DNERR logo
DNERR Blog


Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve


Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  RSS Feed

  Archived Posts From: 2015

blackbird-creek-events-and-programs

I Canoe! You Can, Too!

Written on: July 14th, 2015 in Blackbird Creek Events and ProgramsBlackbird Creek ReserveEducation & OutreachGuest Blog

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 photos today are brought to you by M.L. Christmas and her thoughts on canoeing.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

I Canoe! You Can, Too!

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

There is a time for talking and a time for doing. The DNERR eblast of upcoming events spurred me to action. Having enjoyed the St. Jones Reserve from various, terrestrial vantage-points, and then writing about them for this blog, it was time for me to take to the water and to do so at the Blackbird Creek Reserve. One should not go around recommending to others what one would not first do oneself. For the sake of journalistic integrity, it was high time for me to heed the clarion call: To the canoe!

The Blackbird event was free of charge; prior canoeing experience was stated not to be necessary; and lifejackets would be provided. Talk about a no-brainer! But could it really be that simple? I had my doubts.

Frankly, I was not sure what to expect on the water. Would we process in a line like ducks? Or would each two-person craft strike out in its own direction? Might we get lost in the maze of waterways? (Have you seen the riparian map of the area between Blackbird Creek Landing and the Delaware River?) Or make a break for the open water of the busy shipping-channel…and beyond? My head was filling with all sorts of theoretical high-seas adventures.

So I quickly placed my registration for the Blackbird canoe trip, signing up before I turned chicken. (Chicken: a favorite bait used by crabbers; not a good look when one is sitting inches from the water.)

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Rule 1 of any new endeavor is, for me, doing all the reading I can do on the subject and only then attempting that activity. This writer has not self-propelled a personal watercraft in decades; and never before in a canoe; so in order to publicly display a paddle technique that would belie my raw, rudimentary status, I made a trip to the library and came away with a treasure: a book on canoeing basics.

Good thing I never got around to reading it beforehand. The descriptions of “J-strokes,” “draw strokes,” “pushaway strokes,” “forward and reverse sweeps,” “pivots,” and “switch paddling” would have been off-putting. Good skills, all, I am sure, but too much to learn in only a few days’ time while firmly on shore. Hey, I reasoned, while driving north from Dover the day of the event, if I am going to go down with the proverbial ship, at least I will be doing so with a pure heart, an open mind, and not with a head overweighted with book-learning.

The excursion was scheduled to last from 1:30 to 3:30 pm, which I reasoned should be enough time to get an initial taste of what it’s like—and by “taste,” I don’t mean capsizing and ending up with a mouthful of cordgrass, reeds, and mud. However, I realized that was still a possibility. Seriously.

I found the entrance to the Blackbird Creek Reserve, parked alongside a few other vehicles assembled on a grassy knoll, and eyeballed my fellow participants. I was clearly alone in the newbie department. They all had the steely-eyed look of canoeing professionals-even the children! Jaws were squared, sunglasses were on, the dry-bags of water bottles and snacks were at the ready, and the application of sunblock was being conducted with minimal talking, because they were on a mission. They were in The Zone. I was…I was…well, at that point, I was just happy I had pre-slathered myself with waterproof sunblock and bug repellent and had brought along a baseball cap to serve as a sun visor.

The rest of my attire consisted of old, torn jeans (perfect for this purpose) and old, grungy sneakers (ditto). From the waist up, I went outdoors-formal by wearing my special Henry David Thoreau t-shirt purchased in Concord, MA, a few years ago. After all, the author of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers could serve as an able, invisible guide, to supplement the oarsperson-ship of the DNERR staffer having drawn the short-straw and thus stuck as my instructor for the afternoon. More on that shortly.

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

The Blackbird Reserve’s Conservation Intern came out to greet us, and she led us as a group to the boat launch area, where we would receive further instruction. Already down at the water’s edge was a truck-towed trailer of eight canoes, out of which we would be using three, with the Education Intern following in a kayak. Also on site was Maggie Pletta, Education Coordinator, exuding her usual mix of good cheer and feisty gumption. She would be in the canoe at the head of our neat and tidy flotilla.

The promised lifejacket was distributed to Yours Truly, along with an oar; the basic paddle-stroke was demonstrated to all, along with the reminder that strokes made on the port side direct the boat toward starboard (and vice versa); and we were off. It’s a good thing I listened well, because Yours Truly got assigned to the bow of the boat that had Maggie in the stern.

Our first stop? Ramming into the side of a cement road-bridge. At least that’s what it looked like to me. The high tide was nearly tickling the underside of the very two-lane bridge I had just driven over to get there. Per instructions, we would be going under the bridge by stowing our oars, lying on our backs, and pulling ourselves along underneath the roadbed with our fingers. Son of a dowitcher: It worked!

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Each canoe, in turn, smoothly emerged on the other side. We were going upstream, toward the headwaters. In other words, no salt-water pirate-adventures for anyone today. In fact, Maggie told all of us, while we paddled, about the source of the creek’s water, its good water-quality, and its (gulp) drinkability. Yes, that kind of gulp. I didn’t see it, as she was seated behind me in the stern, but I thought I heard it.

