Tallamy urges ecofriendly management of natural habitats

December 9, 2013 under CANR News

Dr. Douglas Tallamy speaks about wildlife animals and reptiles to a crowd of retired faculty at the December UDARF meeting.Doug Tallamy believes that if nature, as we know it, is going to be saved, humans will have to do a much better job of managing the ecosystems that support the biodiversity of life on our planet.

Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, discussed the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem protection during a luncheon meeting of the UD Association of Retired Faculty held Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Clayton Hall.

The author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, (Timber Press 2007), Tallamy began his “Network for Life: Your Role in Stitching Together the Natural World” presentation by recalling President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 dictum of “leave it as it is” to those who advocated mining the Grand Canyon.

“It is no longer an option to leave most of our country as it once was,” Tallamy said. “Only five percent of the lower 48 states are even close to being in a pristine ecological state.”

The remaining areas, Tallamy said, have been logged, tilled, paved, drained, grazed or otherwise developed, with rivers either straightened, dammed and, in some cases, not even reaching the sea.

This state of environmental degradation can be traced to a failure to abandon the adversarial relationship with the natural world that enabled hunter-gatherer societies to survive, Tallamy said.

“Remember, it was nature that ate us, froze us, drowned us, starved us and destroyed our crops, and the more we beat back nature, tamed it or eliminated it, the better off we were,” Tallamy said. “Our war against nature worked in the past without causing ecosystem collapse because there were so few of us. Understanding this is the key to fixing the problems we have created.”

Fragmented into small, isolated pockets, the natural world has been carved into tiny remnants of its former state, with each area too small to sustain the species that run its ecosystems, Tallamy said.

Tallamy cited a study of the number of Eastern box turtles living on a 35-acre woodlot just east of the athletic facilities on UD’s south campus that has been isolated for the past century.

“When the study began in 1968, researchers found 91 turtles. There were 22 in 2002 and in 2010 there were just 12 turtles found in that woodlot,” Tallamy said. “When you take large populations of species and shrink them down to tiny populations, they are highly vulnerable to local extinction.”

Ecosystems function locally, Tallamy said, and recent research suggests that every species counts.

“We need them all, because biodiversity runs our ecosystems,” Tallamy said. “Biodiversity is essential to ecosystems because it increases stability, improves biogeochemical processes, increases productivity and decreases susceptibility to biotic invasions.”

A viable alternative to fragmentation and local species extinction is the creation and expansion of corridors linking these isolated habitats, Tallamy said.

Convenient opportunities for building such corridors include mountain ridges, riparian corridors, cross-country power lines, roads and rangelands.

“We need to expand our traditional definition of a corridor, because the ones we have are not big enough,” Tallamy said. “Biological corridors must do more than facilitate movement — they must support life.”

For such corridors to become viable connections they need to become functional habitats populated with native plants that support biodiversity and sustain ecosystems, Tallamy said.

“The more plants you have, the more animals you will have saved,” Tallamy said. “Plants provide all of the food and much of the shelter for the animals that run our ecosystems. Plants are literally a matter of life and death.”

With more than 3,300 nonnative plants introduced in the United States, selecting native species that support animal life is key to restoring the balance of nature, Tallamy said.

“Most insects, especially the ones birds eat, develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history,” Tallamy said. “We must use the knowledge that most insects are specialists to build corridors that support effective food webs.”

Land management alternatives can also be adopted in residential areas where the norm is having a large lawn and decorative plants that don’t sustain beneficial insects and the birds that feed on them, Tallamy said.

“The typical suburban yard has 90 percent less tree biomass than the natural woodlot habitats, and we have landscaped these areas the way we do because we now see plants only as decorations,” Tallamy said. “Future criteria for choosing plants for our landscapes need to include a sizeable percentage dedicated for food web, watershed, wildlife and soil restoration, accompanied by a more balanced percentage of plants chosen for decorative value.”

Tallamy said that the world is entering a new era, the ecocene, where ecological sustainability will not be just a tired cliché but a globally embraced mandate.

