June 4th, 2013
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be a horseshoe crab biologist? Well, I have the wonderful opportunity to be one! A typical day begins at 8 am loading equipment at the St. Jones Reserve to a chorus of chirping birds and tree frogs. What does a horseshoe crab biologist use? We use plenty of small buckets for sediment samples, a couple ropes marked off at three meter intervals, some stakes painted orange, a clicker-counter, metal sediment slicer, and most important, a sediment core sampler!
Once at the beach, the sampling areas are established according to the high tide line and signs of horseshoe crab activity. The marked ropes are set up to establish three meter by twenty meter transects. Each biologist collects 20 five-cm deep sediment core samples randomly throughout each transect and places them into a bucket with a label with the date, beach name and transect designation. This is repeated on 3-4 beaches a day.
The sample buckets are then brought back to the lab for processing. The first step is to remove as much gravel, sand, and fine organic particles from the horseshoe crab eggs as possible. This is done by emptying the sample bucket into a tall series of progressively finer wire-mesh sieves and using water to spray the eggs through the screen while separating out the rocks, shells and gravel. If there is a large amount of gravel remaining in the egg sample (egg-size 1.6 mm), the sample is then run through a specially designed elutriation system (fondly referred to as Eggbert) which uses water to separate out the less dense eggs from the denser sediments. Once the eggs have been separated out they are ready for counting! If the number of eggs in the sample is small (< 4,000), the eggs are counted by hand. If the number of eggs in the sample is large, there are counted volumetrically in a graduated cylinder. The egg count data and location data is tracked for each beach each year and provides information regarding the availability of horseshoe crab eggs as a food source for migrating shorebirds.
So, where is the fun? Imagine walking onto a beach and seeing thousands of horseshoe crabs lining the shore, hunting for tagged crabs after sampling, photographing hundreds to thousands of shorebirds while they forage for eggs. Like music? Lab time offers a great opportunity to sing along to your favorite tunes while sieving samples and counting eggs! Change the lyrics to a classic tune to create your own horseshoe crab theme song or collect shells, fossils and cool rocks from the sediment samples while sieving eggs. Perhaps making bucket towers or cracking egg jokes while sifting and counting helps make the work more fun. But most importantly, making lifelong friends while conducting important scientific work is the best benefit! And, that is what it is like in a day in the life of a horseshoe crab biologist.
By Amy Brossard
February 14th, 2013
Interested in visiting a freshwater estuary? The National Estuarine Research Reserve system added another Reserve site in October 2010 raising the number of Reserves to 28 around the United States. The Lake Superior NERR is comprised of approximately 16,000 acres and is located along the confluence of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. You may see some familiar habitats within their Reserve boundary including freshwater marshes, sandy beaches, and dunes. Have you visited all 28 Reserves? We encourage you to do so and you can start by visiting the Lake Superior NERR or stop by and see us here in Delaware. For more information on the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve visit them on the web and for information on the Delaware NERR please visit our website or like us on Facebook.
December 18th, 2012
Have you been to the Blackbird Creek Reserve lately? You may have notice some changes to our farm field. As part of our restoration plan for the Blackbird Creek Reserve, we have taken some agricultural land out of production and created/restored some freshwater wetlands. Wetlands are areas where there are water loving (hydrophytic) plants, saturation of the land or free standing water during portions of the growing season, and hydric soils (soils that are wet enough during the growing season to develop low/no oxygen conditions). Wetlands have many benefits such as absorbing water like a sponge which helps to reduce flooding, acting as a natural filter, and providing important habitat for food, shelter, and nesting. A couple of weeks ago staff and volunteers planted the wetland sites with various native water loving plants including rushes, wool grass, buttonbush, sedges, and pin oak. Visit us on the web for more information about the Blackbird Creek Reserve, Delaware Wetlands, and Wetland and Waterway permitting in Delaware.
November 9th, 2012
Did you see the movie stars at the St. Jones Reserve this past Saturday? They attended the premiere of the new St. Jones River video entitled The Price of Progress…The Promise of Protection in which they starred. The 20-minute video explored the St. Jones River through time. The river is both rich in natural history and cultural history. If you missed the show you still have an opportunity to see it as we will be showing it again this winter. Copies will also be available for educational use.
In addition to the premiere of the new video during the St. Jones Open House, we also showcased the research being conducted at the Reserve as well as the sea level rise inundation mapping tool; the facility and estuarium were opened for tours; and there were crafts for our younger visitors. The Open House was held in conjunction with the Delaware Native Plant Society’s annual plant sale. Thank you to all who visited us at the Open House and Plant Sale!
September 7th, 2012
Delaware Coastal Programs, Manager, David Carter retired from the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) on September 1, 2012 following a 25+ year service to the State of Delaware. For over twenty five years David Carter has dedicated both his career and personal time to the protection and restoration of Delaware’s wetlands. As a biologist and Regional Manager with the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife his vision and drive was key to establishing the Northern Delaware Wetlands Restoration Program, which continues to be implemented today and has restored hundreds of acres of wetland. As a Program Manager with the Delaware Coastal Programs he employed innovative planning and funding tools to improve the management and protection of wetlands in the state, through development of the Pea Patch Island Heronry Special Area Management Plan, Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Program, horseshoe crab and shorebird monitoring, Marsh Vulnerability Index and the System Wide Monitoring Program for the National Estuarine Research Reserve. In his home life, as an active hunter and member of Ducks Unlimited, Dave has created wetland and habitat on his 40-acre farm, providing a demonstration site for others. In addition, David has cultivated a climate of innovation and implementation-focused planning for the next generation of coastal and wetland managers. “Congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful future filled with continued success and happiness.”
August 17th, 2012
Many east coasters have heard of brackish water estuaries…where rivers meet the sea. But, have you ever heard of a freshwater estuary? The National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System actually has two freshwater estuaries…Old Woman Creek in Ohio and Lake Superior in Wisconsin. Freshwater estuaries do not contain salt water but rather, are combinations of river and lake water (large lakes). The river water and lake water are chemically different and the estuary tends to be driven by storm surges and seiches (shifting of lake water) rather than tides. Today’s destination is the Old Woman Creek NERR located on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie just east of Huron, Ohio. It was the first freshwater estuary adopted into the NERR System in 1980. Old Woman Creek NERR encompasses approximately 573 acres and includes critical spawning and nursery ground for many recreational and commercial fisheries including crappie, blue gill, and channel catfish. So, if you are taking a trip near Huron, Ohio stop in and visit the Old Woman Creek Reserve! For more information about freshwater estuaries visit the estuaries.gov website and to learn more about Old Woman Creek NERR visit them on their website.
July 31st, 2012
How better to learn about a watershed than to experience it? On July 12, 2012 teachers from several states participated in a watershed tour of the St. Jones River coordinated by the Reserve in collaboration with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (the Partnership). The tour is one component of the Partnership’s annual watershed workshop for teachers. The teachers explored the history, habitats, impacts, and the restoration efforts occurring in and along the St. Jones River in Kent County, Delaware. At each stop along the tour teachers had the opportunity to interact with scientists, resource managers, and environmental educators about the importance of the St. Jones River; how it was impacted in the past; what impacts it today; and how it is being protected for tomorrow. If you want to learn more about the St. Jones River visit the St. Jones Reserve south of the Dover Air Force Base in Dover, DE.
July 2nd, 2012
If you have ever visited the St. Jones Reserve you may know that we are neighbors of the John Dickinson Plantation. At one time the St. Jones Reserve property was owned by the Dickinson family during the 18th century. Mr. Dickinson was called the “Penman of the Revolution” because he was known for his Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. John was a politician but he identified himself as a farmer. His cattle once grazed on salt meadow hay in the upper marsh surrounding the St. Jones River. He also saw the need to be a conservationist. As he watched the trees in the area being depleted, he instituted a policy on his land where only dead tree material was to be utilized for building and repair.
If you are looking for something to do this 4th of July week , visit the John Dickinson Plantation and the St. Jones Reserve to see the land where our forefather once roamed. For more information about John Dickinson and the Plantation visit the John Dickinson Plantation on the web. Please note that the Reserve and Plantation are closed on the 4th but opened other days of the week.
June 13th, 2012
When I was approached by one of our researchers to assist with the Secretive Marsh Bird survey I had to ask, “Are we secretive or are the birds secretive?” I know you were thinking the same thing. I was quickly informed that the birds are the ones who are secretive. They include birds such as the clapper rail, king rail, American bittern, and least bittern just to name a few. These birds exhibit secretive behaviors and are difficult to visually survey. In fact, the majority of the survey is conducted by sound. I have found that you must be a great listener to conduct this type of survey!
So needless to say, this past Monday I was excited to assist with such an interesting project. We launched our boat just after 5 am into the St. Jones River, and we were off to survey set points along the marshes for these “secretive” birds. It was quite an enjoyable experience as we diligently listened for the birds and was quite delighted to see a few. The most exciting sighting was a mother clapper rail with her chicks following closely behind. Our resident bird expert said this was quite an unusual sight as it is rare to see the chicks (don’t forget…they are secretive). It was certainly an interesting morning on the River and an experience I won’t soon forget. In fact, I’m looking forward to going back out in July. It’s amazing the wildlife you see early in the morning. You never know what might be lurking in the marsh.
May 10th, 2012
Have you ever wondered what the marsh was like many years ago? Probably not, but we (scientists) have a way of determining how much sediment has been collected on the marsh surface over long periods of time (also known as accretion). Recently, we collected three sediment cores within the St. Jones Reserve as part of a long term bio-monitoring project. In order to collect these cores, we used a large tri-pod to help pull up a PVC pipe that was pushed into the marsh to collect and hold the sample. This may sound simple, but there needs to be the right amount of suction to keep the core sample inside of the PVC pipe as we lift it up. Sometimes this process can take multiple tries! After each core is collected we put rubber caps on each end until the soil sample is ready to be processed. Analyses of these core samples for lead-210 and cesium-137 helps determine accretion rates and the age of various depths within the sediment over the past 50-100 years.
Processing the cores can be a messy and smelly job, but it is fun to work with marsh mud. Thankfully, we can open the windows to help reduce the smell. The first part of the processing requires the sediment core to be cut up into 2cm sections and dried in a scientific oven. Then the samples are sent to the University of Delaware campus in Lewes, DE for the final analysis.