Start receiving our award-winning magazine today!



In Sight

Story Highlights
  • Get out and visit one of our nature preserves.
  • Share your observations and inspire others to visit and protect Delaware's natural landscapes.

Winter Reflection
January 2014
by Laura Young
Winter 2014 Intern, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

January is ending. It seems strange that the last four weeks went by so quickly. On the other hand, it feels like I experienced much more than a month’s worth of accomplishments.

I have been working as an intern at The Nature Conservancy in Delaware. On my first day, my boss, John Graham, said to me: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not your boss. We’re equals.” And I truly have felt like a part of The Nature Conservancy team ever since.

It was a month of many surprises for me. I learned to do things I never imagined myself doing, like hauling fallen trees off trails and mapping shortleaf pine restoration sites. And I achieved some things that even John never imagined me doing, like redesigning the bird checklists at McCabe and Ponders preserves.

There were ten-degree days and stormy days, days in the office and days spent in the truck. But small moments of beauty out in the Conservancy’s preserves made up for all that: a winter wren singing atop a dead tree; a stand of rare cedars next to the water; the yellow flash of a heron’s stare; the pale green needles of a shortleaf pine seedling taking root in a restored plot at Ponders.

That seedling reminds me of my time at the Nature Conservancy. My internship may be coming to an end, but some part of me has taken root here. I have a lot of growing left to do, starting with earning my degree in Wildlife Conservation this spring. But I have left my mark at Ponders and McCabe, and it’s clear that I’ll always be a part of the Nature Conservancy’s network.

One month in the grand scheme of my education doesn’t sound like a lot. It’s funny how the right internship can turn a month of experience into a lifetime of opportunities.

August Bird Watching
July 2013
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

If one can bear the bugs, August is an excellent time to go bird watching!

The beaches and marshlands of Milford Neck and other sites on the Delaware Bay host an impressive collection of birds. On the southbound route, Ruddy Turnstones can be found in good numbers beginning in early July with the peak of their migration in November. Red Knots, the flagship species for imperiled shorebirds begins its arrival here in late July with most birds moving further south by mid-August. Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Western Sandpipers, and Least Sandpipers can be found up and down the Delaware Bay from July through October, but August has most of these species here in large numbers.

Larger, and more showy species such as American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and Glossy Ibis can be found in the marshes in good numbers beginning in mid-July through end of August. Some of these species are here throughout the entire breeding season, but numbers increase through fall migration as birds breeding to the north arrive briefly in Delaware.

Visitors to the Delaware Bayshore and associated marshes will usually be treated to sightings of Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret and several other marvelous species. Careful observers may find American Bittern, Least Bittern, Black Rail, and Virginia Rail along the edges of the marsh as tide recedes exposing the mudflats. These birds are here for most or all of the year but become less secretive in late summer following breeding season.

So, get out this August and see some birds.

DE Staff Escapes the Office for a Workday
May 2013
by CJ Walsh
Associate Director of Philanthropy, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

What does the Nature Conservancy do with all of the land that it owns and protects in Delaware?  We certainly don’t sit around and watch grow.

In fact, my talented conservation colleague John Graham, who has served the Delaware Chapter as Land Steward for the last 13 years, specializes in creating forests from fields.

Forests from fields? Are you out of your mind?  

John will frequently remind anyone within earshot that while, in pre-Columbian times, native peoples certainly practiced agriculture, most of Delaware was once covered by forest – a mix of hardwoods and pines. With the arrival of Dutch, Swedish and English settlers, said forest became framing, firewood and fence posts. In their place came rows upon rows of crops ranging from tobacco and cotton to corn and soybeans, stretching from the Inland Bays to the Brandywine Valley.  

Over the years, through the generosity of landowners, the Conservancy has acquired some of those former agricultural lands. If left fallow, these fields would eventually become forests. However, John jump-starts forest growth using a technique known as “habitat islands” in order to attract songbirds and other wildlife which prefer dense forests like those witnessed at our Ponders and McCabe nature preserves to the open fields that cover Kent and Sussex counties.