“Our age-old need to destroy the life around us in order to survive will be replaced by the ethical and ecological imperative to sustain it, because we have no other choice,” Tallamy said. “I for one cannot wait for the ecocene, and you won’t either. If we practice conservation in our public spaces, our work places and in our yards, we will enrich our lives.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Two UD professors assess habitat degradation in wake of Hurricane Sandy

December 4, 2013 under CANR News

Greg Shriver conducts research on habitat degradation due to Hurricane SandyUniversity of Delaware researchers Greg Shriver and Chris Williams have been awarded funds from a $162 million U.S. Department of the Interior project that will be invested in 45 restoration and research projects to better protect Atlantic Coast communities from future powerful storms by restoring marshes, wetlands and beaches, rebuilding shorelines, and researching the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surge impacts.

Shriver and Williams will begin multiple projects to assess habitat degradation and restoration efforts with a focus on tidal marsh birds such as Nelson’s and saltmarsh sparrows, the American black duck and the Atlantic brant.

Shriver, associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), and Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, were awarded funding in large part because of work that occurred before Hurricane Sandy and the amount of pre-storm data that they collected.

“We were both well positioned,” said Shriver. “The challenge with determining the effects of disturbances is having the pre-disturbance data; Chris and I both have that so we can go back to the same place after the disturbance and assess the effects.”

SHARP continued

Shriver’s work will build off of the pre-Sandy work that he is conducting as part of the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Project (SHARP) research. SHARP aims to provide the information necessary for all states in the bird conservation region stretching from coastal New England through the Mid-Atlantic to protect regionally important habitats for tidal marsh birds.

Of particular interest is the saltmarsh sparrow, which is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and has a limited breeding range from Virginia to Maine.

“The SHARP surveys are conducted at over 1,700 locations from Virginia to Maine where we are sample breeding tidal marsh bird populations and vegetation communities so we have a nice extensive survey that goes all the way through the hurricane impact zone, from the most intense area all the way to Virginia and Maine,” said Shriver.

Another goal of the project is to provide a regionally consistent platform for tidal marsh bird monitoring in the face of anticipated sea-level rise and upland/watershed development to produce population estimates for all bird species found in the high tidal marsh — including a global population estimate for saltmarsh sparrow — and identify regional population centers.

Shriver said the research team has two years of pre-hurricane data from 2011-12, and explained that this project will last until 2016 with a big part aimed at assessing the effects of Hurricane Sandy restoration projects. “A lot of them will be happening on places we already surveyed, and we will survey new sites that are identified as tidal marshes that are going to be restored. We will complete pre- and post-restoration sampling so that, as we get into 2015-16, the focus will be on the ‘before and after’ restoration sites.”

Black duck, Atlantic brant

Atlantic brant flockWilliams’ research focuses on the American black duck, which has been a bird of priority concern in the Atlantic flyway and the Mid-Atlantic, as well as the Atlantic brant, which is a small goose.

Explaining that he has been working with Southern Illinois University and the state governments of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, Williams said that his research has many facets. “We monitor the populations of these two species, how they’re using the habitat, how productive the habitat is in the way of feeding,” he said. “All of this work has been going toward the greater goal of assessing the potential on the landscape at a very large macro scale over a long period of time for the populations of black duck and Atlantic brant.”

Williams said his research is looking at the initial impact of habitat loss and the secondary effects, such as loss of food supplies and the impact that might have on population. “For the black duck, we can come in a year later and we can measure how much habitat there is, and whether the food has responded or not, and we can do that at all of these sites that we previously measured,” said Williams.

The research is a little bit more complicated for the brant. Williams explained that the brant mainly eat sea lettuce, algae and eelgrass, and it is likely those food supplies were severely impacted by the hurricane.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is better map and predict where those foods are on the landscape,” said Williams. “If the models we have created work well using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS), we can apply them to a series of aerial photographs that were taken pre- and post-Sandy. The goal is a really nice pre- and post-storm scenario to evaluate the effect that a destructive storm can have on the brant food supply.”

Williams said the researchers are both just happy that they can be of service to those communities impacted by the hurricane in any way possible. “From an academic standpoint, we’re lucky that we can help,” said Williams. “While we can only minimally help with the human component, we have a well developed program at UD to provide assessment of the ecological and wildlife community and provide recommendations for future landscape planning.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley and courtesy of Chris Williams

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Sarah Weiskopf places third at the National Wildlife Society Meeting

October 28, 2013 under CANR News

Sarah Weiskopf and Shannon Kachel present their posterSarah Weiskopf, an honors student in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), presented her poster earlier this month at the National Wildlife Society Meeting in Milwaukee, WI.

