Delaware Nature Society

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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.

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager

West Texas is a land of few people, wide open spaces, and rugged mountains at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert.  This desert extends far south into Mexico, and is far from a lifeless, brown expanse.  On the contrary, it is a land full of birds, wildlife, and a wide diversity of plants.  In the third week of April, I led a group of 11 DNS members to west Texas for a week of wildlife, wildflowers, and wild scenery. John Harrod, a Texas native and Dupont Environmental Education Center Manager was my co-leader and did a great job identifying the multitudes of wildflowers we saw.  West Texas had received a healthy dose of rain prior to our trip, and we were told it was the best wildflower bloom the area had seen in 30 years.  Lucky us!

Large areas of desert were awash in color during the DNS April trip to West Texas.  Pictured here is Bitter Rubberweed and Verbena.  Photo by John Harrod.

Large areas of desert were awash in color during the DNS April trip to West Texas. Pictured here is Bitter Rubberweed and Verbena. Photo by John Harrod.

Our trip focused on exploration of the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.  These are mountainous areas that rise above the low-lying Chihuahuan Desert that are cooler, wetter, and contain stands of pine/oak/juniper forest.  The first part of our trip found us in the Davis Mountains which are a hotbed of bird activity.  We focused on finding some of the specialties of the area and stayed at Davis Mountains State Park which has a nice bird feeding station.  This is the most reliable spot in the world to see the Montezuma Quail, one of the most sought-after birds of our trip.  In the days leading up to our visit, however, it had not been seen.  Luckily, while we lingered at the feeding station on our first morning, a beautiful male waddled down out of the grassland and into plain view below the feeders.

The male Montezuma Quail certainly has to be one of the most bizarre-looking birds in North America.  Photo by John Harrod.

The male Montezuma Quail certainly has to be one of the most bizarre-looking birds in North America. Photo by John Harrod.

This trip was timed to take advantage of relatively cool temperatures, the peak of the cactus bloom, as well as the onset of bird migration.  It made for a very full and exciting adventure with many thrilling discoveries.  The cacti bloom was a treat, and some of the names bring to mind painful images. Horse crippler, devils’ head, prickly pear, pincushion, and fishhook cactus all conjure dense thorns and bloody fingers.  Seeing these amazing plants in bloom, however is a different story.  Most sport large, lovely, colorful flowers, and some have names that reflect this quality, such as rainbow cactus and strawberry cactus.  One of the most abundant in the Davis Mountains is the Claret cup cactus, which is eye-catching, and set a high bar early in the trip.

The Claret Cup Cactus was abundant and beautiful around the Davis Mountains.  Photo by John Harrod.

The Claret Cup Cactus was abundant and beautiful around the Davis Mountains. Photo by John Harrod.

Part of our visit to the Davis Mountains included a guided tour of the botanic gardens at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  Our plant identification skills were boosted considerably by their very knowledgeable and friendly staff.  We ended up staying there the whole day, and hiked into a beautiful canyon and to the top of a rocky hilltop for amazing views and a geological interpretive experience of the area.

Our group was warmly welcomed at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our group was warmly welcomed at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The second half of the trip was an adventure deeper into the Chihuahaun Desert and much further from civilization.  The much-anticipated Big Bend National Park rose in the distance as we neared it.  It’s tall desert peaks began as small hills, but arose as fiery, wild and craggy snags as we approached.  This is one of the most beautiful places in the desert southwest, if not the entire United States.

As we entered Big Bend National Park, we were in awe of the wildflower covered desert and gorgeous mountain scenery.  Photo by John Harrod.

As we entered Big Bend National Park, we were in awe of the wildflower covered desert and gorgeous mountain scenery. Photo by John Harrod.

On our first full day in the park, half of the group hiked 11 miles around Emory Peak while the rest of the group ventured to the west end of the park.  The avian reward of the 11-mile hike is the chance to find one of the rarest birds in the United States…the Colima Warbler.  This small brown bird lives mostly in the mountains of northern Mexico, but it is also found in the oak forests of the Chisos Mountains in the park…the only place they nest in the U.S.  After speaking with multiple people who where hiking the trail opposite us who had ALL seen a few of the warblers, the pressure was on to find it.  We found ourselves in the spot where they are most likely to be heard and seen.  (Click below to hear the song).

It was a steep slope of dense oak high up on the mountain.  We heard two of the birds singing, but could not find them.  We zig-zagged up and down the switchback trails to get a look.  Finally, it was singing very close, and was in plain view!  Everyone got a wonderful look at it, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

To see a Colima Warbler in the United States, you must hike the trails around Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park.  The oak forests here are the only place in our country to find one.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

To see a Colima Warbler in the United States, you must hike the trails around Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park. The oak forests here are the only place in our country to find one. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

After we all saw the Colima Warbler, we excitedly breathed a big sigh of relief!

After we all saw the Colima Warbler, we excitedly breathed a big sigh of relief!

Meanwhile, the other half of the group was having fun along the Rio Grande.  This river courses through high-walled canyons in sections of the park, and it is extremely dramatic.  The only disappointment is the size of the river itself, which is pitifully small compared to what it once was.  Most of the water is siphoned off for human uses before it reaches the park.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park was about the size of the Brandywine River.  Photo by John Harrod.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park was about the size of the Brandywine River. Photo by John Harrod.

