Made a Splash

April 28th, 2015

Every year the quiet and sleepy St. Jones Reserve, and our neighbor the John Dickinson Plantation, get a shot of life and excitement when fourth grade students from across Delaware descend on our properties.  No it’s not an attack; it’s our annual Make a Splash Water Festival.  The festival, now in its sixteenth year, provides a fun and educational day for students to explore the importance of water resources in our past, present, and future. This year’s festival held on March 31st brought together almost 650 students from all three counties and close to 100 water resource and historical professionals!

Photo Credit Gene Shaner 2015

Photo Credit Gene Shaner 2015

The festival is set up so that students spend half of their day at the St. Jones Reserve and the other half at the John Dickinson Plantation.  At the Reserve students are introduced to the “how” and “what” of water through activities like the “Incredible Journey”, an interactive game about the water cycle.  Each student is given a colored bead that represents where they are in the water cycle, if they were a droplet of water.  Then using number cubes the students play a game where they are sent through the cycle, and along the way collect different colored beads to represent where they have been. In the end each student has a colorful bracelet that acts as a visual representation of a water droplet’s journey through the water cycle.  This is just one of thirteen options the students had to learn about water at the St. Jones Reserve. Once the students thoroughly explore the “how” and “what” of water they travel to the John Dickinson Plantation to learn the “why”.

MAS_2015_Gene_Shaner (11)

Photo Credit Gene Shaner 2015

To understand the “why” the John Dickinson Plantation is used as a case study to show how the plantation relied on water and the St. Jones River in the 1700’s.  Some presentations include how traditional colonial beverages were made and the types of food that were harvested from the St. Jones River.  In addition to learning about water use in colonial food making, they also learn about the role it played in the settling and growth of the colonies.  At one station students participate in the  “Starting a Colony” game, presented by the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, where they explore the decision making that went into planning a trip from Europe to Delaware in the 1600’s. From what supplies to bring, to where to start a new colony in Delaware students learn how factors like water shaped these decisions. (To learn more about the “Starting a Colony” lesson plan visit the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation’s webpage.)  Once students have visited both sides of the festival they head out for the day leaving space for the next round of students to arrive and learn about Delaware’s water resources.

By the end of the trip the students have a better understanding of why water is such an important resource here in Delaware.  This understanding will lead to next generation of water resources stewards.


And a special thank you is in order for all the hard work and donations that are given every year to ensure this great event can continue!

Sponsors: Tidewater Utilities; Terra Systems, Inc.; Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Division of Watershed Stewardship; Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, John Dickinson Plantation; The Friends of the John Dickinson Plantation; The Delaware Association of Conservation Districts; The Project WET Foundation; The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve.   

Make a Splash Planning Committee: The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve; Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, John Dickinson Plantation; The Delaware Association of Conservation Districts; DNREC Division of Watershed Stewardship, DNREC Division of Water; DNERC Division of Parks and Recreation; and Tidewater Utilities.     

Volunteers and Presenters: Delaware Department of Agriculture; Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve; Delaware Nature Society; Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs; The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary; Kent Conservation District; New Castle Conservation District; Sussex Conservation District; Tidewater Utilities; Envirotech Inc.; the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation;  and Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Drinking Water


To learn more about the event or to support it in the future please contact our Education Coordinator Maggie Pletta at

To view more photos from the day visit our Facebook (DNERR) and view our Make a Splash 2015 album!

Take a Bath in the Woods!

April 4th, 2015

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 and photo today are brought to you by M.L. Christmas and her thoughts on “forest-bathing”.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Credit M.L. Christmas_Forest Bathing

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Take A Bath in the Woods!

Face it: Hauling a claw-foot tub into a wooded clearing, at any time of the year, is just not practical. However, a therapeutic walk along the forest paths at DNERR can be its own spa-like experience, and it comes with a Japanese name: shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Pick your “flavor” of soaking environment: the woodland sensations of the Blackbird Creek Reserve or the estuarine delights of the St. Jones Reserve. Whether “bathing” by yourself or as part of a group, the relaxation is free of charge!

