Category Archives: Ashland Nature Center

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!

Insect Investigators

By: Kim Scotto

What’s buzzin’, nature lovers?

Here at Ashland Nature Center, we are as busy as bees preparing for our Investigating Insects program, this Wednesday, May 21st from 6:30-8:30 PM. And what better way to get excited about the fascinating world of insects than by sharing some of our favorite insect adaptations?

One cool adaptation that many insects have are false eyes. These are actually patterns on their wings or body that look just like the eyes of a larger animal! They help the insect scare off potential predators.

 

Yellow and green caterpillar with large black false eyes

My, what big eyes you have! This Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar looks a lot more intimidating than it really is! Can you find its real head? Photo by Joe Sebastiani

This Silk Moth has false eyes on its wing that makes it look like an owl! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

This Silk Moth has false eyes on its wing that make it look like an owl! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

 

Think insects’ fake eyes are cool? Imagine spending your entire life looking through a kaleidoscope. Insects have compound eyes, meaning that each eye has hundreds to thousands of different lenses! While their vision isn’t as sharp as an animal with simple eyes (like humans), they can see at different angles and can better sense movement! Dragonflies in particular can have up to 50,000 lenses per eye, giving them a tremendous range of vision.

 

See how the dragonfly's eyes wrap around its head? Their eyes help them hunt smaller insects while avoiding predators, like birds! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

See how the dragonfly’s eyes wrap around its head? Their eyes help them hunt smaller insects while avoiding predators, like birds! Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

 

Some insects can fly, but others have to get around just with their (six) legs! Many insects have little barbs on their legs that help them get a good grip, allowing them to walk up walls, or even hang upside down!

 

Can you count the legs?

Check out the barbed legs on one of our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches! Photo by Jeff Haas.

 

Want to discover more about the wild world of insects? Come join us Wednesday, May 21st from 6:30-8:30 PM here at Ashland Nature Center. Make your own insect craft, compete in the Insect Olympics, and eat an insect themed snack. End the evening with a guided walk to look for fireflies, moths, and to listen to the sounds of nocturnal insects! Pre-registration required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

First Snow!

By Hannah Greenberg

Good Day Nature Lovers!

Did you notice that it snowed last night? I bet you did! Many of you may have even gotten a snow day from our unexpected snow storm. I hope you got a chance to play in the snow like Kim and I did! This morning the two of us took a lovely hike through Ashland before any people had disturbed the snow. However, we saw signs that some native critters had been out and about!

Look at the beautiful undisturbed snow! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

As we walked along, we carefully looked for different animal tracks. We saw an assortment of deer tracks on the climb up Sledding Hill, and we even spotted a deer run up the hill! It was a beautiful sight to see the deer against the calm, white landscape.

So many different tracks! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

If you see this, a deer was here! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Once we made it all the way up sledding hill, we took some time to appreciate our new vantage point. The snow really does make everything look prettier! I hope some of you make your way up the hill to sled; it has its name for a good reason!

View from the top of the hill. Photo by Hannah Greenberg

We kept a close eye out for different tracks as we hiked along- the deer seemed to be everywhere. But, we finally came across something new! What other animals do you think would have been out in the snow?

What could have made these tracks? Photo by Hannah Greenberg

If you guessed the tracks came from a rabbit, you are correct! Good job! Next time it snows, maybe even tomorrow, take a look outside to find some cool animal tracks! Make sure to bundle up, it gets pretty chilly out there!

Until next time nature lovers!

 

 

 

 

 

Ashland Hawk Watch

By Kim Scotto

Howdy, nature lovers!

Have you ever been bird watching before? Can you imagine doing it almost every day for 3 months? That’s exactly what Kelley Nunn, the Delaware Nature Society’s Hawk Watch Coordinator, does! The Ashland Nature Center’s Hawk Watch program is one of about 250 hawk watches in North America, and we got to talk to Kelley and find out what it’s all about!

Kelley Nunn, Ashland's Hawk Watch Coordinator!

Kelley Nunn, Ashland’s Hawk Watch Coordinator!

So Kelley, what exactly is a Hawk Watch?

The Hawk Watch is exactly that- watching hawks and other raptors! As the weather gets colder there is less food available for these predatory birds, so in the months of September, October, and November, many raptors make the long flight south to spend the winter.  This movement south is called migration. It’s important for scientists to know where, when, why and how the birds migrate. So my job is to count the species and number of individuals we see traveling past Hawk Watch Hill at Ashland.

A Red-Tailed Hawk soaring past Hawk Watch Hill! Photo by Derek Stoner

A Red-Tailed Hawk soaring past Hawk Watch Hill. I bet you can guess how this species got its name! Photo by Derek Stoner

What other kinds of data do you collect at Hawk Watch?

