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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve


      

“THIS SPACE AVAILABLE: Insert Your Name Here!”

Written on: April 27th, 2017 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones ReserveVolunteers

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. Want to become involved yourself? This post is for you! Read on to see what DNERR has to offer and consider the possibilities of becoming involved with DNERR, as described by guest blogger M.L. Christmas. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

A tranquil pond, a stone bridge, and acres of welcoming trees: the gateway to the St. Jones Reserve awaits!

A tranquil pond, a stone bridge, and acres of welcoming trees: the gateway to the     St. Jones Reserve awaits!

Consider the space: At the St. Jones Reserve, you are greeted by over 5,100 acres of outdoor wonders: tidal brackish-water and salt marshes; hiking trails; wetland restoration ponds; a visitor’s center providing hands-on interactive activities and exhibits; educational programs and volunteer opportunities; a native plant nursery; and of course a river runs through it: the St. Jones, on its way to the Delaware Bay.

Consider the space: At the Blackbird Creek Reserve, 1,180 acres await your exploration: hardwood and softwood trees; tidal and non-tidal wetlands and brackish marshes; wetland plants; the possibility of spotting river otters, bald eagles, osprey, wild turkeys, and great blue herons; and at the center of it all is Blackbird Creek, meandering to the Delaware River.

Colorful trees, glistening water, and dappled sunlight: Explore the beauties of the Blackbird Creek Reserve!

Colorful trees, glistening water, and dappled sunlight: Explore the beauties of the Blackbird Creek Reserve!

Consider the space: A crowd-sourced blog, hosted by the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, reaching a worldwide audience of outdoors-minded adults and families, natural-science teachers and other professionals, school students, and even representatives of other Estuarine Research Reserves. (Did you know there are 29 Reserves across the U.S., including the new He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve in Hawaii, designated in 2017? A map of the NERR system can be found here.)

Consider the possibilities: When we say “THIS SPACE AVAILABLE: Insert Your Name Here!,” what we mean is not only that you should pay a visit to the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, or to one of the other Reserves in our system, but also please consider dropping us a line about your experiences, for possible posting.

A study in black and white: The guest blogger literally pictures herself at the Blackbird Creek Reserve.

A study in black and white: The guest blogger literally pictures herself at the Blackbird Creek Reserve.

All of these wide-open spaces — including those of this blog — are available to you! Feel free to canoe, hike, explore, experience. Then write about your adventures, add your personally captured photos, and submit your material to Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator, at Johanna.Hripto@state.de.us.

Let us hear from you soon!

Text and photos 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.

“Education Volunteer Training III: ‘You Had Me at Zooplankton!’”

Written on: April 11th, 2017 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt Jones Events and ProgramsSt. Jones ReserveVolunteers

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. This guest blog covers a recent DNERR Education Volunteer Training written by M.L. Christmas. Missed the training? Read on to find out what happened! Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Packet of goodies! We also received handout sheets and BPA-free water bottles from the Delaware Clean Water Alliance.

Packet of goodies! We also received handout sheets and BPA-free water bottles from the Delaware Clean Water Alliance.

One good training session, followed by another, deserves yet another: Education Volunteer Training III! You might be thinking: What’s more to learn? Should I bother attending? Haven’t we already covered the waterfront*? This guest‑blogger was wondering the same things. It turns out the answers are, respectively: “plenty”; “yes”; and “yes,” but also “no,” because there is always more to gain.

[*apologies to composer Johnny Green and lyricist Edward Heyman]

Enough new material was on the agenda that Yours Truly again took some time off from her other responsibilities in order to go to DNERR that morning for a look-and-listen. The “listen” category included the scheduled appearance of a special speaker: Michael Bard, Clean Water Advocate, from the Delaware Nature Society in Hockessin.

A volunteer-trainee prepping a specimen for examination under, no, not a regular microscope, but a dissecting microscope.

A volunteer-trainee prepping a specimen for examination under, no, not a regular microscope, but a dissecting microscope.

Some folks in attendance at EVT3 were new to DNERR volunteering and were still weighing the possibilities. Hence, we were given a brief review of the agency’s guidelines for volunteering. Nothing new, there, for anyone who had been at EVT1 or EVT2; but moving right along….