The poster, titled, “What do snow leopards really eat? Using genetics to reduce bias in food habit studies,” placed third place at the conference amongst undergraduate presenters.

Weiskopf is completing her senior thesis in Kyle McCarthy’s Rare and Elusive Species Lab, where she works closely with Shannon Kachel, graduate student in ENWC, on snow leopard ecology.

As for the specifics of her research, Weiskopf explained that knowing what snow leopards—an endangered species that live high in the mountain areas of central Asia–eat is critical to their survival. “One of the reasons they’re endangered is lack of natural prey species so it’s really important to have accurate information on what they’re eating for management plans and conservation initiatives.”

Weiskopf, who is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR program, and the ENWC department and works with data from Panthera– a global wild cat conservation group–and samples collected by Kachel, said that their research found that snow leopards’ diet consists mainly of large mammals. “When we looked at all the samples that we collected, we found that small mammals like hares and Pikas were not as important in snow leopard diet as we previously thought, and they were actually eating a lot more large mammals like Ibex and Argali.”

The problem with the snow leopards’ diet consisting mainly of these two species is that they are both in danger as well, with both being targets of hunting and poaching and Argali being classified as an endangered species.

“They’re competing with domestic livestock for the food resources in the area and so when you have less natural Ibex and Argali populations, the snow leopards will turn more to eating domestic livestock which creates problems with humans in the area,” said Weiskopf.

Weiskopf said that she is very thankful that she gets to work with Kachel and McCarthy, assistant professor in ENWC, on the project, saying that they both have been very supportive and helpful, even allowing her to work in the lab on her own which she said was a great learning experience.

She also said that the conference was a great experience because she got to listen to a lot of wildlife biologists talk about their respective projects and had the opportunity to present her own work.

As for her work with snow leopards, Weiskopf said that if she continues to study the species, she would love the opportunity to travel to central Asia to study them in the wild, something she might not have known about herself had she not gotten this opportunity.

“It wasn’t something that I thought about before. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I really want to study snow leopards’ but it was definitely a really cool project to get involved in.”

Article by Adam Thomas


Doug Tallamy receives the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence

September 17, 2013 under CANR News

Doug Tallamy receives the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of ExcellenceDoug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was presented the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference held at Western Carolina University this summer.

Tallamy was also chosen to be a presenter at the conference for his ideas on promoting change in the landscape paradigm. “Right now, about 80% of our ornamental plants are from Asia,” said Tallamy. “Our local insects can’t eat them because they haven’t evolved to deal with the defensive chemicals within the plants. Now at the same time, 96% of birds are rearing their young on insects. In fact, about six to nine thousand caterpillars are used to rear one clutch of chickadees. So we end up creating these landscapes that are actually one of the biggest hits on biodiversity.”

Robert Wyatt, professor Emeritus of Botany and Ecology at the University of Georgia and current Director of the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, said Tallamy is likely to be the rare entomologist chosen for the award, as past award recipients are typically botanists.

Tallamy was chosen for the award in part due to the popularity surrounding his 2007 book, Bringing Nature Home. The book makes a strong scientific case for reintroducing native plants to landscapes and eliminating the “urban deserts” created by planting an abundance of nonnative ornamentals.

Tallamy said that there is a need for ecological literacy, and stresses the importance of increasing public awareness for why native plants are so important ecologically in terms of retaining biodiversity.  His attendance at this conference is a testament to his own goal of wanting to re-landscape the entire country.

In the past 30 years that the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference has been held, the number of native plant nurseries has increased substantially as more homeowners have come to value the beauty and understand the benefits of a natural landscape.

Invasive Species

Looking at invasive exotics such as Kudzu, Chinese privet, and Japanese honeysuckle, it is easy to understand the uncontrolled dispersal and harm invasive species can have on a landscape. Free from predators, these species have affectively displaced many surrounding native plants while offering little to no food for wildlife living in the area.

