Burrows Run Preserve

All posts tagged Burrows Run Preserve

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Make plans for the weekend to get outside and enjoy some of the seasonal change from winter to spring.  This week I’ve led trips at Hoopes Reservoir, Ashland Nature Center, Burrows Run Preserve, Auburn Heights State Park, and Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  We’ve seen a lot of examples of both winter and spring on our programs lately. There is a lot of change happening in the natural world right now, from frogs emerging and laying eggs, to new birds showing up in their spring migration. Tree Swallows and an Eastern Phoebe have returned to Ashland this week.

Take a look at the video below to see some highlights.  The snow has melted, and the streams and wetlands are full.  Many wintering birds are still around including the White-throated Sparrow and Golden-crowned Kinglet (look fast!).  Raptors like the Merlin have been seen at Ashland and Bucktoe Creek Preserve and a Saw-whet Owl was seen near Ashland Nature Center this week.  The owl was probably a migrant stopping in for the day.  Frogs like Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs have emerged.  I had to cheat for the video and catch a Spring Peeper so you could see how they make their incredibly loud sounds.  Wood Frogs have laid lots of eggs in local vernal pools.  Notice how the Wood Frog vocalizes differently than the Spring Peeper.  This weekend, pick a local park, take a walk, and find your own signs of winter and spring.  Report back and leave a comment on the blog to let us know what you are seeing, or what your favorite sign of spring is.

Story and photos by Derek Stoner, Family Programs Assistant
A male Red Fox stares intently as the late afternoon sun makes his fur glow.

A male Red Fox at Coverdale Farm stares intently as the late afternoon sun makes his fur glow.

The reports are flying in to the nature center: foxes are everywhere!  During the past couple of weeks, folks are seeing all sorts of Red Fox activity and some very interesting behaviors!

Last week I saw a pair of foxes mating in a field, a persistent male fox trying to haul away a dead Canada Goose, a fox trotting along with a massive chunk of meat clamped in its jaws(see photo), and a battle between foxes that involved lots of snarling and mad dashing about.

A Red Fox carts a big chunk of meat(deer?) across a field.

A Red Fox carts off a big chunk of meat(deer?) across a field.

What’s all the fox fuss about? Well, the explanation is both easy and difficult.  Right now is the peak of the mating season for Red Foxes– that’s the easy answer.  Why we are seeing so much daytime movement of foxes is the important question.

Foxes are typically crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk.  Duing these periods of low light, a fox’s prey is also highly active– the mice, voles, shrews, birds, and other small animals that make up the bulk of this canine’s diet.

A fox's ears hep it to pinpoint the locations of sounds and potential prey.

A fox's ears help it to pinpoint the locations of sounds and potential prey.

With cold weather upon us and higher caloric demands, foxes are ranging far and wide in search of food.  The rigors of the mating season also mean foxes are spending more time protecting their territories, which may be several hundred acres in our more rural areas or as small as a suburban neighborhood.    Foxes have taken readily to suburbia, with its surfeit of food in the form of garbage, rodents, pet food, roadkill, and even small pets (yes, your housecat is considered potential food by Vulpes vulpes).

A Red Fox blends in to a warm-season grass meadow at Burrows Run Preserve.

A Red Fox blends in to a warm-season grass meadow at Burrows Run Preserve.

You may not be so lucky to see foxes waltzing through your backyard on broad daylight, but you may see signs of their presence.    Led by its nose, a fox meanders about the landscape in search of food.  Their tracks fall in a perfect line, as one foot falls in front of the other.  Foxes have very narrow hips and this feature leads to an almost cat-like stride pattern.  

Have you seen any foxes lately?

A beautiful portrait of a pair of Red Foxes at the DuPont Environmental Education Center.  Photo by Jim White.

A beautiful portrait of a pair of Red Foxes at the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington. Photo by Jim White.

One of the most dependable places to watch foxes lately is the new DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Wilmington Riverfront, where a resident pair of foxes is often seen hunting around the edges of the marsh and near the nature center.  Be sure to visit and search for these crafty canines!

