to dusk with enough light to see it well. Photo by Rachel Cameron.

If you would like to see a short video taken by Rachel Cameron, a participant on the trip last Wednesday, March 21, click the link below.

woodcock video