We look at the height of flight of the birds for important wind turbine studies. We also measure the temperature, wind speed, and cloud coverage on an hourly basis. Each species of raptor has its own ideal flying conditions, so during the warmer months like September, we will see different types of birds than in mid-November!

So what type of raptors are we most likely to see this time of year?

In November you’re going to see Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and Bald Eagles. You also might see Northern Goshawks, Rough-legged Hawks, or even Golden Eagles!

The Bald Eagle- America's national bird! Photo by Derek Stoner.

The Bald Eagle- America’s national bird! Photo by Derek Stoner.

How can kids get involved?

Kids can come to the Hawk Watch daily between 9AM and 4PM to learn about birding! No experience is necessary, and Ashland can provide binoculars. I think it’s really great for kids to get into birding. Bring a picnic lunch and your family (dogs more than welcome!) and spend an afternoon being a citizen scientist!

A beautiful day up at Hawk Watch Hill!

A beautiful day up at Hawk Watch Hill! Photo by Kelley Nunn.

 

Ashland’s Hawk Watch runs daily until November 30th, from 9AM-4PM.

Meet Kelley and learn more about these fascinating migratory birds!

Don’t forget to bundle up! Photo by Kim Scotto

 

Introducing the New Interns!

By Kim Scotto

Greetings nature lovers! We are Kim Scotto and Hannah Greenberg, the environmental education interns at the Delaware Nature Society for the 2013-2014 year! Here’s your place to “Ask a Naturalist” nature questions, keep updated on seasonal activity in the natural world, and check out what kids like you have been doing at our Delaware Nature Society sites. Our “Program Spotlight” lets you know of ways that YOU can get involved with US!

But first, allow us to introduce ourselves with some fun facts:

Fun fact #1: We love snakes!

Here is Kim with Ashland's  Corn Snake!

Here is Kim with Ashland’s Corn Snake! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Here is Hannah with a garter snake that she found while out on a hike! Taken by Carrie Scheick

Here is Hannah with a garter snake that she found while out on a hike! Photo by Carrie Scheick

But wait- aren’t snakes dangerous? No, not usually. Neither of the snakes that we are holding are venomous, but some snakes can have bites that range from plain painful to deadly! The only venomous snake in Delaware is the Copperhead, but it is rarely encountered.  Remember; don’t pick up a snake you find out in the wild unless you’re with an adult who knows their snakes! Both Hannah and Kim have been trained in how to handle these cold-blooded creatures. We think they’re just fascinating!

Fun fact #2: We love the fall!

We love taking hikes in autumn and looking at the beautiful changing leaves. Now is the perfect time of year to take a walk around Ashland Nature Center and look at the gorgeous colors. Here are some pictures from Ashland this autumn!

The gorgeous view from Ashland's Hawk Watch Hill. Check back soon to learn about our Hawk Watch program!

The gorgeous view from Ashland’s Hawk Watch Hill. Check back soon to learn about our Hawk Watch program! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Hannah playing in the leaves! Photo by Kim Scotto

Hannah playing in the leaves! Photo by Kim Scotto

Fall is also a great time of year to observe Kim’s favorite native wild animal- the Eastern Gray Squirrel! In November, these acrobatic mammals are hard at work burying nuts and acorns to eat later on in the winter when food isn’t as easy to find. Did you know that many oak trees are grown from acorns that squirrels buried and then forgot about?

Kim's favorite native animal is the Eastern Gray Squirrel! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Kim’s favorite native animal is the Eastern Gray Squirrel! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Fun fact #3: We just LOVE nature! And we hope we have that in common with YOU!

Kim just LOVES nature! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

Kim just LOVES nature! Photo by Hannah Greenberg

We can’t wait to get to know you as we share our adventures in nature! In the comments section of this blog, tell us your favorite thing about the fall, and be sure to check in often to see what’s happening at the Delaware Nature Society.

Young Naturalists Jump Into Spring

The Young Naturalists are wasting no time springing into the warm weather exploring Ashland in search of animal activity. Our Young Naturalists leader and favorite guest author, Kristen, wrote about what they saw. Check it out!

The Young Naturalists Club met on Saturday evening, March 23rd to explore Ashland at night!  We had our hopes set high that we would find a lot of spring amphibians and bats, but the cool weather kept most of them in hiding.

The Young Naturalists exploring the marsh at Ashland Nature Center. Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

As we waited for the sun to go down and for the amphibians to come out, we hiked along the trails at Ashland in search for crepuscular animals like White-tailed deer, rabbits and foxes, who are active around dawn and dusk.  We spotted 6 White-tailed deer eating in the floodplain.  As we hiked to the top of Sledding Hill, the sun was setting and we turned our eyes to the dark sky to look for stars. We saw Orion and his dog Canis Major with the bright star Sirius ablaze.  We also spotted Jupiter which was in the constellation Taurus. (Not sure what these stars look like? Check out the “How ‘Sirius’ Are You About Astronomy?” post from January to see some pictures!)