The reintroduction of native species could potentially thwart the damages caused by the introduction of some of these aggressive plants.

Other examples of the potential dangers nonnative species can cause includes unintentional introduction of pests and subsequent disease, like the American Chestnut, whose nuts provided a prime food source for many animals, and whose populations were decimated by an introduced fungus.

Not all nonnative species are detrimental. However, their decreased utility by wildlife as a food source and often uncontrolled growth means that introducing them at a greater rate than native species can adapt to them could lead to decreased diversity in an ecosystem.

Examples of some native trees that people could start planting as alternatives to nonnatives include Smooth Witherod and Winterberry, which have berries that birds depend on, Redbud, which provides a convenient nectar source for early pollinators, Summersweet Clethra, another popular pollinator shrub, and Pipevine which serves as a food source for Swallowtail larvae.  With their colorful flowers and berries, these plants offer all the aesthetics that homeowners and landscapers tend to seek in nonnative ornamentals.

About the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence

The Tom Dodd Jr. Award of Excellence is presented annually at the Cullowhee Conference on Native Plants in the Landscape and are given to individuals who excel in one of the following areas: conservation of native flora in sites; studying and promoting the understanding of our native flora; building expertise in the propagation/cultivation of native plants; and the use of native plants in a diversity of natural and designed landscapes.

Past winners have included C. Ritchie Bell, professor of botany at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Founding Director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and co-author of the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas; Dick Bir, professor of Horticulture and plant breeder at the Mountain Horticulture Research Center of North Carolina State University; and Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the United States and an avid proponent of native plants and natural areas.

Article by Angela Carcione


UD doctoral candidate conducts wood thrush studies around Newark

May 8, 2013 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s Zach Ladin has been studying the wood thrush for the past three years — continuing research started by Roland Roth 37 years ago and continued by Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, in his Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) program – and is looking at how breeding birds can provide clues to the relative health of the environment.

“We use birds as environmental indicators,” said Ladin, a doctoral candidate in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you go to the doctor, they take different measurements, like blood pressure. By itself, your blood pressure may not mean anything but it gives the doctor insight into whether you’re going to have a heart attack soon or whether you’re suffering from some sort of heart disease, or any number of diseases that might be associated with that. So we’re using birds as a window into the health of the forest.”

To do that, Ladin has expanded the territory of the study originated by Roth.

While Roth’s initial study focused solely on the ecology woods located east of Delaware Stadium, Ladin’s study has spread out all over the city of Newark. Using 21 sites around Newark, Ladin looks at how the birds respond to human impacts in an urban landscape, using areas like Iron Hill, the Newark reservoir and White Clay Creek, among others.

Ladin said that Newark is the “ideal place to study urbanization since we’re right in this Mid-Atlantic region. We’re interested in how these birds are responding to an urban landscape.”

Zach Ladin studies wood thrush in UD's ecology woodsSome sites, like Iron Hill, are doing very well when it comes to having large populations of wood thrush, while other sites, such as the small patch of woods across from the hotel at the intersection of Routes 4 and 896, are completely devoid of wood thrush.

Just because a site has a large number of the birds does not necessarily mean that it is a healthy habitat, however. It could simply mean that the wood thrush are “getting pushed out of all the very high quality spots,” said Ladin. “Maybe they were pushed out of White Clay Creek or Iron Hill and this is a last resort for them, so you end up seeing the refugees getting shoved into a very small and isolated spot. It could be a bad sign.”

Ladin explained he trains crews of students that try to locate wood thrush nests, doing so by listening for audible cues, such as when the birds make an alarm call when the researchers get too close to their nests. Once they find the nests, they input the GPS coordinates and monitor the nest every three or four days.

“We keep close track of the eggs,” said Ladin, explaining that sometimes crew members will find eggs from a different species in the wood thrush’s nest. “There’s actually another type of bird called the brown-headed cowbird that will lay its eggs in other species’ nests. It’s called brood parasitism where they’ve evolved a really clever technique. They don’t raise their own chicks, they just go around and lay eggs in other birds’ nests and let those birds raise their chicks.”

Ladin said that while some species can recognize cowbird eggs and remove them from their nests, the wood thrush do not. “There’s an evolutionary arms race going on and the wood thrush have not figured that out quite yet.”