View through "The Window", which is a short walk from where we stayed at Big Bend National Park.  Photo by John Harrod.

View through “The Window”, which is a short walk from where we stayed at Big Bend National Park. Photo by John Harrod.

We spent 3 glorious days in Big Bend National Park, learning about the geology, plants, birds, and other wildlife, and took in the scenery around every curve of the paths and roads we traveled.  After we left the park, we stayed at the famous Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas.  This hotel combines Texas, Cowboy, and Mexican architecture, art, and culture with luxurious accommodations and food.  What a top-notch way to end the trip!

One of the many splendid corners of the Gage Hotel.  Photo by John Harrod.

One of the many splendid corners of the Gage Hotel. Photo by John Harrod.

This week-long Delaware Nature Society trip will be offered again in April of 2016.  If you are interested, please contact us at 302-239-2334 ext. 134 to be added to the list of interested persons.  More information will be available soon.

By Lori Athey, Habitat Coordinator

The annual Native Plant Sale is coming up April 30-May 3 and our theme this year is Blooms with Impact: Blooms for People and Pollinators. Lots of our pollinators are struggling, just a few examples include:  European Honeybees threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder, and Monarch populations dropping alarmingly. Without pollinators, our food supply would be seriously compromised and many of these same pollinators including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and others, also help keep pest insects under control.

Pollinators need flowers, so providing continuous bloom from spring through fall is the best way to provide for these insects. We are offering some great plants this year at the Delaware Nature Society’s Native Plant Sale, but to help you find the best plants for your garden, here are the favorite plants of some of our staff:

A number of staff chose the Monardas or Beebalms as their top pick in the garden. Joanne Malgiero, Membership and Annual Giving Coordinator combines Monarda fistulosa with Vernonia and a pink Phlox in her garden and says that not only is the combination beautiful but “there is always something happening in that corner”. Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Site Manager and beekeeper loves the red Beebalm for the hummingbirds and bumble bees. Sue Bara, Teacher Naturalist and Herbalist, loves the Monardas for their healing qualities. I just think the flowers look cool.

Monarda and Bee Balm will attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bumblebees and Hummingbird Moths.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Monarda and Bee Balm will attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bumblebees and Hummingbird Moths. Photo by Lori Athey.

As a beekeeper, Michele Wales also loves the Symphyotrichums or Asters, which provide nectar and pollen to not only her honey bees, but a wide array of other native pollinators as well. CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien echoes her admiration and points out that all of those insects attracted to the Asters also help pollinate the crops that he plants in the CSA garden.

Asters provide a late season source of nectar for many native pollinators.  Photo by Rick Darke.

Asters provide a late season source of nectar for many native pollinators. Photo by Rick Darke.

CSA Farmer Dan and Jim White, Land Management Fellow and Entomologist both sing the praises of the Eutrochiums and Eupatoriums, otherwise known as Joe Pye Weed and Thoroughworts for attracting butterflies, bees and lots of other pollinators. In my garden we call this one “Butterfly Crack” because it is so popular.

Monarchs and other butterflies can't get enough Joe-pye Weed.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Monarchs and other butterflies can’t get enough Joe-pye Weed. Photo by Lori Athey.

Alice Mohrman, Abbotts Mill Education Coordinator, recommends Vaccinium corymbosum or Highbush Blueberry. Almost 300 species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars use this as a host plant! In addition, it is fun to watch the bumblebees make a hole in the base of the flower to get to the pollen and nectar. It also has attractive fruit for you and the birds, as well as pretty fall color.

Sue Bara also recommends the Solidagos or Goldenrods for their herbal properties. Did you know that the leaves can be used as first-aid for minor wounds (among other healing qualities)? The Goldenrods light up the fall with their bright yellow flowers that attract hoards of pollinators.

Meadow Fritillary and many other pollinators go wild over Solidago, the Goldenrods.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Meadow Fritillary and many other pollinators go wild over Solidago, the Goldenrods. Photo by Lori Athey.

Shelia Vincent loves to show groups of children the Asclepias or Milkweed and Butterflyweeds because of their interesting flowers, milky sap and funky seedpods. In addition to a variety of pollinators looking for nectar, you can often find Monarch caterpillars munching on them too.

John Harrod, DEEC Site Manager recommends Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida as a good tough plant for urban gardens and “for its profusion of flowers that are smaller and tend to bloom later but longer than the more common Rudbeckia hirta. I like that it ages well and does not look so scraggly like R. hirta once it is past its prime. In addition to a wide variety of pollinators, it attracts cool creatures like the yellow crab spider I found on one day eating a fly.”

This Goldenrod Crab Spider will sit and wait for prey on yellow flowers like Rudbeckia.  Photo by John Harrod.

This Goldenrod Crab Spider will sit and wait for prey on yellow flowers like Rudbeckia. Photo by John Harrod.