She noted the mix of DNERR and private property located along the creek and that we would be passing by some private docks. (Lucky ducks! To have such a terrific canoeing venue adjoining one’s very own property!) Also along here were sometimes seen Bald Eagles, we were told. And river otters were reported from time to time, back in the day.

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Then Maggie announced the first of what would be several “racking up” sessions, which consisted of everyone gently beaching themselves, as a group, into a shoal area. At each of these points, she would select one or more topics to discuss: Arrow Arum; Pickerelweed; Phragmites; Wild Rice; tides and water currents; and even what’s edible (in a pinch) in nature, and what’s not. It made me wish I’d had along in the canoe one of those all-weather notebook-and-pen sets one can purchase at camping-supply outfitters.

The time flew. Speaking of flight, we saw several hawks, a Turkey Vulture or two, the inevitable smattering of Red-Winged Blackbirds, and some Tree Swallows. Dozens and dozens of dragonflies darted in and out, throughout the course of the afternoon. (Maggie gave us a mnemonic for differentiating dragonflies from damselflies.) Still no Bald Eagles, unfortunately. Or turtles-though we did have a false alarm. But in the bald department, we did get to see some cultivated Bald Cypress, long ago abandoned and now gone wild, noteworthy for exceeding its customary geographic range.

Bald Cypress Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Bald Cypress Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

My attempt at a canoey-selfie did not go completely as planned. My compact, digital camera does not have a front display-screen, and the sun’s intensity was such that I could not view the back-facing display-screen to see what I’d just snapped. So it was not until I was home that I saw what I had caught with my lens. I know what you are thinking, and no, it was not the Loch Ness Monster-although that would have been way cool. No, my unsteady aim had captured a quadrant of Yours Truly, a sliver of creek, and a nice view of Maggie Pletta (behind those Foster Grants), who had happened to choose that particular moment to hydrate.

We soon reached our turning-around point; and the breeze that was hoped to carry all of us back more speedily, with less-vigorous paddling, had pretty much disappeared. The return trip went too quickly, anyway. After two hours, I was just getting warmed up! But hey, that’s what DNERR’s future canoeing offerings are for, right?

All in all, canoeing at Blackbird was a pleasing and pleasurable experience-with no big splash! Henry David Thoreau would be so proud.

Bottom line? Take it from me: If I canoe, you can, too!

Text, photos, and canoey-selfie by 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.

* * * * *

Want to try your own beginner’s skill? Or put your already practiced hand to the oar? Canoeing at the Blackbird Creek Reserve will again be offered on 7/25/2015 and 7/29/2015. Advance registration is required. To register call 302-739-6377.


Tags: , ,

education-outreach

Green Eggs and Sand

Written on: June 17th, 2015 in Education & OutreachNERR

Sunrise trip in GA to look for horseshoe crabs on the beach.

Sunrise trip in GA to look for horseshoe crabs.

May is a busy month at the Reserve.  From school groups and public programs, to horseshoe crab surveys and the beginning of field season, the Reserve is a buzz with activity.  But the activity isn’t confined to within our boundaries, we also travel near and far to grow our skills and assist in the growth of others through teacher professional development trainings.  I was lucky enough to do both this year.  I traveled first to Savannah, Georgia where I grew my skills; then to Stone Harbor, New Jersey to help others do the same.  And what skills were these?  The ones needed to educate others about horseshoe crabs and the important role they play.

Sunset trip in NJ to practice Green Eggs and Sand activities

Sunset trip in NJ to practice Green Eggs and Sand activities

 

In the early 2000’s a curriculum called “Green Eggs and Sand” was developed in the Delaware Bay to give teachers the skills and information needed to educate their students about the horseshoe crab/shorebird phenomenon and management controversy in the Bay.  It was, and still is, unique because it provided an unbiased look at the controversy by introducing teachers to ALL sides and points of view including: watermen, resource managers, biomedical industry representatives, horseshoe crab researchers, and shorebird biologists.  Since its original creation the curriculum and accompanying workshops have spread past the Delaware Bay to other Atlantic coast states that deal with some of the same management issues.

It was my first time attending and being a part of these trainings, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t double my horseshoe crab knowledge and  skills.  Like did you know that horseshoe crabs are not only regulated for their own population numbers but also to help manage the populations of migrating shorebirds?  Or that there are there are THREE other species of horseshoe crabs in Asia and in one of the species the male has TWO sets of his specialized boxing glove claws!  Or that they made it through the Permian extinction that lasted for 60,000 years where 90% of marine life in the oceans died out!  I learned all of that, and more, during the trainings and have already worked it into my programs.

Although May was a busy month, I am thankful for the opportunities and skills I was able to gain.  I am already looking forward to next May when I get to help host a Green Eggs and Sand training here in Delaware.

 

Maggie Pletta
Education Coordinator
Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

 

Want to see photos from the trainings?  Check out our Facebook album!


