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Archive for April, 2005

New Preserve Sign

PostWe will be hanging a new preserve sign at the entrance to our parking area, and just installed the post yesterday. How deep does that post go? Just ask Joe Vinton, the preserve assistant who helped dig the hole!

Trillium!

TrilliumI’ve worked at Crow’s Nest for nine years now, and though I’ve looked, I have never before seen any trillium here. Now, that may be because it is only present for a short time each year, and so you need to be in the right place at the right time to see it.

But this is growing not in some remote, pristine part of the preserve. I found it along a woods edge where we have been actively trying to control Oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and garlic mustard for several years, so there exists the possibility that this species, nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum), is being encouraged by our efforts to control the invasive species that would otherwise overwhelm it. In any case, I am thrilled.

Recent Sightings

BIRDS:

Warbler activity has been very slow.  I expect it to pick up any day now.  We have had black-throated green warblers, black and white warblers and parula warblers.  Other interesting birds are the turkeys.  I had a couple hens walk through the yard, around the nature center and out the Main Trail while I was eating lunch today.  I can almost guarantee a bluebird sighting if one walks up to the meadows.  I haven’t seen any yet, but I put up my hummingbird feeder.

FLOWERS:    

There has been a bounty of flowers this year.  (Could it be that the slow bird activity has me looking down and noticing the flowers more?)  Jack-in-the-pulpits at Mariton have been amazing.  I think I have seen more of them this year than the last 3 springs combined.  I had noticed a steady decline of jack-in-the-pulpits over the last 5 years, but couldn’t come up with a explanation.  I was sure it wasn’t the deer, as I was finding them in places where deer impact was much higher.  The only thing I could come up with was soil conditions.  Now I wonder if they might be cyclical.  Anyway, it is nice to have them back.  If you come up with a good way to explain to an eight year old why they are called jack-in-the-pulpit, let me know.  Most youngsters don’t know what a pulpit is, and even if they do, modern pulpits have no resemblance to the ones that these flowers were named after.

Flowers_42905_007Today, I found the following flowers in bloom:  golden Alexander, foam flower, rue anemone, white baneberry, early saxifrage and perfoliated bellwort.  Both white and toad trilliums are in bloom (white trillium picured).  The redbud by the maintenance shop is beautiful right now.  The dogwoods are flowering, as are cherries and crabapples in the woods.  There is plenty of Solomon seal that should be blooming very soon.  The May apples should also start blooming soon.  Today, I even found a flower bud for a showy orchis. 

Bluebirds Revisited

I checked the nesting boxes and nothing has changed since last week.  There are still 5 eggs in the active box.  We saw both the male and female at the nest box this morning.  Bluebird eggs incubate for 12 days before hatching.  Both parents sit, although the mother does most of the incubation.  Fourteen days ago, I found 3 eggs.  Two eggs were laid afterwards.  So, the eggs should hatch in the next day or two.  (Assuming the eggs are fertile, etc.).  When I check boxes next week, I should find some chicks in the box.

Bird Walk Report

Bird_walk_42605_001_1 We started our weekly bird walks this morning.  It is a little early in the year, but it gave me a chance to get tuned-up, so to speak.  It takes practice to have your binoculars always go where you are looking.  I also need a little practice to focus on one bird song, when several different birds are singing.  This is a great time of year to do that, when there are only a few bird species around. 

Following are just some of the birds we saw or heard on the walk:  chipping sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, robins, house wrens, rose-breasted grosbeak, fish crow, red-eyed vireo, and black-throated green warbler.  While walking we heard or saw the following woodpeckers:  pileated, red-bellied, flicker, hairy and downy.  We actually saw a pair of hairy woodpeckers near the bird blind.  We saw both bluebirds on the active box.  The male was a brilliant blue.  Also in the field we had a blue-gray gnatcatcher.  Walking down the Turnpike Trail, a hermit thrush was spotted, and a rufous-sided towhee sounded off.  When we got back to the nature center we got into a kettle migrating hawks, etc.  There were black vultures, turkey vultures, broad-winged hawks and red-tailed hawks.