As far as the number of wood thrush breeding in UD’s ecology woods, Ladin said that there are currently around 20 birds per year, which is down considerably from the peak numbers of 70-80 during the 1990s.

Ladin’s research is trying to determine why the numbers are decreasing not just in the sites around Newark but across the eastern United States.

“One of the things we’re looking at is if the soil calcium is a limiting factor for birds, since they need it for their eggshells and the nestlings need it to grow their bones, and this is one of the highest concentrated areas of acid rain in the country,” said Ladin.

Ladin also wants his research to highlight the fact that on the East Coast, especially around the I-95 corridor, there may not be big patches of forests but there are lots of little patches that play an integral role in improving the environment.

“If you add up all these tiny patches of forests that have been subdivided, it’s actually over 1.2 million acres of forest,” said Ladin. “My motivation is to show people that this is highly critical habitat and that you can’t just discount a small patch of forest because its only three or four acres. Those patches provide really important services for us — like helping clean the water, and helping sequester carbon, reducing CO2 from the atmosphere — so we have to make sure we’re out to conserve their proper functioning. Studying the bird response in those patches is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to do that.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


UD expert lists top 10 landscaping plants for Mid-Atlantic

May 7, 2013 under CANR News

Doug Tallamy on the Lepidoptera trail for the Research magazineArmed with a shovel, Doug Tallamy, chair of the University of Delaware Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, is leading a new American revolution, and he wants you to join him.

All you need to do is plant one native tree or shrub in your yard — perhaps an oak or willow tree, a blueberry or cranberry bush.

It isn’t hard to do, it doesn’t cost much and the paybacks, Tallamy says, will be immediate. Caterpillars will begin feeding on these native plants, and then birds will discover the caterpillars and start snapping them up. Add more native plants, and your rewards will be even greater, as a richer web of life springs forth.

In a study of randomly selected homes in suburban developments built from 1990-2005 in New Castle County, Del., and neighboring Chester County, Pa., Tallamy and his colleagues have found that 92 percent of the landscapable area around those homes is lawn, which is akin to a desert in terms of wildlife habitat. On the remaining 8 percent of landscapable area, 75 percent of the plant species are non-natives, and 79 percent of the total number of trees, shrubs and flowers are non-natives, offering very little in the way of food for insects (which do not recognize non-native plants as food) or for birds.

But homeowners can change that. Tallamy, the author of the award-winning bookBringing Nature Home, has identified the top 10 native plants for butterflies and moths in the Mid-Atlantic region. The number-one pick — the oak tree — supports 534 species of butterflies and moths (key food for birds and their nestlings), and the tree’s acorns feed deer, turkeys, bears, squirrels, even wood ducks.

Other top choices range from willow, birch, cherry and plum trees to crabapple and pine trees, blueberry and cranberry bushes. For more of Tallamy’s top selections, download this handy PDF with photos.

“When plants bring life into your yard, it’s instant gratification,” Tallamy says. “It’s especially critical for kids to understand the linkages. By putting native plants in your yard, you can make those connections for the future stewards of our planet.”

For the full story, see this recent article in the University of Delaware Research magazine.

For a video on Tallamy discussing sustainable landscapes, visit UDaily.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photo by Ambre Alexander


UD team wins first place in East Coast regional Linnaean Games

April 23, 2013 under CANR News

Entomology Graduate student team won the east coast regional Linnaean GamesA group of four University of Delaware graduate students studying in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology bested teams from Penn State, Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland to win first place in a regional match in the Entomological Society of America’s Linnaean Games, a competition in which teams are quizzed on entomological questions.

Having won the East Coast regional competition, the UD team will head to Austin, Texas, to compete in the national competition in November.

Team members include Scott Berg, Ashley Kennedy, Kaitlin Handley and David Gardner, all master’s degree students, with Kennedy having just completed her program.

In the first round of the tournament, the team defeated Virginia Tech and later topped Penn State in the finals. Each round lasted about 20 minutes and consisted of 16 questions. If a team got an answer correct, they were given a bonus question.

