Middle Run Birding Trail

All posts tagged Middle Run Birding Trail

by Derek Stoner, Summer Camp Co-Director and Conservation Project Coordinator

Eager summer campers scan the skies at Middle Run Natural Area, overseen by camp instructor Sarah Stapley (center) , a former Delaware Nature Society intern and Tri-State Bird Rescue volunteer.

Eager summer campers scan the skies at Middle Run Natural Area, overseen by camp instructor Sarah Stapley (center), a former Delaware Nature Society intern and Tri-State Bird Rescue volunteer.

“Look!  A Baltimore Oriole flying overhead– it has food!  Watch where it lands– oh, there’s the nest!” 

“Over there at the feeder, it’s a hummingbird!”

“No– look over there, an Indigo Bunting is perched on the wire!”

— Summer Campers on a bird walk at Middle Run on Friday, June 20

The 2014 Delaware Nature Society summer camp season kicked off last week with great weather and excellent opportunities for youngsters to get outside at locations that DNS owns, operates, and/or manages around the region.

For the sixth straight year, a unique camp based in the Newark area offered hands-on experiences with conservation projects, volunteer service, citizen science, and nature observation.  The Bird Experience at Middle Run is based at the 860-acre Middle Run Natural Area, and is made possible by a partnership between DNS, Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, and New Castle County Parks.

Each day the campers spent time volunteering at Tri-State’s center to build nest cups for baby birds, clean bird cages, and prepare platters of food for adult birds.  A bird veterinarian showed the students the anatomy of different birds during a dissection session, and oil spill response experts trained the students in proper care of oiled birds.

Campers proudly display their decorated bird boxes in front of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, where they donated their time as volunteers to help orphaned and injured birds.

Campers proudly display their decorated bird boxes in front of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, where they donated their time as volunteers to help orphaned and injured birds.

The campers each built and painted a nest box for birds that will attract House Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, or other cavity-nesting songbirds to their home landscape.  They created “suet logs” out of large dead branches, and will pack the holes full of suet to attract woodpeckers to their backyards.  And every day they walked the one-mile Middle Run Birding Trail and observed great birds like Bald Eagle, Louisiana Waterthrush, Orchard Oriole, Barred Owl, and Scarlet Tanager.  The students entered all of their sightings into the E-bird database of citizen science bird observations, and their efforts helped notch the milestone of Checklist #1,000 submitted for Middle Run Natural Area!

A female Tree Swallow, clutched gently in researcher Ian Stewart's hand, shows a leg band that indicates that she was banded last summer (2013) by Ian on the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm Preserve, 7 miles to the north of Middle Run.

A female Tree Swallow, clutched gently in researcher Ian Stewart’s hand, shows a leg band that indicates that she was banded last summer (2013) by Ian on the Delaware Nature Society’s Coverdale Farm Preserve, 7 miles to the north of Middle Run Natural Area.

The Friday Finale for the camp meant a visit from University of Delaware researcher Ian Stewart, who is conducting a multi-year study of nesting Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds at DNS’s Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Ian demonstrated his bird banding technique on a male Tree Swallow he  captured at an active nest box near the camp location.  Upon releasing the male back at the nest site, he checked inside the box and found the female sitting on the pair’s four nestlings.  And then the big surprise came: the female was already banded!  And she wore one of Ian’s bands that he recognized.  We immediately guessed that the female was one banded at Middle Run last year when Ian visited the same summer camp.  But then came the unique twist: by checking his records, Ian discovered that she was actually banded last summer at Coverdale Farm!

That little aluminum band tells us that the swallow grew up at Coverdale last June 9th, learned to fly and feed that summer, likely flew all the way to Central America for the winter, and then returned north to nest this Spring, settling in and raising young just 7 miles short of where she was born last year!  This type of information that is able to be gathered by scientists points to the real power of bird banding efforts.  Less than 5% of all banded birds are ever recovered, but a recapture like this one adds to the treasure trove of data that bird researchers rely on to further unravel the mysteries of the birds.  Tree Swallows are a common bird, and yet this unique discovery adds another layer of knowledge to our understanding of this species.  And sometimes luck plays a big role in the discovery of banded birds!

