Coverdale Farm Preserve

All posts tagged Coverdale Farm Preserve

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator and Jared Judy, Flintwoods Preserve Land Manager

The field of warm season grasses on March 29, 2011, just prior to burning. Image by Derek Stoner.

A new type of land managment tool is arriving in the Piedmont of Delaware, and this is one of the most simple techniques with which to revitalize grassland habitats:  Fire!

This past Spring, on March 29, for the first time in known memory a prescribed fire was conducted in the Piedmont region of Delaware.  The challenge of managing a fire and timing it safely so as not to damage surrounding habitats is crucial.  When the right conditions arrived in late March, the call was made for the fire crew to assemble and get to work.

Delaware Nature Society Land Steward Dave Pro lays down a line of fire using a drip torch, igniting the dry grasses behind him. Image by Derek Stoner.

Prescribed fire specialists from the Delaware Forest Service teamed up with staff from Flintwoods Preserve (led by land manager Jared Judy) and Delaware Nature Society Land and Biodiversity staff to conduct a prescribed fire on a 6-acre planted plot of native warm season grasses (Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Indian Grass) at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Immediately after the last flames died out, the field resembles a black landscape of scorched ground. Image by Derek Stoner.

The burn went extremly well, and in less than 20 minutes, 6 acres of dried grasses were reduced to black ashes and a patch of ground that looked empty.  The ashes would help fertilize the growth of grasses from the rootstocks underground, and within just a few days the field would turn green and lush with  new plant life.

The idea for this prescribed fire came from Jared Judy, who brings extensive experience with this managment technique from his time in Texas working as a land manager of  extensive grassland habitat.  Jared writes:

I received my training in prescribed fire along the Gulf Coast of Texas with the Nature Conservancy.  Nationally, the Nature Conservancy has adopted the standards of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) for their prescribed fire operations, allowing them to partner with state and federal agencies to conduct burns.  Land managers and conservation staff within the Texas chapter are encouraged to obtain NWCG certification and training.  When a land manager had units on their preserve ready to burn they would put out the call and the other land managers would travel from around the state to assist with the fire.  It was termed the “fire militia”, as we all had other job responsibilities but understood that if we wanted to burn on our preserve we had to be there to assist others. 

When discussing warm season meadow establishment and management, prescribed fire must be part of the conversation.  The scale of fire will be very different on the Delaware Piedmont than it was from the Texas Coast, but its role in meadow management should remain undiminished.  Without the use of fire in our meadows on the Piedmont, their diversity and usability for wildlife will never reach its full potential. 

Prescribed fire associations, a collection of land managers and property owners interested in using fire as a management tool, are becoming common in many areas of the Midwest.  The establishment of such an association allows for each landowner involved to dip into a collective pool of resources and personnel to accomplish a burn on their property.  Also, grants are available to such associations to build an equipment cache to be shared among the members.  Developing a burn association in the Delaware Piedmont could be an effective way to reintroduce fire into the system on a broad scale.

Enjoy this fascinating video of the whole process of the prescribed fire at Coverdale Farm Preserve– you can hear the fire crackle and almost feel the heat!    And stay tuned for an update of how the field re-generates immediately after the fire.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Photos by: Eric Roberson

Last Friday, I led a bird-filled walk at Coverdale Farm Preserve complete with colorful trees, and lots of migrant sparrows, warblers, and a few raptors.  Yellow-rumped warblers were swarming everywhere, eating poison ivy berries as if they were a delicacy.  The bane of a pleasant summer walk, poison ivy berries are relished by these late-season warblers as well as woodpeckers and other songbirds.  Birds were cooperative through the forest edge and abundant thicket at the preserve and we got great looks at many species in good light and in the scope. 

Coverdale Farm Preserve is a 352-acre property owned by the Delaware Nature Society.

At one point, a male and female Sharp-shinned Hawk, both juveniles, toyed with a small group of Blue Jays.  They swooped at the jays, chased them, scared them, and then would chase each other.  It really seemed like play, or practice hunting was the main objective.  Whatever it was, it went on for 10 minutes and was a real treat to witness. 

