Category Archives: Wildlife

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

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!

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 www.delnature.org or by calling 302-239-2334.  $5 per person.

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 www.delawarenaturesociety.org 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!