Marie Gilbert Goes Au Naturel


This past June, I had the opportunity to join Cathy Young and a few teacher naturalists in Smyrna Delaware for the weekend. Cathy is the owner of  Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventure Trips and, I not only learned a lot about frogs, fish, birds and horseshoe crabs, but I did this all with my clothing on. I’ll explain after the jump.

Visit from Canada

A couple of days before I was to join Cathy Young at the Mallard Lodge, Andy Burns from Biff Bam Pop! came down to visit his posse from New Jersey. We had lots of fun and even went on a ghost investigation, which I’ll be posting about later this month. While this was going on, I had met with Glenn Walker, a good friend and the senior editor of Biff Bam Pop!. Glenn and I were making plans to take Andy out to lunch, followed by a group of us going to see the new Poltergeist film. I was telling Glenn about my upcoming nature trip.


Glenn seemed really interested and asked, “What type of trip is this?”

“It’s a naturalist trip in Smyrna Delaware,” I replied eagerly, then wondered why Glenn looked so shocked.

“What exactly are you doing on this um… naturalist… trip?” Glenn asked.

I went into a long description of all the activities that were offered and, even did a pantomime of how we would need to bend over to accurately count the horseshoe crabs as they crawled onto land. I can only imagine what was going on in Glenn’s mind when I added, “If you want, I could take pictures for the site.” Glenn’s ‘deer in headlights’ expression made me ask, “What?”


You had to see the look of relief on Glenn’s face when he realized that I meant nature and not nudist and that this camping trip would be done fully dressed.

The Trip

Cathy Young and I were co-workers at the Academy of Natural Sciences before she started her own nature trips adventure company. Her trips are geared for families and the locations she chooses are mostly within driving range, while others are a longer drive. She hires scientists and naturalists who know everything there is to know about fossils, fauna and flora. It’s like camping with Bill Nye the science guy.


Denise Ferraro and I are hired as the camp cooks and we have the run of the large kitchen at the Mallard Lodge. The lodge is usually booked for large scout groups. The room that Denise and I were assigned to was next to the kitchen, but I had to laugh when I spotted the deer’s head on the wall over my bed. I’ve been doing the weekly review of “Twin Peaks” for Biff Bam Pop! and there was a deer’s head in one of the opening episodes. I quickly sent that photo to Andy Burns to tease him that “Twin Peaks” follows me wherever I go.


On our first night, after all the guests had arrived and were assigned rooms, Denise and I made hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey burgers and tossed salad. Cathy had Darnell Brister who recently graduated from Delaware Valley University with a degree in Wildlife Biology and works for the Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation, take us on a late night walk in search of frogs. He was assisted by Deana Hamilton, a Volunteer Coordinator for the Bucks County SPCA.

This night time adventure required boots and flashlights. I have always loved frogs and it was fun learning to recognize the frogs by their sounds. We found several different species including; Fowlers toad, Leopard Frog, Cricket Frogs and Bull Frogs. We all came back to the lodge tired and ready to hit the sack.


The next morning, Denise and I served hot coffee and a Continental breakfast before the group headed out to do some bird watching. The group piled into several cars and off we went to the beautiful Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. On this trip, we took cameras and binoculars. Karenne Snow and Tina Hay led this expedition.

Tina Hay was a museum educator at the Academy of Natural Sciences and also managed the Live Animal Outreach Program. Tina was a science teacher at Abington Friends School and a Teacher/Naturalist at Peace Valley Nature Center and Honey Hollow (Bucks County). She was also part of a volunteer effort that tagged and counted horseshoe crabs in the late 90’s.


Karenne Snow majored in geology at Rutgers College. She also worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in the Malacology Department before moving to the museum side as a Teacher/Naturalist and Public Programs Coordinator. She has helped Cathy Young both at the Academy and with Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures doing mineral, gems, fossil collecting trips, birding, and canoe trips. Karenne Snow is the past President of the Burlington County Natural Sciences Club.

The goal for the day was not only to spot as many shore birds as possible, but also the illusive Barn Owl. As we were ending the outing, Tina found the Barn Owl. I’m usually a klutz when it comes to binoculars, but that day, I was able to spot all the birds on the list, including: American Bald Eagles, Immature Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, and last but not least, the Barn Owl.


After lunch, Darnell took the group out to look for snakes and turtles. I stayed at the lodge. I wanted to go, I really did, but there is something that scares me more than zombies; Ticks! Yeah, I’m a big sissy when it comes to ticks and Cathy wouldn’t allow me to take a flamethrower on the hike.

Crabs Delight

The big awaited event was on Saturday night. Denise and I got a break from the kitchen and everyone headed over to Boondocks Restaurant for their famous steamed crabs before attending a class given by Anthony Jackson, the Horseshoe expert. Anthony graduated from Auburn University with a Master’s degree in Aquaculture with a Ecology minor.



His thesis research was on determining the benefits of oyster reef structure and bio-activity for transient fish populations. He is presently an Environment Educator with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, specializing in wetland education with an emphasis on brackish marsh. Anthony also maintains a live specimen display at the Aquatic Resource Education Center and developing a wetland restoration manual for the state.


Getting in touch with nature is vital to my mental health and I always look forward to these trips with Cathy Young. I love watching the adults and children getting excited about the creatures that share this world with us.

Mady with horseshoe crabs
Mady with horseshoe crabs

Here I am playing with the horseshoe crabs. Did you know that horseshoe crabs were here on this planet before the dinosaur? Besides laying eggs that help feed migrating birds on their long journeys, horseshoe crabs are also vital for medical research. Check out why these alien looking creatures are so important and why we must protect them.


I hope you enjoyed my nature adventure and although I’m not writing about ghosts or zombies, when you realize how fast our forests and wetlands are disappearing, this reality is freaking scarier than the walking dead

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