The video of highlights from the week of camp shows the many ways that the campers interacted with wildlife and made a difference for bird conservation.  Enjoy watching!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Get out and enjoy some great birds along the Middle Run Birding Trail! These campers in our Young Ornithologists camp enjoy looks at a Baltimore Oriole today. Image by Derek Stoner, August 20, 2012.

The Date: Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Time:  Anytime between 7:00am and Noon (Start early or sleep in a bit!)

The Place:  Middle Run Natural Area in Newark, Delaware 

The Event:  The Fourth Annual Middle Run Bio-Blitz and the First Annual Pledge to Fledge Celebration

The Purpose:  To Have Fun and Enjoy Birds

Eastern Kingbirds are flocking to the hedgerows at Middle Run right now, as they gorge on the fruits of cherry, sassafras, and sumac trees. Image by Derek Stoner.

With bird migration in full swing, venture out this Sunday to Middle Run Natural Area and help us celebrate the joys of watching birds.   Colorful birds like Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, and Scarlet Tanagers are just a few of the sights you may see.

The Pledge to Fledge component of this event is a global effort to increase appreciation of birds and their habitats.  The mission is simple: introduce more people to the enjoyment of watching birds!  Your assignment:  bring along a friend, relative, neighbor, or anyone else you know that will enjoy a fun nature walk full of interesting birds.   They will thank you!

We will hold two bird walks: one beginning at 7:00am until 9:00am and another going from 9:30am to 11:00am.   A butterfly and dragonfly walk will also be held from 10am until Noon.   Expert leaders will guide the walks, and binoculars and spotting scopes will be available for use.

Come on out and enjoy a morning with the birds– and bring a friend! 

For directions and event details, click here:  Middle Run Bio-Blitz 2012 Flyer

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A male Prairie Warbler sings from his perch in an Autumn Olive near Trail Marker 5 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

With April almost finished and May on the way, the activity level of birds is really picking up.  Many birds are already nesting, and a visit to the Middle Run Birding Trail this morning showed Tree Swallows gathering nesting material, Carolina Chickadees on seven eggs, and Eastern Bluebirds feeding three fledglings. 

Recently-arrived neo-tropical migrants like Prairie Warblers are on territory and singing, trying to attract a mate for the nesting season.   The “Meadow Mosaic” area on the Middle Run Birding Trail between Markers #4 and 6 had three different male Prairie Warblers singing.

A male Blue-headed Vireo shows himself briefly as he goes about the business of finding food. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

Other birds are passing through the area on their way to nesting grounds further north.  The Blue-headed Vireo is a bird that breeds primarily in the Boreal Forest of Canada, and stops by Delaware on its north-ward migration.  Vireos and all other species of migrant songbirds depend upon an abundance of insects (primarily caterpillars and flies) that are found on native plants.   At this time of year, trees in the Oak, Cherry, and Poplar family are good bets to attract birds.

A Warbling Vireo pauses in a Tulip Tree while feeding on caterpillars. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

The Warbling Vireo is a species of vireo that breeds locally along streams, and is often found nesting in Sycamore trees.  This bird I observed today was gleaning caterpillars from a young Tulip Tree, in the slow and steady manner that is characteristic of vireos.  Perhaps it will stay to nest at Middle Run!

What Spring migrants and bird activity are you seeing in your area right now?

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Two pairs of Tree Swallows battle over a newly-installed nest box on the Middle Run Birding Trail, at Trail Marker #1. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

The bi-weekly bird walk at Middle Run started with a major squabble today:  the competition between two pairs of Tree Swallows for a nest box looked like New Yorkers fighting over that prize Fifth Avenue penthouse suite!  Just the evening before, I had installed this nest box with the help of Nick Mielnickiwicz, who is a volunteer working on habitat enhancement on the Middle Run Birding Trail.  Now the Tree Swallows caught our attention as they showed their attraction to this new addition to the field habitat at Trail Marker #1. 

