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Photo by Kellen McCluskey

Thursday, September 9

Join Saturday's Reception for Artist

Rob Brownlee-Tomasso

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Rob Brownlee-Tomasso, "Tuckahoe State Park (Creekside Cliffs)," acrylic and earth on canvas

Rob Brownlee-Tomasso's Eastern Shore landscapes are action packed and eye grabbing. Bristling with compressed energy and startling perspective, they are painted on large, angular, shaped canvases textured with local earth and sand and often sporting sticks, hardware, or other found objects.


For Natural Constructs, his collection of paintings on view through October in the Visitor's Center gallery, the Denton artist painted bold, colorful scenes inspired by his hiking and birding visits to the woods, marshes, bays, and ocean in both Maryland and Delaware. While the subjects are common Eastern Shore sights, Brownlee-Tomasso's works are unexpected and anything but common.


Please join us Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. for a reception to meet the artist and learn about his work and techniques. We hope to see you!

Sunday Smoothie 'n Walk

Sunday is shaping up to be a beautiful sunny late-summer day! What better way to spend it than exploring the sunny meadow?


Take a walk with a Master Naturalist to look for spreading goldenrod, waving brown grasses, pollinators on milkweed, and the colors of bluebirds and sumac berries. Afterward, enjoy a blueberry green tea smoothie and other seasonal goodies at the Pavilion.


The walk begins at noon on the Visitor's Center patio and is $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Spots are limited! Click here to register.

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FALL EVENTS

A LITTLE TOUCH

OF SHAKESPEARE

September 18 & 19

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FOREST MUSIC

Saturday, September 25



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BEER GARDEN

Saturday, October 23

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Nature Notes

During the brief window of time when we hoped that Fairyfest 2021 would triumph over COVID, I took a pleasant walk along the Lower Blockston Branch to choose a location for our Elfin Throne. Upon sharing my final choice with a colleague, I was warned, "Just be careful where you place the decorations; that’s where the fishing spider lives!"


"Of course," I nodded gravely. "I wouldn’t dream of disturbing the fishing spider." Secretly, I wondered: What or who is the fishing spider? And so began another bout of research.

 

With a name well suited to fairytales ("Don’t wander too close to the water’s edge, children, or the Fishing Spider will get you!"), fishing spiders are similar in size to wolf spiders and belong to the genus Dolomedes. Unlike wolf spiders, fishing spiders use water in lieu of webs, sensing prey (and predators) through ripples rather than draglines.


There are 100 species of fishing spiders worldwide, many sporting a pale stripe lengthwise down their bodies. All species are covered in short, velvety hairs. The hairs serve to trap air when the spider submerges in streams or ponds to hunt for aquatic insects (or even small fish and tadpoles!). Encased in a silvery film of air, the spider is able to remain underwater for as long as thirty minutes. The hairs also increase surface tension, allowing the spider to skim across the water.

Dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus)

Photo by Katja Schulz/Wikimedia Commons

In spring, female fishing spiders lay their eggs on a silky blanket that they wrap into a ball. The egg sac is carried in the mother’s jaws until she finds a suitable place to attach it. Many arachnids would consider their parenting duty done at this point, but fishing spiders stand guard until their spiderlings emerge. Each spiderling—they can number in the hundreds!—sails away on its own gleaming threads. The young spiders will spend the winter hibernating in tree cavities or under leaves and bark, emerging in spring to begin the cycle again.


My youngest spiderling (actually, my daughter) has a Frozen poster in her room with the caption "Nature is magic." Whether or not you are a fan of the movies, the sentiment rings true. Nature always has something up her sleeve that will enchant. From silvery, secretive fishing spiders to toadstools and shaggy moss, the forest is your fairyfest.


by Jenny Houghton

Assistant Director

The Mallard

My original intent for this week's article was to answer the question "Are birds dinosaurs?" I quickly became bogged down with trying to distill the information into one or two succinct pages, so I decided just to answer the question and pick a different topic.


Are birds dinosaurs? Yes.


On to the Mallard!


The Mallard is probably the most common and widespread duck in the world. It is a common visitor to the wetlands at Adkins, but I do not know if they have ever raised a family there. It is native to North America, Eurasia, and North Africa and has been introduced to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Falkland Islands, and South Africa. In North America, it breeds in the U.S. (except in the southernmost areas) and almost all of Canada up to the Arctic tundra. In the northernmost areas, it migrates to the southern U.S. and into northern Mexico. See the range map here. Mallards can be found almost everywhere there is fresh water, from your backyard pool to suburban parks and marshes. The Mallard is omnivorous, eating seeds, stems, roots, sedges, grasses, pondweeds, smartweeds, acorns, other tree seeds, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, frogs, earthworms, and small fish.