While some of the other teams had coaches to help them prepare for the Linnaean Games, the UD team had no such help. “Some schools take it really seriously and every year they have coaches,” explained Handley. “This is the first year that UD put together a team and it was all Ashley’s doing.”

Even though the team didn’t have a coach, Kennedy was able to find something extremely helpful on-line that helped the team prepare for the competition — YouTube videos of past competitions. She transcribed the questions and the answers from those past tournaments and handed them out to her teammates.

Watching the videos of past tournaments, however, did have some consequences, as well, with team members getting a glimpse of just how challenging the questions would be. “Hearing some of the questions that Ashley transcribed and watching some of the videos, oftentimes, they’ll ask a question and neither team gets it and then they’ll just turn to the audience for fun and say, ‘Does anyone know it?’ and the audience is silent,” said Berg. “So we were thinking that this was going to be pretty tough. But the questions they had this year — I don’t know if it was just luck or what — but they seemed a little bit more manageable.”

Kennedy also explained that while the team didn’t have a coach, they didn’t consider themselves underdogs. “We did have more of an advantage than some of the other schools just because we do have a good variety of entomology classes here that cover all the basic areas.” 

Gardner, who is relatively new to the entomology field having studied behavioral neuroscience as an undergraduate, agreed with that assessment, saying that the entomology department at UD is “great. The professors are great, colleagues are great, everyone is really interesting, so I enjoy it.”

Winning the Linnaean Games was not the only prize the group took home from the conference as Berg also won second place in oral presentation.

The team is now looking forward to the national competition and attending the five-day conference, with the hopes of recruiting a coach to help them prepare.

Kennedy noted that Charles Bartlett, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, has agreed to coach them prior to the national competition.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


UD’s Hanson lands internship at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research

April 16, 2013 under CANR News

UD student Sierra Hanson interns at Tri-State Bird Rescue and ResearchUniversity of Delaware student Sierra Hanson likes to vary her interests each semester and now, having volunteered at and secured a summer internship with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, that interest is birds.

Hanson, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that while last spring she was interested in herpetology — doing a lot of hands-on work in her class with salamanders, snakes and turtles — she is now in full bird mode. “Birds are definitely right up there in my interests, it really just depends on what I’m doing at the moment,” said Hanson.

Volunteering for Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research since last fall, Hanson — who is also an Ag Ambassador, a Blue Hen Ambassador and a founding member of the Entomology Club at UD — said that she is at the Newark center most Saturdays and Sundays from 1-6 p.m. Hanson admits that while she hasn’t “been volunteering there for very long, I still feel like I know my way around because I’ve been there so frequently.”

While on the job, Hanson does a lot of husbandry work, cleaning up cages and scrubbing down equipment, but she also gets to do many activities directly with the birds.

Among the more memorable experiences for Hanson were when she got to handle a red-shouldered hawk, and when she traveled into Pennsylvania to rescue an owl that had lodged itself in the chimney of a house.

“I took all my gear out there and I caught their screech owl. They had made it seem like it was a great horned owl so I was really prepared for this giant monster, and then there’s just like this little tiny owl,” said Hanson. “There was nothing wrong with him but we took him back [to the organization’s center] and made sure he was all good because in a chimney he could have inhaled ash and his whole plumage could have been messed up. We gave him the once over, he was good and I brought him back to that neighborhood that week and released him.”

Hanson was also recently trained as a bird care assistant, so she is now able to tube feed the birds and administer medication to those in need.

Even when she is doing the husbandry work, Hanson said she likes it because she knows “even if I’m only mopping floors one week, I’ve indirectly helped that bird to get back on the wing.”

Her favorite part of the job is when she gets to help release a bird that has been in the rescue center. “We released an eagle in January and that was just really cool to put the eagle down in the field and then watch it fly away,” said Hanson. “It’s kind of bittersweet because you’re like, ‘Oh, I loved you, but now you’re better and you can go and fly and that’s great.’ But I think that’s the best part, just making a difference and making the birds able to go back out into the wild and live their full lives.”

Hanson is also learning her fair share about birds, specifically that old sayings and habits may not always be correct. For instance, Hanson said that the phrase “eats like a bird” is misleading as it implies that birds eat very little when “in reality, birds eat a ton. They have to expend a lot of energy when they’re flying.”

