Monthly Archives: February 2013

Winter Never Tasted So Sweet

February is in full swing, and that means it’s Maple Sugaring season at the Delaware Nature Society. This is the time we have a number of families, school students, and even Young Naturalists that come to Ashland Nature Center to learn about the exciting process of turning maple sap into maple syrup!

The Young Naturalists love maple sugaring…do you!? Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

Have you ever wondered where the syrup you put on your pancakes comes from? You need maple trees and the right weather that allows sap to flow.  Sap only flows during freeze-thaw cycles, when overnight temperatures dip below freezing and the days are sunny and warm, with temperatures between 40-50 degrees.

So what exactly is sap and how does it flow? Sap is actually sugar water. Most people (myself included until I taught this program) thought all sap was very thick and sticky like syrup. While some tree sap does have a thick consistency, like pine sap, maple sap is 97% water. How is that possible? Trees make sugar in their leaves during the summer and then store it in their roots in the fall. During warmer winter days, the roots begin to thaw and water moves from the soil into the roots and flows up the tree through “pipes” called xylem vessels. As the water moves through these “pipes” it picks up the sap as it moves upwards.


So how do we extract the sap from the tree? The first step to making maple syrup is tapping the maple tree. You must drill a upward-angled hole about 1 1/2 inches deep into the tree, just enough to tap into the xylem “pipes”.

This Young Naturalists drills a practice hole into a dead Red Maple. We only tap alive trees because sap only flows in trees that are alive. Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

A metal spile is then inserted into the hole in the tree and the sap flows out of the spile on warm and sunny winter days. We always taste the sap as it’s flowing out of the tree!

Have you ever tasted the sap directly from a maple tree? Photo by John Wessels.

We collect the sap in big blue bags. Every couple of days we collect the sap and then use it for our programs.

Do you see how full the blue bag is? It was really heavy! Photo by John Wessels.

Now, the sap that we collect directly from the tree is not what we put on our pancakes. If we did that, our pancakes would be really soggy and taste pretty awful. The sap must be boiled so the water evaporates and the sugar is concentrated. We boil just enough to let everyone in the program sample the syrup because it takes a very long time. We would need to boil 40-60 gallons of sap to make enough maple syrup to put on our pancakes!

We have to concentrate the sugar in the sap to make maple syrup. Do you see the steam coming off the pan? That’s the water from the sap evaporating into the air! Photo by John Wessels.


Phew! After all that work we finally made maple syrup, but I haven’t even told you the best part! The best part about the maple sugaring season is eating a lot of pancakes! After we spend some time outside learning about the process of maple sugaring, we head back into the nature center to make some breakfast. It’s fun comparing the tastes of the maple syrup to the pancake syrup (like Mrs. Butterworths or Aunt Jemima). Those syrups are made from corn syrup. Next time you eat pancakes, try to compare the two different syrups. You will definitely taste the difference!

Ready for Their Close-Up

Hey kids! I’ve got a fun activity for you to spice up your February. I work with some pretty cool animals on a daily basis and I wanted to share them with you! At this time of year these animals would be hibernating in the wild but not these guys. They were awake and ready for their close-ups when one of our Teacher Naturalists, Jeff Haas, pointed his camera at them.

Ready for the activity? Here’s what you’ve got to do. There are four different animals listed below: Animal #1 through #4. There are 2-3 close-up pictures of each animal and a short quiz following each set of pictures. It’s up to you to figure out what animal it is by looking at the pictures and then see if you can answer the questions in the quiz! At the end of the quiz the animal reveals himself so you can see if your guess was correct! Good luck!


Animal #1:

Animal #1

This animal looks pretty slippery if you ask me…

What is that big circle?

Is that a foot?

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

One down, three to go!


Animal #2:

Have you seen anything that looks like this before?

What body part(s) are visible in this picture? (You’ll need to know for the Animal #2 quiz!)

Hint: There are 3 of this animal in this picture!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Halfway there!


