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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wildlife in Winter, Part III

The weather could not have been more perfect for the event!

On Saturday, we gathered at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve for the third and final installment of this year’s Wildlife in Winter Series, focused on migration. Naturalist Holly Merker led the group through the preserve, drawing our attention to the role our local area plays in the migratory routes of many species.    

Getting a closer look at hawks and geese

We saw (and heard) many birds during the workshop. Some, like nuthatches and woodpeckers, were regular visitors to the preserve, while others, such as the Canada geese and red-tailed hawks we spotted overhead, were visitors from afar. Holly spoke about the many species of birds who pass through our local area during their regular migrations, such as the Red Knot. This amazing bird breeds in the Arctic before traveling up to 10,000 miles to warmer climates during its migration. We may be lucky enough to spot the red knot during its migration this summer, as it often passes through on its way to nearby shores, where it finds much-needed replenishment in the eggs of horseshoe crabs.

A red knot looking for horseshoe crab eggs on the shore
 We stopped at a vernal pond and learned to identify the chirps and croaks of several different species of frogs and toads. Frogs and toads must migrate to ponds in order to lay their eggs. The migration from nest to pond may seem like a minor distance to us. However, when a development such as a road is built between a toad’s primary habitat and the nearest pond, what was once a simple journey becomes quite an adventure. If you happen to see a frog, toad, or salamander trying to cross the road on a rainy day, stop!!! And perhaps even help them along (as long as it is safe to do so), like this group in Roxborough.

The group checks out a tadpole that came to the pond's surface

Our walk ended up at one of the Red Clay Creek’s feeder creeks. Holly showed us some of the many macroinvertebrates that had found homes on the sides of rocks at the water's edge, like the water penny larva. Not only do these tiny creatures serve as food for the fish that migrate through the creek, they are extremely sensitive to foreign toxins such as pesticides and oil runoff, so their presence is a sign that the creek is clean and untainted by chemicals.  

Holly pointing out a water penny to the group

Today, the creek is shallow enough that you could easily cross it by foot. But hundreds of years ago, before dams were constructed by European settlers, it was deep and wide enough to accommodate for the size of much larger fish, who traveled upstream from the ocean, like Atlantic salmon and sea bass. I can only imagine what it must have looked like to see a huge sturgeon swimming up the creek at Bucktoe, which was probably not such an uncommon sight for the Lenape tribes who once populated our area. 

Holly had a wealth of knowledge to share about pretty much everything in sight. I think all who attended now have a better understanding of the role our area plays in the migration of so many creatures, countless numbers of which travel in and out of Bucktoe each day. The workshop was a great ending to our Wildlife in Winter series, and a perfect lead-in to the many programs we have coming up in the spring. Coming up next at Bucktoe is our Bat Workshop, March 23rd from 10:00am-2:00pm. Bats often stop in Bucktoe's wooded areas as they migrate, and during the workshop we'll talk about the importance of protecting them and their habitats!

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