Big on the agenda were an overview of the “Muck-less Marsh Walk” (with its customary but ever-welcome excursion onto the boardwalk) and “Under the Microscope with Zooplankton” (aka “Zooplankton: Tiny Wonders of the Sea”), the latter described to this writer by Johanna Hripto, DNERR’s Assistant Education Coordinator, as “an extension of what was covered in the December 2016 Volunteer Appreciation Night, but with a lesson plan for younger students.”

Awesome-sauce! A mount on the microscope for one’s smartphone!

Awesome-sauce! A mount on the microscope for one’s smartphone!

We soon discovered the Zooplankton Lab is pretty cool for adults, too. The exercise (no pun intended) that day included adults spontaneously movin’ and groovin’ in the aisles of the lab, while digging an educational YouTube music video from the Singing Zoologist.

And what’s singing and dancing without cameras, or in this case, camera? While the adults were boogyin’ between the workstations, and at the same time learning about copepods and cladocerans and their ilk, Johanna announced that so many students had inquired about taking photos of the microorganisms on the microscope slides that the St. Jones Reserve now owns, ta-daaaa, a smartphone mount for that purpose! Brilliant!

Even without a smartphone, Yours Truly could see each microscope slide was like a miniature work of art, an aquatic portrait just waiting to be added to her personal sketchbooks: drawings and/or watercolors entitled “Hydra,” “Daphnia,” etc., complete with setae, cilia, flagella, manubria, colloblasts, and all the other fancy terms that would be more fun to draw than to spell. This writer, for amusement, has been sketching seaweed and jellyfish in her personal time. Seriously. And in the Zooplankton Lab handout, we learned jellyfish are plankton; so, boom, this guest-blogger is already on the scene!

A glimpse inside the mysterious and alluring Herbarium at the St. Jones Reserve.

A glimpse inside the mysterious and alluring Herbarium at the St. Jones Reserve.

We were also shown some of the more mysterious rooms in the St. Jones Reserve Visitor’s Center. For instance, the facility also contains dorm space for scholarly guests and visiting interns; and this guest-blogger finally got to peek behind the tantalizing door marked “Herbarium.” Further details about the Herbarium are hoped to be posted to this blog in the future.

Johanna then gave a presentation about the energy conservation methods used at the St. Jones Reserve’s buildings and grounds. DNERR has geothermal heating, low-flow/hybrid flow toilets, and much more. As Johanna said, “If people are volunteering for DNERR, they should know how we walk the talk! And they should be able to share that knowledge with others, at the Reserve and elsewhere!”

The EVT3 session concluded with guest speaker Michael Bard, from the Delaware Nature Society, giving a rousing talk on clean-water advocacy and how to promote water-conservation awareness. We were also given handout packets containing information from the Delaware Clean Water Alliance, of which Bard is a member. He noted how Reserve volunteers can take what they learn and apply it to clean‑water efforts at DNERR and beyond. There was that echo again, twice in the same training session: that knowledge gained at DNERR can translate to civilian life.

The boardwalk's end is just a beginning! Share your enthusiasm about the estuary with others!

The boardwalk’s end is just a beginning! Share your enthusiasm about the estuary with others!

Does all of this sound like fun? Sorry you missed the latest Education Volunteer Training? Don’t get your flagella in a bunch! Simply contact Johanna Hripto, Assistant Education Coordinator, and sign up for the next DNERR training session. Much learning and inspiration await, and you might just find all of it spilling over into your daily life! (This time, pun intended.)

Text and photos 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.

 

Of Rain Gauges & Rainfall Averages

Written on: March 3rd, 2017 in Guest 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. This guest blog is Part II to December’s post by M.L. Christmas about her interview with Research Coordinator Dr. Kari St. Laurent. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

The interview with Dr. Kari St.Laurent, in December 2016, contained more information than could fit in any one blog. Makes sense, does it not? Weather is “big stuff,” and just like everything else in life, there is often a lot more going on than initially meets the eye.

Home sweet home-based rain-gauge! It’s functional, but not always pretty. Despite cleaning it out from time to time, this writer still finds moldering leaf bits, tinges of algae, and the occasional spider web (sometimes occupied!).

Home sweet home-based rain-gauge! It’s functional, but not always pretty. Despite cleaning it out from time to time, this writer still finds moldering leaf bits, tinges of algae, and the occasional spider web (sometimes occupied!).

The following is some “overflow” from that interview. Not to be skeptical, buuuuut…the delay allowed this guest-blogger to set out to prove (or disprove) something she had heard.

