Category Archives: Signs of Spring

It’s Spring Family Campout Time!

By: Annalie Mallon

Happy Monday Nature Lovers!

How has everyone been enjoying this beautiful spring weather? We here at the Delaware Nature Society have started teaching our spring programs and there are new and exciting things to find outside every day!

See if you can recognize any of the amazing things we have found below…

☀ These funny looking squiggles of little black dots are eggs that were laid in the marsh last month. Who do you think might have laid them?

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Photo by Annalie Mallon

An Eastern American toad! The eggs recently hatched and there are now thousands of tiny toad tadpoles swimming around in the marsh!

☀ Here is a Water Snake found during one of our Spring Amphibians programs. (Although he is a reptile and not an amphibian, we were still very excited to see him basking in the sun!)

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Photo By Annalie Mallon

☀ Can you guess who left these cute little tracks in the mud next to one of our creeks?

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Photo By Annalie Mallon

They’re from a Raccoon! Raccoons are known to wash their food in the water before eating it!

 

☀ Do you see who I see camouflaged in this vernal pool? (A vernal pool is like a small pond that is usually only filled during the spring season due to melted winter snow and spring rain. Frogs and toads love to lay their eggs here because there are few predators to bother them!)

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Photo By Annalie Mallon

Its a Northern Green Frog!

 

☀ Finally, check out this beautiful Skunk Cabbage that has popped up all over our wetland areas. Be careful not to step on it though, if the leaves rip the plant lets off a stinky smell similar to a skunk! (This keeps animals from eating it but also attracts flies to pollinate its flowers!)

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Photo By Annalie Mallon

Would you and your family be interested in discovering some of these things during a whole weekend of fun? Join us this Saturday, April 30, from 5 pm to Sunday, May 1, 10 am for a spring family campout at Bucktoe Creek Preserve!

Enjoy nighttime and morning hikes through the forest and fields to find who’s out there hooting and croaking. We will provide a fun snack for the evening campfire, and a breakfast. Bring your own bag dinner. Use your tent, borrow ours, or stay in an Adirondack shelter. Family registration includes all members of a single household.

Register HERE or call (302) 239-2334

Members: $30 per household, $15 per individual; Others: $45 per household; $20 per individual
Meets at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, 432 Sharp Road, Avondale, PA 19311

Five Fun Groundhog Facts!

By Trudyann Buckley

Groundhog photo by Derek Stoner

Groundhog photograph by Derek Stoner

A groundhog could count these facts on one hand! …if he could count.

  1. groundhog1Groundhogs are also called whistle-pigs and woodchucks.

They are called whistle pigs because, when they spy a threat, they sometimes whistle. This may be to warn others, or to scare their predators. They’re not closely related to pigs at all!

Woodchucks don’t have anything to do with wood, either. (Though, they can climb trees to get away from predators.) The name “Woodchuck” actually comes from the Native American name for Groundhogs: wuchak.

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2.    groundhog2How Much Wood A Woodchuck Would Chuck:

If we’re talking about nibbling on wood, they do that to file down their teeth, but not too often.

But lots of people would say “to chuck” means to throw something. Groundhogs are great at digging burrows, so they chuck a lot of dirt, but not wood. In fact, one scientist found that they “throw” about 700 pounds of dirt out of the way to make one burrow. If you imagine that dirt is a bunch of wood chips instead, you have your answer!

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groundhog33.  Their teeth keep growing!

Groundhogs are rodents. They’re closely related to squirrels, and more distantly related to mice, rats, and beavers. Rodents are set apart from other mammals by their two front teeth, which just keep growing! If they don’t file their teeth down by munching, they’re in trouble! A groundhog’s teeth can grow a little less than an inch every year.

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groundhog44. They hibernate!

A lot of the mammals who live in Delaware stay active during the winter, but not groundhogs! They eat a lot during the fall, pack on the pounds, and then they burrow into the ground and fall asleep for the winter. While hibernating, they can lower their body temperature from around 99 degrees to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes even colder temperatures! Their heartbeat and breathing also slows down. During that time, they use their extra fat as fuel to keep them alive. Then, they wake up in the spring!