As we made our way down Sledding Hill towards the marsh we tried to call in Eastern screech owls.  We were able to hear two calling from the pine forest and as we listened carefully, we thought one was coming close…but we didn’t get to spot it!

When we made it to the marsh, we were lucky enough to find some Wood frog eggs and hear a few Spring peepers in a rousing chorus. The most exciting part of the night at the marsh was catching 3 Red-spotted newts!

This Young Naturalist shows off one of the Red-spotted newts the group found in the marsh. Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

We rounded out our fun evening by building a campfire in the Nature Center and roasting some delicious s’mores!

 

Thanks for sharing Kristen, that’s awesome you found 3 Red-spotted newts! The Young Naturalists have many more fun adventures planned for this spring, check it out!

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 www.delawarenaturesociety.org or you may call us at (302) 239 – 2334.

Get Unplugged!

Hey kids! How much time do you spend outside each week? According to a recent study, the average child spends 54 hours in front of screen per week – that’s more than two full days! Our life is so tuned into technology, but the Delaware Nature Society wants to challenge you to “Get Unplugged!” by getting outside and having fun in nature. We made it really easy for you by creating a family program for each of the 10 activities listed on the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. What’s that you ask? Keep reading to find out, and don’t forget to check out the awesome family programs at the bottom of this blog!

Delaware Governor Markell wants to see kids outside too! Governor Markell and other adults like him care so much about kids having a positive outdoor experience that they have launched an initiative called Children in Nature. This program is made up of a number of task force groups and committees who promote kids’ development, healthy lifestyles, and academic achievement through spending time outside. They created the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights to help achieve these goals. This Outdoor Bill of Rights is a list of activities created to get kids outside and have fun in nature, and it’s a pretty awesome list if I say so myself.

Anna, Christy, and I took a look at the list of activities in the Outdoor Bill of Rights and decided to see if we have accomplished everything on it between the three of us. (Just because it’s technically for kids, doesn’t mean we can’t try to complete this list as well!) In this post and another to come, we will share some gems from our past and recent outdoorsy adventures with you. Check it out!

 

Go Outside and Play! Grab a friend and go for a walk through a field or a forest and see what you can find. Tracks? Holes? Nests? Scat? Wildlife? The possibilities are endless. Since I started working for the Delaware Nature Society and living at Ashland Nature Center (just one of the perks being an intern!), I’ve hiked each of the trails here many times. I love that no matter how many times you can hike a trail, you never see the exact same things twice!

Taking a walk with a friend is the best way to spend an afternoon!

Another fun thing to do outside is spend some time watching the clouds float by. Find an open spot in your backyard and lay on your back in the grass. Count the clouds or see if the clouds are making any cool shapes! Anna loves searching for fun shapes in the clouds.

On a nice day at Ashland, Anna likes to watch the rolling clouds.

 

Catch a Fish. Grab a net or a fishing pole and see how many fish you can catch. I’ve caught fish before just using a stick and some fishing line! Each summer, the Delaware Nature Society offers a number of different fishing camps. Each year, the interns on that trip must participate in a special tradition – they must kiss the fish they catch! Both Christy and Anna have upheld this tradition, check out these silly pictures!

Maybe Christy was hoping it would turn into a prince?                        Anna REALLY loves fish.                             Photos by Derek Stoner.

 

Camp Under the Stars. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a tent and spend the night outside. Never been camping before? Start simple by setting your tent up in your backyard! Spend some time looking at the beautiful night sky, see if you can find any constellations or count the stars that are out that night. Catch fireflies and make some s’mores. Lay in your sleeping bag and listen to the sounds of the night and see if they sound different from what you may hear during the day. Did you know that you can determine the approximate air temperature outside by the number of times the katydid says its name? Count how many times the katydid says its name in 15 seconds and then add 40 to that number – you should get the approximate air temperature.

Christy camped under the big western sky in Guadalupe State Park in Texas. Photo by Nate Maier.

After you’ve become a seasoned camper and feeling super adventurous, you can strap everything you need to survive to your back and go backpacking! I was backpacking for a weekend on the Appalachian Trail in northern New Jersey when this picture was taken. It was too goofy not to share with you.

I’m rockin’ the headlamp look on the Appalachian Trail, don’t you agree?

 

Climb a Tree. This is one of my favorite activities! I love scrambling up the twisty branches and checking out the view. It’s amazing how much more of the forest you can see just a few feet above the ground. Sometimes on a hike, it’s more fun to just “hang around” in the trees…

Christy is a monkey hanging around at Middle Run! Photo by Derek Stoner.