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Left: A Mallard hen. Right: A Mallard Drake.

Flickr photos courtesy of hedera.baltica and shell game, respectively.

Ducks have two basic feeding habits: they dive or dabble for food. Dabbling is feeding by upending their bodies with the tail vertically out of the water and the head searching for food below the surface. The Mallard is a dabbling duck but can walk on grassy areas searching for food or handouts. The illustration at right shows Jemima, Drake, and Rebeccah Puddleduck dabbling while searching for Tom Kitten's clothes.


The Mallard is the largest of all dabbling ducks. It is approximately 22 inches long, has a wingspan of 36 inches, and weighs about two pounds. Ducks Unlimited describes it as very edible. One of the fascinating things I learned in doing research is that all domestic ducks (except for the Muscovy Duck) originated with the Mallard. This includes the all-white Pekin Duck and the Asylesbury, Rouen, Call, Indian Runner, Khaki Campbell, Cayuga, Albio, Maya, and Tsaiya. They all share a common characteristic of two curled feathers (sometimes three) on the rear end. Each curled feather is made up of two interlocking feathers.


Mallards start pairing off in fall and extend courting into the winter. In spring, the female builds a nest by gathering grasses and twigs from the immediate area around the nest. The nest is typically on the ground and close to water, but Mallards have been known to nest in tree cavities, gardens, open sheds, and even hanging planters. She lines the nest with plucked feathers and lays 8 to 13 eggs that take about 28 days to hatch. The young are precocial and leave the nest within a day after hatching. Mom provides protection for the young, but they are on their own to find food.


Unpaired male Mallards have a dark side in the spring. Multiple males sometimes pursue a female and attempt a forced copulation. They can injure the female and even kill her. Male Mallards, other ducks, geese, and swans have an organ called the "intromittent organ," which is sort of, kind of, but not quite equivalent to the human male sexual organ. Females of these species are equipped in a similar way to human females. If you want to read more about these species' reproductive systems, you can look it up.


Mallards make the quack that we typically associate with a duck. Other ducks croak, squeak, whistle, or remain mute. It is the female Mallard that makes the familiar "quack." Listen here. The male's "quack" sounds like he has a bad case of laryngitis.


Ducks have an unusual way of molting their feathers. Most birds do a "sequential molt" where they lose their flight feathers one at a time, allowing them to always be able to fly. Most waterfowl have a "simultaneous wing molt," typically in spring or early summer, where they lose all their primary feathers at once. This means that until the flight feathers grow back (about 20–40 days), the bird cannot fly.


About a third of the ducks, geese, and swans that spend winter along the Atlantic Coast do so in the Chesapeake Bay. They start arriving in mid-October, so clean your binoculars and get ready to head to the Bay and its tributaries.


If you have any questions, please contact me at wlsngang@verizon.net.


Jeobirdy Answer: The name of this locomotive has the world speed record for a steam-powered engine, at 126 mph.


Jeobirdy Question: What is the Mallard? Doing a search for "mallard" turned up this interesting bit of trivia.


Jeobirdy Answer: This is the number of duck species that are common in the U.S.


Jeobirdy Question: What is 36? There are 36 species of diving, dabbling, and sea ducks, but this number is debatable.



by Jim Wilson

Arboretum volunteer and birder


Puddleduck image courtesy of The Project Gutenberg ebook of The Tale of Tom Kitten, by Beatrix Potter.

Photo by Kellen McCluskey


Jim's bird identification series, From Coo to Who Cooks For You, begins next Tuesday, September 14, and runs weekly through October 19. A few spots are available! Click here to register.

THE GREAT FAIRY HOUSE CHALLENGE

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A trail of fanciful fairy houses will flank the woodland paths during Fairy Month, and yours could be among them if you enter The Great Fairy House Challenge!


The theme may be anything you wish, but houses must be constructed of natural materials and should be sturdy enough to withstand a month outdoors. Prizes will be awarded!


Click here for entry regulations, and be sure to email Jenny Houghton by WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15 (next week!) 15 if you plan to participate.

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