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DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Written on: September 7th, 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 M.L. Christmas showing off her creative #EstuaryLove for #EstuariesWeek. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Credit M.L

Alvin G. Wilson Conservation Demonstration Area

Blackbird Creek

Canoeing

Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

Ecosystem research

Fiddler crabs

Geocaching

Horseshoe crabs

Internships (undergraduate and graduate)

Journeys into the great outdoors

Kayaking

Long-term monitoring

Marsh

Native plants

Outdoor Delaware Trail Passport

Programs for grades K-16

Quarter-mile boardwalk

Restoration-technique evaluations

St. Jones River

Teacher Professional Development programs

Uplands

Volunteerism opportunities

Workshops and seminars

X-cellent views

You! (Pay us a visit!)

Zone management (coastal)

 

Text and photo by M.L. Christmas

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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.

Boardwalk Confidential

Written on: August 18th, 2016 in Guest 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 M.L. Christmas about her recent experience visiting the St. Jones Reserve. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Boardwalk Confidential

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (2)On a sizzling June day, on the sly, I hit the St. Jones Reserve’s boardwalk, in anticipation of seeing some action. Not wanting some action, no, just seeking to observe from a polite distance. I knew from prior experience that one needs to be there at just the right moment in order to get the furtive eyeful. My more-recent visits to the Reserve always seemed to coincide with when the tide was in — the estuary coyly clothed in tall grasses and high water.

This time, the tide was out.

Today, in the heat and humidity, I found the Reserve lolling about in the equivalent of a skimpy sundress: reveling in her exposed glory, her muddy banks ripening in the strong rays, and everything bathed in the scent not of sunscreen, but of the not-unpleasing odor of fermenting marsh-muck.

The timing was perfect! The desired crowds were arrayed along the boards underneath my feet, and the party was in full swing. But in attempting to mingle unobtrusively, again I found myself experiencing DNERR’s version of “The Wave”: fiddler crabs skittering, in a tiny, forward-rolling motion, into their respective burrows at my approach. They must have pretty good vision, I thought to myself. (Maggie Pletta, DNERR’s Education Coordinator, later informed me the fiddlers’ secret is not their eyes, but instead feelers/filaments on their arms that can sense movement. Who knew? do…now.)

More often than not, when peering over the rail, my gaze was met by the empty “eyes” of the burrow-openings, as if I were looking down into the top of a deep, estuarine salt(‑and-fresh-water) shaker. So I tried approaching the next batch of fiddler crabs more slowly, still thinking at that point that if it was the clomping, humanlike movement frightening them, perhaps a slower, gentler pace would make me less distinguishable from the marsh grasses. No go. Away they went!

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (1)However, here and there, several macho fellows — arm hair and all — held their ground. I wanted to get a closer photo, but lowering my camera mud-ward, calling their bluffs, would surely have resulted only in better photos of the burrows, not of the crabs. So I split the difference, netting myself two grainy, fleeting photos as a result. The images’ gritty, almost black-and-white appearance makes them look like covert photos from some seamy, cinematic spy-thriller.

Doing some further reading once home, I learned the large-pincered jobbies are the males, and they display their availability to females by waving their large arm and trying to lure them into their respective love nests. They also use the arm-display to try to intimidate rivals or threats.

As to the latter, I could have flipped them a view of my recently purchased, lobster-shaped keychain from Maine. (Oh yeah? You call that a claw? Well, I see your one big claw and raise you two!)

And as for that mating thing, not only am I happily married, but also I am not “into” crustaceans in that way. Besides, I would never fit in that burrow.

Photos and text 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.

DNERR Skills are Transferable to Civilian Life

Written on: June 20th, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogNERRVolunteers

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 using her new found knowledge gained from attending our spring education volunteer trainings. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

DNERR Skills are Transferrable to Civilian Life 

An off-season stroll along the sands of Rehoboth Beach, a mere 72 hours after attending DNERR‘s education volunteer training, unexpectedly allowed this writer to flex some new knowledge.

Without the benefit of a DNERR Molt Lab handout sheet, we examined this Horseshoe Crab. For those of you “playing along at home,” note the prosoma, the opisthosoma, and the telson.

Without the benefit of a DNERR Molt Lab handout sheet, we examined this Horseshoe Crab. For those of you “playing along at home,” note the prosoma, the opisthosoma, and the telson.

