DNERR logo
DNERR Blog


Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve


      

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 

New People Onboard

Written on: May 10th, 2016 in NERRResearch

Kari St. Laurent Blog Welcome

Last month, the DNERR got a new Research Coordinator, Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

Kari 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.

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.

Kari is originally from the Boston-area and is an avid hockey fan, runner, and loves hanging out with her cat Sahara. She is looking forward to applying her decade’s worth of experience in environmental and oceanic research to on-going and new projects in Delaware.

Please help us welcome Kari as she joins the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve family!

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/  

 




Navigation



Adjust Your Font Size


Make Text Size Smaler Reset Text Size Make Text Size Bigger




+