MLC: Your spikey chart is based on the Dover Air Force Base data. Though our house is just a few miles from the Base — and from the St. Jones Reserve — we often receive a different rainfall amount in our backyard rain gauge. We used to refer to the DAFB measurements for gardening purposes, but now that we have our own gauge, we feel we have a better idea what is really going on in our yard.

Checking for any obstructions (or special guests) before emptying the gauge.

Checking for any obstructions (or special guests) before emptying the gauge.

KSL: It might seem that way to you, but in fact, rainfall amounts will all even-out within a region! A single-day event can be very variable per location, but the amount of rain in one area is usually very similar throughout the region over the course of a year.

MLC (not completely understanding KSL and still stewing about the seeming inequality of it all): I have also wondered about the possibility that rain amounts in our front yard and back yard could be different! The rain/no-rain line has to fall somewhere, and might even be between us and our neighbor’s house. Installing a rain gauge out front, to supplement the one in back, might not be sufficient to give a fully accurate picture of the rainfall in our yard. I have jokingly thought that we could fill our yard solid with hundreds or even thousands of rain gauges, placed shoulder to shoulder, and still not know for sure what our conditions are.

KSL (somewhat easing the mind of the fretting guest-blogger): Think about the flow of water in your yard. A big rain that falls in the back yard is going to follow the gradient to the lowest point — a river, the ocean. Where rain falls, and where it flows, are two different things. But again, the rainfall totals within a region will all even-out.

Hindrance number 1: Keep rain gauges away from the sheltering effect of trees!

Hindrance number 1: Keep rain gauges away from the
sheltering effect of trees!

That is why the most important thing, M.L., is not how many rain gauges you might have in your yard, but how the one rain gauge you do have is situated. For ideal placement of a rain gauge, the location very much matters: not under a tree, or next to a big building where the wind goes only in one direction. A big open space, ideally, is where a rain gauge should be sited, like at an air force base.

 Dr. St.Laurent’s official, educated pronouncement should have marked the end of the matter: So much for our household’s friendly rainfall-rivalry with DAFB! Or was it still unresolved? This business about the rainfall averaging-out may sound good, on the surface, but in the interim, this guest-blogger decided to dig into her notebooks to see if she could prove otherwise.

Hindrance number 2: Keep rain gauges at a distance from homes, buildings, fences, sheds, etc.!

Hindrance number 2: Keep rain gauges at a distance from homes, buildings, fences, sheds, etc.!

Here are the stats. I crunched the numbers for 2016, based on our household notes about the rain received in our gauge versus the levels reported at DAFB. (This does not include data for weeks we were out of town or were hindered for other reasons from making a comparison.) The disparity in total rain amounts, between our yard and what was reported at DAFB, over the course of the entire year, came down to a difference of just over an inch in our backyard’s favor. That one-inch advantage might well have netted out in the aforementioned intervals for which we had no comparison-data; and putting additional years’ comparison-data into the mix might only further flatten any backyard-versus-DAFB discrepancies.

So there you have it. I could have sworn we’d have come in significantly ahead of DAFB in the precipitation department, no matter what DNERR’s in‑house meteorologist might claim. Good thing I didn’t make a wager on Dr. St.Laurent’s being wrong, or I would have been on the losing side of that bet: say, having to take a wince‑inducing, mid-winter swig from a muck-bottomed, backyard rain gauge.

 

 Text and photos 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.

DNERR Volunteers Gather, Gab, and Enjoy the Glow

Written on: January 25th, 2017 in Guest BlogSt Jones Events and ProgramsSt. Jones ReserveVolunteers

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. This guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about our Volunteer Appreciation Night held December 8th. Read on to see the perks of being a DNERR Volunteer! Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

dscn14110004Volunteer Appreciation Night 2016 was the latest opportunity for DNERR to roll out the lighted carpet, lay out an array of tasty food, unfurl the big screen, and to fête our loyal band of volunteers and their families.

A windy night in December was perfect for sharing in the warm, festive atmosphere of the Visitors Center at the St. Jones Reserve and basking in the glow of appreciation being extended by DNERR’s administrators.

Toothpicks served as beachgrass swatches in this vigorous, team-based competition.

Toothpicks served as beachgrass swatches in this vigorous, team-based competition.

