Tag Archives: winter

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!

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!

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!






How “Sirius” Are You About Astronomy?

Have you taken a look at our beautiful winter sky lately? There is so much to see, and January is a great time to see stars! So what are you waiting for? Grab your coat, your binoculars (and your parents!) and get outside to look at the sky!

I think looking at the night sky is like a big “Where’s Waldo?” kind of game, but instead of only finding Waldo, you get to find much, much more! Try picking one planet, star, or constellation (a group of stars that scientists have named) that are visible during the time you’re outside and try to find as many as you can! I always start with the moon because that’s the easiest to find in the sky. The moon is really cool because the moon’s shape doesn’t look exactly the same all the time; it cycles throughout each month. My favorite shape is the crescent moon when the moon looks like a thin letter “C”, I like to think it looks like a thumbnail!

The beautiful crescent moon sitting above the Earth's horizon.

The beautiful crescent moon sitting above the Earth’s horizon. I told you it looks like a thumbnail!


One of the easiest star groups to find is the Big Dipper. It looks like a big ladle or drinking gourd stretched across the sky!

Can you connect the dots to see the "drinking gourd" shape of the Big Dipper?

Can you connect the dots to see the “drinking gourd” shape of the Big Dipper?

You can then use the Big Dipper to find the North Star, one of the most important stars in the sky. The two stars on the end of the bowl of the Big Dipper are called “pointers”, because they point right to the North Star. Even though this star is not very bright, don’t be fooled! The North Star is the most important star in the sky besides the sun! That’s because it’s the only star that doesn’t appear to move. All other stars look like they are traveling in a circle around the North Star, isn’t that neat?


After you find the Big Dipper, turn around to face the south and try to find the mythological hunter, Orion.  In January, Orion is really bright! You can easily find Orion’s belt within the constellation; there are three stars that are very close to one another. Orion has a blurry “sword” hanging from his belt, a dim curve of stars that make up his “shield” (made of lion skin), and a raised arm with a “club” in his hand. Also, see if you can find Sirius, the brightest star in the sky! Look below and to the left of Orion’s left foot. Sirius is known as the “dog star”, because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major (the Big Dog). It looks like a dog trying to leap up at Orion’s leg!

Can you find Orion’s belt and Sirius in this picture?


Right now, the bright planet Jupiter is located right above the reddish star Aldebaran, which is part of the constellation Taurus.  In the upper right corner of the photo below is another part of Taurus: the pretty star cluster Pleiades, also known as the “Seven Sisters”.

Do you see...?

Do you see Aldebaran? This picture is a great map of the winter night sky! Can you find the other constellations I mentioned in this picture?


Join the Delaware Nature Society at Buena Vista this Friday, January 18th from 7:30 – 9:30pm to check out what is in the January skies. We will have telescopes and binoculars available for use as we look at Orion, Jupiter, and other brilliant constellations of winter. We will finish the evening with a warm cup of cider and some delicious gingersnaps!

If you’re interested in attending this program, please email dnsinfo@delawarenaturesociety.org or call (302) 239-2334 and provide your name, phone number, and number of people attending.

Young Naturalists Club Identify Signs of Winter Animals!

Extra, extra, read all about it! The Young Naturalists had a great time outside last weekend! Our returning guest author and Young Naturalists leader, Kristen, wanted to share what they did with you!

The Young Naturalists Club met on Sunday, December 16th to learn how to identify signs of animals that stay at Ashland Nature Center over the winter. We learned how to identify deer, rabbits, fox, raccoon, and skunks by their scat, tracks and fur! 

These Young Naturalists studying the tracks and other animal evidence they may see on the trail!

These Young Naturalists are studying the tracks and other animal evidence they may see on the trail! Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.


We set out on a hike to try to find signs of these animals.  Along our way, we stopped to build a campfire and roasted marshmallows. We found deer and raccoon tracks along the creek side. 

Roasting marshmallows over a campfire at Wildflower Brook.

Young Naturalists roasting marshmallows over a campfire at Wildflower Brook, they look delicious! Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

Looking in the soft mud along the side of the creek is a great place to find animal tracks!

The soft mud along the side of the creek is a great place to find animal tracks! Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.


After we had our fill of warm, sugary marshmallows – we hiked up Sledding Hill to find more deer tracks and scat, as well as fox scat.

Fields, like the one along Sledding Hill, is a great place to find animal scat!

