Holiday Schedule

December 21, 2011 under CANR News, Events

This is a reminder that University of Delaware offices will be closed from Saturday, December 24th through Monday, January 2nd. Offices will reopen on Tuesday, January 3rd.

Please see the UDaily article “UD offices to close Dec. 24-Jan. 2″ for extended details.

The UD community is asked to begin winter break by powering down their campus spaces.  (Power Down UDaily article)

The UDairy Creamery store will be closed during this time, but will still be at home Blue Hens Basketball games.

For the UD Events calendar please click here.

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Native Gifts for the Holidays

December 15, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Gift certificates for UDairy Creamery ice cream make a great holiday treat.

The holiday season is right around the corner. Some folks wrapped up their shopping on Black Friday but plenty haven’t finished the task – and some haven’t even started.

No worries. We’ve rounded up some great gift ideas. Best yet, these gifts have a uniquely Delaware focus. Some choices – like landscape design classes – are tailor-made for outdoorsy types. Others gifts – like Delaware wool blankets — work equally well for couch potatoes who just gaze at the landscape from their windows.

From spices to vines 

A few years ago, New Castle County Master Gardeners began offering winter workshops in addition to their regular fall and spring classes. “The response was overwhelming,” says Carrie Murphy, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension horticultural agent for New Castle County. “January and February aren’t good for gardening but they’re perfect for learning new ways to garden and planning for the season ahead.”

Winter workshop topics include vines and espaliers, downsizing your garden, and the origin of cooking spices. For the complete list, go to this website.

To purchase a gift certificate for a Master Garden workshop, call 302-831-COOP.

Keep warm with Delaware wool

UD’s flock of Dorset ewes get sheared every spring before going out to summer pasture. Previously, their wool was sold at a regional auction to wool processors. Then farm superintendent Scott Hopkins and animal science professor Lesa Griffiths put their heads together and, soon after, Blue Hen Blankets and Yarn was born. Now, after the sheep are sheared, the wool is sent to a Canadian mill to create cozy blankets in two styles — a lap throw and a queen-size version.

The blankets have plenty of heft — each lap throw requires four pounds of wool and the queen-sized contain 12 pounds.  The lap size is $100 and queen-size $175. Buy them at the UDairy Creamery on UD’s South Campus. For creamery location and hours, see the website.

A gift that lasts all year

Surfing at Indian River Inlet and swimming at Fenwick Island. Hiking at Alapocas Run and biking at White Clay Creek. Pond fishing at Killens Pond and surf fishing at Cape Henlopen. Give them an annual pass to Delaware’s state parks, where they can enjoy their favorite outdoor activity — or try something new.

Annual passes range in price from $12 for a senior citizen to $54 for an of-state resident. For more info, or to buy a pass online, go to the state parks website.

UD profs and other experts at Longwood

Don’t let “Tips for Turf Diagnosis: Insect and Disease Management” scare you. Sure, Longwood Gardens’ continuing education program has serious classes for pros. But there’s also “beginning bonsai” and “orchids for beginners.” Your gift recipient doesn’t even have to be a gardener — birding, photography, art and flower arranging classes also are offered.

UD prof Sue Barton teaches the fundamentals of sustainable landscape design in a five-session class; UD adjunct instructor Jon Cox presents the secrets to photographing water in an all-day session. For the full schedule of classes go to the Longwood website and click on “education.”

Longwood gift cards can be purchased on Longwood’s website or at the Kennett Square, Pa., gardens.

Give ‘em Delaware River Mud

Mud pie ice cream, that is.

Delaware River Mud Pie is the most popular flavor at the UDairy Creamery, according to manager Melinda Litvinas. This ice cream pairs vanilla and chocolate cookie with swirls of fudge.

Plus, the creamery offers seasonal selections, including peppermint bark, eggnog, gingerbread and peppermint hot chocolate. Gift certificates are available in $5 denominations, perfect for stocking stuffers.

You may want to pick up All Nighter for yourself. This concoction of coffee ice cream and cookie dough chunks, crushed cookies and fudge swirl won a recent flavor creation contest. It was concocted by UD senior Kate Maloney. According to her contest entry, “Every college student has to pull an all-nighter at some point… [this ice cream] gives you the sugar rush you need to survive a 24-hour cram session.”

All Nighter could be just thing for assembling toys late on Christmas Eve, too.

The UDairy Creamery is located behind Townsend Hall on the Newark campus. The creamery closes on Dec. 23 at 5 p.m. (and re-opens Jan. 3). For more information, see the UDairy Creamery website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Poinsettia, Citrus Fruit Sale

October 31, 2011 under CANR News, Events

As part of the holiday season, the Collegiate FFA will be taking orders for their annual poinsettia and citrus fruit sale from October 31st to November 18th.

The fruit last year was excellent and the varieties available have been tremendous-ranging from the traditional full and one-half cases of naval, pink (red) grapefruit, and tangelos to variety packs of mixed fruit including apples, pears, tangerines, navels, grapefruits, etc., all conveniently and attractively packaged. Best news yet – prices remain the same as last year! Citrus sales benefit the training, special activities, and community service efforts of the Collegiate FFA. Delivery is tentatively planned for the week of the December 5th.

The traditional poinsettia sale, with proceeds going into the Collegiate FFA Scholarship Fund, will feature red or white poinsettias in 6.5” pots with 4-6 blooms and 8” pots with 12-15 blooms. We were able to give two scholarships last year through your support. Delivery is also tentatively planned the week of December 5th, but not the same day as fruit.

A Collegiate FFA member will be stopping by CANR departments beginning this week. Should you be missed, feel free to contact our chapter advisors, Dr. Arba Henry (Rm 228, X1320) or Mrs. Alice Moore (Administrative Office, X2504). Payment is requested at the time of ordering.

As always, we thank you for your support of our chapter and its events.
Submitted by: Lindsey Cook, Chapter President

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Wild animals cope with harsh winter weather

February 10, 2011 under CANR News

Humans may whine about the harsh weather but for most of us winter isn’t a matter of life or death. For many wild animals and birds, the stress of winter is life-threatening. Wild animals and birds must contend not only with extreme weather but with a lack of food and other resources, such as adequate shelter.

Winter adaptations vary by species. Some species migrate, some go into dormancy and some develop a thick skin and tough it out. The thick skin is literal — from the bushy cold-weather undercoat of the fox to the thick winter coat of the raccoon.

Many birds adapt to winter by getting the heck out of here. About half of Delaware’s common summer birds are migratory and depart for warmer climes each autumn, according to Chris Williams, a UD assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The birds that do stick around Delaware often form flocks in the winter, comprised of members of the same species, or sometimes flocks of different species (known as mixed flocks). Common mixed flocks include small birds, like chickadees and titmice, which join larger birds, such as nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Flocking is a form of cooperative behavior that rarely occurs during spring and summer nesting season. Williams says that flocking can increase wintertime avian survival rates. Flocks have an easier time securing food since birds are foraging together. And when flocks roost together, heat loss is reduced. Flocking also can provide safety in numbers from predators.

Birds utilize a number of other survival strategies in winter, such as fluffing their plumage, which creates an insulating layer by trapping air. They cope with the cold by shivering, just like we do. And many species increase their metabolic rate to produce more body heat. The downside of this adaptation is that they need to eat more food, even though food supplies are limited.

A handful of species lower their metabolism, but only in the evening when food isn’t available. These birds enter a state called torpor, which causes lowered body temperature and decreased oxygen consumption.

Plenty of mammals also slow their metabolic rate in winter. Groundhogs that live in northerly climes are “true hibernators,” meaning they exist in a state of uninterrupted, deep sleep for six to seven months, with body temperatures so low their metabolisms are almost at a standstill.

However, Delaware’s groundhogs are “semi-hibernators,” says Derek Stoner, conservation coordinator at the Delaware Nature Society.

“In February and March, if it warms up to about 50 degrees, Delaware groundhogs will come out of their burrows,” says Stoner. “By St. Patrick’s Day, the males, in particular are very active on warm days. They visit other burrows in hopes of finding a mate.”

In the fall, Delaware’s groundhogs gained some 50 percent of their body weight to prepare for their long — if somewhat fitful — snooze. But they also stashed grass in their burrows for the occasional snack when they do awake. Chipmunks also are “semi-hibernators” at Delaware’s latitude.

Deer don’t hibernate in winter although they do move around less to conserve energy. In cold conditions, they gravitate to areas with good thermal cover, such as a patch of evergreen trees that’s protected from the wind and cold and thus a degree or two warmer than surrounding terrain.

In the Poconos and Adirondacks you can see herds of several hundred deer hanging out together in the woods. Here in Delaware, herds are smaller, usually about 40 deer. Stoner says that a herd has congregated on Coverdale Farm, near Way Road, for the past several weeks.

Like flocking behavior in birds, herding is a wintertime phenomenon that increases survival rates. Come spring, the herd breaks up and the deer will go their separate ways.

Unlike us, wild animals and birds don’t need to turn to the Weather Channel to know when a storm is brewing; they sense the shift in barometric pressure, says Stoner. While we make our pre-storm trip for milk, bread and eggs, they, too, make a mad dash for adequate provisions before the snow flies.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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How insects survive the long, cold winter

February 3, 2011 under CANR News

Baby, it’s cold outside. Time to put another log on the fire, wrap up in a thick sweater, or make a steaming mug of tea. These human adaptations to cold weather are quick, easy and get the job done. Even more effective, of course, is the central heating that is ubiquitous in our homes, offices and schools.

