This 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.
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.
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
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.