Volunteers at DNERR, in 2016, donated a total of 4,516 hours of work. The display projected on the drop-down screen at the front of the room let us know that was the equivalent to $91,313.52 of effort!

We volunteers are a busy bunch, and not ones to sit still for long. So, what else do DNERR volunteers do, when we get together, except continue to think about the estuary! Educational “mixer” activities included a dune-grass planting exercise (using toothpicks and bins of sand, accomplished in teams), a horseshoe-crab-based challenge (with adorably cute, miniaturized, laminated cutouts), and a matching game using shorebird-species flash-cards.

A visual display on the topic of “Conservation and Stewardship,” prepared by Hasi Menghi (DNERR Conservation Intern) and Matt Krapf (DNERR Conservationist), and a fun mini-lecture/lab-demonstration about zooplankton, by Dr. Kari St.Laurent, containing a scientific nod to “Spongebob Squarepants,” further rounded out the evening.

Flameless, LED tea-lights illuminated the luminaria along the path to the door--a good thing, because by the end of the evening, winter winds had knocked over a few of them. The effect was still lovely.

Flameless, LED tea-lights illuminated the luminaria along the path to the door–a good thing, because by the end of the evening, winter winds had knocked over a few of them. The effect was still lovely.

If all of that weren’t enough, those in attendance were given a 15-minute PowerPoint pep talk, by Yours Truly, on the topic of the life-enhancing power of volunteering — and, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, the unusual thing John James Audubon and John Dickinson would seem to have in common. The presentation’s theme was inspired by Wild Season, by Allan W. Eckert, a remarkable book about the cycle of life, and how, in nature, one thing leads seamlessly to another. The same is true of volunteering!

Each table had a centerpiece containing a miniature, sandy beach, complete with horseshoe-crab shell. Stare deeply into those compound eyes!

Each table had a centerpiece containing a miniature, sandy beach, complete with horseshoe-crab shell. Stare deeply into those compound eyes!

During the formal recognition portion of the program, each volunteer was presented with a personalized certificate of appreciation and a DNERR-logo totebag containing a recent issue of DNREC’s excellent magazine, Outdoor Delaware, along with a subscription form (hint, hint! a terrific value); and at the end of the night, door prizes were distributed to those who happened to have a special sticker affixed to the underside of their chairs.

Overall, the evening was both fun and educational. How many places do you know that would feature horseshoe-crab shells, as part of a beach tableau, in each table’s centerpiece? Now that’s fine dining and entertainment, DNERR style!

Keep up the good work, everyone! Those volunteer hours do matter! See you again next year!

 

Text and photos 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.

Delaware’s Rainfall: Seriously Spikey! Just ask Dr. Kari St.Laurent

Written on: December 29th, 2016 in Guest 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. This guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about a poster from St. Jones Reserve that “spiked” her interest, and the ensuing interview that followed with Research Coordinator Dr. Kari St. Laurent. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

This chart of rainfall data means business--and so does DNERR's Research Scientist, Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

This chart of rainfall data means business–and so does DNERR’s Research Scientist, Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

A bright, bristly weather-chart spied on the research-laboratory wall at the St. Jones Reserve, on National Estuaries Day 2016, cried out for revisiting. Because a pirate’s best friend just may be the weather, or possibly a good chart, an irresistible combination of the two caused this would-be pirate to return recently to the Reserve for a special interview with Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

Kari joined DNERR in April 2016, and according to the announcement posted on this blog, she:

“…holds a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography where she studied black carbon and persistent organic pollutants in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean. Before that, she received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Environmental Chemistry from Roger Williams University where she did research on oyster restoration, bay scallop diets, and estuarine hypoxia.”

Impressive! She has also been a contributor in her own right to DNERR’s blog. We now welcome the chance to hear from her some more. Why? Because apart from all of the aforementioned, meteorology is her superpower! As that earlier blog goes on to state:

“After completing her Ph.D., Kari worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science on a project investigating climate variability and extreme change in Chesapeake Bay and its implications to environmental issues, such as submerged aquatic vegetation dieback events.”

Sounds intimidating, right? Well, that’s where the knowledgeable, but very approachable, Kari comes in — with a bright smile and a ready explanation that informs even the most weather-challenged audience member. She is accustomed to explaining scientific data in everyday terms, and she especially enjoys when she can correlate the weather to a visitor’s own, personal experience. This became readily apparent when she worked that very magic on this guest‑blogger…but we’ll get to that in a few moments. First things first:

MLC: OK, what’s with the spikey chart?

