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The American Holly

Written on: April 11th, 2016 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by Rebecca Snow about one of our native evergreens that can be found at the Reserve. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

 

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

 

The American Holly

 

Spring has definitely sprung and the forest is beginning to awaken! If you are like me, the warmer weather, singing birds and blooming flowers put you in a great mood. BUT, it isn’t spring quite yet so before we miss our opportunity to see it in its full glory, let’s learn a little bit about our state tree, the American holly. As soon as the surrounding trees begin to leaf out, the hollies, and other evergreens, tend to fade in to the background until fall. Despite its prickly leaves, this is one interesting tree and it’s worth a closer look.

 

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

The American holly is a broadleaf evergreen, which means that it does not have needles and holds its leaves through winter. Those leaves have to have a very thick “skin” (or cuticle in plant language) to survive the cold temperatures and winds during the winter and the spines on the sides of the leaves serve as a great deterrent to anyone considering munching on them.  Holly trees are most famous for their bright red berries. Despite that, have you ever noticed that only SOME trees have them? It might be that the birds have already feasted at the berry buffet, but the real reason why not all hollies have berries is because they are dioecious. That means that there are “boy trees” and “girl trees.” The American holly flowers in the late spring and although you probably wouldn’t even notice their small white flowers, they are an important food source for bees. Pollinators are essential to the formation of those beautiful berries we love to see in our holiday wreaths because they carry the pollen from the male plant to the female plant on their legs and bodies.

               

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Because the berries are such a vibrant red, they may be appealing to toddlers who like to taste test everything around them. Holly berries are toxic to humans though, so make sure you instill in them from a very young age not to put any berries found outside in their mouth unless you give it to them. Even though we can’t consume the fruit of the American holly, many other creatures can, including deer and many species of birds so these trees serve as an importance food source during the winter. Head over to the Reserve and see if you can spot some American hollies!

Text & Photos Provided By Rebecca Snow

 

 

Rebecca is a Dover mom and self-described naturalist with a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Her mission is to encourage all families to explore, experience and learn while appreciating the beauty what would normally be overlooked. To read more about her and her families nature experiences outdoors check out her personal blog at http://thebuckit.blogspot.com/  

We are Volunteer Powered!

Written on: March 22nd, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt. Jones ReserveUncategorizedVolunteers

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience attending our first ever “Education Volunteer Training”. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

We are Volunteer Powered! 

This way to educational volunteer training! Can you feel the electric vibes?

This way to educational volunteer training! Can you feel the electric vibes?

On Super Tuesday 2016, many citizens across our nation gathered at the polls; but at the St. Jones Reserve, a convivial group of strangers assembled to listen, to learn, and to begin to collaborate. Present were about two dozen prospective volunteers, some from the general public, some from DNREC’s Coastal Programs…and one roving DNERR guest-blogger, who was there to find out what the hoopla was all about.

In case it has somehow escaped your notice, DNERR is perpetually the focus of much hoopla. In-season, its two Reserves receive some 2,000 students; in the off-season, DNERR “takes it to the classroom” by going into local schools to give age-appropriate talks on topics such as “Estuary Creature Feature” and “Non-Point Source Pollution/Watersheds”; and year-round, apart from being a destination for 2,000 visitors and tourists, DNERR is also in the thick of things with its participation in such popular public-outreach events as Delaware Ag Day (April 30; 10 am – 4 pm); the Delaware State Fair (July 21 – 30); Coast Day (2016 date TBA); DNERR’s Blackbird Creek Fall Festival (October 15; 10 am – 4 pm); and Estuary Day (September 24; times and details TBD).  That’s a whole lotta hoopla!

Maggie speaks to the attentive and enthusiastic group.

Maggie speaks to the attentive and enthusiastic group.

Add to that NOAA’s “Every Kid in a Park” program, for the 2015/2016 school year, and there’s quite a bit of info to get out about the great ecology lessons to be found in our estuaries. But how to accomplish it all, with DNERR’s limited staff? Enter its valiant, vibrant corps of volunteers. Even if you have never done such a thing, and are not sure you are science‑y and/or teacher‑y enough, DNERR will readily equip you for the task; and–this may be the best part–they also provide options for which type of program or activity the volunteer would like to pursue. Volunteers are needed during the day (particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), but also occasionally on evenings or weekends.

Going into classrooms not your cup of tea? Then assist with hosting a nature walk at one of DNERR’s Reserves. Leading groups of students not your thing? Then “person” an interactive display-table at a fair or festival. And if you should have ideas about new programs or activities DNERR could offer, Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator, would be happy to receive your suggestions. Assistance with curriculum development is also welcome.