Two more of my favorite plants for pollinators are Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower and Ceanothus americanus or New Jersey Tea. The Echinacea is a magnet for all kinds of butterflies and bees, and after the flowers have gone to seed, flocks of Goldfinches. The Ceanothus is a small shrub with billowy white flowers that attracts some very strange-looking pollinators as well as small butterflies.
Once established, these are all tough, hard to kill plants, so you can try them in your yard with confidence.

Happy gardening and we will see you at the Native Plant Sale, April 30 to May 1!

By Derek Stoner, Seasonal Program Coordinator

On the morning of Saturday, December 27, 2014, our band of birders gathered in the parking lot at Coverdale Farm Preserve, eager for a morning of bird surveying as participants of the Wilmington Christmas Bird Count. From this vantage point, we observed three juvenile Bald Eagles perched in trees overlooking the farmyard, which seemed like a good omen. Near one on the barns we came across a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the ground, staring down the nearby House Sparrow flock. Our traditional stop to check on the Wood Duck boxes beside Coverdale Pond yielded close looks at two gray-phase Eastern Screech-owls. At this point, we seemed to be on a “Raptor Roll” but little did we know what awaited us at our next stop.

As we approached the stand of Eastern Red Cedars that we always search for roosting owls, I gave the customary guidelines of “Move slowly. Look for whitewash and pellets. Get low and look upward for dark outlines.” In past years we’ve found Screech-owls in this thick evergreen stand, and one winter a lucky observer found a Saw-whet Owl roosting there.

With the usual high hopes, we slowly entered the cedars. I took the route through the middle, while my birding partners fanned out on the left and right. After walking about 50 feet into the thicket, I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes had detected the shape of an owl and I knew the bird’s identity without raising my binoculars for confirmation. With a loud whisper I alerted Amy, Kathleen, Dawn, and Judy, who joined me in staring wide-eyed at this incredible Long-eared Owl. I managed to focus the spotting scope (a brand-new Christmas gift that Judy had brought for its first trip afield!) on the owl and we marveled at its striking yellow eyes with coal black pupils. Kathleen noticed that the owl had frozen drops of water clinging to the rictal bristles around its beak, and she went to work with her camera to document this amazing discovery…

The owl as first observed at discovery, looking a more like a long dark lump in the tree rather than a Long-eared Owl. The many cedar branches concealing the owl helped it blend into the background incredibly well.  Photo by Derek Stoner.

The owl as first observed at discovery, looking a more like a long dark lump in the tree rather than a Long-eared Owl. The many cedar branches concealing the owl helped it blend into the background incredibly well. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Celebrating the first-ever Long-eared Owl observed at Coverdale Farm Preserve, and the first of this species well-documented by photos in New Castle County.  Maryann, Amy, Dawn, Kathleen, Amy and Judy are all smiles.  Photo by Derek Stoner.

Celebrating the first-ever Long-eared Owl observed at Coverdale Farm Preserve, and the first of this species well-documented by photos in New Castle County. Maryann, Amy, Dawn, Kathleen, Amy and Judy are all smiles. Photo by Derek Stoner.

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager

Over the next few days after the initial discovery by Derek Stoner and his birding team, Jim White discovered that there were actually four Long-eared Owls using this roost at Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Long-eared owls frequently roost communally in the winter, which is really exciting to find, but nothing abnormal for the bird.  Roosts with as many as 20 owls are not uncommon with this species.  Long-ears tend to roost in very thick cover for protection from larger predators like Great Horned Owls, as well as the benefits of thermal cover.

This finding is significant for several reasons.  First of all, Long-eared Owls are rare in Delaware, or at least they are rarely encountered.  They only occur here in the winter, and return to northern areas to breed.  Second, Long-ears choose to roost in dense stands of conifers surrounded by good feeding habitat such as native meadow.  Over the last decade, many of the former agricultural fields at Coverdale have been converted to native warm-season grass meadows.  These native meadows provide ample habitat for the Long-eared Owl’s favorite food, the Meadow Vole.  Their presence here speaks well to the habitat management and improvements being made at Coverdale Farm Preserve by the Delaware Nature Society.

If you would like an opportunity to see these owls, there are several guided trips being offered soon.  Coverdale Farm Preserve is a closed preserve, not open to the public except for guided tours.  Here are your opportunities for viewing these owls:

Owls and Winter Raptors program, Sunday, February 22, 8am to 7pm.  Join Jim White to find the Long-eared Owls, and search for as many as 7 other species wintering in our area such as Great Horned, Eastern Screech, Barred, Barn, Short-eared, Snowy, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.  $30 for DNS members, $45 for non-members.  Register at www.delawarenaturesociety.org.

Other Long-eared Owl outings are being offered on Thursday, February 19; Sunday, February 22; and Saturday, February 28.  All three events are at 4pm and will take 1 hour.  These are free, but are for DNS members only.  Register by calling (302) 239-2334 ext 0.  Limited space is available for each walk.  Photography opportunities are limited.  We will contact you about the meeting location.

One of the Long-eared Owls roosting at Coverdale Farm Preserve this winter.  Photo by Jim White

One of the Long-eared Owls roosting at Coverdale Farm Preserve this winter. Photo by Jim White