While walking along the wrack line to examine the “misc. bits” left behind when high tide receded (typically seashells, shell pieces, pebbles, driftwood, seaweed, and the occasional bottle cap), we saw about a half-dozen Horseshoe Crabs, aka Limulus polyphemus. As we bent to examine one of them, I pointed out to my spouse the crab’s median eyes, and he was stunned. One could look at Horseshoe Crabs for years and never notice those secret “spy eyes”…until they are pointed out to you, just as they were to me at a recent education training session. Once you are aware of those median eyes, one of five types of eyes with which Horseshoe Crabs are outfitted, they will be almost all you can think about.

We could not help but notice this crab had a number of hitchhikers” on its opisthosoma. That’s the hinged, triangular plate connecting the main body (prosoma) with the tail (telson). A terrific fold-out poster from the “Green Eggs & Sand” curriculum, offered at DNERR, illustrates 10 of the 20+ creatures or plants known to use Horseshoe Crabs as a primitive sort of Uber ride, but with the passengers not readily disembarking: such things as jingle shells, sea strawberries (a type of coral), tube worms, and starfish.

Portrait of a lovely day at Rehoboth Beach: a not-so-still-life of gulls, shorebirds, sand, and breakers.

Portrait of a lovely day at Rehoboth Beach: a not-so-still-life of gulls, shorebirds, sand, and breakers.

Also pointed out to my hubby was the ratio of shell-size to crab-age, which of course makes sense; at which he asked me the logical question (pop quiz!): How long do Horseshoe Crabs live? Me (emboldened by DNERR training): About 25 years, but they don’t go through the series of molts the entire time. There is a “terminal molt.” He: What’s that? Me: That’s their final molt, occurring around age 12.

It all seems so straightforward, but yet I felt empowered. After all, how often does one get to use “terminal molt” in a sentence and really mean it?

Then I stepped into the Great Unknown, with a mention of the “Mystery of What Happens the Rest of the Year.” He: Huh? Me: It’s a mystery, to scientists, where Horseshoe Crabs go, and what they do, the rest of the year, once the spawning cycle’s finished in May and June. How do they fill their days, out in the deep, apart from their thankless work as an unintentional taxi service?

My first-ever discovery of a seahorse washed up along the wrack line.

My first-ever discovery of a seahorse washed up along the wrack line.

Then, out of the deep, another mystery presented itself as we walked along: a seahorse washed up on the beach! In all my time spent strolling on Delaware beaches, I had never seen a seahorse “in person” before. Seahorses are the stuff of National Geographic videos and major metropolitan aquaria. In other words, out there in the bright lights of big-time, not desiccated and left at the high-tide mark in little ole Delaware. My seahorse illusions were broken, but unbeknownst to me, they would soon be replaced with a piece of useful knowledge.

The subsequent Saturday, I spotted Maggie and an assistant seated at an outside display-table in front of the Dover Public Library. It was a Horseshoe Crab exhibit as part of a community science-fair. The opaque, white bucket emblazoned “DNERR” in bold marker-pen was actually what first gave them away. I made the obligatory joke about its being filled with ice and that that’s where they were keeping their energy drinks and bag lunches; but I knew, from DNERR education training, the bucket’s real purpose. Sometimes, the Horseshoe Crab is a taxi, and other times the crab gets a taxi. That’s what had happened that day.

The taxi passenger, a young Horseshoe Crab, now sat in a low, plastic bin of sand and water, right there on the table, for casual inspection. While he/she quietly nudged around in the shallows, I had the pleasure of confirming to Maggie that DNERR education training sessions do sink in, and not only that, I was able to use some of that knowledge only two days earlier, out in the wilds of Rehoboth.

Then I told her about the seahorse sighting. Maggie, ever ready with a handy fact, revealed that the occasional seahorse has been snagged in the nets when DNERR trawls the mouth of the St. Jones, where it opens into the Delaware Bay. The reality of that is about as shocking to me as the existence of median eyes. And don’t get me started on Horseshoe Crabs’ “book gills.” (“Book gills”! Imagine!)

So, in learning my lessons at education training, I unwittingly learned another lesson: Keep all of your sets of eyes — even your stealth-eyes — open when away from DNERR. You never know what you may see and learn when trying to practice speaking Limulus polyphemus.

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.

Notes from the Field: Living Shoreline

Written on: May 27th, 2016 in Blackbird Creek ReserveNERRResearch

Notes from the field: Living Shoreline

Since Kari St.Laurent, the DNERR Research Coordinator, is new and loves blogging, she has decided to write snippets that highlight some of the field work occurring at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. These posts are not about specific data or results, but about the scientific process of making why and how we take measurements.

Blackbird Creek, located in Townsend, Delaware, is one component of the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is also home to a living shoreline located near the kayak ramp.