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groundhog55. Groundhog Day used to be Candlemas Day!

Groundhog Day has been celebrated on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA since the early 1800s. It falls on the Christian holiday of Candlemas, the festival of light. The superstition goes that if it’s sunny on Candlemas, then there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if it’s cloudy, then Spring is coming! So, in Europe, if a hedgehog emerged from hibernation on Candlemas and saw his shadow, uh oh! More winter! When Europeans came to America, groundhogs were chosen as a substitute, since there were no wild hedgehogs here.

Sun on Feb. 2nd meant MORE winter!

Do you want to celebrate Groundhogs with Delaware Nature Society? Come on over to Ashland Nature Center on February 1st at 10am for the Groundhog Gala! We’ll be meeting a Groundhog puppet friend, visiting an outdoor burrow, playing games, and crafting our own furry friend!

The Groundhog Gala is a seasonal family program, perfect for families with kids below ten years old! Learn more and register HERE! or, call (302) 239-2334 to register over the phone!

Flowers!

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!

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!

Fantastic Frogs!

by Kim Scotto

What’s hoppin, nature lovers?

It’s quiz time! Let’s see if we can separate frog facts from fiction:

1. Will touching a toad give you warts?

2. Will kissing a frog turn it into royalty?

3. Is it really “not easy being green”?

(Answer: false, false, and false!)

This Green Frog uses its coloring to camouflage with aquatic plants. It's pretty easy-and much safer-for it to be green!

This Green Frog uses its coloring to camouflage with aquatic plants. This protects it from becoming someone’s snack! Being green makes its life much easier! Photo by Jim White

 

There are many myths surrounding frogs, but we’ve compiled some
fantastical facts about frogs that are 100% true!

 

Fantastic fact #1: American Bullfrogs are the largest frogs in North America, and they can be found right here in Delaware! They are so big that they can eat just about anything that can fit in their mouths-including rodents, small birds, or even other bullfrogs!

This big guy has an equally large appetite! Photo by Kim Scotto.

This big guy has an equally large appetite! Photo by Kim Scotto.

 

Fantastic Fact #2: Think you were cold this winter? When Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers get too cold their bodies literally freeze to the point where their hearts stop beating! They have a special sugar in their blood that prevents any long-term damage, and once the temperature warms up, the frog can defrost itself and hop away! Scientists have actually been studying this unique property of frogs because they hope to replicate the process with human organs!

Wood Frog in the snow

Wood Frogs can freeze and dethaw several times in one winter! Looks like this one came out a little early. Photo by Derek Stoner.

 

Fantastic Fact #3: Frogs use their eyeballs to swallow! They don’t have the same kind of throat muscles that we do, instead they can push their eyes inside their head and use them to move food down into their stomachs.

GIF of toad eating a worm

Check out our American Toad munching down on a worm! See how she can pull her eyes all the way in? Video by Kim Scotto

Want to learn more about the frogs of Delaware? Come to our Frog Festival at Ashland Nature Center this Saturday, April 5th, from 9 AM-12 PM, hosted by our very own Intern Hannah! Go frogging in the marsh and listen to the springtime chorus, do a frog-themed craft, and see a live animal show! Pre-registration required. Call 302-239-2334 or click here to register.

Hannah holding a bullfrog

We’ll see you there!

 

 

 

 

Lambs, Chicks, Piglets, and Calves…Oh My!

How many of you have been to a farm before?  It’s spring time at Coverdale Farm Preserve, which means there are many families here! Do you know what animals might be found on a farm? Anna and I spent some time with the baby farm animals a few weeks ago.  Besides being totally overwhelmed with cuteness, we learned a lot about these animals that we didn’t know before.  Check out some of these awesome facts and come on a farm tour with us!

Our first stop was the sheep pasture. We visited with the mother sheep, called an ewe, and her two lambs. Ewes will generally have one lamb at a time but sometimes, as with these lambs, they have twins (and sometimes even triplets!)

The twin lambs, a boy and a girl with their mother.

These lambs are a combination of two different breeds (kind of like how some dogs can be two different breeds mixed together).  They are a mixture of Dorset sheep, which are sheep with white faces, and Suffolk sheep, which are sheep with blackish faces.  The mixture gives these lambs freckly faces, which make them pretty unique!

