Snow (geese) in the forecast

Snow (Geese) in the Forecast

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” website includes this sentence: “Watching huge flocks of Snow Geese swirl down from the sky, amid a cacophony of honking, is a little like standing inside a snow globe.” In winter, those of us living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are right there in that snow globe. My drive to the Arboretum passes by numerous farm fields, and each winter I’m freshly amazed at the blizzard of geese on all sides.

During the summer months, snow geese breed in the Canadian and North Alaskan tundra. Females build shallow scrape nests that they line with their own downy feathers. Social to the extreme, these medium-sized geese with thick necks and pink bills can form flocks of up to several hundred thousand. They migrate along all four of North America’s largest flyways, wintering on fields and in wetlands, where they forage for grasses, sedges, rushes, roots, tubers, and other vegetation. Female snow geese will spend up to eighteen hours a day foraging, which may explain the astonishing six to fifteen droppings they produce each hour.

In 1916, the hunting of snow geese was prohibited due to low population levels. Hunting was reintroduced in the 1970s following a significant increase in the population levels, which continued to rise in the years that followed. This is a good thing for cold weather lovers like myself: snow or no snow, we can count on the geese to bring some winter white to the landscape.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director

Master Naturalist training…exploring nature


Maryland Master Naturalist training is in its fourth month. So far, we have explored the worlds of botany, ecology, interpretation, and ornithology. Our training has taken us to Adkins Arboretum, Phillips Wharf, and Pickering Creek, partnered host sites that provide a unique outdoor classroom experience. Our next class will focus on insects, integrated pest management, and natural science.

A new class will begin in October 2017 and meet on the third Wednesday of each month cqrol oysterthrough July 2018. Please consider joining us. The Master Naturalist program began in 2011 as a pilot program focusing on the Coastal Plain. We have graduated four classes: 2011, 2013, 2015-16, and 2016-17. For more information, please e-mail me at

Robyn Affron
Master Naturalist Facilitator

Woodpeckers & winter birds

Looking for a flash of red this season? The downy woodpecker provides color in backyard

bird feeders throughout winter, feeding on suet when its usual diet of insects, seeds, and berries is restricted by cold weather. In addition to the slow drumming sound made by pecking trees, this species of woodpecker is characterized by a short “pik” call. Downy woodpeckers roost in tree cavities to shelter from winter’s chill.

Downy woodpeckers are the smallest of North America’s woodpeckers, with a length of between 5 and 7 inches and a weight of around one ounce. Downies are mostly black, with a white back, throat, and belly. They have white spots on their wings and white bars above and below their eyes. Juveniles sport red caps, and adult males have a red patch on the back of their heads.

Backyard birders can lure downy woodpeckers to their yards with suet feeders. Different birds prefer different food: goldfinches and song sparrows are partial to nyjer seed, while nuthatches, jays, chickadees, and purple finches prefer black oil sunflower. Millet attracts Eastern towhees and dark-eyed juncos, and cardinals enjoy dining on safflower. Robins, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings are fond of fruit: add a handful of raisins to the feeder to attract these birds.

To enjoy winter birds in the wild, visit the Arboretum in the weeks ahead. Some birds have migrated, but many are still active in the Arboretum’s thickets, meadows, and woodlands. If you’re lucky, you might even hear the “pik” of the downy or see a spot of red through the trees.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director

Of mice and geocaches

Running my hands along the underpinnings of the bridge, I rummaged through last fall’s damp leaves for the geocache hidden there. I was certain I was in the exact spot where the small plastic box was located when…pop! A small mouse leapt from the dry foliage, its beady black eyes reflecting my own surprise. The box, as it turned out, lay three inches to the right of the mouse’s nest. I swapped the cache and its soggy contents for a fresher box and beat a hasty retreat, apologizing to the mouse along the way.

Maintaining Adkins Arboretum’s three geocaches is one of the many fun and exciting parts of my Arboretum job description. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS devices.  Caches contain an assortment of trinkets, a stamp, and a logbook. After entering their names and the date in the geocache logbook, geocachers stamp their own logbooks, take a trinket, and leave a trinket of their own for the next geocacher to find.

Adkins Arboretum’s geocache coordinates are listed at A number of geocaches are also hidden in the surrounding Tuckahoe State Park. Have tech-crazy kids at home? Are you tech crazy? Geocaching is a great way to combine a love of electronics with the great outdoors. Take it from me: you’ll never know what you might find.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director

Partners in the community

For the past three years, Adkins Arboretum has provided on-site job training experiences to Me & Jacobstudents with special needs in cooperation with the Transition Center Program of Caroline County Public Schools. The Arboretum also partners with the local Benedictine School to provide opportunities for Benedictine students. This has proven to be a rewarding experience for staff and volunteers alike…and is another example of amazing partnerships happening right here in Caroline County.
by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator