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Archive for July, 2005

Camp fun!

Here’s a picture of Creekcampers exploring Pine Creek, looking for crayfish under rocks and watching fish.

Crafts_1Campers made clothes trees at camp this year (many while sporting last year’s camp T-shirt)! This complex craft used natural materials from the preserve, with "branches" mortised into the trunk-like post.

Mileaminute_1Summer intern and camp counselor Sean Quinn had begun to see the image of mile-a-minute in his nightmares—he has spent so much time this summer pulling it—so his fellow counselors decorated his car with giant mile-a-minute vines one day at camp as a joke.

Tree_cuttingAt camp we demonstrated tree removal techniques by cutting down a tree (a damaged mulberry). In this picture, the kids are placing flags where they think the top will fall. It’s not exactly a Soren Erkison chainsaw course, but the kids did really well.

More camp fun!

Binky_leeOn Thursday at camp we took a field trip to Binky Lee Preserve, where over the years Natural Lands Trust has planted over 10,000 trees. Preserve Manager Darin Groff, who headed up this afforestation of marginal farmland almost 15 years ago, showed us around the preserve. I too remember planting these little dormant bare-root seedlings and am still a little stunned at how big and wonderful the trees have grown.

Darin showed us the tree tubes that protect the tree seedlings from deer. Trees we planted on the same day without tubes are still alive, but they are only two feet tall, continually eaten by deer. The others tower over us, and though he is still maintaining between them, really look like a forest. Campers also saw a pond dam being removed to restore natural stream flow, the meadows where Natural Lands Trust first started its prescribed fire program, and lots of bluebird boxes. We finished our visit with a picnic lunch by the springhouse.

Maze_1At camp each week we also have taken the kids to a maze we made in the pine forest, and had them negotiate the rope-guided course blindfolded, so they learn to use their other senses in the woods.

FirefightingAnd at Crow’s Nest Camp we also demonstrate the tools of wildland firefighting that we also use in our prescribed fire program. Each of the kids tried out the Indian tank, spraying each other with the ultimate soaker, refreshing on a really hot day!

More camp activities

CraftsSummer camp has continued to be entertaining, at least for the staff. We think the kids are having fun, too. One of the crafts has been making giant mushrooms, hickory nuts, and acorns to populate the floor of the forest in the barn upstairs.

HabitatHere’s the view from atop the giant tree stump inside the barn, looking down at campers suspended in a huge spider web and checking out the oversized habitat they created.

CheckersKids contemplate their next moves in “giant checkers” played with tree sections of black cherry versus walnut. You might think of checkers as a quiet, tranquil game, but when played this way it sounds like a thunderstorm.

Down at the Creek

FritillaryThe forecasters called for a dangerously hot day today, but it was cold down at the creek, where we summer campers spent part of the afternoon. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. While there, I saw this Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on a swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Compare this with the common milkweed found at the pond, below.

Cardinal_flowerCardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) also grows at two locations in open, wet woods along French Creek. This is a plant that blew my mind when I first arrived at Crow’s Nest. Having worked at public gardens and arboreta, I had seen this plant in cultivation, but had never seen it growing on its own in the wild. It’s a short lived perennial, although some sites will aslo support its regeneration by seed, so the population remains present.


My high flying fantasies of what it would be like to manage a nature preserve have been superseded by reality.  The responsibilities are far weightier than I imagined, but the gratification I derive from their execution matches their magnitude.  I’ve never worked with as clear a purpose as I do now.  Frankly, it’s difficult to match the satisfaction of honest work. 

The Preserve, like most us, seems to wilt under summer’s oppressive heat.  The afternoon storms bring a welcome reprieve from the heat.  Those same storms bring scientists from the Stroud Water Research Center to the Natural Lands Trust Stroud Preserve.  After each rainfall scientists come to collect data from a number of water quality research projects currently running on the Preserve.  Feel free to ask them questions if you see them. Visit the Stroud Water Research Center at

Down at the Pond

MilkweedWe have one small pond at Crow’s Nest. We manage a wildflower meadow around it, which prevents the over-use by geese that is a frequent problem in ponds that have mowed lawn right up to the water. It also provides a good opportunity to grow wet-meadow plants, and the pond is a frequent host of great blue herons.

Above is common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that attracts butterflies around the pond. DragonflyDragonflies and damselflies flit and hover around the pond, too.