Hanson said that with hatching season right around the corner, usually lasting from late spring to late summer, she will get to see firsthand how much they eat as there will be baby birds who must be fed every 20 minutes.

She also has come to realize through her work that when she and her mother used to feed ducks at the local library, they may not having been helping the ducks as much as they thought. While feeding the ducks was fun she now understands one “should never feed ducks bread because it’s really unhealthy for them.”

The amount of care that goes into an animal rehabilitation center was also eye opening for Hanson. “You just don’t realize the wide variety of foods that the birds eat and then also the different types of care that you have to give them while they’re in human custody and are being rehabilitated.”

She said that it’s not just Tri-State but other rehabilitation centers that need all sorts of help and various donations to keep them going. “A lot of different work and different donations go into these places, so they really do need as much help as we can give them.”

For UD students interested in volunteering, Hanson said that she would recommend it. “I wish I had started when I was a freshman or a sophomore because I’m a junior now and I’m getting a lot of experience. I wish that I had started earlier just so I could be further into the process at this point,” said Hanson.

She noted that the center is only about four miles from the UD main campus, off Possum Park Road near the Paper Mill Road intersection, so students can reach it easily.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Asters keep UD Botanic Gardens colorful through November

November 12, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Some of autumn’s pleasures are fleeting. Like the sight of migrating broad-winged hawks soaring on thermals in the September skies. Like the golden leaves of the ginkgo, which drop from the tree in a few days or sometimes mere hours. Like the big, orange, once-a-year occurrence of the harvest moon.

But other autumn pleasures – like asters – endure all season long. Asters start blooming at the same time as such early fall wildflowers as goldenrod and thoroughwort. But long after many other blooms have turned brown, the aster is still going strong.

Of course, no one species of native aster blooms straight through from September to November. Most bloom for a few weeks and then, as they die off, other varieties began to flower. Some of the native varieties that bloom the latest include aromatic and heath asters.

“It’s not unusual to see aromatic, heath and other species of asters blooming in late November,” says Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “Asters continue to add a splash of color to the landscape in late autumn, when little else is blooming in Delaware.”

There are 33 native species and varieties of the genus Aster in Delaware, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the Delaware Natural Heritage Program. Several of these varieties are classified as rare in the state. Asters are found in a wide range of habitat – woodlands, swamps, marshes, wet meadows and old fields. Some species are tall and bushy; others are groundcovers. Most prefer sunny conditions but some do well in shade.

Asters are tough and reliable, which is why they are popular with both home gardeners and commercial landscapers. “Asters – both natives and non-natives – are some of the easiest perennials to grow,” says Barton. “They don’t require much watering, fertilizing or other care.”

Doug Tallamy likes asters because they contribute to healthy local ecosystems. Asters are a valuable food source for a variety of pollinators, including native bees, honeybees, butterflies, beetles and flies, says Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.

“As one of the latest blooming widespread plants, asters are very important as a carbohydrate energy source for butterflies, bees, beetles and flies,” says Tallamy.

If you’re looking for a good aster to plant in Delaware you couldn’t do better than talking to Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturalist at Mt. Cuba Center. A few years ago she conducted a performance evaluation of asters in conjunction with Victor Piatt, the center’s former trial area gardener.

The duo evaluated 56 different asters over a two-year period for such factors as color, bloom period, foliage quality, disease resistance and more.

Varieties that got top marks include smooth aster, prairie aster and calico aster. A late bloomer that scored well is the large-flowered aster. Some years, this aster may start in mid-October and finish by Halloween. Other seasons, it doesn’t flower until mid-November and then continues blooming past Thanksgiving.

You can see these varieties of asters – any many more – at Mt. Cuba. Public garden tours are held Thursdays through Sundays; registration is necessary. The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens also has a great selection of asters. Late bloomers there include Aster oblongifolius “Raydon’s Favorite,” a showy variety that sports a profusion of blue-lavender flowers with yellow centers.