Maggie waxes poetic: "The marsh is like an oil painting...."

Maggie waxes poetic: “The marsh is like an oil painting….”

Maggie was the leader for the education volunteer training on Super Tuesday. Informative packets were distributed to each attendee, containing sheets of general guidance as well as specifics. For instance, in the folders were a station-by-station description of a “Horseshoe Crab Molt Lab,” details for an “Eat and Go” session on the subject of shorebirds (no, Red Knots are not on the menu, but the audience will certainly learn about them), a “Wetland Walk Cheat Sheet,” and for the climate-data-minded, a sheet entitled, “St. Jones — Greenhouse Gas Flux Monitoring: Eddy Covariance System in a Salt Marsh.” Much of the packet was reviewed by the participants while still inside “The Barn,” DNERR’s multi-purpose conference-space; but with temperatures that day climbing into the 50s, the outdoors-minded group naturally opted to head outside to continue the training.

Once settled at the picnic tables, and after some further discussion, Maggie introduced the guest speaker, Sara Anderson, a retired teacher, who related some helpful strategies for interacting with student groups, as well as answered questions from the trainee-volunteers.

The nuts-and-bolts having been addressed, Maggie then turned the discussion to what could be called the philosophy behind the art of interpretation. The best interpretation is not a dull recitation of facts, but instead can capture the imagination through the use of symbolism, humor, or metaphor: from sharing a haiku, to leading a small group in the making of Japanese-style “fish prints” (known as Gyotaku), to describing the parts of a marsh as being “like the layers of an oil painting.”

After a brief break, we re-convened in “The Barn” for the concluding portion of the program, with an examination of some lab specimens related to horseshoe crab anatomy and to the crabs’ molting- and reproduction-cycles.

Speaking of "electric vibes", check out Maggie's shocking-pink shoes!

Speaking of “electric vibes,” check out Maggie’s shocking-pink shoes!

The half-day’s training was one of much learning, but with some good-natured jocularity and at least one moment of unintendedly edgy humor. This not-normally-queasy individual about fainted when Maggie held up, and suddenly yanked apart, the upper shell and the undercarriage of a large, presumably dead, horseshoe crab, in order to show us the crab’s innards. Or as our handout sheets call them, the esophagus, the crop-gizzard, and other chitinous structures. Only after her dramatic reverse-clashing of the anatomically-correct, horseshoe-crab-shaped “cymbals” did she make mention that the crab was a replica; but even knowing that, it was still somewhat disconcerting when the process was repeated a few minutes later. What a way to get kids’ attention! It sure got this writer’s.

If any of this sounds unexpectedly intriguing, then please consider DNERR’s education volunteer training. Bring your energy! Bring your sense of adventure! Bring your own particular ecological/artistic interests! And if you should happen to have a zingy pair of shoes? Bring those, too! Get in on the hoopla! Share your vibe! Help spread the word about our fabulous Reserves!

 

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

* * * *
M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

St. Jones Reserve

Written on: February 23rd, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by Rebecca Snow about her families recent trip to explore the trails at the St. Jones Reserve.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

 

St. Jones Reserve

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Although many animals are in hibernation and many plants are leafless and dormant, this is the perfect time of year to visit St. Jones Reserve because it can get be buggy during the warmer months. There is still plenty to see and learn about, even some things that would not be visible at other times of the year. If you are a stay at home parent or you are off work during the day sometime, this would be a great day trip because they have a visitor center that is open Monday through Friday from 8:00am-4:30pm with educational displays and fish tanks AND the Air Mobility Command Museum is right around the corner, so you can do both at the same time!

 

We love boardwalks and there are plenty at St. Jones, in addition to trails alongside the nearby fields and wetlands and through the woods. On our visit during an unseasonably warm day, we didn’t see much in the water other than lots of tiny fish but it is still fun to look. When there isn’t much wildlife to see outside, our focus turns toward plant life and that never disappoints.

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

One of the coolest things to see on our hikes are the various ways in which vines have taken over other plants or trees. Sometimes the tree will continue growing and expanding, which makes it look like it is being strangled by the vine. This type of growth in plants is called thigmotropism. When the vine feels a support structure, it changes the way it grows so that cells on the side of the stem not touching the support elongate faster than the cells touching it, which allows it to wrap around and grow upward. Thigmotropism is a big word for kids to remember, but the general concept of a plant being able to feel and respond to its environment is certainly teachable. The next time you are in the woods, see how many different examples of thigmotropism you can find!

