Author Archives: Delaware Nature Society Education Interns

Meet the New Interns!

By Annalie Mallon and Trudyann Buckley

What’s happening nature lovers?! Enjoying this crisp January air? In the midst of learning how to teach all of the fall programs here at DNS along with the recent holiday craziness, we have completely forgotten to introduce ourselves 😳😱. Our names are Trudyann Buckley and Annalie Mallon and we are the education interns for the 2015-2016 year!  We are so happy that you have stumbled upon the kids nature blog – a great place for you to stay up to date on current things happening at DNS and to check out what kids like you have been doing at some of our sites!

Trudyann (left) and Annalie (right) teaching an Animals in Winter Outreach at a local school!

Since we have already been working here for the past few months, we thought we would give you a quick introduction with some fun facts about us and what we love most about working for the Delaware Nature Society.

Fact numero uno: We both have a passion for the outdoor world! What are some of the types of things we enjoy doing outside and where are some of our favorite spots to explore?

  • Annalie is a big ocean fanatic. When she is not daydreaming about living on a Caribbean island and SCUBA diving with fish everyday she enjoys hiking, camping, kayaking, and fishing! 🐠🐠 Below is a picture of her favorite camping spot on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands, New York.


  • Trudyann likes to make the most of the seasons. She loves skim and boogie boarding on the New Jersey coast in the summer. In the winter, she hits the slopes on her snowboard in the Pocono Mountains. Below is a picture of the view on top of one of her favorite trails. She also loves hiking, ice skating, and swimming in lakes! slopes

Fact #2: The herp room animals are some of our best friends! We spend tons of time caring for, feeding, and teaching with these awesome reptiles and amphibians. Which ones are our favorites? (shh we’re allowed to have favorites, just don’t tell them!)

  • Trudyann thinks our spotted turtle is awesome! It’s pretty shy, but it’s very friendly. It has only three legs, but it doesn’t seem bothered. Also, its balancing game is on point! spotted turtle
  • Annalie’s favorite herp room friend is the Diamondback Terrapin because he has the coolest diamond shell pattern and polka dotted body, AND he is an excellent swimmer who gets to live by the beach! He has also been used as a symbol for one of her favorite bands (extra points if anyone can guess who!).


Female Praying Mantis

#3: What are our favorite programs to teach??

  • Annalie enjoys teaching insect safari because we get to explore three different habitats around Ashland and search for some super cool insects! We found this pretty lady (right) sitting on top of the butterfly house one day and brought her to some of our school outreaches. She even laid an egg case which hatched in the herp room – we had hundreds of baby praying mantises!
  • Trudyann has a wonderful time teaching Stream Ecology. The lesson shows kids how fun science can be! We get to test stream chemistry and look for critters. Then we find out why one effects the other. She especially loves finding Crayfish in the stream–so cool!

#4: What is the most exciting/our favorite thing that we have done so far while working for the Delaware Nature Society?

  • To train for our Native Birds lesson, Trudyann loved looking after a borrowed pet Mallard duck all morning. The duck explored our office space, and then she sat right next to our desks and started to fall asleep!20160112_224436
  • Annalie thought shucking corn on the farm was quite a fun little mission. At the beginning of December, a whole group of teacher naturalists and volunteers got together at Coverdale Farm Preserve to pull off and collect all of the dried ears of corn in the corn field! We loaded up whole trashcans full to be used for school programs!

#5: What are you looking forward to doing before your internship is over at the end of August?!

  • “Apart from waiting for it to snow so that we can FINALLY use sledding hill for what it was named for, I am super psyched about summer camp!! I can’t wait to go on some awesome adventures with all of you kids!” – Annalie
  • “I’m looking forward to seeing all the flowers and trees at the Nature Center bloom in the Spring! I hear the meadow is going to be beautiful, so Nature Photography, Insect Safari, and Exploring Ecosystems will be extra fun to teach!” -Trudyann

Are you a Delaware Nature Society member between the ages of 9 and 12 and love nature like us?? Come on over to the Ashland Nature Center and join the Young Naturalist Club, a group of  nature lovers, bug collectors, snake finders, and explorers! We’ll be spending our time outdoors hiking and exploring streams, woods, fields and wetlands in search of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Make new friends that are interested in the outdoors, like you. Time will be spent at Ashland Nature Center and natural areas and preserves in the area.