A “habitat island” is as simple as it sounds. Plant a large number of native trees and shrubs in the middle of a large field and enclose it with a deer fence. Fill the field surrounding the island with thousands of saplings. While forest-dwelling songbirds rarely venture out into fields to eat due to the winged threat from raptors above, they will visit a densely-packed habitat island to rest, feed and nest. Upon departure, they will also deposit seeds through droppings across surrounding fields, encouraging new vegetation and forest growth.

In less than five years, John’s efforts to establish multiple habitat islands at our Milford Neck Nature Preserve has aided in converting soybean fields into young woods featuring six-foot tall trees, shrubs and plenty of cover for winged and four-legged animals. Give it a decade and you’ll see a young forest, and after 40 years, John’s habitat islands will have helped to completely reforest former farmlands.

All of this took place thanks to support from our generous members and initial funding from the State of Delaware’s carbon sequestration program. Watching the results unfold make us feel very grateful.

2013 Spring Planting Success
April 2013
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

At the beginning of April I was blessed to have the able assistance of 6 longtime volunteers who produced a combined total of 43 hours of hard work to install 300 bare-root shortleaf pine seedlings at our Ponders Tract. This project, which has been led by volunteer labor since 2011, is intended to restore shortleaf pine to its original upland sandy habitat at Ponders.

Keith Douglass, the lead researcher for this project, was unfortunately not able to make it down from his Master’s work at Temple University, but there was plenty of involvement from folks previously involved with the shortleaf pine project and other projects at Ponders to give the event a bit of a reunion spirit. We also had our winter intern, Angela Zappalla, who did most of the 2013 site assessment and GIS mapping ahead of the planting and helped with site clearing.

Thanks to warm and sunny weather we found a rough green snake and fence post lizard on the site. The little snake was found early in the day and barely moving from the cold morning, but the lizard was nearly as active as any summer fence post lizard you might glimpse. We also found ticks, heard buckets of New Jersey chorus frogs and had a very close encounter with a pair of Pine Warblers. All in all, it was an enjoyable and highly productive day. 

Ponder-ing Frogs in Spring
March 2013
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

This time of year, several frogs can be heard at the Ponders Tract. It’s a pretty froggy place.

The breeding activity has already started; in fact frogs started calling way back in January when I heard New Jersey Chorus frogs singing, likely since it was a very warm day with temperatures reaching above 60° F. 

Not long after that, Northern Spring Peeper started calling. Any warmish night through mid-May will have them calling.

Pickerel Frog will occasionally be heard anytime between mid-March and early April depending on rainfall.

Southern Leopard Frog is out there too, but I am not sure of its relative abundance. The call of this species may be confused with the call of the Wood Frog, an explosive breeder heard singing on only a very few evenings in late March. More research on determining the relative abundance and/or presence/absence of both these species at Ponders is needed.

From the middle of April on into summer, Cope’s Gray Treefrog will occasionally be heard at Ponders. This species, by the way, is thought to be an indicator species for high quality wetlands, of which Ponders protects several sites.

Northern Green Frog, making a call note similar to the pluck of a single banjo string, can be heard in several places around Ponders.  Their breeding season gets going in late April or early May and can last through early summer.

Eastern Cricket Frog, Delmarva’s smallest frog, begin calling in late spring and carry on well into summer, with peak season being between May and June.

The “classic” frog – American Bullfrog – can be heard from mid-spring through late summer. American Bullfrog, of all the species mentioned above, is the species most likely to be seen by hikers using Ponders.

And not to slight a good toad:  Fowler’s Toad can be heard at Ponders from late April to early June. Day hikers should look for Fowler’s Toad along Ponders Road and the sunny dry sections of the Connector Spur trail.

It is important to note, that most frogs and toads are heard, not seen. These species have an uncanny ability to detect human presence. When walking, if one hears frogs, the best strategy to hearing more frogs is to stand still and listen. Often when frogs detect humans, the singing stops. It will resume calling after a few minutes as long as things stay quiet.