VervainBlue vervain (Verbana hastata) has also started to bloom in the wet meadow around the pond. We mow this area just once a year, when the ground is frozen hard enough to support the weight of the tractor, or if too warm for that, with a walk-behind field mower. The New York ironweed will also bloom here a bit later in the season.

By the way, we don’t have a geese problem at this pond (resident geese that persist and foul the pond), most likely because we maintain tall vegetation of a meadow around it. Geese prefer close-cropped lawns right up to the water’s edge to maintain visibility of predators, and we mow the meadow only once a year.

Camp, week three

KidsintreeWe are well into the summer camp season, and having a good time, even when just hanging out. An expressed purpose of our camp is to provide supervised but unstructured time for kids to explore nature and interact with it in a way that children rarely have the opportunity to today.

Board_1We may also have the only camp where the kids have the opportunity to see a tree made into its finished product—a board that they carried a half mile back to the barn. Each week a log from our pile of hazard trees gets set on the Woodmiser and milled while they watch. Then it gets passed through a planer to make a finished board, which the kids will use in their projects.

SawdustIn an effort to make use of every part of the tree, we also made sculptures out of sawdust!

Resident of the Glades Wildlife Refuge

Here is a local resident of our Glades Wildlife Refuge in Cumberland County, New Jersey.Diamondback_in_glades_at_turkey_point_sp

This Northern Diamondback Terrapin has camoflaged itself on Turkey Point Road in Downe Township. During the spring and summer months, turtles are commonly seen crossing roads. Turtles cross these roads going to and coming from their nesting sites.

These terrapins prefer salt water or brackish water habitat and are found all along the New Jersey coastal areas.  Along the Atlantic Coast of NJ, coastal development has led to considerable habitat destruction on the barrier beach islands. This makes the protected areas in the Glades Wildlife Refuge vitally important for the future of the Diamondback in our region. Our many tidal areas, marshes and estuaries provide excellent habitat for many turtles including this Diamondback.

The female Northern Diamondback Terrapin will grow to 9 1/2", while the male will only grow to 5 1/2". This species has a wide range of colors and can be identified by the pattern on the shell and the skin coloration. The skin coloration of the diamondbacks can either be gray with dark spots, as our friend pictured here is, or they can be dark with light spots.

Please take care to avoid these residents while driving.

Butterfly Report

The Hackberry Emperor is becoming common around the Nature Center.  There are several Hackberry trees in this area of the preserve, which explains their abundance.  Hackberry Emperors are attracted to light colors and will readily land on people wearing white t-shirts.  They are also attracted by the salts in perspiration.  Several years ago, I was milling lumber by what is now the front entrance of the Nature Center.  (Back then it was the barn where I stored the tractor.)  I was milling some of the tulip poplar that now is the paneling in the Nature Center.  This wood is quite white when it is first cut, and it attracted Hackberry Emperors by the dozens. 

It was a very interesting sight.  The saw mill engine was roaring.  Saw dust was flying everywhere.  I would be plopping heavy logs down on the mill with the diesel tractor.  And there were all these delicate butterflies fluttering around.  "Flocks" of butterflies would land on the wood, even while boards were being sawn from the log.  Of course the butterflies were safe from the blade, but the vibration from the machinery must have been terrific.  I suspected that they were getting moisture from the saw dust and wood, but they might have just been attracted to the white wood.

The Monarch Butterflies are really all over in the meadows right now.  They are easy to find feeding on the bee balm and wild bergamot that is in bloom.  The other orange butterfly, the Great-Spangled Fritillary, is still very common in the meadows.  The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Spicebush Swallowtail are still easy to find.  I even saw a few silver-spotted skippers while working in the meadows earlier this week.

Additional scenes

GermanderThis wildflower is blooming along the creek; called germander or wood sage (Teucrium canadense), this plant has a distinctive one-lipped flower with four stamens projecting above each.

WebSo far this summer, the woods do not seem to be as full of spider webs as last year—the person who leads hikes always collects them on his or her face! But there are still some beautiful ones. The web serves as a metaphor for our connectedness with other species, and, since webs are rebuilt each day, a reminder of the persistence of life.

LilyThese Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are also blooming along French Creek. We like these flowers so much that a picture of them will grace the cover of our revised trail map, due to be completed this fall.


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