Naturalist Certification Series

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By Ian Stewart, Naturalist Certification Series Student

About a dozen of the Delaware Nature Society’s Advanced Naturalist Club and Naturalist Certification Series recently spent an unusual but enjoyable Thursday night standing up to our waists in a swamp in rural Delaware! We were on the Herpetology field trip of the Naturalists’ Certification Series, a popular program run by the Nature Society in which various experts give an indoor lecture on the biology and identification of such diverse organisms as birds, mammals, insects, trees and wildflowers. The lecture is followed by a field trip a few days later to allow us to put into practice what we learned.

Jim White, our Herpetology instructor whetted our appetites with a fascinating lecture about the surprisingly large number of species of amphibians and reptiles likely to be encountered around the Delmarva peninsula, and then one evening in July we found ourselves standing on the edge of a swamp deep in Blackbird State Forest. Luckily we had been blessed with perfect weather. The air was warm and the water was pleasantly cool as one by one we bravely stepped into the swamp and started off our search by dragging a large vertical net slowly through the water. This caught a variety of aquatic arthropods and also a few Green Frog tadpoles which proved quite a challenge to hold!

 

Our group wades into the vernal pool at Blackbird State Forest at night.

Our group wades into the vernal pool at Blackbird State Forest at night.

We then split into smaller groups and plunged into deeper water, sweeping our flashlights and headlights back and forth through the vegetation to spot amphibians hidden among the leaves and reeds. Our first catch of the night was a Cricket Frog, a small, neatly patterned frog which gets its name because its constant, high pitched trilling call sounds like a household cricket.

Cricket Frog

Northern Cricket Frog. Image by Ian Stewart.

 

By now we had started to get the hang of wading through deep water while holding a net in one hand and a flashlight in the other and soon one of our group skillfully netted a Barking Treefrog. This is a striking, lime-green frog whose dog-like croaks could be heard all around us, although finding the source of the croaks proved much more challenging!  This species is a Delaware endangered species, so it was a rare sound indeed.

Barking Treefrog and Northern Cricket Frog.  Image by Ian Stewart.

Barking Treefrog and Northern Cricket Frog. Image by Ian Stewart.

A shout of excitement then went up as someone spotted a large Bullfrog submerged among a raft of grass. Incredibly, Jim was able to creep slowly up to the frog and then in one swift movement grab it with his bare hands! He then showed us the correct way to hold frogs so that they can’t escape but also don’t get hurt. The Bullfrog was a beautiful specimen and everyone got great looks at its huge eyes and webbed feet.

A Bullfrog showing the correct way to hold one.  Image by Ian Stewart.

A Bullfrog showing the correct way to hold one. Image by Ian Stewart.

Just as we were about to leave, Becky Meister and I came across a small snake patterned with light and dark brown bands. We were unable to capture it as it slithered around in some dense vegetation but we were able to get a sufficiently decent photograph of its body that Jim was able to identify it as a Common Water Snake. We then photographed a small, dark green frog covered in large black spots which Jim later identified as a Southern Leopard Frog, a new one for the evening. This frog gets its name from the large black dots on its back and must have been a young one as it still had a tail stub left over from its days as a tadpole.

A close-up look at a Barking Treefrog.  Image by Jim White.

A close-up look at a Barking Treefrog. Image by Jim White.

After posing for a group photograph we paused to savor the experience of standing in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, lit only by the silvery full moon while countless numbers of frogs called incessantly around us. It was the perfect ending to a memorable evening!

Group

Here we are after our night of herping! Image by Jim White.

By: Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

The Delaware Nature Society’s Naturalist Certification Series concluded last month with 12 graduates.  Congratulations to our new certified Naturalists!  Ruthe Hay, Gary Charles, Judy Charles, Tim Weymouth, Christy Fitzpatrick, Glenda Clay, Dianne Gross, Marian Henderson, Alison Long, Janet Sydnor, Mary Perkins, and Stephanie Seeney were our 2012 graduates.  The course was offered at both Ashland and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

The Naturalist Certification Series students visited the DuPont Environmental Education Center to learn about Aquatic Ecosystems.  Photo by Ruthe Hay

The Naturalist Certification Series students visited the DuPont Environmental Education Center to learn about Aquatic Ecosystems. Photo by Ruthe Hay

The Naturalist Certification Series runs from April to September and each student attends 8 lectures and 8 field trips on such topics as Mammals, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Reptiles and Amphibians, Birds, Insects, Wildflowers, Shrubs and Trees, and Aquatic Ecosystems.  The course has run since 2007 and over 140 people have taken it.

Students get hands-on to learn about nature, and after field trips, record observations and experiences in a journal.  Photo by Reese Robinson

Students get hands-on to learn about nature, and after field trips, record observations and experiences in a journal. Photo by Reese Robinson

Students create a naturalist notebook to capture their experience which includes narrative, field notes, photos, drawings, etc.   Many of our students are school teachers in Delaware who take the course for 60-hours of inservice credit, and pass on their learning and enthusiasm about nature to their school students.  Delaware Nature Society staff also take the course and get trained in natural history and how to approach the study of nature.  Anyone can take the class however, and most of our students just take it for fun!  If you think that searching for Coyote scat, exploring ecosystems, searching for frogs in a wetland at night, seeing all kinds of birds, capturing and identifying insects, learning to correctly identify wildflowers, becoming a local tree expert, and catching what swims in a stream sounds like fun…then this course is for you!

Jim White's reptile and amphibian field trip, where students search for frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards and turtles in a wetland after dark is consistently the favorite of our students.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Jim White’s reptile and amphibian field trip, where students search for frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards and turtles in a wetland after dark is consistently the favorite of our students. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Start making your plans for 2013 if you would like to be a part of this class!  The class is $200 for DNS members and $250 for non-members.  Register here.  If you are a Delaware school teacher, you qualify to get reimbursed for most of the tuition and receive 60 inservice-credit hours if you graduate.  Call us at (302) 239-2334 if you have any questions and would like to take this class in 2013.  Here is the schedule:

Mammals – lecture: April 4, 6-9pm; field trip: April 6, 1 to 4pm – Derek Stoner

Terrestrial Ecosystems – lecture: May 2, 6-8:30pm; field trip: May 4, 8am to 2pm Joe Sebastiani

Reptiles and Amphibians – lecture: May 16, 6-9pm; field trip: May 18, 5:30-11pm – Jim White

Birds – lecture: June 13, 6-8pm; field trip: June 15, 7am to 11am – Derek Stoner

Insects – lecture: August 8, 6-9pm; field trip: August 10, 9am-3pm – Jim White

Wildflowers – lecture:  August 21, 6-8pm; field trip: August 22, 5:30-7:30pm – Joe Sebastiani

Trees and Shrubs – lecture: Sept. 12, 6-8pm; field trip: Sept. 14, 9:00am-12:00pm – John Harrod

Aquatic Ecosystems – lecture: Sept 26, 6-8pm; field trip: September 28, 9am-2pm – Kristen Travers and Lesley Bensinger