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

Installing nest boxes in your yard is a great way to increase your bird viewing enjoyment.  My favorite such box that I recommend for anyone that has a yard near a woodland is an Eastern Screech-owl box.  Eastern Screech-owls are one of our most common owls and are found near most woodlands and woodlots in our area.  These boxes simulate tree cavities and Screech-owls use them for diurnal roosting and/or nesting. 

A red phase Eastern Screech-owl peers from a backyard bird box.  Photo by Jim White.

A red phase Eastern Screech-owl peers from a backyard bird box. Photo by Jim White.

Most of my observations of Screech-owls in boxes are of roosting birds.  They often can be seen poking their head out of the box while perched in the entrance hole in late afternoon or just before sunset.  Boxes can by placed just about anywhere but should be at least 100 feet from areas of high human activity.  I recommend facing the box toward a good viewing spot like a window that you often look out.  Also, I like to face the box west toward the setting sun, so they can peer out and warm up late in the day.  This will make it more likely that you will see the owl that comes to roost in your box.  In my experience, Eastern Screech-owls only uncommonly nest in boxes.  Nesting begins in mid-March or early-April, so if you see an owl in the box in spring it may well be nesting there.

Set up your box so that you can easily see it from a window in your house.  Photo by Jim White.

Set up your box so that you can easily see it from a window in your house. Photo by Jim White.

Screech-owls require relatively large boxes.  These boxes measure 12-15 inches high with floor dimensions about 8 inches square.  The entrance hole should be 3 inches in diameter.  The box should be placed on a tall, 10-15 foot pole preferably made of steel, but wooden posts can be used.  Predator guards are recommended because they keep mammals and snakes out of the boxes.  The boxes can be home-made or, if you are like me and lack time and woodworking skills, purchased at a local bird stores or on the internet.  Construction plans can be found here.  Screech-owls will also use larger boxes intended for nesting Wood Ducks.

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

Good luck with your project.  If you have any other questions you can email me at jim@delawarenaturesociety.org.  If you are interested in the owls in our area, look for my future blogs in which I will profile each of Delaware’s eight owl species.  Also, join me on my annual field trip to try to find all eight species in one day.  This year, the Owls and Other Winter Raptors trip is scheduled for Sunday, February 14, 8am to 7pm.

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

You know it is a slow morning of birding when one of the participants says, “At least we had a good breakfast.”  Yes, indeed.  This morning, Michele Wales and I led the Birding and Breakfast program at Coverdale Farm, she made the breakfast, and I led the bird walk. 

Program participants enjoyed a wonderful fruit and quiche breakfast, made from Coverdale Farm chicken eggs.

Program participants enjoyed a wonderful fruit and quiche breakfast, made from Coverdale Farm chicken eggs.

After breakfast we walked several trails around Coverdale Farm and the adjacent Burrows Run Preserve, which are owned by the Delaware Nature Society.  Birds were slow to come by on this warm January day.  No wind, no rain, no cold, but also…no birds!  Or at least not too many.
Among some other sightings, we managed to get looks at a single Cedar Waxwing perched in a tree, a single flyover Red-winged Blackbird, and a single Carolina Chickadee.  Usually when you see these birds they aren’t by themselves, but not today.  It took a while to find some White-throated Sparrows, Northern Flicker, and a Hairy Woodpecker.  Great looks at a flock of Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins livened things up at the farm, which seemed to hold most of the action.
Finally, Hank Davis spotted a low-flying raptor that came to perch on the nearby chicken coop.  No, don’t go after the chickens!!!  Where will our next quiche come from?!!  The chickens were safe after all in their pen and Cooper’s Hawks don’t eat chickens anyway.  The hawk probably was waiting for a hapless House Sparrow to emerge.  Yes, get one of those instead Mrs. Cooper’s Hawk.
Our group of birders finally happy to see something up close sitting still!

Our group of birders finally happy to see something up close sitting still!

Cooper's Hawks don't eat chickens, but eagerly catch smaller birds, like House Sparrows.

Cooper's Hawks don't eat chickens, but eagerly catch smaller birds, like House Sparrows.

It was a great day to be outside to walk the farm and preserve and not be wet, wind-blown, and freezing.  We saw 29 species by the end, which isn’t too bad.  Join us on our next Birding and Breakfast program at Ashland Nature Center on February 12 in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count.