Monthly Archives: February 2014

Hoo Goes There?

By Kim Scotto

Hello Nature Lovers!

After a long and snowy winter, spring is finally approaching! Starting in March, many native animals are already preparing a home for their young. Hannah and I love springtime, because we can watch baby bunnies, goslings, and tadpoles grow up! But there are some types of animals that nest this time of year that aren’t so easy to observe.

Have you ever seen an owl during the day before? Most owls are nocturnal, which means that they are active at night! During the daytime, owls will roost in trees to rest, and their brown and white feathers help them camouflage against tree bark.

 

This Saw-whet Owl almost blends into the tree! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

This Saw-whet Owl almost blends into the tree! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Owls have large eyes to help them see at night. Since they are predators, they have binocular vision- just like humans! Look at your eyes in the mirror. Both of your eyes face forward! Prey animals, like mice and rabbits, have eyes on the sides of their heads. While owls have amazing vision, they actually mostly use their ears for hunting! They have extremely powerful hearing, and can detect a mouse rustling through the grass from 100 feet away.

 

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My, what big eyes you have! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Since they’re tough to spot during the day, the best way to know if an owl is nearby is to listen! Owls are most vocal at night during nesting season. There are several species of owls in Delaware that nest during the months of February and March- the Barred Owl, the Great Horned Owl, and the Eastern Screech Owl.

The Barred Owl is the mostly likely to call during the daytime. It’s easily recognizable by its call: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

Check out this Barred Owl! Photo by Derek Stoner.

Check out this Barred Owl! Photo by Derek Stoner.

Great Horned Owls can live all across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and even in South America! They are the first in Delaware to start nesting. Their call consists of deep, soft hoots.

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I bet you can guess why this owl is called “great horned!” Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Eastern Screech Owls can sometimes be seen hunting at dawn or dusk. They also like to live in abandoned wood duck nesting boxes. They have a call that sounds almost like a horse!

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An Eastern Screech Owl pokes its head out of a bird box! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Think you can ID these owls for yourself? Talk a walk by a wooded area at dusk and try it out!

All sounds from Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern Region.

It’s Time For a Sweet Treat!

By Kim Scotto

Salutations, nature lovers!

Did you know that this time of year, from mid February to early April, is prime time for one of the most delicious outdoor activities? That’s right, it’s maple sugaring season! Maple sugaring is a technique used to obtain sap from within a tree. Think of sap as the tree’s blood – it only runs up and down the tree when the temperature is just right! The sap in Maple trees only flows enough to collect on days when the temperature gets below freezing at night, but is as warm as 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

But why would we want to collect tree sap?

Who made these holes? A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker looking for a treat!

Who made these holes? A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker looking for a treat! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Animals were the first to discover that the sap of certain trees was a sweet treat! This Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker drills holes in a line across maples in order to eat the sugary sap. Native Americans realized that they too could collect sap by drilling holes in the tree!

Native Americans first learned how to tap trees hundreds of years ago, and while the tools have changed a little, at Ashland Nature Center we still collect sap with a very similar technique! Hannah and I decided to practice our sugaring skills this afternoon.

First, we chose a Maple tree that was at least 12 inches in diameter, which means the tree is at least 40 years old.

Next we took out our drill and drilled a small hole in the tree at an upward angle.

Intern Hannah drilling a hole into a Sugar Maple tree

Hannah drills a hole into a Sugar Maple! Photo by Kim Scotto

Then, we inserted a metal tool called a spile. The spile holds the hole open and lets the sap pour out of the tree.

Intern Kim using a hammer to attach the spile to a tree

Kim hammers the spile into the tree! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

 

Finally, we hooked a collection bag over the spile in order to catch all the sap as it dripped out.

Intern Kim hanging a blue back over the metal spile attached to the maple tree.

Kim hanging the collection bag. Bet there’ll be sap when we check back tomorrow!

When sap comes out of the tree, it looks almost exactly like water. While it tastes sweet just like this, the best way to eat it is to boil out the extra water to make maple syrup!  Yum!

Want to learn more about maple sugaring, practice tapping a tree, and eat a delicious pancake breakfast? Bring the family to the Delaware Nature Society’s Maple Sugaring Celebration this Saturday, Feb 8th from 9-12 at Ashland Nature Center. Pre-registration required.  If you have trouble registering on-line, call 302-239-2334 ext. 134 to register.