Shinrin-yoku is the practice of taking a leisurely stroll through the woods while steeping oneself in its sights, sounds, and smells. At DNERR, one can become immersed in the wildness of nature regardless of the season: whether admiring autumn’s red, orange, brown, and gold confettied carpet or gazing into winter’s leaf-lined puddles of refrozen snowmelt alongside the meandering trails. The occasional chirrup, squeak, or quack, from the woods or the waterway, denotes the presence of a new friend.

One does not “dry” oneself after these walks. The experience continues to cling to each participant once he or she resumes life’s daily routines. A prolonged shinrin-yoku will not saturate your skin and make you look wrinkly like a prune, but it will saturate your being and perhaps add some wrinkles of knowledge to your noggin while at the same time smoothing away your worries.

Who needs a rubber ducky when a glimpse of a real, live Ruddy Duck might await!

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.

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For more information about shinrin-yoku, see <>.


All Hands on Deck!

March 19th, 2015


Calling all horseshoe crab and shorebird enthusiasts to the decks of the S.S. Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve!  Here is your chance to act like a DNERR scientist and do your part to help protect and conserve our horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds.  As part of an effort to better understand how many horseshoe crabs exist in the Delaware Bay a spawning survey is coordinated between several groups in Delaware and New Jersey.

Here in Delaware DNERR is one of the organizations that take part in the surveys.   We coordinate spawning surveys on three local beaches (Kitts Hummock, Ted Harvey, and North Bowers) sending trained volunteers out to collect data on our spawning horseshoe crabs.  To get our volunteers ready to complete the important task of surveying the spawning crabs we offer trainings for both our returning and new volunteers.   This year the trainings dates have been set for Saturday, April 11 from 10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and Thursday, April 16 from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at the St. Jones Reserve located south of Dover.

We hope you join us this year!
The DNERR Horseshoe Crab Survey Coordinators



Thoughts on a Rock

March 3rd, 2015

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 first guest blog is brought to you today by M.L. Christmas during her visit to the reserve in early February.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Thoughts on a Rock

Credit M.L. Christmas_Sitting on a rock

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Today I am sitting on a rock.

A rock is not an expected landscape feature at a marshy, estuarine site like the St. Jones Reserve, but this is a place for contemplation and healing in an unexpected turn in life’s journey that has landed me between a rock and a hard place. My choice of seat is both ironic and a paradox.

The hard face of the rock at first seems anomalous in these gentle, pastoral surroundings. Delaware is not known for its boulders or outcroppings. Perhaps my rocky perch was nudged gently into place, just so, by a piece of heavy equipment. But whether the rock is an outsider or not, like I am—an import from another state and someone similarly of stern visage (of late)—the tranquil atmosphere of the St. Jones Reserve welcomes me, just as the rock seems to have been made quite at home here.

The landscaping is such that the intent of the trail planners was obvious. No sign stated “Do Not Sit.” So I did. I soon see from the trampled grass encircling my perch that others have done likewise: getting their bearings, pivoting themselves around this point, calculating the distances, and leaving behind their remnant arcs. Decisions, decisions.

Credit M.L. Christmas_Sitting on a rock (2)

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

From here, when facing the marsh, the channel of the path runs left, the channel of the path runs right—if using one’s feet. But in one’s spirit, as with any given spot in life where one stops to ponder, the higher paths run in all directions. Here, they also soar over the tops of the tall marsh grasses, over the face of the waters, and to the far horizons. These are the invisible pathways available only to avian and insect species and to those who are with them in spirit.

Although today is gray and cold, the blandness displays the seasonal colors to best advantage, and the crisp coolness imparts new vitality to the air and thus to me—perched on this rock, surveyor of all I see, decider of directions, and overcomer of circumstance.

Drawing a deep breath, my face and outlook renewed, I arise from the rock and take wing.

Whene’er in doubt along life’s journey, always pursue the highest path.

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.


New Places and New Faces

February 16th, 2015

It has been a long while since we had a new blog post, and this is due in part to the changing of our guard.  Last summer our Education Coordinator Jennifer Holmes decided it was time to spread her wings and left the reserve to follow a personal dream of hers and took a traditional teaching position in a local school.  Although her energy and leadership are missed we are very proud and happy of her for following her dreams.  This departure left a gap in our staff that we filled in late November with our new Education Coordinator Maggie Pletta.