Field Visit Cures Intern's Cabin Fever
February 2013
by Felicity Laird
Intern, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

Lately, I have been itching to get outside, even if the weather has been brutally cold. There is something refreshing about being alone out in the woods. Some find it scary, but I find it comforting. So when our Land Steward John Graham asked if I was interested in tagging along one day during his field work I responded with a quick "yes".

After scoping out the Delaware field office, John and I made our way down to the Edward H. McCabe Preserve to pick up some equipment for our day's work. The woods at McCabe were beautiful and then after a long walk I was treated with a view of the Broadkill River. McCabe is a interesting place. You would think that southern Delaware would be completely flat. Yet, the preserve is unique with a diverse topography and an array of tree species I never knew existed in the state.

Following this brief introduction to one of our preserves, John and I made our way down to the Ponders Tract Trails System, a place that I am more familiar with. Three years ago, as part of an extra credit opportunity for a college class, my friends and I volunteered to clear trails at Ponders for the Conservancy.

My second visit to Ponders was a very different experience. I helped clear loblolly pines to assist with a project laid out by John and the chapter's stewardship intern. We did a bit of ecological restoration to clear out these pines to ensure that the newly planted short-leaf pines, a sand loving soil species, could thrive. In the future, John hopes to plant additional vegetation once thought to be native to the area in an effort to welcome back species once common in the state of Delaware.

While clearing 30-foot pine trees was a grueling task, it felt great to be outside. It felt even better knowing that I was helping the landscape return to it's former glory. I may have returned from my trip a bit scathed with pine rash, I smelled like the Christmas season for an entire day afterwards.

Mother Nature Shows Her Patriotism
July 2012
by Hilary Sullivan
Summer Intern, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

It’s impossible to think about July without thoughts of family, fireworks and other nods to the nation’s Independence Day celebration. And there is no better way to celebrate our nation – and especially the “First State” – than getting outside and enjoying our native plants!

During July, make sure to plan a visit to explore our nature preserves. While there, look for these flowers that are blooming right now in Red, White and Blue!


Trumpet Honeysuckle is a climbing vine with fragrant orange-red flowers that can be found in sunny spots. Similar in flower shape, Cardinal Flower is a striking stalk covered in elongated red flowers. Having trouble finding either one? Follow the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds who are attracted to the red color of both and love the nectar that each provide.


Whorled Milkweed and Dogbane are two plants that attract many insects. Each has a long stalk with clusters of white flowers gathered at the top. You can tell the difference because Milkweed will have a single cluster and Dogbane will have multiple clusters off of a purple-red stem. Look for them in sunny locations at Ponders Tract and McCabe.


While Blue flowers aren’t as common in mid-summer as red or white, you can find them if you look hard enough! Look for the elusive Relaxed Spiderwort near the ground in dry locations at Ponders Tract. These small blue flowers top wispy stems at about 6 inches off the ground. Also in sunny spots at Ponders and McCabe, look for Great Blue Lobelia which grows about 12 inches high and has small blue flowers spurting off a central spike.

Visit McCabe This Spring
March 2012
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

Early spring is a great time to visit the Conservancy's McCabe Preserve. With several habitat types throughout mixed hardwood/pine woodlands with varied terrain, and trails along river frontage with lowland swamps, birding at McCabe in early spring is a rewarding experience.

Species such as Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Pine Warbler should be easy to spot in early spring. Yellow-throated Warbler, while less common, can be found lurking along the river and associated bottom lands. Extra observant birders may even find Blue-headed Vireo early in the season and Northern Parula later in the season.
Get on out early, early migrants are soon to arrive. Eastern Wood Pewee and Eastern Phoebe should be showing up in early April. Black-and-White Warbler won’t be far behind. By early May, things are really happening!
Visitors coming often will find an ever changing woodland community with good birds to be seen along farmland hedgerows too.  Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting are easily found later in the spring. Searching the woods, good birders ought to find Scarlet Tanager nesting in the big woods near the river.
So come to McCabe this spring. You’ll be glad that you did!