A bright male Palm Warbler perches in a cherry tree at Trail Marker #3, the aptly-named Cherry Tree Island.

As our group made our way along the birding trail near Trail Marker #3, I caught a glimpse of a flash of yellow.  Soon our binoculars found a handsome Palm Warbler perched low in a blackberry patch, bobbing its tail in a classic manner.  These bright warblers are an early spring migrant, passing through on their way to breeding grounds in spruce bogs of the boreal forest.   Another male Palm Warbler showed up, and they chased each other around before landing in a cherry tree.  Their high-pitched trilling song was a good comparison to the high-pitched bubbly phrases of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing nearby.

A Hermit Thrush perches on a low grape vine at Trail Marker #7 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, March 30, 2012.

While walking through the large field we call “Meadow Mosaic” we came across a pair of Eastern Bluebirds visiting the nest box right near Trail Marker #4.    Then at Trail Marker #5 we found a real surprise: a flycatcher that was perched atop Autumn Olive bushes and actively pursuing flying insects.   We managed brief views of this bird and all we can say for sure is that it is a flycatcher in the genus Empidonax, a group of birds known for the challenge of differentiating among several similar-looking species.  Most likely the bird we saw is a Willow Flycatcher, but we will play it safe and say it is a very early arrival for this time of year!

At Trail Marker #7 I remarked that a Hermit Thrush was there three days prior, when all of the sudden we heard the bird calling chup-chup.  Soon we were looking at a beautiful Hermit Thrush slowly raising and lowering its rusty red tail.  This bird is often regarded as having the most beautiful song of any North American bird.  Alas, on this day we did not hear the song!

A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker probes a sap well in a hickory tree at Trail Marker #9 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

A bit further down the trail, at Trail Marker #9, Becky spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker visiting its sap wells on a hickory tree.  At this time of year, lots of insects are attracted to the sweet sap flowing from these holes that the colorful sapsucker drills.  As a result, many other species of birds like kinglets, chickadees, and even Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will visit the sap wells to feed upon the insects.  For this reason the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a considered a “keystone species” that is important to the overall health of a forest ecosytem.     

A male Louisiana Waterthrush sings loudly from right above our heads at Trail Marker #11, the bridge above the Middle Run stream. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

Soon the vibrant song of the Louisiana Waterthrush led us ahead on the path to Trail Marker #11, were we found three male waterthrush engaged in a singing duel.  These newly-arrived migrants were trying to establish territorial claims, and chased each other up and down the main branch of Middle Run and up the little tributaries.  These woodland warblers are found wherever there is clean, fast-flowing water with an abundance of aquatic insects on which they can feed.

Enjoying views of the nesting Pileated Woodpeckers at the beginning (and end!) of the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

As we had concluded the previous two walks at Middle Run with fantastic views of Pileated Woodpeckers at a nest cavity, we had to try our luck again.  With spotting scope trained on the nest hole near the parking lot, we were soon treated to views of the male Pileated peeking out and looking around.  Is the female Pileated sitting on eggs inside the cavity?  Or are they still continuing to work on this potential nest location?  Either way, we are fortunate to be able to watch these wonderful woodpeckers as they go about the business of housekeeping. 

We finished the walk with a count of 45 species of birds, including migrants like Barn Swallows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chipping Sparrows that did not make the cut for photo features in this blog!  Thanks to all the participants for a great morning spent afield enjoying the birds.

The next guided bird walk at Middle Run Natural Area will be held on Tuesday, April 17, from 8:00am to 10:00am.   If you would like to visit the Middle Run Birding Trail on your own,  the trail markers are labeled in the field with numbers on brown posts with a bird logo.  Here is a map showing the overview of the area and the Trail Marker locations:

Middle Run Birding Trail Map 2012