Meets the last Sunday of the month at Ashland Nature Center unless otherwise noted, 9 – noon

Ages 9-12, members only: $60

3511 Barley Mill Road Hockessin, DE 19707 (302) 239-2334


New Year, New Trees!

by Annalie Mallon, Education Intern

Happy New Year nature lovers! We hope you enjoyed the holidays (although if you spent them any way like we did, you did quite a lot of eating and lazy laying around). So that means it’s time to get up and get back outside into what FINALLY seems like winter weather! (Take a look at the picture of wildflower creek below, it’s all iced over!) 12506621_10154218455222923_711342281_n

So I have some pretty amazing news to share with all of you – this past November, the Delaware Nature Society was granted the opportunity to plant a whopping 1,000 new trees and 1,000 new plants on some of our properties! If you are thinking to yourself “holy moly that sounds like a LOT of plants,” you are indeed correct. And to add to this plant craziness, the team of planters was given only a few short weeks to get them all into the ground. Sound like a challenge? They succeeded!

Take a walk down some of our trails here at Ashland Nature Center and see if you can spot any of these new plants. What might look like a bunch of little sticks popping out of the ground are actually baby trees, or saplings, of many different species!



Here I am digging a hole to plant the sapling in the black container next to my foot!

Getting all of those saplings and plants into the ground took a lot of hard work and effort. First, large sections of dead vines and weeds had to be cut and mowed so that there was plenty of open land for planting. After mowing, the different species of trees and plants had to be distributed to these open areas according to their growing needs (for example, a type of tree that grows well in the shade was placed in a shadier spot). Then each and every hole had to be dug so that all 2,000 saplings and plants could be properly planted and snugly buried. Finally, hundreds of tree cages were cut, shaped, and carefully placed around the newly planted saplings to make sure they will not be eaten by deer and other animals this winter. All of this was done at Ashland Nature Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, and Flint Woods Preserve within the span of only one month! Phew!


Alec and Joe cutting and shaping a few of the hundreds of tree cages!

I asked the planting team about their month-long planting adventure, and this is what they had to say about some of the trees that were planted –

“I like the persimmon tree because people doing programs and camps, or just visiting our trails for a walk will be able to enjoy the delicious fruit that it produces. My favorite tree that I planted is the white oak because they are beautiful and the deer love them!” – Joe Cirillo

“We planted some beach plums which will produce some really yummy fruit, and I like the paw paw tree because it has a great name” – Dave Pro

I personally enjoyed planting the Tulip Poplar saplings because the roots were a bright neon green color and they smelled super funky. The Tulip trees also produce beautiful flowers in the spring (pictured below) and they can grow to be up to 150 feet tall!! (I made sure that all of the saplings I planted were done with extra love and care, so they will most definitely grow to be that tall).

tulip tree flower

Tulip Tree Flower taken by Dave Pro

So there you have it! Planting thousands of trees is a lot of hard work (I might still have blisters on my hands from my attempts at making tree cages), but it will definitely pay off years from now when they all grow to become new homes for the many animals that live around here.


Can you see all of the new tree cages lining walnut lane?

Bring your family over to the Ashland Nature Center and join us this Sunday, January 10th, from noon to 3pm for our New Year’s Plant count! Discover how many species of plants can be found here in the middle of winter with botanist Janet Ebert, and see how many of these new trees you can find! Please bring a bag lunch and dress for the weather.

Register at or by calling 302-239-2334.


Teen Naturalists Take on the Laurel Highlands

By Carrie Scheick, Teen Naturalist Program Leader

In August, the Teen Naturalists took off to the Laurel Highlands in Southwestern Pennsylvania. This trip was unlike the other week-long adventures I’ve run – each day was a flurry of activities and completely unique. We hiked (above and below ground!), climbed, and rafted our way through the Laurel Highlands for the week.

On Monday, we arrived at Ohiopyle State Park and set up our camp for the week. After being in the van for so long, we needed to stretch our legs. We headed into the town of Ohiopyle to hike at the Ferncliff Natural Area. This 2.4 mile loop is on a peninsula within the Lower Youghiogheny River. This unique peninsula has plants that are unusual for Pennsylvania. The shape of the river creates a microclimate, a small, specific place where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The warmer temperatures allows certain plants to grow in this northern region. The first part of the hike was along the edge of the Lower Youghiogheny River and we had a great time rock scrambling along the river. The trail then turns into the forest and loops back around.