It takes a lot more effort for other mammals, birds and insects to make the necessary adaptations to survive harsh weather. Next week, we’ll look at animal and bird strategies; today we’ll see how insects make it through the winter.

In many species, insects adapt to the cold by dying off; it’s the larval stage of the species that goes through winter. Insects that do over-winter as adults usually enter a hibernation-like state called diapause.

“Insects don’t technically hibernate in winter but many go into diapause, a dormant state that allows them to withstand cold temperatures,” says Brian Kunkel, a UD Cooperative Extension entomologist.

The mourning cloak butterfly exists in a type of diapause called freeze susceptible. It avoids freezing in much the way that car owners do — by adding anti-freeze. This butterfly replaces the water in its body with antifreeze compounds — called cryoprotectants — which supercool its bodily fluids and tissues.

The other form of diapause, called freeze tolerant, is used infrequently by North American insects but is a common strategy of Southern Hemisphere insects. In this type of diapause, the insect freezes its bodily fluids.

Not all insects go into diapause in winter. A few, like the stonefly and mayfly, can be seen out and about in their adult form. The best time to look for stoneflies is after a snowfall — these small dark critters are much easier to spot in the snow.

The social insects take a middle-of-the-road approach to winter. They don’t enter diapause, like many butterflies, but they’re not bounding about, full of pep, like stoneflies. Social insects that live through winter in Delaware include honeybees, termites and a number of different ants.

Many of the social insects, including ants, consolidate their living quarters during the winter, says Deborah Delaney, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In late fall they move deeper into their nests and close up the exit with soil, leaves and other organic materials.

Honeybees slow down in winter and stick close to the hive. The focus is on eating and huddling close to each other on cold days, notes Delaney.

When the hive temperature drops below 64 degrees, honeybees cluster together into a carefully organized, compact ball. The interior bees generate warmth by vibrating their wing muscles. The outer bees are motionless, acting as an insulation layer. The colder the temperature outside, the tighter the cluster. A single bee can increase heat production 25-fold.

The honeybees take turns enjoying the warmth in the middle of the huddle and then move to the outside. Not surprisingly, the queen bee reigns supreme in the middle and never takes a turn on the outskirts of the huddle.

Despite huddling and other strategies, winter takes a toll on honeybees, says Delaney. Hives that may have had a peak of 60,000 bees in the summer may diminish to 20,000 bees by mid-winter. Some hives are totally lost, due to insufficient food or other factors.

Worker honeybees toiled long hours in the fall, collecting nectar to feed and maintain the colony until spring. If their work wasn’t adequate, there is nothing they — or Delaney — can do about it now, in the depths of winter.

Nonetheless, Delaney checks on the hives at UD’s Apiary about two to three times a week this time of year. “I hold my ear to each hive and if I hear buzzing inside, I know everything is good,” she says.

“The hives are kind of like my fourth child,” admits Delaney, who is the mother of three small children.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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Extension agent encourages winter exploration

January 13, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

This is the season when many nature-lovers page through seed catalogs, polish their binoculars and dream of warmer and brighter days. But then there are the hardy types, like Dot Abbott, who consider winter the perfect time to get outside.

“During the cold-weather months, I appreciate aspects of nature that I take for granted at other times of the year,” says Abbott, a renewable resources agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “With the foliage gone, it’s a lot easier to see animal habitats and to notice wildlife. For example, a male Northern cardinal will really stand out amid the browns and grays of the forest in January.”

Abbott is responsible for Extension’s forest conservation education program, which teaches Delawareans about forest ecosystems. Much of the programming takes place at the outdoor woodland classroom located at UD’s Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown. Abbott also utilizes woodland classrooms at Delaware State University and Blackbird State Forest.

Abbott works with both adult and youth groups but especially enjoys training childcare providers because they help very young children become attuned to nature.

“Exposure to the natural world is an essential part of growing up,” says Abbott. “It increases a child’s awareness and improves observational skills.”

“In the winter, I do an activity with childcare providers and other visitors that encourage them to fully utilize their senses,” adds Abbott. “Without the visual distractions of green leaves and bright flowers, they may find it easier to tune into auditory stimuli — the crunch of dry, withered leaves under foot, the whistle of the wind, the calls of noisy blue jays or the high-pitched, whistling call of the Eastern screech owl.”

She encourages visitors to fine-tune their sense of smell, too. Though most of us don’t think of winter as being a particularly fragrant time of year, Abbott says to think again. Decaying leaves give off an earthy, musky scent; fox dens offer pungent smells and pine trees have a crisp, clean scent that’s synonymous with the holidays.

