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Archive for March, 2005

Wildlife stories

WoodfrogCrow’s Nest is a pretty reliable place to see wildlife–but one day last week was particularly good:

While walking in the woods collecting GPS data (more on that later) I stopped to admire a foxhole: it looked warm, cozy, and dry. While I was leaning closer, the resident came to the “doorway”! We exchanged our mutual surprise, and I quickly moved on.

Later I saw a flock of 23 turkeys passing through. They look much more at home melting away into the woods than they do crossing a lawn. By the way, we do not allow turkey hunting at Crow’s Nest Preserve.

And on the same day I also saw black vultures. Since we are located at the northern edge of their range, and since they are a more solitary animal than the more common turkey vulture, black vultures are only an occasional sighting. They can be distinguished by having gray only on the tips of the undersides of their wings, instead of the trailing edge found on turkey vultures. They also have shorter tails, noticeable even when they are flying at high altitude, and they are smaller overall, which you can see when the two species are found together. Up close, they have a black head instead of the turkey vulture’s red.

With the last week’s rain the amphibian migration has entered full swing. Watch out for them on the roads on wet nights this week!

About the GPS: I’ve borrowed a Global Positioning System unit to collect location data on the preserve’s boundaries and a few of the natural and historic features: current beaver dams, trails, former charcoal-making sites, cobblestone quarries, rare plants. I need to collect this data before the trees leaf out since the GPS doesn’t work as well under the tree canopy. We’ll us this data for mapping, to help find these places in the future (charcoal-making sites, for example, gradually disappear as the forest grows back into them), and to help inventory the resources here.

Late Snow

March 24, 2005

A weather system that was supposed to be mostly rain, deposited measurable snow last night.  Melted down, the precipitation was 1.28" including the rain that started Tuesday night / Wednesday morning. 

I checked some of Mariton’s trails this morning.  The rain and snow were still sticking to the branches as ice crystals when I started.  As I walked, the rhythmic sound of water dripping onto the snow mixed with calling of chickadees and titmice.  The snow still held the tracks of animals that had moved early this morning.  I crossed the trails of 2 or 3 different foxes.  I found one set oBird_tracks_1f turkey tracks.  Four or five deer had crossed the same trails I chose to walk.  There were several well defined gray squirrel tracks next to trees.  On my return to the office I found these bird tracks in the parking lot.   They are actually fairly large, 3.5" long, which would make them a crow-sized bird.  Crows often feed on worms that venture out onto the parking lot. 


I like winter, but I am also very happy spring is here. Over the weekend I saw a mourning cloak butterfly in the barnyard, and at dusk my first bat of the year.

On Sunday it finally rained, and so the great amphibian migration has begun. Sunday night returning home from out of town, I walked the last two blocks back to the preserve as Denise drove the car behind me, there were so many yellow-spotted salamanders in the road. I moved about seven from out of Harmonyville and Piersol Roads, but we also saw another seven that had already been crushed. We also moved two wood frogs and one four-toed salamander. It was still cold (41 degrees) so nobody was moving quickly.

I hate to see salamanders run over. Individuals of some species might otherwise live thirty years, and their populations do not have extremely high birthrates that would compensate for high mortality.

The changes spring brings are about to come fast, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I recommend Scott Weidensaul’s book, “Seasonal Guide to the Natural Year” (Mid-Atlantic Edition, Fulcrum, 1992) to keep up with what’s going on outside.

In addition to Peterson Field Guides, for critter-identification I use Jeffrey Glassberg’s “Butterflies through Binoculars” (Oxford University Press, 1993) and the Audubon Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians (Knopf, 1995).

Phoebe sings

March 21, 2005

This morning I walked out the door and I heard my first Phoebe of the spring.  It is late this year.  It would have been easy to miss the call, the cardinals and titmice were singing so loudly.  But it caught my attention, and I listened carefully for it to call again. 

On Friday, I found a garter snake that probably came out a little early.  It was chilly and the snake was not moving very much.  I walked by it several times in the period of three hours and it never moved other than to slowly react to me passing by.  It was probably happy on Saturday, when the sun came out and temperatures rose.

Bald Eagle!

Today I saw a bald eagle fly over the preserve–for only the second time in the nine years I have been here! I keep a pair of binoculars behind the seat of the truck just for such an occasion. There were turkey vultures overhead as well, providing a contrasting appearance. The image of the bald eagle is so well engrained in the American consciousness that I immediately knew what it was. The eagle circled overhead for a few minutes before gradually flying northwest.

Harbinger of Spring

I first heard the distinctive “per-chick-or-ee” of redwing blackbirds in the wetlands today, a certain harbinger of spring.

A wonderful book that describes observations of redwing behavior–as well as instills a new appreciation of Canada geese–is Bernd Heinrich’s “The Geese of Beaver Bog” (HarperCollins 2004).