Climbing rocks near the waterfall at the Ferncliff Natural Area.

Climbing rocks near the waterfall at the Ferncliff Natural Area.

That evening during our fabulous Mexican themed dinner, thunder continually rumbled in the distance. The storm slowly drew closer as we continued to eat. The storm eventually snuck up on us as a loud CRASH of lightning within a short distance of us surprised us all. Storms kept popping up despite our constant radar checking, so we were in and out of the van until about 1:30am when the storms finally subsided. Never a dull moment with the Teen Naturalists.

We all groggily got up the next morning and headed to Powdermill Nature Reserve to check out their bird banding program. It’s part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the reserve has been banding birds since the 1960s and has banded about 125 different species.

The research center uses mist nets, which are fragile, mesh nets to catch the birds. The mist nets are opened a half-hour before sunrise and are open for about six hours (weather depending). The mist nets are open in certain rotating sections within the preserve to minimize wildlife disturbance. Staff and volunteers also trim the vegetation within the area to maintain the habitat and keep vegetation level with the nets. By keeping the nets and vegetation of similar heights, the birds won’t see the nets as they are foraging/looking for insects and fly into them. We went to check the nets around the pond with Mary, one of Powdermill’s volunteers. Two birds were in the nets, a Black and White Warbler and a Catbird.

A Black-and-white Warbler that was captured for measuring and banding.

A Black-and-white Warbler that was captured for measuring and banding.

Checking the mist nets.

Checking the mist nets.

We walked back to the banding station where Luke Degroote, Avian Ecologist and Bird Banding Program Coordinator, was entering data. Some measurements taken of each bird include sex, weight, wing length, and fat content. These measurements tell bird biologists about the bird’s health and can help them track populations, movement, and migration patterns.

We got to see a lot of different species of birds, it was a busy day! Most of the birds we saw were currently changing their feathers, as breeding season comes to an end and migration season will start. Luke got us up close and personal to a number of different species including a juvenile Red-eyed Vireo (I learned those birds don’t have the red eye until they mature!), Canada Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, American Redstart, Carolina Wren, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Kentucky Warbler.

Getting a close look at a Carolina Wren.

Getting a close look at a Carolina Wren.

In addition to banding, Powdermill is currently researching ways to minimize bird strikes, when birds collide with human-made objects such as windows, which can sometimes be fatal to the birds. They are researching different patterned glass to see if birds can see that glass better than clear glass. UV glass and criss-cross patterned has shown to be effective in their trials so far.

Afterwards, we went to Laurel Summit State Park and hiked the Wolf Rocks Trail. The trail was rugged, full of rocks and roots, challenging your foot placement with every step.  Waist high ferns lined the trail and covered the thick, forest floor.  It was awesome to see a forest with such a high and healthy fern population. My usual stomping grounds in Delaware and Maryland are covered in an invasive species called Japanese stilt grass that out-competes the native ferns. We hiked about 2.5 miles to the Wolf Rocks Overlook for lunch and took our one and only group picture from our trip before retracing our steps.

Here we are at the Wolf Rocks Overlook, one of the highest points in Pennsylvania.

Here we are at the Wolf Rocks Overlook, one of the highest points in Pennsylvania.

After our hike we were sweaty and smelly, so that naturally called for use to play in the Youghiogheny River back at Ohiolpyle State Park. Loaded hot dogs and s’mores followed in our down time back at camp, and that night we didn’t have any thunder to keep us from sleeping peacefully.

Cooling off in the Youghiogheny River.

Cooling off in the Youghiogheny River.

Pancakes kicked off the day on Wednesday. (Is there a better way to start a day? I think not.) We spent the day rock climbing adjacent to Meadow Run, one of the tributaries of the Youghiogheny River. We climbed 3 different routes, that were challenging and a lot of fun. I was impressed with the teens for challenging themselves (especially the ones who were not fond of heights!) and letting our guides encourage and push each of them to climb higher.

Here we are doing some rock climbing.

Here we are doing some rock climbing.

After climbing we followed Meadow Run back to the natural waterslides in Ohiopyle. We spent some time sliding down the rocks (aka tearing up our bathing suits), and jumping off rocks into the water. A relaxing evening of pasta, apples-to-apples, and of course, s’mores rounded out our evening.