Because bird sightings were light we took time to look at flowers.  There were quite a few Toad_trillium_1 perfoliated bellworts in bloom.  There were lots of jack-in-the-pulpits.  We saw this toad trillium along with a white trillium in bloom.  There was foam flower and several species that will be blooming soon, like white baneberry, showy orchis, etc.

It was a good morning, and next week at Nockamixon, we should really have some bird activity.

Natural Variation

Erithronium2There is a lot of variation between individual plants, and in a single plant during the course of its growing season.

Compare these pictures of trout-lily and spring beauty with the photos from April 11. They’re in different locations and photographed on different dates, and they look quite different. The trout-lily has a rosy blush to the outside of the flower. Claytonia2The spring beauty has much more pronounced pink stripes; it was photographed later in the season and in a sunnier location than the other picture. (That’s our barn/visitor center in the background.)

Entropy Happens

“Entropy” is a word I learned in physics class, having to do with the natural tendency of the universe toward increasing chaos. This has to do specifically with regard to energy and matter, but the term could also apply to, for example, a group of second graders on a field trip.

It could also be used to describe how natural systems change. Sure, there are cycles in nature, but there are also trends influenced by internal and external factors such as human introduction of invasive species, global climate change, the suppression of natural fires, and the impacts of historical and current human land uses.

Our Natural Lands Trust preserves will naturally and not-so-naturally change in different ways than they would if they were not being managed. I don’t mean to imply that we think we can do a better job than “nature.” We are merely shaping a few of the possible outcomes of changes on these lands. We’re removing some hazard trees, planting other trees, controlling the worst of the invasive species, and making the preserve friendly to visitors. Entropy doesn’t happen as fast on our preserves.

If as preserve managers we are doing our job well, the effects of our work should not be that noticeable. A properly pruned tree should appear natural, not butchered. A well-maintained building is not obviously in need of repair. Forests in this region that we manage can be distinguished primarily by a reduced density of invasive species, not by anything obviously added.

We don’t manage for the sake of doing it. The least possible intervention to achieve a goal is the best management, because it is likely to have the fewest unintended outcomes (and cost less, too!).

Visitors may wonder, for example, is this woodland free of the invasive plant Japanese honeysuckle because it was never here or because staff and volunteers have gone to great lengths to control it? Are the roadsides free of trash here because nobody ever litters? (Feel free to ask when you visit!)

We aren’t trying to freeze the preserves in time. Forest succession, the cycles of death and life, and changes to the surrounding neighborhoods will continue and will influence the preserves, forever. But without our efforts, we may lose some of the values that made the land worthy of preserving.

Bird Watching

Tomorrow (4/26), we will begin weekly bird walks on Tuesday mornings.  TheBird_club2  first walk will be held here at Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary.  We will meet at 7:30 a.m. and hike the trails. 

Future bird walks will be held at other locations.  We will meet at Mariton at 7:30 a.m. and carpool to the destination.  If you plan to attend, please call 610-258-6574 (or email) so that we know to wait for you.  The schedule is as follows:

4/26  Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary

5/03  Nockamixon State Park

5/10  Fulshaw Craeg

5/17  Merrill Creek Reservoir

5/24  To be determined (based on what’s hot and where)

5/31  Hawk Mountain (tentative)

These bird walks are a team effort.  I am indebted to Carole Mebus, Virginia Derbyshire, the Roehrigs and others who help everyone learn to identify the birds and their songs.  Please note that we take time to look at wildflowers, butterflies, fungi, etc.

Learning bird songs can be overwhelming.  There are so many to learn, with so many little nuances.  But you probably can learn 4 or 5 new ones each year.  I still have to check the book and listen to recordings to refresh my memory. 