 

Credit SNOW_Blog Post 1 (2)

Photo Credit Rebecca Snow

Since we are only a month or so out from the holidays and focusing on plants, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about mistletoe. You’ve undoubtedly seen it many times and may not have realized what it was. It’s all over the place and, like bird nests, you usually can’t see it when there are leaves on the trees. It grows way up high, and I’ve found that in our area it prefers to grow in trees near water. I do hate to ruin your perception of mistletoe, considering it’s traditionally associated with kissing but I have to tell you…it’s a parasite. Yep, you read that right. Mistletoe is a lazy, life sucking parasite. If it makes you feel any better, it is a hemi-parasite which means that it does photosynthesize a little bit to make its own food, but mostly it steals its water and nutrients from the trees it lives on. To keep you from getting too sad about this reality, you can rest assured knowing that it does serve a purpose in providing food and shelter for birds, mammals and insects. If you hang mistletoe in your home for the holidays, make sure you keep it away from curious kiddos because it is toxic when ingested. We saw quite a bit of it while walking at St. Jones, but you might be able to spot some near where you live too.

Text & Photos Provided By Rebecca Snow

 

Rebecca is a Dover mom and self-described naturalist with a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Her mission is to encourage all families to explore, experience and learn while appreciating the beauty what would normally be overlooked. To read more about her and her families nature experiences outdoors check out her personal blog at http://thebuckit.blogspot.com/  

 

Varieties of Experience, Lost & Found

Written on: January 15th, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogUncategorized

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Varieties of Experience, Lost & Found

My childhood résumé would have looked something like this: Backyard explorer, cloud & insect inspector, tree climber, rock hunter, and advanced mud-pie maker.

In adulthood, although belying the variety of worthwhile advances it represented, my résumé had become: morning & afternoon commuter, punctuality maintainer, office worker, and grocery shopper.

At what point had the scenery shifted? At what moment did the smoothness of the moss under my feet, or the roughness of the bark under my hands as I pulled myself into the upper branches of my favorite climbing-tree, become a type of contact only to be had through the tip of a pen moving across paper or through fingertips pressing on a computer keyboard? At what point had the experience of nature become…not directly experiential?

The societal expectation for transformation from carefree child to tax-paying adult is insufficient excuse when there is a whole, big world out there beyond our doorsills. When was the last time I was up a tree? Or found an interesting pebble? Or reveled in the gooey glory of mud “dough” well mooshed?

There is something to be said for having an uncluttered focus–and by that I do not mean having a tidied and vacuumed car. Henry David Thoreau exhorted us all to “Simplify, simplify!” I would encourage us to do the same. The clouds and the dragonflies will become more readily seen–and will be right back on one’s résumé.

Photo & text by M. L. Christmas

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She has written dozens of articles for newsletters, newspapers, magazines, and websites. Her work has appeared in local, regional, national and international publications and other venues, and she has written in tones ranging from scholarly to humorous, depending on the audience. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

 

DNERR Brings You the Weather

Written on: December 7th, 2015 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogNERRResearchSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience on the boardwalk at the St. Jones Reserve.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

DNERR Brings You the Weather

The St. Jones Reserve Weather Station

The St. Jones Reserve Weather Station

The St. Jones Reserve Trail Guide is more than just a trail guide. The title makes one think “route map.” There is an aerial view or two in the booklet, but that’s that for that. No, the St. Jones Reserve Trail Guide is more about briefly describing what is going on alongside the trail–not to mention underneath and up above.

The Trail Guide highlights some of the flora and fauna customarily found at the Reserve. Those things can be pretty much depended upon and reasonably expected. What cannot always be so easy to know and to predict is the weather, and that’s where DNERR’s connection with the Delaware Environmental Observing System comes in.

The weather conditions at the St. Jones and Blackbird Creek Reserves can even be viewed from the comfort of one’s own home. Drilling down from the link provided in the booklet, one sees, at www.deos.udel.edu, the updates from the reporting stations (Network: “DEOS.” Station: Either “Kitts Hummock — DE-NERR” or “Blackbird — DE-NERR”).

Credit M.L. Christmas_BlogPost9 (1)The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve always has something going on, just for you–including the weather!

Text & photos by M. L. Christmas

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She has written dozens of articles for newsletters, newspapers, magazines, and websites. Her work has appeared in local, regional, national and international publications and other venues, and she has written in tones ranging from scholarly to humorous, depending on the audience. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

 

Note from the Editor:  The weather data collected at our stations is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), which also includes the collection of water quality data.  All the SWMP data can be viewed by visiting the NERR Centralized Data Management Office’s page, and if you want to get more in depth with the data try out our SWMP Graphing Tool for teachers. 




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