The Natural Water Slide is a rough ride!

The Natural Water Slide is a rough ride!

Thursday was whitewater rafting day – one of the most highly anticipated activities of our trip. It was my fault that this morning was cloudy and the coolest morning of our trip so far (because I obviously control the weather). We met up with our fabulous river guides and put in the river just below the falls we hiked around on Monday. The Lower Youghiogheny is full of Class III rapids that we surfed, spun around, and paddled through like champs. I personally had been rafting before, but the Yough seemed like each rapid was unique; I can still picture specific ones and our maneuvers through them very clearly. We had a great experience and the teens had a blast; you can tell from these pictures!

White Water Rafting!!!

White Water Rafting!!!

Bring on the Class IV rapids!!!

Bring on the Class IV rapids!!!

After changing into warm, dry clothes, we spent the afternoon wandering around and exploring the town of Ohiopyle. After having our first dinner of pizza (mac and cheese would be our second dinner later in the evening) we stopped at Cucumber Falls, a waterfall that flows into the Lower Youghiogheny River. We played under the falls and rock-scrambled down the stream to the river.

Behold...Cucumber Falls!

Behold…Cucumber Falls!

After breaking down camp Friday morning, we headed to the Laurel Caverns for a lower cave experience. A handful of us had been to various caving tours and explored Wind Cave a couple years back, but none of us had ever been underground in a 49-52 degree cave for several hours. We laced up our boots, strapped our headlamps to our helmets, and took a deep breath as we headed underground. There was a lot of hype about this activity, but I personally would describe our guided lower caving experience as rock scrambling, but underground. It was not as claustrophobic as we anticipated, because you could challenge yourself as much or as little as you wanted to. Our guide gave us challenges such as wiggling through small spaces between boulders and popping up on the other side, army crawling through a 40-degree stream, and turning off our headlamps to climb up and under a large boulder (that challenge was like an awesome team building activity, I loved it!) We didn’t bring any cameras with us and were all so ready to get out of our wet, muddy clothes afterwards, that we don’t have any awesome pictures from caving. However, this isn’t the first time the Teen Naturalists have traveled to Laurel Caverns, so check out this throwback photo from 2006!

Here is a happy Teen Naturalist in Laurel Caverns in 2006. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Here is a happy Teen Naturalist in Laurel Caverns in 2006. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

After we cleaned up, we ate lunch before climbing into the van to begin our journey back to Delaware. How do you end such an awesome week-long trip? By having everyone fall asleep within the first 10 minutes of the van ride home. Now that’s what I call a successful Teen Naturalist adventure.

Worn out Teen Naturalists!

Worn out Teen Naturalists!

If you know someone who is 13 to 17 years old who would likes to study nature, be adventuring outside, making friends that enjoy the same thing, and might like a trip such as this, tell them about the Delaware Nature Society’s Teen Naturalist group.  Find information here about registering for the 2015-2016 season or call us at (302) 239-2334 x 134.

Animal Travelers

By Rebecca Wadman, Education Intern

Every animal needs to be able to find its way from one place to another for food, shelter, and reproduction. But animals can’t make maps or use GPS like we can, so how do they find their way across large distances?

Pigeon pair - Photo by Derek Stoner

Pigeon pair – Photo by Derek Stoner

Pigeons will fly hundreds of miles to make their way back to their nests, and so people have been using them to carry messages from one place to another for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks used them to announce the winners of the Olympics, doctors used them to deliver medication, and soldiers in both World Wars used them to send messages back to base.

In order to find their home nests from wherever they are, pigeons rely on a complicated combination of all their senses. They use the sun as a compass to help point themselves in the right direction, and then they use hearing, sight, and even smell to direct them home. Not only that, but pigeons have the ability to sense magnetic fields, which can tell them which way is north, and also how far up or down their flight is tilted.

Bees on Purple Coneflower - Photo by Katie Harrison

Bees on Purple Coneflower – Photo by Katie Harrison

Honeybees not only know how to find their way through their environment, they also know how to give other bees directions!

A honeybee can tell the others in her hive where to find a location. This can be the location of flowers, water, or even a new hive site. She does this by dancing. If she dances straight up towards the top of the hive, the location that she’s trying to point the others to is straight towards the sun. If she dances straight down, she’s trying to point the others directly away from the sun.