Blackbird Creek, located in Townsend, Delaware, is one component of the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is also home to a living shoreline located near the kayak ramp.

Last week, on a sunny day at low tide, researchers from the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve measured and inspected a living shoreline that was installed last May at the Blackbird Creek kayak ramp. This was an exciting opportunity to expose a few of our summer interns to some field work and teach them about monitoring living shorelines.

Living shorelines are an example of eco-engineering, or using the combination of nature and science to help protect our environment. It is an approach used to stabilize shorelines while also adding habitat for birds, fish, reptiles, and many others. Over time, energy from waves, storms, and tides can carve away coastlines, which could reduce the beautiful wetland habitats at Blackbird Creek. A living shoreline uses native plants to help protect shorelines from that erosion.  Imagine digging in your home garden. When you hit a mat of plant roots, it’s hard to dig any further. Plant roots help keep soil in its place!

 

SONY DSC

One section of the living shoreline installed May 2015 at the Blackbird creek kayak ramp. The native plant Arrow arum is growing in nicely surrounded by coir logs which are filled with decomposable coconut fibers.

Likewise, since a living shoreline is somewhat of a “wetland garden”, it provides even more habitat. When we were measuring this living shoreline, we saw many shrimp and small fish swimming by as well as a butterfly happily pollinating!

This survey marked the 1 year milestone since installation, so we had some measurements to make! These included visually inspecting: Are there any invasive plants? Luckily the answer was no!

It also included measurements to estimate of plant cover.  A quadrant, a 1 meter square made of PVC pipe, is placed at a designated spot and how much space the plants take up was measured. Quadrants are place at the same exact location every time so we can keep track of which plants are growing and how much space they are filling in.

Living shoreline can take a few years to fully establish, so our goal today was to take the 1 year measurements, as always, without any bias. Today was not about making any conclusions or decisions, just about the pure science of monitoring!

A quadrat is used to measure what types of plants are growing and how much space they take up. This quadrat is place in the same location each time a measurement is made to keep track of changes.

A quadrat is used to measure what types of plants are growing and how much space they take up. This quadrat is place in the same location each time a measurement is made to keep track of changes.

We plan on going back out to make these measurements in August, we wetland biomass is at its peak. So stayed tuned for more notes from the field!

 

Pictures from Molly Williams, a summer EPSCoR fellow from Delaware Technical Community College.

Being a Shadow? Not too Scary! In Fact, It’s Downright Cool!

Written on: May 20th, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogNERRVolunteers

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 second installment of our “Education Volunteer Training”. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Being a Shadow? Not too Scary! In Fact, It’s Downright Cool!

An important part of education volunteer training is assuming the identity of a shadow and following Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator. While it sounds like stealthy spy-stuff, involving a whiff of danger, the shadowing is done in broad daylight and could not have been more illuminating.

The Eat-N-Go session taught us about Horseshoe Crabs, and particularly that jar on the right of itty-bitty crab eggs. (The Red Knots say “yum!”)

The Eat-N-Go session taught us about Horseshoe Crabs, and particularly that jar on the right of itty-bitty crab eggs. (The Red Knots say “yum!”)

For the first part of the session, Eat-N-Go, the adult trainees assumed the role of an elementary-school audience and listened to Maggie’s presentation on the natural history of Horseshoe Crabs, particularly their eggs’ role as a valuable food source for migrating shorebirds. The mini-lesson is customarily followed by a brief time of structured play. We were told the parameters of the game: a delightful mix of boundary-marking cones, hula hoops (safe zones), uncooked beans (Horseshoe Crab “eggs”), and individual plastic bags in which the “Red Knots / Ruddy Turnstones / Semipalmated Sandpipers / Sanderlings” (the students) could place their beany bounty. A few students would be designated as “Predators,” representing raccoons and foxes, whose job it would be to beat the migrating species to the foodstuffs. A game of “Shorebirds versus Predators” is a fun way of conveying this serious information to younger minds–and to those young at heart. (I call “dibs” on “raccoon”!)

How old is this Horseshoe Crab? Flip over the specimen, measure the shell (metric only!) at the widest part, then refer to the chart.

How old is this Horseshoe Crab? Flip over the specimen, measure the shell (metric only!) at the widest part, then refer to the chart.

We then moved to a different presentation area for the Horseshoe Molt Lab. Maggie and an assistant, DNERR’s Colleen Holstein, quickly set up eight stations along the tabletops. By stopping at each of these stations, and by going down a list of corresponding questions, it was as if we were giving Horseshoe Crabs a “physical,” one step at a time: age, eye exam, condition of body structure, etc., but all pointing toward the succession of molts the crabs undergo during a significant portion of their lifespans. This part of the shadowing session was geared to us as if we were an older, more sophisticated student group. Hence, the greater complexity of the material and the increased audience-participation level.