The weekly bird walks are a great way to start.  We all help each other, and we will help you.  On the walks, we will see and hear some birds several times during the next few weeks.  So, one has a chance to learn a song, study it on the walks and test yourself.  Besides, the walks are fun. 

Even if you can’t join our walks, you should be dusting off the binoculars.  Now is the time to get outside and witness the spring migration of birds.  For the next few weeks, everyday is likely to bring new visitors into our neighborhoods.  Some are small.  Some are festively colored.  Some sing interesting songs.  Some will stay for the summer.  Some will feed, rest and keep moving.

Emergence

SassafrasEvery day brings something new to watch on the preserve. Here, the flowers and leaves of sassafras (Sassafras albidum) emerge.

PoisonivyEven the leaves of poison-ivy (Toxicodenron radicans) are beautiful as they emerge. They’ll turn green later, and grow much larger, and show a great deal of variation. “Leaves of three, leave them be!” We only try to remove poison ivy where visitors are likely to come in contact with it. It is not an invasive plant that threatens trees, and it is a good wildlife plant (birds eat the berries).

This American dogwood (Cornus florida) I purchased at a nursery and planted in the yard at the visitor center. For the first couple years it had white “flowers” but then it started producing pink ones. I didn’t know they could do that! Actually, the true flowers are small yellow ones surrounded by either white or pink bracts that look like petals and help attract insects for pollination.Dogwood

Although American dogwoods have been decimated by anthracnose in their native habitat of woods edges, particularly in the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, we still recommend them for native landscaping. Their leaves dry more quickly when planted in sunnier locations and that makes them less susceptible to the disease. And there are few plants more widely used by wildlife. In the lawn, they are mainly prone to cankers on their trunks that result from damage from lawnmowers and weed trimmers, so be sure to mulch lightly around the base so you don’t need to mow there.

School visit

Forks_elem_42105_001 Today we had more 2nd Graders from Forks Elementary visit Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary.  Anne Hogenboom, Ken Niewoehner, and Virginia Derbyshire were the field trip leaders.  These photos were taken by Carole Mebus, who volunteered to be our photographer. 

One of the things I usually show children is poison ivy.  It is good to learn how Forks_elem_42105_014 to identify it correctly.  Kids often tell me it has red leaves.  Only at certain times of the year do I find that it shows much red.  Or, it is shiny.  Again, it can be, but in the middle of the summer it is often quite dull.  Three leaves (from the old rhyme) are okay, but it lumps in so many plants like strawberries, raspberries, and even trillium.  The fuzzy vine (as seen in this photo) is a great identifier.  It is tough to confuse with anything else; and I am reassured when I overhear children correctly pointing it out to their pals.

I am probably overly fond of poison ivy because it is so beneficial to birds in the winter.  It produces berries that remain abundant when other foods have disappeared or snow makes them inaccessible.

Forks_elem_42105_012 We have a lot of tulip trees (tulip poplar, yellow poplar) at Mariton because of the agricultural past of the south slope.  So, I like kids to learn how to identify it.  It is a really beautiful tree.  It grows tall and straight and there aren’t many branches until way up the tree.  The leaves have a neat shape.  Kids often visualize the outline of a cat’s head, with the two points on top as the ears, and the two points on the side as the whiskers.  Finally, it has big showy flowers that produce really interesting and abundant seed pods. 

Following are just some of the things that my group saw.  (Each group gets a slightly different Forks_elem_42105_024 experience because of the leader, the trail, and even what the kids notice along the way.)  We saw a six-spotted green tiger beetle (which was brilliant green and really fast).  We saw tent caterpillars.  We encountered a garter snake.  We found the jack-in-the-pulpit .  We even got to see a black-throated green warbler.  This pretty little bird (smaller than its name) winters from Mexico to Columbia (South America) and breeds from our area north.   Finally, we smelled a twig of sweet birch.  The kids right away identified the scent with root beer and birch beer.  I also found it interesting that they were disappointed when they learned modern soda uses arificial flavoring. 

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