Bees also use scent to communicate. As they dance, they spread the scent of whatever flower they just visited to the other bees in the hive. This helps the other bees find the flowers by looking for a similar scent.

Come find your way around Ashland Nature Center every weekend! Our teacher naturalists lead a free hike at 10:00am and 2:00pm on both Saturday and Sunday!


By Rebecca Wadman, Education Intern

Spring Beauty - Photo by Dave Pro

Spring Beauty – Photo by Dave Pro

Spring is absolutely full of flowers! As the temperatures warm up and the sunshine gets longer, plants start putting out their leaves and flowers. Spring Beauty flowers are one of my favorite, and they’re blooming everywhere here.

There are many fantastic flowers here at Ashland! Here are just a few of the ones blooming right now.

Common Blue Violet - Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Common Blue Violet – Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Common blue violet is native to North America. Native Americans and early European settlers used it to treat colds and sore throats, and ate the leaves and flowers as food. It comes in many different colors and patterns, ranging from dark purple to white, and solid colored, striped, or even speckled!

Cutleaf toothwort - Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Cutleaf toothwort – Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Cutleaf toothwort is another pretty native wildflower. It lives in places that were never used for fields or houses, and only has leaves and flowers in the spring. The “toothwort” part of the name comes from the root, which looks a little bit like it’s growing teeth, and “wort” which is an old English word for plant.

Bloodroot - Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Bloodroot – Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Bloodroot is a native wildflower with a distinctive, bright red sap.It’s rare, so keep a careful eye out on Treetop Trail at Ashland if you want a chance to see some!  They have finished blooming now, but look for their strange “hand-like” leaves with an upright, pointy seedpod.

Speedbump loves to eat dandelions! - Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Speedbump our captive Yellow-footed Tortoise loves to eat dandelions! – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Dandelions might be a weed in your yard, but people and animals alike eat them for food. Goldfinches love to feast on Dandelions, and all of our captive education turtles really seem to enjoy them!

Come out out to Ashland on the weekend and join us for a free nature walk with one of our naturalists at 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday! No registration is necessary and these walks are free.  Right now, there are flowers blooming everywhere, and the ponds and marsh are full of frogs and tadpoles!

Spring Peeping!

By Rebecca Wadman:

It’s frog season! Frogs are extremely vocal amphibians who use loud songs to attract a mate. Some of the common frogs at Ashland Nature Center are Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, Green Frogs, Bullfrogs, Pickerel Frogs, and American toads.  The Wood Frogs have already laid their eggs.  Spring Peepers and American Toads are calling now.  Pickerel Frogs will come out soon, and after that, we’ll begin to hear Green Frogs and Bullfrogs.

For most of the winter, these frogs have been hibernating in the ponds and forests to escape the freezing temperatures and the lack of food. Some of the frog species in this area even freeze during the winter, and thaw out again in the spring!

A handful of Wood Frogs looking for a mate.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

A handful of Wood Frogs looking for a mate. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Spring Peepers and American Toads are coming out of the woods, and gathering in ponds and marshes around Ashland to find mates and lay eggs. Males will call loudly to try and attract females. Some of the songs are louder than household fire alarms, and can be heard over half a mile away!  Sitting among a chorus of Spring Peepers can be painful to your ears.  Come find out for yourself!  Stop by Ashland Nature Center and take a walk around the marsh to see what you can find.

Come join us for the Frog Festival from 2:00-4:00pm on April 11th and go wandering around in the marsh looking for some of our fantastic local amphibians! Register at or by calling 302-239-2334.  $5 per person.

Happy Spring!

Snow at Ashland - Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Snow at Ashland – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

It was late in the winter, but a couple weeks ago we finally had a spectacular snowfall! Here at Ashland, we had an absolutely perfect opportunity for finding evidence of some of our winter animals (and for sledding!)

Junco - Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Can you find the Dark-eyed Junco? – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Birds are everywhere! Many birds migrate away from Delaware for the winter, but the ones that stay have to figure out what to do when there’s so much snow on the ground. It’s harder to find food, and much harder to stay warm. If you do see any birds when it’s this cold, they’ll be sitting in the trees with their feathers fluffed up to hold in heat.