The lab station related to the crabs’ compound eyes was accompanied by a couple of pairs of novelty sunglasses, intended to allow students an approximation of viewing the world for themselves through compound eyes. But this participant did what anyone would do: put the sunglasses on the Horseshoe Crab. (Some of us were still in “child mode” from Eat-N-Go….)

 

Compound eyes for compound eyes!

Compound eyes for compound eyes!

But the subject of eyes, in this education training “shadowing” session that was all about observation and raising our awareness, provided a really cool moment of insight. At one of the stations, a penlight was provided for assisting students with illuminating a crab’s eyes from within: a great way to observe those compound-eye structures. No, not just the pair of eyes one typically sees when gazing at a Horseshoe Crab, which are the compound lateral eyes, as in the adjoining photo, but all of its eyes, even the median eyes. The whaaat? Yes, the Horseshoe Crab has many tiny, “secret” eyes, and the median eyes, being on the upper leading-edge of the shell, enjoy a periscope-like promontory! This participant believes that set of spy-eyes to be the coolest part of a Horseshoe Crab, although Maggie continues to claim it is the crop-gullet. We’ll just let her keep thinking that, but this writer would offer the following for your consideration.

Not scary: It’s inspirational! The compound lateral eyes are only the beginning.

Not scary: It’s inspirational!
The compound lateral eyes are
only the beginning.

This accompanying photo may look rather sinister, but the process of using the penlight to observe the various sets of eyes will also allow you to see the poetry! Yes, there is poetry in Horseshoe Crabs. The crabs would probably tell us that fact themselves, if they could speak in human languages. But instead, one refers to the Molt Lab handout, and reads that the median eyes “can sense ultraviolet light from the moon and stars.” In a flash, when reading that passage, the glow of the penlight is replaced by the fire of consciousness burning behind those tiny median eyes, the safety-beacon sensor-eyes by which the crab has been guided up onto the beach — nestled under a broad swath of twinkling stars, and touched by moonlight and the gentle lapping of the water’s edge — to go quietly about its life-affirming task while most of the human world, on the Eastern Seaboard, sleeps.  (See what I mean?)

The leading edge of our dramatic group-march to the marsh, as viewed by those of us in the supporting wave.

The leading edge of our dramatic group-march to the marsh, as viewed by those of us in the supporting wave.

We then made a dramatic group-march out toward the marsh and the boardwalk, stopping at points along the way. We paused at various stations, just as with the Molt Lab. Although not all of them had tangible way-signage, each had its own salient points of note. We were told about weather measurements and scientific experiments being conducted; discussed the Reserve’s storm ponds and vernal pools; observed several types of marsh grasses; examined a Bayberry and a Holly; discussed brackish water, tides, Fiddler Crabs, their burrows, and even the types of animal footprints one might encounter.

As if proof were needed that DNERR’s education trainee-volunteers are an eagle-eyed group, one of our bunch spotted and alerted the rest of us to the presence of a flying Bald Eagle visible above the far trees; and the alert was sounded twice more, later on in the session, to draw our collective attention to a fox trotting across the marsh.

“Sometimes I even apply the mud to my face as a sort of facial masque….”

“Sometimes I even apply the mud to my face as a sort of facial masque….”

Another the cool part of the education volunteer training event, apart from the uncooked beans, the novelty shades, and the secret “periscope” eyes? Maggie’s discussion of marsh mud composition, its degree of sulfur smell, the process of oxidation, and the natural breakdown of botanic matter. She says she likes to alert kids to the beneficial richness of the marsh’s materials by applying the demonstration’s fistful of mud to her own face as an impromptu facial! Talk about a willingness to get into the nitty-gritty!

Here our group marched just as dramatically back to civilization, now with flower petals strewing our path.

Here our group marched just as dramatically back to civilization, now with flower petals strewing our path.

The all-afternoon session passed too quickly, and the time had come for us to return to civilization, but with it would come future DNERR volunteer opportunities to impart our newfound knowledge to school students as well as to adults.

A repeat-session of this education volunteer training will be held this fall at the St. Jones Reserve, for those who might have missed the April 11 afternoon gathering and are now inspired to find out more.

Being a shadow is indeed very illuminating, and not too scary! Take one look into those glowing median eyes, and see for yourself!

Photos and text 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.

If you would like more information about how to become an Education Volunteer or the other volunteer opportunities available at the Reserve please visit: http://de.gov/dnerrvol 




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