Mt. Cuba Center is located at 3120 Barley Mill Road in Hockessin. For more information, call 239-4244.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is located on the grounds of Townsend Hall off South College Avenue in Newark. The garden is open dawn to dusk daily and is free of charge. Parking is available at meters or by purchasing a parking permit for $3 online. To learn more, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Now’s the time to watch migrating raptors, says UD’s Williams

September 27, 2012 under CANR News

If seeing a kettle of birds is on your bucket list, head to Hawk Watch at Ashland Nature Center or Cape Henlopen State Park ASAP. If this natural phenomenon isn’t on your bucket list, perhaps it should be.

“Kettle” is the word that birders use to describe a group of birds wheeling and circling tightly in the air on a thermal updraft, says Chris Williams, a University of Delaware associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology. Nature photographer M. Timothy O’Keefe speculated that the term comes from the fact that these furiously flying flocks look like “something boiling in a cauldron.”

Your jaw is bound to drop the first time you see hundreds of birds swerving and soaring inside a thermal bubble as it rises aloft. (It’s still pretty jaw-dropping the sixth or sixteenth time you see it.)

Now’s the prime time to catch a kettle. That’s because broad-winged hawks are currently passing over Delaware on their fall migration to the neo-tropics. Although all raptors utilize thermals to make their flights more efficient, certain species, such as broad-winged hawks, are known to be frequent users of these air currents.

Large kettles of broad-winged hawks started showing up in Delaware in mid-September – more than 2,000 broad-wingeds were spotted at Ashland on Sept. 11 alone – and will continue through the end of the month.

“When it comes to the fall migration, my favorite species is actually the golden eagle,” says Jim White, associate director of land and biodiversity management for the Delaware Nature Society, which owns Ashland Nature Center. “The golden eagle is the ‘holy grail’ of fall bird-watching,” adds White. “But, in terms of pure spectacle, nothing beats the broad-winged hawk migration and the sight of hundreds and hundreds of hawks overhead.”

Long before the leaves turn or the autumnal equinox even occurs, the fall bird migration gets underway. “In August and September, songbirds migrate, beginning with hummingbirds and kingbirds and followed by warblers,” says Williams. “Slowly a parade of migrants work their way south, some leaving our area while others are coming in. Expect to see the shorebirds leave first followed by teal passing through and finally wintering waterfowl setting up shop.”

Now through October is peak season for the raptors – birds of prey, including hawks, eagles, falcons, ospreys and owls. However, every raptor flying overhead isn’t necessarily a migrant.

“Some raptors migrate south; others in the same species choose to overwinter here in Delaware,” notes White.  “For example, there is a pair of resident bald eagles that nests at Hoopes Reservoir. If you’re up on Hawk Watch Hill and see two bald eagles just monkeying around, flying low over Ashland’s Treetop Woods, then it’s probably these residents and not migrants. We train the Hawk Watch coordinator to exclude resident raptors from the counting records.”

The Hawk Watch sites are each staffed by a coordinator who is there to educate visitors as well as to count birds. Both programs are funded by the Delmarva Ornithological Society with additional support from other nature organizations.

Williams finds value in citizen-scientist initiatives such as Delaware’s Hawk Watch program. “These programs offer useful data for ornithologists,” he says. “Bird populations are dynamic and constantly in flux. No single researcher or team of researchers working alone could document the distribution and movements of so many fall migrants the way Hawk Watch efforts throughout the nation do.”

Of course, you don’t need to be part of a formal citizen-scientist program to track fall migrants. Just ask Ethan Harrod, a 5-year-old North Wilmington resident who counts birds with the help of his trusty field guide for young birders.

“Ethan sighted a red-tailed hawk on the Wilmington waterfront and he saw a sharp-shinned hawk fly over our backyard,” reports his father, John Harrod, who is manager of the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington. “He loves to try to id a bird and then check his field guide to see if he was right.”

The elder Harrod also has been seeing lots of migrating raptors in recent days. “I went kayaking on the Christina recently and spotted a northern harrier, a bald eagle and an osprey,” reports Harrod.

Make time to get out to a Hawk Watch site soon. The best time to visit is on a sunny, clear day when there is a breeze from the north or northwest, says White. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a kettle or two of broad-wingeds flying overhead.

Hawk Watch sites

Ashland Hawk Watch is located at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin. Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch is at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. For more information about either hawk watch contact Anthony Gonzon at 735-8673 or go to this website.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.