Before the lambs are allowed to be out in the pasture, the farmer will keep the lambs in with their mother so that the mother can bond with the lambs.  This way, the mother will be able to recognize her lambs and keep them safe even when they are all out with the rest of the flock. So how do these mothers bond with their babies? One way the mother can identify her lambs is by smelling the lamb’s scat. After the babies drink the mother’s milk, the smell of her milk will be in the lamb’s scat. The mother recognizes this very distinct smell and knows that the lamb is hers. (Gross, but cool, right?) After the lambs are about a month old, they are finally old enough to go out to the pasture to socialize with the other sheep in the flock. These lambs went out to pasture about a week after Anna and I visited.

These little lambs were very wiggly, I had a hard time getting a good picture of them!

 

Next, Anna and I went to look at the chickens. Baby chicks grow very quickly and grow bigger every week. You can really tell the difference between a recently hatched chick and one who is a few weeks old.

Check out the changes (especially in the feathers) of these chicks Anna is holding! Ages range from 1 week, 2 weeks, and 3 weeks from left to right.

After 1 week they look like classic fluffy chicks. After 2 weeks they grow some of their mature feathers on their wings  and on the tops of their heads. After 3 weeks they are much longer and leaner and have many more mature feathers throughout their bodies – they look like mini adult chickens!

At Coverdale, we have 5 different kinds of chickens, including blue hens! I couldn’t resist taking a picture with one of the adorable week old blue hens and give a shout out to my alma mater University of Delaware!

This little guy is ready to be a Fightin’ Blue Hen like me!

 

After the chickens, we headed to check out the pigs. The mother pig is called a sow and the baby pigs are called piglets. Each sow will have a litter of piglets anywhere from 8-15 of them. (That’s a lot of piglets!) Each piglet chooses a teat, what the mother’s milk comes from, and that will be the only one they use.  Stronger piglets will take the milk closest to the heart where more milk is pumped out, while the smaller piglets will take the ones farther from the heart. Piglets drink a lot of milk and grow one pound a day! Do you grow that fast?

These English Black piglets were pretty sleepy when Anna and I were hanging out with them. You can see one piglet taking a drink of milk before he gets ready to take a nap with his siblings!

 

Anna and I headed to our last stop on the farm to check out the cows – our favorites! First we went to visit Valentino, the White-faced Hereford Beef Calf that was born in February. (Click here for the blog Michele Wales, Farm Program Coordinator, wrote about Valentino’s birth a couple months back on the DNS adult blog – The Nature of Delaware!)

Check out Valentino’s picturesque pasture.  There sure is a lot of grass to eat!

Valentino spends his time in the pasture with his mother and his “Auntie” dairy cow eating grass in the field and hay from the outdoor barn  When he goes into the barn with them, he will eat grain in the stone barn where he sleeps, while the farmers do their chores.

Valentino is never too far behind his mother!

After spending some time with Valentino, we then spent some time with the two dairy calves. These calves come from Woodside Farm…you know, that place with the great ice cream.   The farmers there allow us to use them for education  programs at Coverdale.

Say hello to this dairy calf!

Most dairy cows are completely brown, but this little guy has got quite a bit of white on him!

Dairy cows only drink milk for the first 3 weeks of their life and then begin to eat organic grain or hay that we produce on the farm.  Coverdale’s adult dairy cow, a Jersey cow, produces about six gallons of milk per day!  These baby Jersey calves are bottle fed twice and day and are happy to drink her milk.  This way, the adult cow is able to be milked so that her milk will not go to waste since we cannot drink it, and the Woodside calves get a sweet treat for breakfast and dinner every day.

Of course, Anna and I couldn’t help but pet these baby cows.  Just look at those faces!

 

The Delaware Nature Society has designated 2013 as the “Year of Coverdale Farm Preserve.” This means that we are focusing on making fun programs for you to discover all the cool happenings at the farm.  From baby animals, like these, to gardening, to cooking classes, there are a ton of programs and events available for all interests.