Tags: , , ,

blackbird-creek-reserve

Pardon Our Mud

Written on: May 26th, 2015 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogResearchStewardship

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 Alison Rogerson, Program Manager for the DNREC’s Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Pardon Our Mud

Spring time in an emergent tidal wetland marks a time nestled between frozen and barren, and lush with vegetation and buzzing with life.  It is during this window that we sprang into action and for three busy days installed a “living shoreline” beside the kayak ramp at the Blackbird Creek Reserve in Townsend.  But how did this come about and what does it mean?

Photo Credit Susan Love, DNREC

Photo Credit Susan Love, DNREC

A living shoreline is a technique used to either protect or restore a shoreline from forces such as erosion.  In this case, the shoreline on either side of the kayak ramp was shifting and washing away due, in part, to river currents going by.  To prevent further erosion and to protect the adjacent habitat the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) put in place a series of natural materials that will help to trap suspended sediments from the river water and encourage wetland plants.  These factors together will build and secure a healthy shoreline habitat that not only looks nice, but also protects the kayak ramp.

Living shorelines can be built from a variety of materials.  In this case we used “logs” of natural fiber casing stuffed with shredded coconut fibers, in addition to sand, dirt and wooden stakes. The logs are staked in to make sure that ice and waves don’t wash them away, and the matting underneath keeps the logs from sliding and sinking.   It’s messy, hard work for sure, you definitely want to have extra muscles on hand, but it is rewarding!  We had a strong crew out there and in three days we were able to install a cell on either side of the kayak ramp.  One cell already has a native wetland plant, Arrow arum (Peltandra virginica,) growing, and as mud begins to build inside the log cell the plants will slowly shift up with the new ground.  The cell on the other side of the ramp was empty so we trucked in clean sand and topped it with a little soil to give us a nice high base.  After things have a chance to settle in we will come back in June and plant native wetland species such as Spartina and more Peltandra.

Pardon our Mud_ABR (2)

Photo Credit Susan Love, DNREC

Although it isn’t the prettiest to look at right now, just wait until this fall or next spring.  As plants start to fill in the site will begin to look less muddy.  In time it won’t even be noticeable, especially at high tide.  We hope this will be a great example for visitors to see and learn from.  Living shorelines offer a solution to preventing erosion, protecting shorelines, improving water quality, and providing habitat for fish and plants.   And because of all these rewards to the habitat DNREC encourages landowners to consider one for their shoreline needs.

Next time you are in the area stop on by the Blackbird Reserve and check it out!

Alison B. Rogerson
Program Manager
DNREC, Division of Watershed Stewardship
Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program

 

To view more photos of the installation process visit out Facebook Page to check out our Blackbird Living Shoreline Installation Album!


Tags: , , , , ,

guest-blog

Every Bird a Star

Written on: May 11th, 2015 in Guest BlogSt. 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 and photo today are brought to you by M.L. Christmas and her thoughts on birding.  Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Every Bird a Star

Even a seasoned newbie birdwatcher—definition: still a newbie, but with traces of jadedness settling in around the edges—gets excited by the glimpse of a new celebrity once in a while. That is why, if one is customarily a backyard birdwatcher, or an around-town birdwatcher, venturing into an unaccustomed setting can make all the difference and result in some new species being marked on one’s Life List.

Credit M.L. Christmas_BlogPost4_Every Bird a Star

Photo Credit M.L. Christmas

On her very first visit to the St. Jones Reserve, back in 2009, an unfamiliar call from a tall, spare tree near the boardwalk drew her attention. Even without binoculars she could see the wren-shaped singer of the unusual song and made a mental note of its coloration. Upon returning home, cross-checks of The Sibley Guide to Birds and Birds of Delaware revealed the performer was none other than a Marsh Wren (or Cistothorus palustris, if you want to get technical about it).

She recently mentioned the encounter to DNERR’s new Education Coordinator, Maggie Pletta, who confirmed their presence at the St. Jones Reserve. “You can see them all over the marsh, in the taller grasses, straddling the air, with each leg on a separate piece of grass.  And man, even if you don’t see them, you will hear them.  They love to yell at you and let you know they are there and mean business if you come near their nest.  They are one of my favorite birds because they are so sassy!”

Marsh Wren_Credit Ryan Schain_Deviantart.com

Photo Credit Ryan Schain copyright 2012 (deviantart.com)

This writer has strolled past that spot at the St. Jones Reserve three or four times since then, and each time she had the thought: “There’s that tree where I saw and heard the Marsh Wren!”

As fame and glamor and musical glory go, it’s not exactly red-carpet-at-the-Grammys, but that Marsh Wren singing its heart out, in a bare tree on the edge of the marshes, still gained one loyal fan–and a Life List check-mark for posterity.

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.


Tags: , , ,

education-outreach

Made a Splash

Written on: April 28th, 2015 in Education & OutreachNERRSt Jones Events and Programs

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 Margaret.Pletta@delaware.gov.

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


Tags: , , , , ,



+