The excitement of the season is catching. The frost is receding, and even mud season is drying out…

Movie Night

March 13, 2005

Last night we showed movies that the Guererro’s had made during the mid-Forties.  They bought the house in 1944, and began work on the buildings in 1945.  Their time spent in Williams Township was what would inspire them to add on to the property, and later protect it through the Mariton Wilderness Trust.  The movies showed work on the buildings, such as digging the well, building the dining room addition, building the first greenhouse.  It also showed what the surrounding forests and fields looked like 60 years ago.  At that time one could see easily into Riegelsville as well as across the Delaware River into New Jersey.

We were extremely fortunate to have Molly (Jacobson) Border in the audience.  She grew up and lived in the house next door during the time that the movies were made and recalled some memories of that time.  She recalled them knocking on the door when they were considering purchasing the property and asking questions about the neighborhood.  She was also able to add insight into the times. 

We also had David Zackey in the audience who lived across the street and worked for the Guerreros’ doing yard work and working on the cars while he was in high school.  This was a later period than the movies, but it was interesting to hear stories about Mary and Tony.

These were the original 16mm films shown on a antique projector.  Since these were home movies, we had all the classic "technical difficulties".  I put one reel in backwards and we had to rewind it and restart.  We had one film break.  But overall, things went smoothly.  We showed 3 reels that were each  20 minutes long.  Between each reel of film there was a break for people to chat and recount memories.  Wehrungs Lumber and Home Center, in Ottsville, loaned us their popcorn machine for the evening.  So, we had theater pop corn, plus all sorts of other refreshments like cider, brownies, cake, etc. 

In preparing for this event I had watched the movies a few times and knew what to expect.  But it was so interesting to have Dave, and especially Molly, here to add to what I was watching.  I hope to show this movie again in the fall, and hopefully a few more people that knew the Guererro’s during this period to can attend and add insight.

Recent Wildlife Sightings

Snake_1In addition to the occasional mouse that finds its way into the barn–which we release in a hedgerow far enough away that we hope they won’t come back–we have also been a temporary host of a juvenile black rat snake. (That’s one in the picture that we found in a phoebe’s nest a couple years ago.) I relocated the snake on a warm day outside where it found a hole under the barnyard wall.

One night this week I was walking to the barn when I heard a sharp squeal, “cheep!” in the darkness of the barnyard. Fortunately I have a small flashlight on my keychain, and was able to discover two skunks in the barnyard with me in time for me to make a quick exit. I watched these remarkable creatures from the safety inside the barn. They looked like hairpieces with legs, ambling around looking for spilled birdseed.

While I was mowing the meadow around the Chief’s Grove this week (a typical late-winter project) I was fortunate to be able to watch a red fox hunting meadow voles–quite successfully–in an adjacent meadow. She made aerial pounces, and after every few loops of the field I’d see her with another. Her coloration was perfect: the red in her coat matched the little bluestem grass that grows in the field, and the tawny part of her coat made her blend in with the Indian grass that was planted there. If it wasn’t for her black legs and the shadow she cast, I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out from the background habiat.

Red-tailed hawks are a common sight at Crow’s Nest, and I was able to see one flying off with a meadow vole as well. Meadow voles are the most common mammal in this habitat, and are prey for many other species.

Any day now it will be warm enough to hear gray treefrogs calling in the vernal pools in the woods. I can’t wait!

Daniel Barringer

Pileated woodpeckers

Pileated3_1 March 7, 2005

This morning, I stumbled upon recent pileated woodpecker activity.  I was walking along the Kit Trail and  saw  new holes chiseled out of a bird cherry (Prunus avium).  There were fresh wood chips laying on top of the snow.  I walked this trail on Thursday (03/03/05) and didn’t see these holes.  So, the woodpecker(s) were working on this tree over the weekend.  My tracks from Thursday, were the most recent tracks on the trail.   

This tree is right beside the trail, so it is easy to find.  The holes reveal the galleries of carpenter ants or other insects and are only a few feet off of the ground. 

So, a pileated woodpecker was working and feeding vigorously on a tree.  It happened some time during the weekend.  It was right beside the trail (probably in view of the benches along the Main Trail).  Although we missed witnessing the event, we can go to the place and see the fresh sign–and know that perhaps on our next visit to Mariton, we will see the woodpecker at work. 

Coffee, Community, Camaraderie

Please join us for a spring cleanup volunteer day, April 2 from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. We’ll be cutting vines and other invasives, picking up trash, and removing barbed wire from trees.

Please bring pruners and gloves if you have them. We’ll provide other tools.

We’ll begin early with coffee and pastries at 201 Piersol Road, then drive over to the woods where we will be working. We’ll leave a map of where we’ll be working at the garage; please feel free to join us at any time during the morning.


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