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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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New faces are at the DNERR!

Written on: February 12th, 2018 in Blackbird Creek ReserveEducation & OutreachNERRSt. Jones Reserve

We would like to formally welcome and introduce (although a little delayed) our new Environmental Program Manager and Assistant Reserve Manager, Lara Jennings, and our new Assistant Education Coordinator, Rebecca Vermeesch!

Lara Jennings, Environmental Program Manager

Introducing Lara Jennings

Lara joins us as the Environmental Program Manager and Assistant Reserve Manager from the DNREC’s Division of Watershed Stewardship where she spent eight years in various positions including Wetland Field Technician, St. Jones Watershed Coordinator, Environmental Scientist with the Nonpoint Source Program and a Program Manager for the Drainage Program.  She also spent time as an Outreach Specialist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife to help promote wildlife habitat conservation on private lands.  Lara received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in Wildlife Conservation where she completed undergraduate research as well as study abroad programs to Costa Rica and Tanzania.  She clearly brings a lot of experience and eagerness to the Reserve, we are excited to welcome her aboard.  In her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, visiting the beach, and spending time with her family on their farmette.   




Rebecca Vermeesch, Assistant Education Coordinator

Introducing Rebecca Vermeesch

Rebecca joins us as the Assistant Education Coordinator from DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife where she worked at the DuPont Nature Center educating visitors of all ages about horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.  She has a B.S. in Marine Biology with a dual minor in Environmental Science and Fisheries Science from Rutgers University.  Her college internships working at summer camps, non-profit organizations, and an aquarium has given her experiences in education, research, and interpretation.  Rebecca joins our team with a lot of enthusiasm and a love of horseshoe crabs, so we think she will fit right in with our crew. In her free time, she likes to kayak with her sister and take her dog, Bella, to the beach. 

We are excited to welcome these lovely ladies to the Reserve and look forward to what they will accomplish in the future!


Bon Voyage 2 Johanna! Good Luck 2 Her!

Written on: December 14th, 2017 in Guest BlogVolunteers

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 and her send off to Johanna Hripto our Assistant Education Coordinator who has headed off to bigger and better things. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Bon Voyage 2 Johanna! Good Luck 2 Her!

Visits to DNERR are always constructive, but beyond taking a specialized walk, a more important reason brought me to the St. Jones Reserve: bidding farewell to Johanna Hripto, Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor. She would soon be leaving DNERR in order to pursue her graduate studies out of state. And my being there that day — and beyond that, my ever having been at the Reserve at all — hinged, at least in part, on a $2 bill.

Yes, a $2 bill. Some people love them. Others hate them. Whichever camp you may occupy, they “still spend,” as we in this household like to quip. They are not rare. They are usually available through your local bank. They are even still in production, at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing , for release into circulation. What does all of this have to do with the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve? Plenty.

Johanna with her “lucky $2 bill”  (aka “emergency money”) and a  framed scan of a graphite sketch by  the guest-blogger.

Part of my “confetti-ing” Johanna with best wishes was presenting her with a “lucky $2 bill” toward her travels. It’s lucky in the sense that the giver hoped the recipient would not necessarily need to spend it, but if she did, that it might come in handy in a pinch. Such was the case with another $2 bill this guest-blogger presented to someone years ago. That other someone, a now-late friend, ended up needing and using that $2 bill, while hundreds of miles from home, during an unusual set of emergency circumstances. The outcome was a happy one.

So I hoped this $2 bill would prove similarly beneficial for Johanna. The note was hers to spend — or not — however she pleased, in the course of her life’s journey, and to know that my late friend would approve. Think of this process as my continuing to pay it forward, $2 at a time. That late friend is the reason I started volunteering at DNERR in the first place, as a means of honoring her memory.

The rest of the “confetti” dropped upon Johanna was a scan of a graphite sketch by Yours Truly, based on a personally snapped photo. The drawing, entitled “Persistence,” seemed apt: imagery of marsh grasses pushing their way up through the boardwalk at the St. Jones Reserve. To put it in metaphorical terms: Things don’t always occur in the way we anticipate them — akin to the unexpected appearance, from the perspective of the flora and fauna, of a boardwalk out on the marsh ‑‑ but one persists anyway, like the marsh grasses, in seeking every opportunity to develop and to reach toward the sun. One must take advantage of those windows of opportunity, those openings between the planks, wherever they are found.