Dog Paw Print - Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Dog Paw Print – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

On snowy days, it’s easier to see where animals and people have been walking. It’s amazing just how many people walk the trails here at Ashland Nature Center, alone or with their dogs. When I was out on a walk, I saw footprints, dog paw prints, ski tracks, and sled tracks. Every footstep makes a mark in the snow, and if you grab a field guide and keep your eyes open, who knows what animals you’ll find evidence of!

Whose Tracks Are These? - Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Whose Tracks Are These? – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

But springtime is coming, and the snow can’t stick around forever. As the snow melts, some of the season’s first flowers are starting to show, and animals are starting to come back from their winter homes.

Tree Swallow - Photo by John Harrod

Tree Swallow – Photo by John Harrod

Tree swallows are small, iridescent birds that migrate down to Central America during the winter, and travel as far north as the Arctic Circle to breed in the summer. Below is an example of tree swallow sounds. See if you can find any of these birds outside this week!

Come on over to Ashland Nature Center during the week and stop in at the visitor’s center for trail guides to help you learn more about the plants and animals you can find here!

Maple Sugaring

People love tree sap! We put it on our food, eat it as candy, and some people even clean their skin with it!

Bag collecting Maple Sap - unknown photo credit

Bag collecting Maple Sap – Ashland Nature Center

I’m talking about the sap from the sugar maple tree, that delicious treat we know as maple syrup or maple sugar. We take the sap and boil out the water until it makes syrup, then take the syrup on our pancakes in the morning, cook it into cupcakes and cookies. We take the syrup and cook it even more until it turns into sugar, and then add it to fancy soap that we can scrub our faces with (the bumpy sugar helps scrub away dead skin cells), or just eat it plain.  No one’s quite sure when people started using it, but we know that Native Americans were enjoying this sweet treat before the Europeans discovered this continent. They used it to flavor almost everything they ate, like we use salt today.

Maple Syrup! - photo credit unknown

Maple Syrup! – Ashland Nature Center

No one knows exactly how they found out that some trees have tasty sap, but there are a few different legends. One Iroquois legend says that a chief’s wife discovered maple syrup, when sap from a maple sugar tree fell into her bowl and she decided to make soup using the sap instead of going to get water. When the soup turned sweet, she realized that she had found a new, very good source of food.

The Lenni Lenape (also known as the Delaware) have a very different legend about maple syrup. In their story, the maple tree gave maple syrup as a present to the woodpeckers in exchange for eating the bugs that lived under the tree’s bark, and all the other animals were able to drink the sap as well. Humans learned about the maple tree’s gift by watching the animals, and then learned how to boil the sap down into sugar.

Before the Europeans came, the Lenni Lenape and other Native Americans didn’t have metal pots to boil maple sap in. How do you think they were able to make maple sugar?

Make a guess here! For parents and children 1&1/2 to 5 years old, you might enjoy our Maple Magic program on Monday, February 23rd, 9:30-11am at Ashland Nature Center.  You will visit some maple trees to collect sap and make some maple syrup to taste over an open fire.  Sign up for our Maple Magic program here and come visit us on the 23rd for an exciting and delicious program!

Birds of Prey

Hey everybody! We’ve got an exciting program coming up, so I thought it might be nice to talk a little bit about these fantastic birds!

Even though it’s cold, there are still lots of birds here in Delaware! On a short bird walk the other day, I saw about ten different species of birds! There were robins and woodpeckers and sparrows and warblers, but the most impressive birds we saw were the raptors. Raptors are birds of prey, like eagles and hawks, that eat only meat. Many of them will kill their own prey, but some (like vultures) usually go looking for dead animals to eat.

Bald Eagle - Photo by Jim White

Bald Eagle – Photo by Jim White

Bald eagles are a large raptor, with a white head and bright yellow beak and talons. Bald eagles are in the sea eagle family, which is a group of eagles that have white tails, legs that are not covered in feathers, and eat mostly fish. They also eat small mammals, and carrion (dead animals). Sometimes if you’re driving along the road, you can see them eating roadkill!

They’re one of the most recognizable birds of prey in the United States, because they’re our national bird and are often used in images that represent the US. In the 1960s, the number of bald eagles in the United States was so low that it was placed on the endangered species list, and in the 1980s there were only three bald eagle nests in the entire state of Delaware! Now, however, there are nearly a hundred, and people spot bald eagles every day! (source


Red-tailed Hawk - photo by Joe Sebastiani

Red-tailed Hawk – photo by Joe Sebastiani

As you can probably imagine, Red-tailed Hawks have a very distinctive red tail. They’re some of the most common and easiest to identify hawks in North America, with red tail feathers, a pale underside with brown marks, and a reddish brown back. You can find them flying high above fields, where they’re looking for rodents, birds, rabbits, and carrion.

