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Archive for December, 2005

Anniversary or Birthday?

RunningpineToday marks the first anniversary, or birthday, of the Crow’s Nest weblog. These “candles” on a running-pine (Diphasiastrum digitatum), a kind of clubmoss, seem ready for a celebration. They’re the strobili, or cone-like reproductive structures of this plant.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this weblog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and look for fresh updates next year. There is a lot of new territory to cover, new events happening at the preserve, and plenty to observe as the seasons pass.

Roosting Boxes

Joe Vinton and I recently erected two roosting boxes at Mariton.  These are different than nest boxes.  Roost boxes provide shelter for birds during the coldest nights. 

Roosting_box_002 You will notice that the entrance hole is on the bottom.  Since heat rises, a hole near the top of the box (like a nest box) would allow the heat to escape.  Inside the box are several perches mounted on the walls.  The sides of the box are grooved to allow birds to climb up the wall like a ladder.  Theoretically several small birds could roost in the box at the same time.  Their body heat would be trapped, and they would be protected from the wind and predators.

One of the boxes was put up in the bird blind area.  I had put one up there many years ago and it recently fell down.  The other roosting box was put on a white pine ({Pinus strobus) above the nature center. 

Roosting_box_004Do birds really use roost boxes?  I never saw birds using the one that was in the bird blind.  On the other hand, I have found birds huddled together in the bottom of bluebird boxes during cold winters.  Roosting boxes should be more efficient for this purpose than nest boxes.  At Mariton there are so many natural cavities in trees, courtesy of old age and woodpeckers, that birds such as chickadees, titmouse, nuthatches, and bluebirds may use what nature provides rather than utilize what we put up.  If you see something using the boxes on your next visit, please let me know.

Last Day of Fall

Winter_raking_002 Much is made about tomorrow’s being the First Day of Winter.  Conversely, little is said about today being the Last Day of Autumn.  I figured that since we had good weather (sunny skies and a high temperature about 33’F) we should rake up some leaves.  Here is a photo of Joe Vinton, one of the Stewardship Assistants, raking with snow in the background.

Even now, not all of the leaves have fallen off of the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘atropunicea’) in the front lawn.  The Stewardships Assistants and I have removed over 20 pick-up loads of leaves from the yard.  I pile them in a brushy area where they compost down.  We were getting ready for the last few loads of leaves when it got rainy and cold.   This is really the first we were able to get back to it. 

We will have to wait until spring to get some of the remaining leaves, but then the ground will be soggy and I will be really busy with other chores.  So, the more leaves we can get moved now the better.


TurkeysOn Friday, after plowing and shovelling snow, I happened to look outside and see this flock of turkeys, scratching in a patch of grass I had exposed with the plow. I count 35, the largest flock I’ve seen here. They didn’t find walking in the deep snow easy.

Tired tires

TiresEvery so often I pick up a used tire, or two, or four, along the side of the road at the preserve. (Crow’s Nest Preserve has several miles of road frontage and is downstream from several bridges crossing creeks.) The creeks give up long-lost tires as gravel shifts and the stream erodes. I save ’em up in the barn until I have a truckload, then I take them to a tire recycling center in Mongomery County. They grind them up, separate the metal beads, and use the rubber crumbs as filler in manufacturing.

It is shameful that people dump these tires instead of recycling them. I don’t mind the trip—and my records indicate that the 1,020 lbs. of tires pictured took three years to accumulate—but I should not have to do it. But I don’t want the preserve to look like a dump, and water puddling in old tires can create conditions where mosquitoes breed. However, the charge for recycling them has gone up from $55/ton in 1999 to $77/ton in 2002 to $90/ton in 2005.

For an interesting discussion about the fate of tires, the entrepreneurs who recycle them, and how we might be mining tires from landfills someday, see John McPhee’s essay “Duty of Care” in the collection Irons in the Fire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997).

Spectacular Birding

Southern New Jersey offers some truly spectacular birding activities, as numerous bird species pass through as part of their yearly migrations. In the spring, thousands of shorebird species crowd the beaches to eat horseshoe crab eggs. In the winter, Eagles, Hawks, and other raptors fill the skies. (Check back here in coming weeks to find out about the Cumberland County Eagle Festival.)

In August, the thousands of Purple Martins that traveled north to nest for the summer swarm in the air each evening before settling in the high grasses for the night.Purple_martin_festival  This photo, taken at the Purple Martin Festival in mid-August, shows a kayaker enjoying the spectacular site. The many dots in the sky are mostly Purple Martins, but other swallows also joined in the evening flight.

Winter’s Early

I hadn’t really completed my fall projects, but now they’ll have to wait. I don’t rake leaves much, just brush them away from the buildings where they accumulate and then chop them up in place with the mower. Now they’re under snow!

How often do we have snow before Christmas that persists? Hmm, makes one wonder about what’s ahead. Two weeks to go until Winter Solstice, the official start of winter.

We have an email list you can sign up for if you want to be informed about cross-country ski conditions at Natural Lands Trust preserves. If you’d like to be added to that list please give me a call at 610-286-7955 and leave your email address in the message. I don’t linger in the office long, so don’t rely on reaching me the day of a snow to find out current conditions.

Tree Burls

Tree_berl_002 The forest has a new look with all of the leaves off of the trees.  I took this photo of an oak tree along the North Fox Trail.  These deformities are called burls.  A number of things can cause burls on trees and there hasn’t been much research concerning them.  They seem to be comparative to benign tumors (although they don’t spread throughout the tree).  These burls were probably formed similarly to the how galls form on leaves.  Something (an insect or bacteria) stimulates the tree to produce tissue around an irritation.  The burl will lay down growth rings, just like the trunk or a limb.  Another way for a burl to form is for twig buds to go haywire and start multiplying more bud cells, instead of forming limb tissue. 

Tree_berl_006 Burls cause very interesting grain when the lumber is harvested.   Some furniture makers and wood carvers take advantage of this interesting grain for their work.  Next time you visit the Nature Center, take a look at the flooring.  There are a few boards that probably came from trees with burls.  You can see the wild, wavy grain in this particular board.

Hike at Burden Hill

On Sunday New Jersey Regional Manager Steve Eisenhauer led a group on a hike at Burden Hill Preserve. We spent two and a half hours walking the trails (and adventuring off-trail!) while Steve showed us some of the special features of Burden Hill, including the rare wetland species Swamp Pink, which grows in the seeps that come off the hill. We also saw a variety of bird species, although we were dissappointed not to see any eagles. All in all, the hike was a great way to be introduced to one of Natural Lands Trust’s newer preserves.

Little bluestem

Little_bluestemThe warm-season grasses in the meadow around the Chief’s Grove look lush in the summer, but they really come into their own with their late fall and winter color. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) lights the field with its russet color that changes during the course of the day as it is backlit and flooded with low sunlight. This is a population that we manage with prescribed fire occasionally in the spring, so the field looks afire during two seasons.


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