Spring Planting Cold, but Successful 
April 2011
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

On a cold, windy Saturday morning in April, 13 students from the University of Delaware's Sustainable Development class and 13 additional volunteers representing Dover Air Force Base, Bank of America or just themselves came together to begin the first part of a new reforestation project at the Conservancy's Milford Neck Preserve. 

Utilizing funding from Delaware’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Projects Grant Program, the Conservancy and this army of volunteers continued with reforestation efforts at Milford Neck that aims to restore another 60 acres of farmland to the native forest type that once grew throughout most of Kent County’s Delaware Bay estuary. As an added benefit to the state, this project will sequester approximately 17,500 tons of fuel emission carbon over the life of the project while providing valuable wildlife habitat. 

Saturday’s volunteers planted 433 native trees and shrubs into one large habitat island designed to attract wildlife to the new project site as a method of hastening the process of succession.

Funding for this planting as direct match to the Grant Program came from AstraZeneca and the GreenWatch Institute, Inc. AstraZeneca contributed funds for the purchase of the plants and GreenWatch funds were utilized to purchase mulch and deer exclosure fencing, which is necessary for protecting the new plantings from deer browse and rub.

To me, these University of Delaware students and others who volunteered their time on this cold Saturday are really the heart and backbone of our restoration work at Milford Neck. Without their generous assistance, good work like this would not get done. The Conservancy has been working to restore native habitat at the Milford Neck Preserve since 1998. Collaborative efforts such as this are responsible for our successes.

Ditching the Desk for a Day in the Field
February 2011
by Katie Majewski
Operations Specialist, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

“Oh, now this is a day to remember!” exclaims Delaware Chapter land steward, John Graham, as we watch a large male harrier swoop over the marsh at Milford Neck. Males of this species are hard to find, a fact that if you didn’t know you could easily surmise by John’s sheer excitement. Out in the field, John is like a kid in a candy shop; his enthusiasm – and incredible knowledge – are contagious.

I spend most of my days in Wilmington taking care of the Conservancy’s day-to-day functions in Delaware: meetings are planned, bills are paid, mailings go out and emails fly. But I jump at any opportunity to get outside and see what those day-to-day tasks really support. This is why we do what we do. So I pack my lunch, lace up my boots and bundle up for a chilly day in the field.

We start at Milford Neck, exploring the marshlands John has been restoring over the past decade. At first glance, it’s a sparse landscape – flat, brown, grass in every direction. But pause for a moment and really look, and it’s actually a complex and beautiful piece of land.

The ground rises and falls ever so slightly, but in the language of marshland, a few inches can be the difference between a swampy pool and a dense forest. Most of the colorful birds have gone south for the winter, but the marsh is still very much alive. Blue jays, sparrows, blue birds, herons, turkey vultures, and the occasional hawk soar and flit their way around the marshland. Tiny sparrows perch near John’s “habitat islands,” small plots of land with a variety of native plant life that will eventually – with the help of these sparrows and other birds –cover the marsh with trees and vegetation.

From Milford Neck we head to Big Stone Beach, home to one of many horseshoe crab survey beaches along the Delaware Bay. There we pull out a sighting scope and take a look at some sleek little sea ducks as they search for food in the bay. John loves ducks, and it’s clear as we watch them bob and dive in the distance that he cares deeply about this land and water and is justifiably concerned with their well being and protection. Along with the ducks, there are no less than five giant cargo and oil ships looming on the horizon. Over 40 million gallons of crude oil travel up the Delaware Bay every day in route to refineries near Philadelphia. Seeing these massive ships – and knowing their potential for disastrous harm – reinforces how fragile these landscapes are and how important it is for us to protect them: whether it’s from a desk in Wilmington or a pickup truck in Milford.

We end the day with a short hike around the McCabe trails, which are now open after the recent end of deer hunting season. It’s cold, but I can’t help but smile as John identifies birds by their calls and plucks needles from evergreens, encouraging me to experience their fresh, crisp smell. Holly trees make up much of the undergrowth in Delaware’s southern, coastal forests. But these forests are also rich with a variety of shrubs and hardwoods, some of which have been there for more than a century. As our day winds down, I’m grateful for my time in the field. To the untrained eye, it may be flat marshland and woods, but this landscape is complex, fascinating, and very much alive with myriad plants and animals that make Delaware so unique.