Maggie_PlettaWe want to take the time to today to formally welcome Maggie aboard and share with you a little background information about her.  Maggie holds a B.S. in Environmental Restoration and Management, with a focus on wetland habitats from the University of Maryland College Park. She joins the team with over 9 years of experience in interpretation and education from her time spent working for organizations like the National Park Service, NASA, Educational Non-Profits, and DNREC’s Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program. Not only does she bring her years of experiences to the Reserve, but also her overwhelming enthusiasm and excitement for all things estuarine. In her free time she plays rugby, cooks, kayaks, volunteers with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and goes on adventures with her dog Congo.

We are excited to see what is in store for our Education programs with Maggie on board!

What Does a Fox Really Say?

February 3rd, 2014

The other day I was out walking around the Reserve capturing photos for our program.  As I walked toward the boardwalk I heard a loud “bark” and knew a fox was nearby.  I began thinking about that fox and the famous song “What does the fox say.”  I have to say I have never heard a fox say “ring a ding ding ding,” but that is just my experience.  I have heard a fox bark, howl, and sometimes scream.  There are two species of fox found in Delaware, the Red Fox and Gray Fox.  To learn more about foxes and the differences between the two species read this great article written by Joe Rogerson in 2011 for the Outdoor Delaware magazine.  And, the next time you are outside and hear a “barking” sound it may just be a fox.   Enjoy the sights and sounds of the great outdoors by visiting the St. Jones Reserve!


Uncovering Winter’s Mysteries

November 26th, 2013

20131126_114712_resizedThis fall the trees here at the Reserve were absolutely gorgeous with the deep reds, vibrant yellows, and fiery organges displayed in their leaves.  As each leaf drops and fall turns to winter we are not as captivated by the trees but they still remain a significant feature in our landscape.  Have you ever wondered how the trees maintain their identity after losing their leaves?  Too often, we pass by and cannot identify one tree from another and just group them as “trees.” 

Recently, the Reserve had the wonderful opportunity to partner with Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge to help folks appreciate the numerous tree species we have in Delaware by offering a winter tree identification program.  Staff from both the Reserve and the Refuge demonstrated how to use identification skills and field guides to uncover the mystery of each tree’s identity.  It provided the program participants an opportunity to explore areas of the Refuge and the Blackbird Creek Reserve to put their new found skills to the test.  It is truly amazing to look closely at the beauty of the trees through their bark, twigs, buds, and leaf scars.  Oh what a story they could tell if only they could speak.  We hope you have an opportunity to go exploring this winter and look a little closer at your surroundings. You may be surprised by what you see.

An Internship Beyond Expectation

August 2nd, 2013

crab project2crab project1

By: Akida Ferguson

Working as an intern at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) has been a rewarding and exciting experience. As an intern I have been able to garner hands-on experience in the field I intend to be employed. Working closely with Mike Mensinger, an Environmental Scientist at the Reserve, I have been able to practice science in both the field and the lab. As a junior at Delaware State University, I am majoring in Natural Resources with a concentration in Environmental Science. It is rare to find an internship that exposes you to this much practical experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Every day is an adventure in which I learn something new.  This internship has expanded my research knowledge by my participation in secretive marsh bird surveys, trawling studies (fish and crabs), water quality monitoring, and weather data collection. In addition, I have also assisted in educating middle school students on the research we conduct at the Reserve.  This internship has given me meaningful experiences that I can use in the future.

As part of the internship program I am required to conduct my own research project.  I am investigating the effect of Phragmites australis (an invasive plant species) on blue crab survivability. By tethering crabs to the marsh at various sites along Blackbird Creek, I aim to find if certain species of vegetation aid juvenile crabs in predator evasion better than others.  I will be presenting a research poster at an undergraduate student symposium this summer.

The staff at the Reserve has been awesome and friendly, and I have even made a few turtle friends.  I come in everyday eager for what’s in store.  I know that this experience has better prepared me for my future endeavors.  I would like to thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center for funding this internship and the Delaware National Estuarine Reserve for hosting it.


A day in the life of a horseshoe crab biologist

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

Destination: Lake Superior, Wisconsin

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.