Trees are not only great for climbing, but also for jumping in their fallen leaves! A favorite fall time tradition of Anna’s is to gather a big pile of leaves and jump on in. Let’s be real, you can’t simply walk by a big pile of leaves without jumping in, it’s hard to resist!

Anna couldn’t resist jumping into this big piles of leaves at Ashland!

 

Play in the Waves. I love going to the beach, it’s one of my favorite places. Whenever I would go down the shore as a kid I would spend almost the entire time in the ocean. What am I talking about? I STILL do that now! Anna loves the ocean too. This past summer she played in the Pacific waves another way, she went surfing! She loved the experience, even though she did end up swimming with some Leopard sharks…

Anna and her friend Jill caught some mad waves when they went surfing in California!

 

Try a New Nature Activity! It’s always fun to try something new! Ever been kayaking? Grab a friend and get on the water!

Nothing but smiles on the reservoir!

Or grab a dive buddy and get in the water and go scuba diving!

Christy dove right in!

Or if you’re not interested in being anywhere near water, try going on a bird walk! Grab some binoculars and a field guide and count how many different kinds of birds you see. Anna enjoys birding because she says there is no other activity where you see such pretty colors in nature.

Anna loves birding!

 

The Delaware Nature Society has written a program for each number on the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. If you complete 7 out of the 10 you’ll get a Nature Family Outdoor Fun Kit. Check out the descriptions of the programs below, they sound awesome!

Saturday, March 23rd 1-4pm – Go Outside and Play! Take a fun nature walk through fields and forests and play nature games as you look for wildlife. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Sunday, March 24th 2-4pm – Discover Wildlife in Your Neighborhood. Invite House Wrens and Chickadees to your yard to nest by building a bird box with your family. Help reduce insect populations as you enjoy watching parents busily feed hungry babies. Craft your own bird house using simple tools. (Cost includes materials for one box per family). Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Saturday, April 6th 1-4pm – Explore Delaware’s Culture. Take a hike around the historic Cooch-Dayett Mill where the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge was fought in the Revolutionary War. See what lives in the Christina River that flows here. Tour the inside of the old grist mill and see how they used the river to grind flour and other products. Program meets at Cooch-Dayett Mills.

Saturday, April 13th 1-4pm – Play in the Mud. Look for animal tracks and learn how to find signs of animals. Make some tracks of your own in the mud and make a track snack and take-home craft. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Saturday, April 27th 4:30pm – Sunday, April 28th 10:30am – Camp Under the Stars. Camp out at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, PA. Bring your own tent, use one of ours, or sleep in an Adirondack Shelter (first come-first served). Bring your own dinner, take a night hike, morning walk, and enjoy a campfire. Program meets at Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

Sunday, April 21st 1-3pm – Plant a Seed. Help us plant seeds around the farm, from sunflowers to spinach. Sow the seeds of multiple gardens on the farm, and end with a potting a plant in a pot that  you decorate yourself that you can take home. Program meets at Coverdale Farm Preserve – entrance on Way Road.

Saturday, May 4th 1-4pm – Climb a Tree. Take a walk at Ashland Nature Center to learn about some of the different trees here and collect leaves to “press” so you can keep them in your own tree book (one per child). Climb up onto the “Climbing Sycamore tree of Ashland”. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center. (Hey, I climbed this tree last weekend!)

I climbed the Ashland Sycamore! It’s one of the BEST climbing trees.

Saturday, May 18th 1-4pm – Catch a Fish. Use our fishing poles at the Coverdale Farm Preserve to go fishing in the farm pond. Try to catch bluegills and bass with an expert. Program meets at Coverdale Farm Preserve – entrance on Way Road.

Saturday, June 1st 9am-3pm – Play in the Waves. Family Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Trip. Take a trip to the Delaware Bay to discover horseshoe crabs and the shorebirds that depend on their eggs for food. Hold horseshoe crabs, learn about how they live and their body parts, look at migrant shorebirds through a scope and binoculars. Afterwards, have some beach time to play in the sand and the waves! Meet at Ashland Nature Center – van transportation provided.

Saturday, June 15th 10am-3pm – Try a New Nature Activity. Family Nature Fun Day! Come to Ashland for a day of trying new things in nature. Choose between going on a bird walk, catching insects to identify them, pond dip-netting, and nature photography. We supply all of the equipment. Bring a lunch and have a family picnic at Ashland at noon. Here a story from a professional story-teller at 12:30pm. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Don’t be left inside! Register for the “Get Unplugged!” series at http://www.delawarenaturesociety.org/seasonal_progs.html or call us at (302) 239-2334.

 

Look for part two of the “Get Unplugged” post coming up later this spring, where I will feature the rest of the activities on the Outdoor Bill of Rights!

 

 

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!