And so it is, whether with the departure of Johanna Hripto or with the twists and turns of our own lives.

Let us all go forth under the watchword, “Persistence!”

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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


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.


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.


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.


Combating Climate Change in our Local Communities

Written on: August 14th, 2017 in Coastal Training ProgramNERR

Jacob Filby, DNERR’s Communication and Policy Intern, writes about his work with the Resilient Community Partnership (RCP) and its initiative to assist communities like Slaughter Beach in response to climate change. RCP is a program through the Delaware Coastal Program aimed at providing planning, preparation, and mitigation techniques to communities in responses to climate change and sea level rise. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor). 

Communication and Policy Intern Jacob Filby working the RCP event at Slaughter Beach.

Implementation of policies and strategies for combating climate change in Delaware communities has recently been spearheaded by the DNREC Delaware Coastal Program (DCP). The Coastal Training Program (CTP), through DCP, works with local townships threatened by flooding, sea level rise, coastal storms, and changing climate conditions. DCP formed the Resilient Community Partnership to help aid these communities and help them better prepare for the impacts of sea level rise and climate change.  This annual program, with funding assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeks to improve the planning, preparation capabilities, and mitigation responses for coastal hazards. The first iteration of this partnership is with the Town of Slaughter Beach, where the CTP provided direct staffing, technical support, public outreach and training to support the community’s vulnerability assessment, prioritization, planning, and identification of adaptation practices.

Beginning in the spring of 2016, DCP partnered with the town of Slaughter Beach, with all of the research and planning culminating in a citywide workshop on July 22nd to share the results and future plan with the community.

Over 50 members of the Slaughter Beach community attended the RCP town workshop held July 22.

After weeks of preparation to inform the public of the workshop- done through emails, postcards, large signs posted throughout town, and a flashing memo from the local Fire Hall- over fifty members of Slaughter Beach attended. Considering the demographic is an elderly vacationer, the turnout for a Saturday morning meeting was fantastic. The lunch that was promised after the presentations was likely not as effective as the three signs driven into the ground on street corners.

Starting at 10AM, the residents were greeted by one dozen tables, each housing a topographical map of projected flooding or a member of state organizations: the Delaware Emergency Management Association, the Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Coastal Training Program. The tables were stocked with informational handouts, graphs of future temperature projections, leaflets for the table’s own branch specialties, and in the case of the table nestled away in the back corner of the Fire Hall, tickets for lunch that would be handed out after a survey was completed by the townsfolk. Before swarming to these displays, residents heard presentations from leaders of the DCP such as Danielle Swallow, alongside implementation discussion from planners at DelDOT, with all of this concluding with a message of confidence, underlined with urgency, from the Fire Hall chief Terry Jester.

Attendees had an opportunity to look at future flooding projection maps up-close and to ask experts questions.

The workshop began with an outline of the work done thus far by the DCP: a vulnerability assessment, determination of where sea level and accompanying flood levels would be in twenty years, and the proposal for alleviating the stress of these environmental factors on the community. Introduced by the DelDOT staff, the flashiest facet of the strategy was a real time flood warning system to be placed on the only two roads leading in to town: this will alert drivers of when flooding occurs as well as improving public safety by equipping residents with up to date information to inform their route planning. In addition, DelDOT is updating their smartphone app by incorporating the aforementioned roads into the state’s transportation system. All of this information will correspondingly be available on a radio station that updates rapidly, should conditions deteriorate. To conclude the workshop, the town was turned loose to inspect the tables, ask experts any questions about the data presented, or examine the list of secondary adaptation policies that may not have been discussed before turning in feedback forms about the workshop and RCP process as a whole.

Initially, it was a massive accomplishment to provide the public with the information required to become more resilient, not to mention the roll-out of the DelDot warning system and its app. Moving forward, what material is absorbed and adopted by the community will determine the success of the program. Feedback thus far has been considerably optimistic: The town has reached a general agreement on having learned a significant amount about climate conditions and flood mitigation techniques, coupled with an app available to them at all times that can determine road conditions in real time. With Slaughter Beach now having both tools and connections, the town is equipped to better withstand the effects of coastal hazards.

From here, the Coastal Training Program and the Resilient Community Partnership will travel north to New Castle County and assist in the same manner they did with Slaughter Beach to better prepare the county for changing climate in the state of Delaware.