Abbott uses those pine trees, as well as other trees, to illustrate different textures found in nature. Some bark is smooth, such as on the American beech; some is ridged, like on a tulip poplar; some is peeling or flaky, like that of the yellow birch or sycamore.

As for pine, the texture depends on the species. While most pines have thick and scaly barks, a few species have thin, flaking barks.

To Jimmy Buffett, a change in latitude brings about a change in attitude. For Abbott, as she leads her woodland classrooms tours, it’s all about a change in altitude.

She’s not talking anything drastic, though, just the change in altitude found when one squats or kneels rather than stands erect. “Get down low and you’ll notice all sorts of things on the forest floor,” says Abbott. “If you’re near a riverbank you may see small black insects — these are stoneflies, one of the few insects that are active during a Delaware winter. You may see chipmunks, a cache of nuts under a tree, animal tracks or scat. If you had remained standing, you may not have noticed any of these things.”

And if you hadn’t braved the cold and ventured out, you definitely wouldn’t have seen any of these things.

Abbott offers free, one-hour guided tours of the outdoor woodland classroom to groups, individuals and families. She also offers a forest ecosystem lesson to groups who are not able to travel to the outdoor classroom. For reservations and more information, call Abbott at 302-730-4000 or email her at [dotad@udel.edu].

Article by Margo McDonough

This article with accompanying photos, can be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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Changing seasons provide varied birding opportunities

January 10, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

One of the things that Derek Stoner likes most about living in Delaware is that every season brings new things to see and enjoy outdoors. Birding is a great example of nature’s diversity throughout the year.

“Birding in January, when owls are breeding, is a lot different than birding in July, when shorebirds flock to the Delaware Bay during their southward migration,” notes Stoner, the past president of the Delmarva Ornithological Society.

Here are some of the avian highlights that each season brings. How many of these birds will you spot in 2011?

Winter

As the New Year begins, the woods come alive with the calls of owls. Delaware’s most-common woodland owl, the great-horned owl, begins nesting now. Listen for its territorial hooting calls at night. The Eastern screech owl is also active and makes a trilling call. So how do you identify all those trills and hoots? Before heading out, Stoner suggests listening to owl calls at this website.

In February, take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project throughout the U.S. and Canada. Last year’s count tallied more than 11 million birds of 602 species. Beyond the important scientific data that’s collected, the count generates excitement for birders, notes Chris Williams, UD assistant professor of wildlife ecology. Get involved by visiting this website.

Spring

In late April and the first half of May, birders flock to White Clay Creek State Park, where warblers, tanagers, orioles and other migrants are attracted to the large expanse of healthy woodlands. The best time to see lots of migrants, says Stoner, is after a night with steady winds from the south.

If you want to see red knots in the spring, there’s one place to go — Mispillion Harbor on the Delaware Bay, which attracts up to 90 percent of all the red knots in the world during this time period. Red knots fuels up on horseshoe crabs at the harbor. Check them out from the observation deck of the DuPont Nature Center. For a map and directions, visit the DuPont Nature Center website.

Summer

Summertime to Carrie Murphy means the return of the American goldfinch. This small finch is attracted to native perennials in her garden, including echinacea, black-eyed Susan and hardy ageratum. In its spring plumage, the brilliant yellow-and-black male looks like he belongs in a tropical rain forest instead of a Delaware backyard. Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, says the goldfinch also likes annual sunflowers.

In July, look for blue grosbeaks, gorgeous blue birds with silvery bills. Doug Tallamy finds a pair nesting in his dogwood tree every July. “The male sings from May to September every morning for two hours,” says Tallamy, the chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Applied Ecology.

Want to attract blue grosbeaks to your own yard? “Blue grosbeaks like to include snake skins in their nests, so if you hang a snake skin up on a fence, you’re more likely to get them,” notes Tallamy.

Late summer is prime time for migrating shorebirds all along the Delaware Bay. Visit the impoundments at Fowler Beach and Broadkill Road of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to see black-necked stilts, black-bellied plovers and many varieties of sandpipers.

Fall

“I like watching hawks fly out of trees to kill unsuspecting rodents during the fall,” says Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. If the thought of watching hawks feasting on rodents makes you lose your lunch, just keep your eyes skyward. The northern tip of Delaware is the place to see hundreds of migrating broad-winged hawks on their way to South America. Check out the Ashland Hawk Watch page.

In November thousands of ducks, geese and swans funnel into the First State to take advantage of the abundant food and resting places. Places like Thousand Acre Marsh, Woodland Beach Wildlife Area and Silver Lake in Rehoboth offer great viewing.

Wrap up the year by taking part in the Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest-running biological survey. Seven Christmas Bird Counts take place in Delaware. Learn more at the Delmarva Ornithological Society website.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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