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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve


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  Archived Posts From: 2017

guest-blog

You’re a Skink (I Think)

Written on: September 27th, 2017 in Guest 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. This guest blog is Part II from M.L. Christmas about her recent adventure while on a visit to St. Jones. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Five-lined Skink Eumeces fasciatus. Credit: J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory *

The spotting of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at the St. Jones Reserve was not the only first that day. That was but the first first. What was the second first? Since you have dutifully stayed tuned to this space in order to find out, let us consider the choices. Let us also pretend you have not already read the title of this blog.

What appears, and disappears, even faster than a hummingbird? Is stripey-er than a hummingbird? And can be seen while standing (both you and the creature) on the boardwalk, not far from where the planking transitions from marsh to woods?

What’s believed to be a Five-lined common skink found by a Reserve staff member at Blackbird Creek Reserve. 

Our mystery guest took one look at me, at my binoculars and other accoutrements, and at the overly intrigued look on my face, and disappeared, in a flash, through the gap between the planks. It skedaddled.

As with my passing — and I do mean passing — encounter with a scaredy-snake the other year, while out along the paths at the St. Jones Reserve, yet again all I was left with were fleeting impressions: Amphibian. Legs. Tail. Stripes. And gone.

Stripes, whether on snakes or on other estuarine residents, are not much on which to make an identification, but they are better than nothing. Due to the longitudinal stripes, we can immediately rule out Maggie Pletta’s personal favorite, the Marbled Salamander (a known denizen of the Reserve), not to mention such regionally recognized species as the Eastern Newt, the Eastern Fence Lizard, the Tiger Salamander, and the Spotted Salamander.

Broadhead Skink Eumeces laticeps. Credit: J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory **

Thus, our choices include: the Little Brown Skink, the Common Five-Lined Skink, the Broadhead Skink, the Northern Two-Lined Salamander, and the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander. Out of those, the stripey-est would seem to be the three Skink species, so for now, I am sticking with one of them for the likely ID.

Species identification is not an exact science, especially when one is not an actual scientist, but that’s what learning curves are all about. Getting out there, seeing, observing, and applying logic — sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong — are all part of the growth process.

The latest lesson on the learning curve, at DNERR, is often just around the bend, whether on land or on water. Sometimes it even occurs on the boardwalk.

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Text by M.L. Christmas

Photo source(s):

*Five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus. J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia Herpetology Program. http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumfas.htm

** Broadhead Skink, Eumeces laticeps. J.D. Wilson, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia Herpetology Program. http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/eumlat.htm

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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.


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guest-blog

The Marsh a Happy Habitat…for Hummingbirds!

Written on: September 7th, 2017 in Guest 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. This guest blog is from M.L. Christmas about her recent adventure while on a visit to St. Jones. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Having greeted this guest-blogger, a likely female Ruby-throated Hummingbird makes her way up to a branch overhanging the marsh at the St. Jones Reserve.

As further proof that visitors never know what they might see at DNERR, this writer, on a recent visit, after many such visits over the years, still managed to score two firsts. Just goes to show that Great Bay NERR, in Greenland, NH, is not the only place that is never the same twice.

So…there I was, sitting again on “the rock,” when I heard a familiar whir of wings accompanied by a flurry of dainty “chip‑chip” sounds. My head whipped around, in search of the source, and sure enough: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird! Out on the estuary! And as happy as a, uh, clam! My little friend had flown in from the direction of the marsh, taken a quick look at me, and then zipped into a nearby tree. I snapped some photos as quickly as I could. Not all were in focus, but a few captured this summer guest from Central America as she perched contentedly on a bare branch and gazed back out over the marsh.

On the lookout for passing “yummies”: gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, and the like.

Having walked through a roiling cloud of gnats while on my way from the Visitors Center, I knew there to be plenty of “yummies” about, for those of the long‑billed set.

Back home, where a hummingbird feeder has been a fixture in our yard for years, I checked the All About Birds website (Cornell Lab of Ornithology): ”Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live in open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, grasslands, and in parks, gardens, and backyards.” And apparently also in Delaware’s estuaries! 

Curious to see whether we, at the St. Jones Reserve, are “keeping up with the Joneses” at the other NERRs, or, for that matter, whether they are keeping up with us Joneses, I took to the search engines and found hummingbirds to be present at Weeks Bay NERR (Alabama), Grand Bay NERR (Mississippi), Elkhorn Slough Reserve (California), and the Tijuana River NERR (also California). Species at the latter have included Allen’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Costa’s, Calliope, and Rufous.

A summer’s day at the Reserve, with a svelte, tiny figure silhouetted against the sky.

Mark down the St. Jones Reserve for one Ruby-throated this season!

Now, you may be wondering, what was the other “first” that day? You will have to stay tuned to this blog to find out. Hint: Although it did not have tiny wings, it was even more lightning quick.

As with the turtle in the road the other year, the latest sightings are further examples of why we should always stay on the lookout when visiting our estuaries, as exemplified, in more ways than one, by that vigilant hummingbird surveying the marsh. Surprises are everywhere!

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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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.


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