Animal #3

What body part is this?

High five!

Oh my, what big poison glands you have…

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Last one!


Animal #4

What a beautiful color, don’t you agree?

This shot is so cool, it’s one of my favorites!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

All done? Great job!

A big shout out and thank you to Jeff Haas for taking all these pictures of our animals with his fancy camera! Weren’t they awesome? Jeff took pictures of some more of our animals and I couldn’t help but share the rest of them with you because they are really cool pictures! Here’s a list of the animals that are pictured below (not in order): Whites Tree Frog, Boa Constrictor, American Alligator, Sudan-plated Lizard, Green Frog, Alligator Snapping Turtle, American Millipede, Yellow-footed Tortoise, Rose-haired Tarantula, Black Ratsnake, and Western Swift.

Check out the pictures and comment below if you know what animals they are. I gave you some hints!

Whose ear is this?

That’s a lot of legs…

This Ashland favorite is a tough backpacker!

This animal has the most beautiful scales.

This little lizard is pretty swift!

Check out the toes on this guy, they come in handy climbing trees!

What kind of reptile shed this?

Who is this hairy lady?

Check out that smile…

This guy is a great tree climber.

Are you green with envy for this guy’s colors?

Wow, whose mouth is this?


If you enjoyed this activity keep reading the Kids Nature Blog for more nature fun like this!

Young Naturalists Go Winter Birding!

The Young Naturalists Club wasted no time kicking off 2013 with an awesome outdoorsy adventure! Our Young Naturalists leader and favorite guest author, Kristen, wrote about their experience last weekend. Check out what she had to say about it!

On Sunday, January 27th the Young Naturalist Club took a trip to Tri-State Bird Rescue.  We were lucky enough to arrive just in time to see a Bald Eagle being freed!  We learned that it had arrived at Tri-State in a very sleepy state, and that tests revealed he had ingested chemicals that are used to put animals to sleep.  He was lucky to have been sent to Tri-State, because within a week he was healthy and being set free!

Check out....

It was incredible seeing a Bald Eagle so close! Look how big and powerful his wingspan is! Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.


After getting to see the release of the Bald Eagle, we went inside and Tri-State’s Volunteer & Office Manager, Julie, taught us about what Tri-State Bird Rescue does and took us on a tour of the facility. Outside, there were several bird feeders and we caught a glimpse of Carolina Chickadees, Cardinals and a Downy Woodpecker. 

The Young...

Young Naturalists taking a look at the facility and bird feeders at Tri-State Bird Rescue. Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

We also got to meet Ishta, the resident Peregrine Falcon at Tri-State.  On our way back inside, we saw a Black Vulture sitting on top of the building and learned that a pair of vultures tend to nest there.  After our tour, we took a hike along the birding trail at Middle Run Natural Area and saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker!

Thanks for sharing about your exciting day Kristen! I’m so jealous the Young Naturalists got to see a Bald Eagle take flight right in front of you. That must have been amazing! The Young Naturalists have many more fun adventures planned for their next meetings too, check it out!

Sunday, February 17th  1-4pm – Come make your own maple syrup from the maple tree sap at Ashland Nature Center. Then, taste test different “syrups” and make pancakes. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Saturday, March 23rd  6-9pm – Learn about the bats and amphibians that call Ashland Nature Center home and go for a hike to find some of them! Afterwards, build a campfire and roast marshmallows while looking for bats flying overhead! [Note: Time and date change from original schedule.]

Sunday, April 28th from 1-4 pm –  Head off-site to look for cool rocks and minerals! Location is to be determined, most likely the location will be Iron Hill or Woodlawn Trustees Preserve. [Note: Time and date change from original schedule.]

Sunday, May 19th, 1-4pm – It’s time to go fishing at Coverdale Farm Preserve! Directions will be provided before the outing.

If you’re interested in joining the Young Naturalists Club on their adventures, sign up now! Members can register online at or you may call us at (302) 239 – 2334.