Plan a Winter Visit to Ponders
February 2011
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

On Tuesday, February 15th, the Ponders Trails System will re-open after being closed for hunting season. Thus far, unlike last year, winter has been kind to us. Julie McCall, long time volunteer, and Leatitia Bedminster, our former Student Conservation Association intern walked the trails and reported finding them in good conditions throughout the preserve.

As soon as the ground thaws, new trail-side interpretive signs will be installed. Visitors will really like these seven high quality signs, which resemble interpretive signs found at National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges and State Parks across the country. They will be a wonderful addition to the Preserve.

Late winter and early spring are wet times at Ponders. Visitors should expect muddy conditions on all trails and may even encounter sections of trails partially flooded. Having appropriate foot wear such as high-topped waterproof boots will make any visit very enjoyable.

Despite being occasionally dreary, February and March are excellent visiting times at Ponders. Many of our resident birds are busy establishing nesting territories and are easily spotted. Across the Preserve, male woodpeckers can be heard drumming on tree trunks as they search for a mate. The lack of foliage makes these birds highly visible and it can be quite a show as males compete for the best spots.

Early morning visitors, especially those using “Ingram Branch Way,” may encounter Wild Turkey in the trees above the trail, woods alongside trail and,  if lucky, may even find Turkey on the trail.

February days, which often arrive with temperatures below freezing, may seem like a hostile time to visit the woods, but observant hikers will find that signs of spring are everywhere. Our favorite winter-land wonders, like flocks of Snow Goose and giant swarms of Grackles are soon to disappear for yet another year.

It may be muddy, and it may be wet; but visitors will find their reward on quiet trails.

Looking for the Long-eared Owl
November 2010
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

Now that summer has passed us by, the Milford Neck Preserve once again returns to conditions better suited for a visit. With swarms of mosquitoes and other biting flies having for the most part disappeared and many trees in winter silhouette, those with the right timing and patience will be rewarded with sightings of Long-eared owl, which visits Milford Neck’s marshes in about mid-November before heading for northern breeding grounds by March.

Those visiting through the spring and summer seasons will have already noted Barred owl and Great-horned owl. A lucky few may have spied or heard the Eastern Screech-owl. 

During the winter months, Long-eared owls might be found standing on the hummocks of tall pines, as loners on the marsh or in thickly populated stands fronting roads and deciduous forest lands. As nocturnal hunters, Long-eared owls are often seen or heard in the early dusky dawn hours as they return to roost, or on the opposite side of the day just before nightfall as they leave the roost to hunt.  

Timing is everything.

Roughly the size of a crow, Long-eared Owls stand about 15” tall with long ear tufts like those of Great-horned Owl. Their wingspan can reach up to 3 feet across. They have a large vocabulary. Usually a low, long moaning hoooo is the only sign of their presence. However, sometimes they release a raspy whine or dog-like bark. 

Looking to the pines for Long-eared owl is as good a way to pass time as any I can find. A simple drive along Big Stone Beach Road is the best place to do this since the Milford Neck Preserve has sensitive habitats and hunting, as do State Fish and Wildlife lands. Visit just before sunrise or just after sunset for the most magical time on the marsh and then just quietly observe. You won’t regret it.

Commitment Takes on New Meaning at Milford Neck
April 13, 2010
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

I’ll tell you what commitment is.

Commitment is also having spent the entire Delaware winter here: through rain; then dry; then snow; then winds, blowing better’n a gale; then cold…and weighing not much more than those that fly across the gulf; or being much larger: floating on massive wings in search of the very next meal. Commitment is being a mouse, a mole, a vole, or rabbit, fox or deer and sticking it out. Or, commitment is being a grass, waving in winter winds; or bayberry, sassafras, oak, and the rest standing stalwart, steadfast through the years.
I’ll tell you what Commitment is.

