Isaacs-Greene Preserve

All posts tagged Isaacs-Greene Preserve

By Jason Beale, Manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center

Wintering waterfowl, wintering raptors, wintering songbirds – these are common sights both in the wild and on the Delaware birdline.  However, one of my favorite wintering birds in Delaware doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves until it begins its courtship in late winter and early spring – the American Woodcock.  Like most shorebirds, it’s very cryptic to match its habitat.  However, rather than mudflats and sandy beaches, it is at home in shrubby fields, successional woods, and swamp margins.

Chuck Fullmer found this Woodcock in late November in his compost pile.

The Woodcock has an almost comical appearance with a long, prehensile bill, designed to probe for earthworms.  It appears neckless and has a body shape more reminescent of a softball than a bird.  Woodcocks are uncommon breeders throughout the state, generally centered around the large wildlife areas and refuges, and migrate through Delaware each fall and spring.  However, with careful searching and a little luck, they can be found throughout the winter months.

DNS's own Derek Stoner snapped this photo at our Burrow's Run Preserve in Greenville, Delaware. A heart-stopping whirr of wings mere feet away is usually the first sign of a Woodcock outside of the breeding season.

A Pennsylvania Game Commission Officer once gave me good Woodcock advice – look for rich, black soil.  Fortunately in southern Delaware, we have many of these areas where sandy uplands drop off into swamp forests.  Throw in an adjacent thicket and/or wild meadow and you have an excellent place to begin your search.  For the past few winters, this habitat recipe has paid off around Abbott’s Mill Nature Center at the Cedar Bog Tract/Lee Meadow, Isaacs Tract, and our newest preserve, the Isaacs-Greene Tract.

Strips of upland woods tapering down to swampy floodplains and streams are great habitats for winter Woodcocks. Resting amongst the fallen leaves, the birds are almost insivible with only the prominent head stripes and large eye to cue in careful observers.

With the Christmas Bird Count season approaching and the Backyard Bird Count in February, head on out and see if you can locate one of these fascinating birds before they begin their unique courtship.  Don’t forget that Delaware Nature Society will be offering our annual Woodcock Walks to observe courting Woodcocks in February and March at a variety of our sites.

Old fields and shrubby meadows are great spots for Woodcocks. The males will use mowed trails as they perform their "peent" during courtship.

By Jason Beale, Manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center

I set out to the Delaware Nature Society’s newest natural area, the Isaacs-Greene Preserve, with the intention of getting some photos of deer scrapes and rubs to write about their annual breeding season, the  rut.  However, as it often happens in nature, other discoveries present themselves as well.

Line of buck rubs. Look closely to see another rub in the upper left corner.

I did indeed find signs of the rut.  Rubs are found on small trees where bucks have used their antlers to remove strips of bark.  This serves two purposes.  It helps the buck shed the remaining velvet from his antlers and deposit scent from glands on the head to mark his territory.

Buck scrape. Notice overhanging vegetation above the scrape, a common association.

Scrapes are areas on the ground, usually a few feet in diameter, where a buck clears the ground and urinates to leave his scent.  Bucks often thrash the vegetation overhead and may use low hanging twigs to deposit scent from their pre-orbital glands in the corner of their eyes.  Does visit scrapes and urinate in them to let bucks know that they are ready to mate.  Both rubs and scrapes are often found along a well-used trail and are checked frequently by the attending buck.

This beaver made frequent tail slaps and "swim-bys" while I was in the area.

I next stopped by the Beaver Pond which was originally an irrigation pond created by damming Johnson’s Branch.  I was greeted by a loud tail slap, possibly a way to warn other beavers and animals of my approach.  The beaver then proceeded to swim toward me in a repeating crossing pattern punctuated by more tail slaps.  Beavers are often regarded as nocturnal or crepuscular (active around dawn and dusk), but where human contact is uncommon, they may be diurnal.

Otter scat containing fish scales and crayfish on


I followed the edge of the pond and came to a River Otter “haul-out” site. These are areas that otters frequent, usually along an open bank, to deposit scat, make scent mounds, and roll around.  This area has shown steady use for the few years that I’ve visited the site.

Northern River Otters at Reynolds Pond. Photo by Trevor Metz.


We’ll continue to maintain the Isaacs-Greene Preserve as a private conservation area, but we will begin offering forays by foot and canoe to the public starting in the spring.  However, we have already added the site into the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Weekly Walk rotation.  We meet at the center parking lot every Thursday at 8am and hope you can join us.