Join us on Wednesdays (now through September 25th) for Farm Fun Days! Take a self-guided visit to see Coverdale’s animals, dig in the vegetable garden, and test your skills at a farm scavenger hunt. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy under the grand old oak trees! Farm Fun Days are free for Delaware Nature Society members and cost $5 per adult/$3 per children (ages 2+) for non-members. No pre-registration is required.

We look forward to celebrating this “farmtastic” year with you!

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.

Out and About: Week of April 15th

Howdy nature lovers! Are you ready for another dose of wildlife from our DNS sites. We had a lot of interesting events happen this week including one very large event.

Our first and most adorable happening was a deer mouse that was caught in the intern house at Ashland Nature Center. He was corralled into a box by education intern Kelly Schaeffer and released out into the fields.

This guy was enjoying the warmth of the intern house


We have also been seeing a lot of cool birds. A few pairs of waterfowl have been hanging out in the marsh. Geese, mallards, and also a pair of wood ducks have all been seen multiple times. A green heron was even spotted flying around the area.

Perusing the Red Caly Creek for food


Time to Identify! Conservation Project Coordinator; Derek Stoner found a pupa that is actually moving when it is picked up! Do you think you know what it is? Comment on this post with your answer and we will tell you what it is when it hatches!

Who do you think will emerge from this?


And finally time for the big news. This Monday we had a very big visitor. A common snapping turtle was brought to us that came from a private pond. He had to be removed from it because he was eating the geese!

That is a yard stick that he is laying next to...


His shell was 16 inches long by 13 inches wide and he weighed in at 25 pounds!

He was not a big fan of having his picture taken


After he was measured and recorded by Associate Director for Land and Biodiversity Management; Jim White, the Snapper was released into the Red Clay Creek so he can find a new home. Check out this video of the big guy’s release.

There’s your scoop on another great week. I hope you all enjoyed the post. Be sure to send us things that you have seen around. Herp Room Animal of the Month will continue in May, so stay tuned. Check in new week to see what else is happening! Until then, this is Austin Conley saying… Stay Wild!

Back and Kicking in the Spring!

Hey all you nature lovers! It has been a while since our last post because of the crazy amount of people that have been coming to our DNS sites. But we are back and ready to kick it into high gear! From now on, there will be at least one post a week towards the end of the week about what is happening in nature. Herp Room Animal of the Month will also begin again starting with the video for the American Alligator next week. We will also be posting more information about our school programs and our upcoming members programs. It’s going to get exciting here and we are going to kick it off with this post!

First things first; Spring has exploded! Groundhogs have appeared, along with spring peepers, toads and pickerel frogs. We have also seen a ton of northern brown snakes.

One of three northern brown snakes caught in two days. This one was spotted by teacher/naturalist Cassie Kane.


Many different wildflowers are out as well like spring beauty and trout lilies.

Spring wildflowers are bringing all kinds of insects. This wasp is really enjoying the spring beauties!


And we can’t forget about the birds! Phoebes and also both tree and barn swallows have all been sighted. We also have a great picture taken by Victoria D’Ascenzo, a student from the Star Cyber School! During their visit to Ashland, she took this picture of a tree swallow while participating in our Nature Photography program.

Thanks Victoria for this great tree swallow picture!


Finally, last but not least… the wood frog eggs have hatched!! Thanks to a fancy underwater camera, we were able to get a close-up look att these tadpoles as well as a red spotted newt that were all found in our marsh here at Ashland.

Whew! That was a lot of stuff and there is going to be so much more! Keep checking the blog out for updates. Remember, we are posting at least once a week from now on! Until then my fellow nature lovers… Stay Wild!

Garter Snake!

Attention nature lovers! Spring has really been kicking it into high gear and now even the reptiles are starting to take notice. Bethanie Delfunt, a teacher/naturalist for the Delaware Nature Society, sent me pictures of our first reptile. It is a very healthy looking garter snake that was found in our backyard habitat ponds. It was no doubt looking for some wood frogs to chow down on!

These past few weeks have been full of animals waking up for this gorgeous weather we are having. Toads, pickerel, green, and bullfrogs were all found on a University of Delaware herpetology trip trip led by our own Jim White.

Stay tuned for next weeks update on the signs of spring for the past few weeks.