Tag Archives: Ashland Nature Center

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 www.delnature.org or by calling 302-239-2334.


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!

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.

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.

“Water” You Going to Do?

Hey kids! Where does water come from? If asked, could you explain where the water from your faucet, hose, shower, etc. comes from? Well you are in luck because we are going to share this amazing secret with you!

Let’s start with the water cycle. Water leaves the ocean, streams, rivers, lakes, etc. when the sun warms the surface of the water. The warmth of the sun causes the water to evaporate and become a gas as water vapor. The water vapor then rises into the atmosphere and forms clouds as it cools and condenses. The clouds can only handle so much condensation, so when the clouds become so full of water vapor that they cannot hold any more, they must release all that water. The water falls as liquid or solid precipitation as rain, ice, snow or other forms. The water will then do one of the following things: fall onto or runs into surface water such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, or oceans; infiltrate into groundwater; be absorbed by plants; or evaporate. Plants not only absorb water, but they also release water vapor into the atmosphere through transpiration, the process of water vapor evaporating from the leaves.

Have you ever thought about where YOUR drinking water comes from? We often just turn the faucet and don’t even give it a second thought as the water pours out. All living things need freshwater to survive and that is one of our most important non-renewable resources we have here on this planet. Let’s look at all the water we have in our world and see how much freshwater we have to use as drinking water.


This 5 gallon bucket I’m holding represents ALL the water we have here on Earth! All that water is pretty heavy…

Now let’s separate the salt water in the oceans from the freshwater on the Earth.

The water in the large bucket represents all the salt water (97.5%) and the water in the smaller container represents all the freshwater (2.5%) on Earth.

Now that we have separated those two, let’s talk about where we have freshwater on this planet. It is found in surface water like ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, as well as in the atmosphere, underground, and in animals and plants. There is also freshwater that is inaccessible to us because it is frozen in glaciers and ice caps.

The container on the left represents the amount of freshwater locked in glaciers and polar ice (1.74%). The container on the right represents the amount of freshwater that is not frozen.

The freshwater represented in the container on the right in the above picture represents our drinking water source. However, not all of that water is available to us for human consumption. If we separate groundwater and atmospheric water (0.76%) from what is the Earth’s surface, we are only left with a teaspoon (0.72%).

That teaspoon is the only fresh surface water we have?

We can tap into some of the water represented in the container on the left for our drinking water such as the fresh groundwater, but the rest of it is inaccessible. The water in the teaspoon represents the available surface water we have at our disposal to use as drinking water.

I’m shaking my head at the crazy difference between the amount of salt water on our planet and the amount of fresh water we have for drinking water.

Even though there may seem to be a lot of water on Earth, only a little of that is freshwater that can be used for drinking water. It’s really important that we take care of that water! But how? Here are a few things YOU can do to help protect this precious resource:

– Take shorter showers. The average shower uses 7 gallons per minute. Have a competition with your family to see who can take the shortest shower. The winner gets to choose dinner one night that week!

– Don’t let the faucet run continuously when you brush your teeth. Only turn it on when needed to get your toothbrush wet before and to rinse if off afterwards. Or, fill up a cup before you brush your teeth and only use that water. Wonder how much water you use when you let the faucet run continuously? Find out in the quiz at the end of this post!

Anna saves water when she is brushing her teeth because she doesn’t let the faucet run!

– Use a reusable water bottle like a stainless steel or a Nalgene instead of drinking bottled water. Tap water composition is more closely regulated by the government than bottled water and it costs less to drink your tap water. Also, the bottles are made from plastic that contain unhealthy chemicals and have been linked to various health problems.

The water bottle says it all, don’t you think?

– Get involved! Volunteering in your community is a great way to give back to the environment. This past weekend at the Red Clay Valley Clean Up, over 700 volunteers (myself included!) dedicated their Saturday morning to picking up trash along approximately 44 miles of roadways and streams in the Red Clay Creek Watershed. Interested in getting involved? The Christina River Watershed Clean Up is coming up on April 6th from 8am-12pm. Delaware Nature Society sites Cooch-Dayett Mill and the Dupont Environmental Education Center are located in close proximity to the Christina River and will be participating in the clean up. If you’d like more information or are interested in volunteering check out this link: http://www.delawareestuary.org/cleanup. Also, the Young Friends of the Brandywine Conservancy will be hosting the Annual Brandywine River Clean Up later this month on April 20th from 9am-1pm. If you’d like more information or are interested in volunteering to clean up the banks of the Brandywine, please contact Kathy Freney Smith at 610-388-8315 or ksmith@brandywine.org.


Now I have a challenge for you: find out where your drinking water comes from! Ask your parents and do some investigating to find out where your water comes from.   In Delaware, many public utility or private companies draw their water from groundwater or surface water. Groundwater is extracted from aquifers, areas underground that hold water.  For example, Artesian Water Company provide Delawareans with groundwater as their drinking water supply. Other companies such as United Water draws drinking water for their customers from the White Clay and Red Clay Creeks. These companies treat the water from the time it is extracted from the creeks to the time that it flows out of your faucet, but it’s important that we take care of the streams and minimize water pollution. You may ask “If the companies treat the water, why should I care about keeping it clean?” Even though the water is treated before it comes out of your faucet, the dirtier the water is the harder it is to clean. It is a lot more work and much more expensive to make the water drinkable if the water is polluted.

We can do something now to save and protect our water resources. Share these tips with your family and friends! Together, we can make a big difference by making small changes in our lives. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Suess’ The Lorax sums it all up quite nicely: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”



-You will save money drinking your tap water because it only costs $0.0015 per gallon whereas bottled water costs $1.27 per gallon.

– 1.5 million tons of plastic go into manufacturing plastic water bottles.

– Less than 1% of the Earth’s water is potable.


See if you can guess some more fun facts about water, take the quiz below!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

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!