Monthly Archives: February 2016

Maple Madness & Pancake Palooza!

By Annalie Mallon, Education Intern

Howdy Kids! I hope everyone has been venturing outside to enjoy this lovely weather!

Here at the Delaware Nature Society we are in the midst of prime maple sugaring season. The most exciting part about this is that our family maple sugaring program and pancake breakfast is being held THIS upcoming Saturday, Feb. 27th!

If you have ever wondered how maple syrup is created (spoiler alert: I’m about to share some of the secrets below) then head on over to Ashland Nature Center to find out AND get a chance to make and taste your own!

Some Selections of Maple Syrup. photo by Annalie Mallon

Mmmmmmm maple syrup. That sticky sweet deliciousness that you lovingly pour over fluffy pancakes to make them taste a little bit more like heaven. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine sure is!

But from where does this delicious treat come? For those of you who do not know, we get maple syrup from Maple trees! In the late Winter months, like February and March, when the temperature starts to get warmer during the day (around 40 degrees) but remains freezing over night, tree sap that has been stored in the trees roots all winter starts making some moves. The sap (which is made up of over 97% water and less than 3% sugar) acts as a source of food and nutrients for the tree. It rises up through the trunk during those warmer days and starts to make its way to the branches and buds so that new leaves can grow come spring! It is during this wonderful time of the year that people harvest that sap and use it to make maple syrup!

A view of some gorgeous Maple trees in the Fall!

To start the process, we choose a Maple tree that is old enough to be tapped. To check if a tree is old enough, we measure how wide it is. If it is at least twelve inches in diameter, we can use it! We grab our handy hand drill to drill a small two inch deep hole into the tree. Don’t worry though, this does not hurt the tree. We then tap a tool called a spile right into the newly drilled hole and watch as sap starts to drip out! Check out the picture below and see if you can spot the drop of sap coming off the end of the spile..

Spile in a Silver Maple – photo by Annalie Mallon


Collecting bag on a Silver Maple! Photo by Annalie Mallon

Once the sap starts to flow, we hook one of these blue collecting bags onto the spile and wait for it to fill…


Photo by Annalie Mallon










Woah check it out! The whole bag filled up over the weekend!

Once we have collected enough sap, we bring it back to the nature center and begin the process of turning it into syrup.

Pouring the sap into a big pan being heated over a fire, we boil it down so that a majority of the water evaporates out of it and we are left with a small amount of sweet sugary liquid that we call syrup!

It takes between 60 – 90 gallons of Maple sap to make only 1 gallon of syrup! That is a LOT of sap! No wonder pure maple syrup is expensive!



Fun Fact: Maple Syrup is made only in North America! Canada is the largest producer, but the state of Vermont comes in at a close second (they produce over a million gallons per season!). This is because our unique climate of warm days and freezing nights plus all of the maple trees that we have is not very common anywhere else!

Would you and your family be interested in seeing how this process works and then get to eat a bunch of pancakes? Join us this weekend and work up an appetite while walking to our maple trees to learn how Native Americans developed the technique of producing maple syrup. Discover why settlers relied on this source for many years and how syrup farmers make this product today. See how we tap trees at Ashland and how other animals might be doing the same. Then boil down some sap into syrup and taste it before returning for a pancake and maple syrup brunch!!

Saturday, February 27, 10am – Noon

Members: $7, Others: $12

Meets at Ashland Nature Center, 3511 Barley Mill Road Hockessin, DE 19707

Call (302) 239-2334 or click Here to register!


Why Do Male and Female Animals Sometimes Look Different?

by Trudyann Buckley

Good morning, nature lovers, and Happy Almost-Valentine’s Day! While you’re outside this weekend, make sure to look for our favorite Valentine-colored bird: the Cardinal!

The Male looks like this:

A Male Cardinal

Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.


And the Female looks like this:

A female Northern Cardinal. Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.

Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.


When a male and female of the same species look different, that species is called dimorphic (Pronounced dye-morf-ik). You may have known this was true of Cardinals, but do you know why?

There are lots of reasons for dimorphism, but it all comes down to attracting that special someone to build a nest together. Scientists think that a male cardinal’s redness has to do with how much nutrition he gets. So, he is advertising to the female that he is healthy, and knows where good food is to provide for babies.

Mallard ducks are also dimorphic. The more of a certain type of vitamin the male duck eats, the more orange their beak becomes! Female mallards are attracted to males with nice orange beaks.


A male Mallard Duck. Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.


A female Mallard Duck. Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.


Of course sometimes color has nothing to do with health and a female just chooses the male she thinks is the prettiest.

When a species is dimorphic, it really all depends on which gender is competing for the attention of the other. Lots of males often compete for the attention of one female, and the female chooses the male she’s most impressed by. If female cardinals are always choosing the reddest male cardinals, then their male babies will inherit that redness. Thus, very bright red males are born in a few generations!

Meanwhile the female cardinal doesn’t get anything out of being red. She’s not competing for a male’s attention; she’s choosing. Her coloration helps her camouflage with her surroundings instead. This is especially useful when they have to tend to a nest without predators finding them.

But why aren’t the females colorful too?

Sometimes the females are more colorful, like the Belted Kingfisher. Sometimes females and males are colored identically, like Blue Jays and Tufted Titmice. It all depends on the birds’ evolution, and how they interact with each other and their environment.

Blue Jay Bucktoe Creek Preserve

A Blue Jay. Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.

Tufted Titmouse 2 2.11.2010

A Tufted Titmouse. Photograph by Joe Sebastiani.

Is dimorphism only about color differences? Nope! Males and females might be the same color, but different sizes or shapes! Remember Blue Jays? Females of that species tend to be smaller than males.

At Coverdale Farm preserve, our roosters are bigger than females. Compared to hens, roosters generally have bigger combs on their heads and wattles under their chins. That’s another way to attract females, but it also helps keep the bird cool in the heat of summer: that’s two purposes in one!

Do you want a chance this weekend to see some of these birds in real life? On February 13th, 2016 from 10am to 11:30pm, Ashland Nature Center invites families of all ages to Feed The Birds! Come hike to our bird feeders and birdwatch, as well as peak through our new bird blind. You’ll even make a bird feeder of your own so you can see these birds outside your own window. Try to spy some species you’ve never seen before, too! Register HERE, or call (302) 239-2334 to register over the phone.

If your family would like to see our chickens, cows and other farm animals, Coverdale Farm Preserve will show you around in Farm Valentines, where you’ll deliver a Valentine’s gift to fuzzy and feathered friends, and then make a valentines treat for someone you care about! This program will run on Valentine’s Day: February 14th, 2016, 1pm to 3pm. Register HERE, or call (302) 239-2334 to register over the phone.

And don’t forget, this weekend is the nationwide citizen science program: the Great Backyard Bird Count! Find out how to participate HERE.