A Sharp-shinned Hawk wheels around, chasing Blue Jays for practice or maybe play?

Again and again, we located thick vines of yellowing poison ivy with abundant berries.  Yellow-rumped Warblers gorged themselves to fuel their migration south, and yes…spreading this native vine.  In my opinion, poison ivy is a wonderful bird attracting plant in the fall.  Look but don’t touch!

A fall plumage Yellow-rumped Warbler will eat insects when available, but they LOVE poison ivy berries.

It was a perfect autumn morning with long, soaking looks at many species of birds, colorful trees, and fading asters in the crisp air.  Link up with one of our bird walks sometime soon before winter sets in and the migrants leave us.  Free bird walks are offered at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve each Sunday and Monday at 8am, and Thursdays at Ashland Nature Center and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center at 8am.  See www.delawarenaturesociety.org for directions to these locations.  Don’t forget to look at the sidebar on this blog for other events that are happening soon! 

A full list of the 39 species found on the bird walk at Coverdale Farm on October 21 can be found here.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

On Saturday, June 18, our class from the Naturalist Certification Series visited Coverdale Farm Preserve for a bird walk.  Lots of great birds gave us plenty to appreciate, from Orchard Orioles to Indigo Buntings to Yellow Warblers. 

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird nestling sits high in the nest, in the final day before fledgling. This is the last photograph of this bird in the nest. Image by Derek Stoner, June 18, 2011.

But the star of the show was the baby Ruby-throated Hummingbird, sitting in the nest where for the past three weeks he (or she?) has grown up on a branch of a Sycamore tree.  Our group of curious onlookers gawked at the hummingbird 20 feet above our heads.  With beak held apart, it appeared that the hummingbird was panting to keep cool in the late morning heat.   

Everyone enjoyed the thrill of seeing the “baby” in its nest, and we had to look carefully to realize that this was indeed the youngster and not one of the adults sitting on the nest.  The slightly shorter beak and speckly plumage on throat convinced us of its age– a mere 19 or 20 days!

I told our group that the hummingbird would likely fly away and leave the nest for good within a day or two.  Sure enough, this morning(June 20) when I went to check one final time, the nest was empty.  Through monitoring the nest over the course of five weeks and a total of five visits, I’d grown accustomed to excitement of seeing something alive within the nest.  I feel honored to be able to document such an interesting sequence of events in the development of a hummingbird, from egg to fledging stage.  I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A baby Ruby-throated Hummingbird rests its beak on the edge of its nest at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Image by Derek Stoner, June 8, 2011.

After photographing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest two weeks ago on May 24, I returned to the location at Coverdale Farm Preserve early this morning, hoping to find the results of the female’s incubation efforts. 

Peeking inside the nest, I spied a tiny grayish lump!  The baby hummingbird raised its head and emitted a high pitched chirp as I perched above the nest and snapped photos.  Neat rows of “pin” feathers lined the bird’s back and sides.  Based upon its size and feather maturity, I guesstimate the baby to be about 9-10 days old, meaning it hatched on May 30 or 31. 

The fledgling raised its head briefly and rested its beak on the edge of the nest.  The beak is now only about 1 centimeter in length, but by the time it leaves the nest, the beak will be fully-developed at 1.5 to 2 centimeters.  Hummingbirds fledge at  18-20 days, so in the next 10 days there will be lots of growing to do for this baby hummingbird! 

The hummingbird nest is now adorned with dangling oak catkins, providing extra camouflage to hide the nest and baby. Image by Derek Stoner, June 8, 2011.

Another intriguing observation is that the nest is now adorned with several oak catkins, those long yellow-brown male flowers(up to 100,000 in a mature oak!) that produce the clouds of pollen that we are all noticing right now.  I suspect the female hummingbird wove the catkins into the side of her nest as a way of providing additional camouflage, since a few of the sycamore leaves around the nest have fallen off.  A very creative means of decoration and disguise!

What happened to the other egg?  Did it hatch?  We don’t know for sure, but luckily the one baby hummingbird is alive and doing well.  For great information on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, I highly recommend the website of Operation Rubythroat, where I am learning more about these amazing birds as I follow the developments at this nest.