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 her recent experience attending #NationalEstuariesDay at the Reserve, complete with a pirate twist. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)
National Estuaries Day: Pirate–I mean DNERR–Style
“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” was September 19. While your friends amused themselves by endlessly saying “Arrrr,” “Avast,” and “Ahoy, matey” to each other, you, on the other hand, sought the best of both worlds: You were awaiting National Estuaries Day 2016, on September 24, at the St. Jones and Blackbird Creek Reserves. As a result of your attendance, you are now more conversant in such things as estuarine water quality, local meteorology, and Delaware ecology. Who hath the real treasure, now?
Word from Johanna Hripto, DNERR’s new Assistant Education Coordinator, was that the Blackbird Creek Reserve, near Townsend, that morning had hosted a successful tree-planting campaign. Thanks to volunteer assistance, including from the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Service Unit 13, some 85 new trees were added.
National Estuaries Day activities at the St. Jones Reserve were also off to a promising start with the arrival of some guest-families, a few of whom enjoyed a guided hike toward Kingston-Upon-Hull. The grey day and cool temperatures made the Visitors Center, after the hike, feel all the more homey.
Inside the Visitors Center were video presentations, specimen displays and, in the Research Lab, fun in every direction. In the latter, an excited, young visitor was heard to exclaim, “You gotta come see the turtles!” while tugging on a parental sleeve. Tanks around the room held live turtles, fish, a mud crab, and a horseshoe crab.
Also in the Research Lab were microscope-based exhibits with glass slides inserted for viewing tiny, water-borne marine creatures (caught in the long, narrow plankton-net displayed nearby); an array of horseshoe crab shell-and-egg specimens; and even a station at which children and adults could try their hand at Gyotaku, aka “fish printing,” a Japanese art-form this blogger has been anxious to try for months — and did.
A rather sinister looking device at a lab workstation turned out to be a very eco-friendly contraption known as “S.E.T.,” for Sedimentation Elevation Table. Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator, demonstrated how rods inserted through the framework and into the marsh mud can indicate to scientists how those elevations shift over time. (That would also be handy to know for anyone involved in burying or recovering pirate treasure. Just sayin’.) Nearby sat a beaker of mud and clay prepared by Drexel Siok, DNERR Environmental Scientist, to illustrate, in side-view, the sedimentary layers found in the estuary.
Another odd-looking contraption on display was a Van Dorn bottle, which of course is similar in function to a Niskin bottle. Got it? Me either. Hint: This ain’t no bottled water from Wawa…. Turns out these large, spring-loaded, capsule-shaped devices are used by scientists to collect water samples from predetermined depths. Just be careful of your fingers when you set the mechanism for use. (Maybe that was Captain Hook’s actual problem, and the whole Tick-Tock Crocodile thing was just a convenient cover-story?)
The day ended with an hour-long skiff ride on the St. Jones, where we heard about recent sightings of Bald Eagles and River Otters and were even treated to Maggie’s lifelike imitations of the calls of the Osprey and the Great Blue Heron. The real, live Osprey seen eating a fish at one of the nesting platforms, near North Bowers, probably would have answered her had his mouth not been full.
We were also given some quick lessons in geography and local history: For instance, we heard that one can canoe from downtown Dover right out to the area where we were motoring around in the skiff. We also heard about the once-thriving mercantile trade along this stretch of waterway, particularly toward Lebanon Landing. Mention was also made of the successful remediation of the old Wildcat Landfill, an EPA Superfund site located nearby, and its conversion to greenway space now known as Hunn Nature Park.
While aboard the skiff, our group didn’t see any real-life pirates or mysterious ghost ships, but if Kent County has ‘em, one suspects the St. Jones River is a place they would be.
Was National Estuaries Day both fun and educational? You be the judge. As we who were in attendance — the self-styled, modern-day “Pirates of the St. Jones” — can heartily proclaim, “Yo-ho-ho and a Niskin bottle of estuary water!”
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.