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.

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
Former 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!


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