The cry that they make is very distinctive, and has been used frequently in movies and television shows. In fact, if you’ve heard an eagle scream in a movie, you’ve probably actually heard a red-tailed hawk! They’re also very popular birds for falconers, people who train birds of prey to hunt for them.

Eastern Screech Owl - Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Eastern Screech-owl – Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Owls are also birds of prey. They’re nocturnal, so they’re not considered raptors, but they have many features in common with raptors. They have sharp talons, and hooked beaks. Owls also have some fantastic adaptations for hunting at night. Even little Screech Owls, like the one in the picture above, are skilled night time hunters.

Owl wings are covered in soft, ragged feathers. They let air pass more easily through the bird’s wings while it flies, which means that it makes less noise. If you want to see how that works at home, take a piece of stiff paper and wave it through the air. Then cut fringes into the edge of the paper and wave it through the air again. Can you hear a difference?

Owl eyes are able to pick up on very small amounts of light, and they can fly around in rooms that are so dark a human would think there wasn’t any light at all. Their eyes are huge, and have huge light-collecting structures inside them. This means that their eyes have to be shaped more like a lightbulb than a sphere, so they can’t move them. Thankfully, owls have extremely flexible necks and can turn their head in all sorts of different directions.

Even though they look a little bit like they have ears on top of their head, those tufts are just longer feathers. Their sensitive ears are hidden on the sides of their head. No one’s quite sure why so many owls have those tufts, but some people think that they help camouflage the owl by making it look even more like a dead branch.

If you’d like to go on an owl prowl and look for these silent night flyers with your family, come on out on February 7th from 6:30-8:30 pm. The program is $7 for members, and $12 for non members. If you’re interested in learning more about owls, click here to register!

Sleepy turtles and frozen frogs!

Hello everyone! We’re Rebecca Wadman and Corey Harrison, the Environmental Education interns here at Delaware Nature Society for 2014-2015! We’re going to be keeping this blog up to date with the exciting things that are happening here at DNS, from family programs to seasonal changes.

Winter is here, and the plants and animals all around us are slowing down. Lots of birds have migrated to the southern United States and the tropics for the winter. You might have seen flocks of birds traveling, but by now all the birds that are going to go south have left Delaware for the year.

Some animals have started to hibernate, slowing down all their bodily functions, letting their temperature drop, and resting for the winter. Reptiles, amphibians, and many mammals go through some kind of hibernation.

Baby box turtle

Tiny Box Turtle – Photo by Rebecca Wadman

Reptiles, like our turtles and snakes, rest for the winter underground or in the mud at the bottom of ponds. Turtles in our area hibernate for about half of the year! Before they hibernate, turtles stop eating and start moving slowly. Aquatic turtles hide in the mud on the bottom of ponds, but box turtles have powerful legs and claws that they use to dig deep holes in the ground. Most turtles don’t hibernate for the entire winter, but will come out of their hiding places and go look for a drink of water if it gets warm enough to move around.

Wood Frog in the snow

A Very Cold Wood Frog – Photo by Derek Stoner

Amphibians also hibernate. Many frogs dive down to the bottom of ponds and hibernate there. They do not burrow, they just sit on the bottom of the pond until it gets warm again in the spring. Toads, like our American toads, dig deep burrows in soft dirt by pushing and kicking with their back legs. They have to dig down far enough that they won’t freeze in the winter when it gets cold. In some places, this means they have to dig a hole three feet deep! A lot of the time, toads will just use a burrow left behind by some other animal, so they don’t have to dig their own. Some frogs, like wood frogs, will hide underneath logs and leaves and will actually freeze for part of the winter!

Come join us on our winter hikes at Coverdale Farm Preserve, the third Sunday of the month January-April and try to see some of these animals waking up! These walks are from 1-3pm, and are for the whole family.  Please register at and search for the program “Winter Hikes – Warming Snacks”.  For members, these programs are $10 per person.  You’ll also have the chance to see our farm animals, including baby animals in the spring, and make some delicious snacks!