Fields, like the one along Sledding Hill, is a great place to find animal scat! Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

As we walked along the Red Clay Creek floodplain, we found raccoon scat and tracks – and even some signs of rabbits gnawing at the base of a tree! 

After our long hike, we warmed up inside with some hot chocolate and made a special ornament using our own hand print!


Thanks for sharing Kristen! I think it’s super cool you guys found so many different kinds of tracks and scat!

Last weekend was the last Young Naturalists Club for the year, stay tuned to hear about what the Young Naturalists will be up to when the warmer weather returns! If you’re interested in joining the Young Naturalists Club on their adventures, sign up now! Members can register online at delawarenaturesociety.org or you may call us at (302) 239 – 2334.


This is our last blog post of 2012! Anna, myself, and the entire Delaware Nature Society staff wish you a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!

Enjoying Your Backyard Bird Friends!

Did you know that not all birds migrate south for the winter? Some birds stay here in Delaware, and you can see them right outside your window! Now’s the time to feed the birds! There are different kinds of bird feeders—natural bird feeders like sunflowers and winterberries, as well as artificial bird feeders that you can hang up in your own backyard!

Delaware Nature Society has both of these feeders at their sites! At Coverdale Farm Preserve, a field of sunflowers is planted each spring. Through the spring and summer you can see their vibrant yellow petals and big, brown heads.  These big, brown heads are full of sunflower seeds and birds love to eat these seeds in the fall! Although the sunflowers don’t look as pretty anymore, they make excellent bird feeders!

This field of sunflowers at Coverdale Farm Preserve is a great place for birds to eat seeds!

The birds land on their tipped heads and reach underneath to pluck a sunflower seed from the head. The birds crack the seed open and eat the inside, and then leave the shell on the top of the head. They are very messy eaters!

Do you see the seeds the birds left on top of the sunflower head?


Other natural bird feeders are winterberries and holly berries.  Winterberries do not ripen until November (did you know that freezing weather actually triggers ripeness?) and the berries make an excellent winter snack for our birds.

These winterberries at Ashland are waiting for a bird to eat them up!

This Eastern Bluebird is snacking on some winterberries right here at Ashland! Photo by Derek Stoner.


American holly berries ripen even later in the wintertime during December.  These berries are bright red which tells the birds that they are ripe and ready to eat. These provide nutrients for the birds and give the birds energy and warmth through the winter.

Holly berries look very similar to the winterberries, except their leaves are super pointy! Don’t touch!

This female Purple Finch found some red multiflora rose berries to snack on! Remember, red is a trigger color for the birds! Photo by Derek Stoner.


At Ashland Nature Center, we place sunflower seeds and thistle in artificial bird feeders made of plastic and/or wood that hang along our trails and outside of the auditorium windows.  It’s not only a treat for the birds, but it is also enjoyable for the staff members and visitors to see these beautiful birds in the wintertime! Check out these pictures that DNS staff member and bird lover Derek Stoner has taken!

A Carolina Chickadee snacking on some suet (keep reading to find out what suet is!) Photo by Derek Stoner.

A Tufted Titmouse – this bird is appropriately named due to the tuft of feathers on its head! Photo by Derek Stoner.

This male Northern Cardinal has the perfect beak to crack open the seeds that may be in your bird feeder! Photo by Derek Stoner.

Check out the beautiful blue feathers of this Blue Jay! Photo by Derek Stoner.

This picture of a Purple Finch was taken on one of our Ashland artificial bird feeders! What great colorful feathers! Photo by Derek Stoner.


Aren’t those birds pretty? Those species of birds (and more!) may come hang out in your backyard if you put up a bird feeder! Here are some ideas of different foods to put in your artificial bird feeders. If you like Goldfinches, put thistle in your feeder.  Suet, a fat that gives birds lots of energy, attracts chickadees (that’s what the chickadee was eating in Derek’s picture!), tufted titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Sunflower seeds and mixed seeds attract seed-eating birds like bright, red cardinals. These are just some examples, you may find a lot more species come visit your bird feeders! It’s also important to keep refilling your bird feeders to make sure your backyard birds stay fed, especially during a snow storm!

Carrie is refilling one of the bird feeders at Ashland Nature Center for her feathered friends!


So grab some birdseed, a field guide, and your binoculars and find out what kinds of birds hang out in your backyard all winter long! It will certainly be quite a treat!