UD researcher works to ensure Delaware’s wild turkey population proliferates

December 13, 2012 under CANR News

Wild turkeyIn colonial times, the Eastern wild turkey was abundant in Delaware. But by the late 1800s, wild turkeys were gone, eradicated by over-zealous market hunters and habitat destruction.

Usually, that’s the end of the story for a species.

Sometimes, however, species can be re-introduced to their original habitats. Such has been the case with the Eastern wild turkey, one of Delaware’s greatest conservation success stories, says Matt DiBona, a wildlife biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife in the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

In 1984, 34 Eastern wild turkeys from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont were given new homes in the woodlands of Sussex. In the 1990s, 100 wild turkeys from New York were released; in 2002 they were joined by another 33 birds from South Carolina and Virginia.

Throughout this period, turkeys in Sussex were captured and released further north to ensure distribution statewide.

This starter stock of 167 birds and their descendants have been prolific. “Today, Delaware’s wild turkey population is established and continues to spread,” says DiBona. “The population established so quickly that seven years after re-introduction we were able to offer a limited hunting season. We’ve continued to hold an annual four-week spring hunting season for gobblers.”

However, the Eastern wild turkey’s re-introduction to Delaware hasn’t been an unequivocal success story. About 20 years ago there was a population decline. It wasn’t widespread and numbers picked up after that. But Division of Fish and Wildlife officials realized the agency needs to better understand the population dynamics of wild turkeys.

Three years ago, the Division of Fish and Wildlife teamed up with Jake Bowman, a University of Delaware associate professor of wildlife ecology, to get a better handle on potential limiting factors affecting turkey production. “This is especially important because the number of turkey hunters is continuing to increase each year,” notes DiBona. “We thought it prudent to do research on these birds now to help provide some context for our harvest data.”

“The research project focused on hen reproduction, including the number of eggs laid and the survival rate of the poults (the babies), to determine reasons for population decrease,” says Bowman.

But you can’t figure out how many eggs a particular hen laid if you can’t distinguish her from the other hens – or find her, for that matter. That’s where turkey backpacks come into the story.

Seventy-six hens at Redden State Forest, near Georgetown, were equipped with little backpack transmitters. The transmitter, which is fastened under the hen’s wings with elastic cords, produces a radio frequency that can be detected up to a mile away.

During breeding season, Bowman’s grad students were at the state forest every day and at least several times a week other times of the year. Although Bowman’s teaching responsibilities kept him busy, at least once a week he participated in the fieldwork.

“You’re out there at all hours of the day and night, when it’s raining, when it’s hot,” he says. “But it’s great. I find research into native species such as the wild turkey more rewarding than study abroad trips I lead to places like Tanzania and Cambodia. There you’re just observing. But with research like this, you’re the one trying to find the answers.”

And Bowman and his team have found some of those answers. They’ve discovered that hens that nested on private land hatched more nests than those on public land, probably because of a difference in vegetation. They discovered that the average number of eggs per nest was eight, compared to the 10-14 eggs per nest seen in other states. Nesting success rates in Delaware are low compared to nearby states. In 2011 just 19 percent of the nests resulted in poults. The research team also discovered that fox and owl predation is a big problem, not only for the poults but for the mother hens.

There is good news to report, too. “Poult survival is greater in Delaware compared to other states, allowing for new birds to be recruited into the population,” says Bowman.

Although Bowman is wrapping up his project, the Division of Fish and Wildlife continues to track data in a variety of ways, including its seasonal Wild Turkey Survey.

“This is a citizen-scientist project; you don’t need to be a wildlife biologist to contribute,” says DiBona. “If you see wild turkeys on your drive to work or when you’re walking on a Sunday afternoon, we want to know about it.”

For example, Jason Beale, manager of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, reported that he saw an adult hen with seven poults on Aug. 8. He’s participated in the survey for the past two years.

“I’ve lived in Delaware since 2006. I know that in 2011 and 2012 I saw more wild turkeys than in all the other years combined,” says Beale. “We see them in Lee Meadow here at Abbott’s Mill. Isaacs-Green Preserve is another good spot to see them.”

“Even when you don’t see them, you know they’re here,” adds Beale. “At overnight camps we can hear them gobble at dawn and dusk and we routinely see turkey tracks on the trails.”

How to help

To participate in the 2013 Wild Turkey Survey, contact Matt DiBona at 735-3600 or matthew.dibona@state.de.us.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Bob Eriksen

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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