It’s volunteering "free" time on a Saturday to plantmore than 360 native Delaware trees and shrubs on a windy Milford Neck knoll before shipping off to Iraq; or after studying geology, biology and ecology at the local University; or after working 40+ behind a desk; or after taking care of family, friends and tending to household chores. Commitment is dedicating a day to planting native trees and shrubs knowing that you will never see them to maturity; knowing that your children’s children will likely not see those plants in their old age; but, knowing that those very same trees and shrubs will be there through the years to support and house generations of migrant and resident birds along their life journeys.

Imagine for a moment: hearing the buzzing of a bee; the whir of dragonfly wings; click of a beetle; croak of a frog; breath of wind across a leaf as it falls to the ground in early morning frost…

All this during a Saturday of Commitment by eleven volunteers gathered at The Nature Conservancy’s Milford Neck Preserve.

My most sincere thanks to all of you who were there that day. Several of “my” long-time volunteers were unable to attend due to other commitments. To those folks: my thanks too. Were it not for other circumstance I know that you would have been there.

Milford Neck in Full Bloom
April 9, 2010
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

Yesterday I heard
Common Yellowthroat and Black-and-white Warbler. Both species most probably arrived out-neck overnight sometime just barely before yesterday morning. A couple days earlier, I also heard Pine Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and and herds of other cool birds. Everyone should go out in the woods this weekend. It is a very long trip across the Gulf of Mexico for birds weighing around 4 ounces. It would be very rude of us not to welcome these tiny travelers.

While you are there, listen and look up. Breeding frogs can be heard in and around nearly any freshwater wet spot in Delaware 

Frog Songs Usher in Spring
March 18, 2010
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

Early breeding frogs can be heard in and around nearly any freshwater wet spot in Delaware, including temporarily flooded lands which may even be your back yard. Listen for chorus frog, spring peeper, northern leopard frog (upstate), southern leopard frog (down state),  wood frog  and pickerel frog. All should be relatively abundant and may call throughout the day. However, early mornings, dusky times and through most of the night are best times.

Other later season frogs may also call through March, but those listed above are most typical.  

It’s a magical time of the year. 

Snowy Landscape Reveals Signs of Spring
February 22, 2010
by John Graham
Land Steward, The Nature Conservancy's Delaware Chapter

Up in the tree tops in the woods around my yard, woodpeckers - downy, hairy, and red-bellied - recently started drumming. I suspect they began even earlier, but like all good humans consumed with what confronts us: I somehow failed to notice.

The early scouts for the fish crow gang that will soon nest in my woods have also arrived. They're an interesting lot, fish crows, in that several generations of birds take part in selecting and defending nesting sites and raising the new brood.

Juncos have started singing in the thickets and around the feeders in my yard: a transition from the endless chicking and clicking of winter sounds. And so it goes too with robins, white-throat sparrow and the ever boisterous Carolina wren.

Somewhere buried in the snow in places like White Clay Creek, and along the mud flats of the Red Clay, Brittingham, Pemberton, and Sowbridge Branch (as well as most of our fresh flatwater streams), skunk cabbage blooms are heating up – melting snow and attracting early beetles and carrabid flies as only this oddity of plants can do. To see this phenomenon elsewhere you need to go to Africa.

To be sure, winter is still here. Out on the Indian River inlet, I saw the usual big rafts of winter ducks – all three scoters, both loons and half a herd of bufflehead mixed in with the usual gull suspects. Also in attendance were a few Long-tailed Duck.

However spring is just around the corner. You’ll see it too. Just take a minute to stand in your back yard and do a little searching. The break will do you good.    

We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

More Ratings

x animal

Sign up for Nature eNews!

Sign Up for Nature e-News

Get our e-newsletter filled with eco-tips and info on the places you care about most.

Thank you for joining our online community!

We’ll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates and exciting stories.

Please leave this field empty

We respect your privacy. The Nature Conservancy will not sell, rent or exchange your e-mail address. Read our full privacy policy for more information. By submitting this form, you agree to the terms of use.