KStL:The chart came out of my post-doctoral work and my inquiries into weather patterns in the Chesapeake Bay Region, including Delaware. The chart is a printout of the rainfall data from Dover Air Force Base. It came about when we wanted to display the data at an Open House at the University of Maryland, two years ago: a “family fun” day.
Dr. Kari St.Laurent poses alongside this “snapshot” of her ongoing meteorological research.

Dr. Kari St.Laurent poses alongside this “snapshot” of her ongoing meteorological research.

 At that event, I would have visitors write, on sticky notes, the month and year they were born and then put them on the corresponding spot on the chart. People found their birthdays often correlated to, or were close to, a big weather event. The chart also helped people recall a weather event from when they were a child or from when they were an adult.

We had people who remembered the big storms of the 1930s — such as grandparents who recalled when they were 4 or 5 years old and the power went out for a week. They wrapped potatoes in aluminum foil and threw them into the fireplace so they could have a meal. That’s just one example of illustrating how weather affects our everyday lives.

 We have been using that same sticky-note method on this chart here at DNERR, for our own outreach events such as National Estuaries Day. We are trying to relate WEATHER and PEOPLE ‑‑ as opposed to simply stating the expected rate of climate change, which has seemingly less of a personal connection.

It was at that point that I covertly eyeballed the chart for my own birth year and noticed a particular spike. Yup, a significant weather event connected to me, too! I had heard some mention of it before, in family lore, but there it was in black and white — or should I say, in blue, yellow, red, and green.

 MLC: The chart is certainly eye-catching, not to mention powerful! After all, it levitated me back to the St. Jones Reserve several weeks after the event at which I first spotted it.

KStL: The chart actually illustrates the total rain by month, from about 1920 to the first half of 2016. Instead of listing the rainfall day-by-day, it’s streamlined by using the greatest single-day precipitation event each month. Converting the display from 365 bars down to 12 bars per year makes it much more manageable.

You will see the months are color-coded by season. Blue spikes are winter months, green spikes represent the spring, summer is red, and fall is yellow. Do you notice anything about the patterns? 

 MLC [with a chuckle]: You are asking me a question? No problem. Let me take a closer look. Well…the most significant spikes, over the years, appear to be either red or yellow. There is only one relatively large green spike, and it was back in the 1940s.

KStL: Yes, the rainiest times of the year tend to be the summer and fall, though there are occasional exceptions. Do you notice anything else?

MLC: Uhhh…the biggest spike, located in the mid-1970s, is labeled simply “severe thunderstorm.” It’s a spike even bigger than all the hurricanes named on the chart; and no hurricane-names at all appear on the left half of the chart. Obviously that’s not because there were no hurricanes prior to the mid-1900s.

Kari exclaims, “I love oceanographic acidification equations!” (That smiley face was only our first hint.)

Kari exclaims, “I love oceanographic acidification equations!” (That smiley face was only our first hint.)

KStL: That’s correct. Named storms really only started in the 1950s. Before that, weather events were called “Hurricane 1,” “Hurricane 2,” etc. Some storms have been named in hindsight, like Ocean City’s “Great Storm of 1933,” “The Mother’s Day Storm” [of May 12, 2008], etc.

As for that big “severe thunderstorm” spike you see, I had to do some research in order to determine whether a specific rain event was associated with it. The daily values underlying these monthly totals can represent a trickle of precipitation over time or a single popup thunderstorm.

 This chart is just a snapshot at one location that matters to us, as residents of the Dover area. Everyone is impacted by the weather. The storms that people remember are because they were directly affected by that event, or because they saw on the news that it caused a lot of damage. For scientists, we monitor these things because they also can suddenly affect or disturb the ecosystem, particularly at a place like DNERR. Disturbances we find in the ecosystem could have come from a storm surge, for instance, because not everything [in an estuary] is salt tolerant.

Scientists are always aware of these effects and are always on the lookout for long-term changes. Weather is dynamic!

 MLC: And so are you, Dr. Kari St.Laurent! Thank you for your time and for your thought-provoking insights!


Did this article spike your interest? Stay tuned for more from M.L.’s interview with Dr. St. Laurent!


Text and photos 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.




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