How You Can Help Bird Conservation Efforts in Just 15 Minutes this Weekend!
The 25th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming soon—February 18-21! Maybe (like me) you’ve thought about doing it in the past but felt a little intimidated: You don’t really consider yourself a birder. Or you don’t have multiple days to commit to birding. Maybe you don’t even have a backyard. It turns out, to participate in this worldwide citizen science project, none of the above concerns are issues. To take part, you: Only need to count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes on one day between February 18-21. Can be anywhere—in a kayak, on a beach in the Caribbean, at a ski lodge in Colorado, at home sipping hot chocolate on your back porch. Don’t have to be a birder. You just have to try to identify the birds. (Bird apps helpRead More
A Wannabe Naturalist
I never liked science. Dissecting critters—gross. Learning scientific classifications—yawn. Memorizing the periodic table—Thirsty Thursday, anyone? So why would I want to become a naturalist? It probably started with A Sand County Almanac. Followed closely by Desert Solitaire. Most recently, Braiding Sweetgrass. Through words, these naturalist/authors opened my eyes. So although I worried I’d be expected to memorize the scientific names of plants and animals, and identify trees and shrubs at a glance, and tell the difference between a Sanderling and a Sandpiper, I signed up for the class. I wanted the tools to see what my heroes saw. I was excited to be in the inaugural Delaware Master Naturalist program. It started in March 2020—that dreaded Covid spring. We got one class in before the pandemic disrupted everything. In person classes ended, the field tripsRead More
We love to save the majestic ones—bald eagles, elephants, tigers; and the adorable ones—pandas, terrapins, monkeys; and the mysterious ones—sea turtles, owls, whales. But one of the biggest (and tiniest) heroes of our natural world is also, for most people, one of the hardest things to love—bugs. And that’s unfortunate, because right now bugs desperately need help. Yes, some insects sting and bite. But the vast majority just go about their business day in, day out, trying to ignore homo sapiens. And their “business” is essential to life on earth. Insects pollinate 87.5% of flowering plants. These plants become food for thousands of species of animals, including humans. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Department, “… scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators likeRead More
Sympathy for Phil
Well, Phil let us down today. But, really, who can blame him? If you’d been asleep for five months and someone rudely yanked the covers off, wouldn’t you look for any reason to dive back under, too? About this time of year, early February, male Groundhogs start coming out of hibernation. When a Groundhog goes into hibernation, it shuts down nearly all its systems. It breathes once every five to six minutes, its heartbeat slows from 100 beats per minute to 15, and its body temperature drops from 95 degrees to around 45 degrees. All of this causes its metabolism rate to plummet so that, even though it hasn’t eaten for about 150 days, it will have lost no more than a quarter of its body weight. While Punxutawney Phil (in Pennsylvania) is our closestRead More
Where is Everybody?
According to Mitch, back in the 1980s when he first moved to the area, the Tuesday after Labor Day you could roll a bowling ball right down the middle of Rt. 1. While the nesting and migratory habits of homo sapiens have changed radically in recent years, for most species, life cycle changes are measured in decades, centuries, and eons. Which means that, even though nowadays weekend beach traffic is thick no matter the season, you still won’t see a Horseshoe crab in Little Assawoman Bay in January. But where do our feathered, gilled, and web-footed friends go in the winter? Bird-watchers and scientists have always known that Osprey, easily recognizable by their high-pitched call, daring plunges, and platform nests guarding over our bays, leave the Mid-Atlantic for southern climes around the same time kidsRead More
This Summer Brought to You By…
Memorial Day Weekend 2020: We’d been allowed to open. Yippee!! But now what? How to open safely? We brainstormed, made plans, changed plans, built new doors and dividers, moved counters, painted directional signs, bought plexiglass, a portable sink, hand sanitizer, wash tubs, bleach, more bleach, soap, more soap, bleach sprayers. We changed the flow of customers, implemented new safety measures for guests and employees, and trained staff in our new cleaning protocol. But would it make a difference? Would we be allowed to stay open? Would the beach towns allow visitors? And, most importantly, would anyone come? People trickled in over Memorial Day weekend. The following week, the trickle dried up. Light traffic volume on Route 1 rivaled the mid-week, off-season days before the current new construction explosion. Raucous Laughing Gull calls easily outnumbered phoneRead More
Jeepers Creepers Listen to those Peepers!
The Osprey are back. The Bluebirds have built their nests. The adorable, chubby fox kits roll and chase each other around their den. A Carpenter Bee stared me in the eye yesterday as I walked out my door. (He said, “You know, there’s not much left here. I think it’s time you built a new house. Wood, please. No concrete blocks.”) While I love seeing these seasonal residents return, my favorite sign of spring isn’t a sight. It’s a sound. Spring peepers are about the length of a paper clip but have the range of Kelly Clarkson. They are the rock stars of the spring. These prolific little frogs live in wet areas (our backyard pond is their Merriweather Post Pavilion) but their brownish-tannish-olive coloring allows them to blend so completely with their surroundings that theyRead More
How We Know What We Know: Tidal Changes
Weather forecast, water temperature, air temperature, average tidal change—these are probably four of the most important factors when planning a kayak camping trip in an unfamiliar environment, especially for a trip off the coast of Maine in late September. For our first kayak camping trip (circa 1995) we carefully considered 3 of the 4 factors. We’d launched late in the day (see previous post) and didn’t have a route in mind. But we didn’t need to. Islands spread across the chart like freckles on the cheeks of a redhead. Our plan was to paddle until we found a hospitable-looking island, pull up, and camp. Unusually warm daytime temps mixed with seasonally cool waters had resulted in a light fog settling over us and the bay. A lobster boat, engine droning yet invisible in the fog,Read More
Not Your Normal Summer Tourists
This past summer we greeted a lot of friendly faces - families from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, New York; young professionals from D.C, Philadelphia, Manhattan; retirees from Lewes, Selbyville, Millville. But some of our most surprising visitors this year didn’t drive into our parking lot. They flew and swam into our bay. Pelicans: We saw more Brown Pelicans in Little Assawoman Bay than ever before. On the ocean side, pelicans are not a rare sighting. But sometimes years will pass between sightings on our bay. However, this summer, at one point, we counted over thirty pelicans at one time circling or floating on the water near Point of Cedars Island. Pelicans are more fascinating to watch than the Weather Channel during hurricane season - the way they fold their awkward beaks sleekly into their bodies whileRead More
Toughing it Out
Somehow they know it’s time. Towards the end of summer, the small changes in daylight signal rituals of preparation. They flock together, watching and waiting. One morning the marsh is full of birds hunting and preening, and the next morning, usually after a strong north wind, they’re gone, those same tidal ponds eerily empty. Yet, thankfully, not all birds desert our beaches and inland bays. Throughout the winter, besides the short-lived migrations of northern birds passing through, we have hardy, year-round residents. Instead of following food sources south, they’ve figured out ways to hunt, forage, and survive in the worst of weather. One of our largest avian year-round residents is the wild turkey. They roam in flocks and when you see them run across the road or a field, it is impossible not to smile andRead More