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Archive for January, 2006

Amphibian Preservation Alliance

This Thursday, February 2, from 7 to 9 p.m. we will be hosting the Amphibian Preservation Alliance’s annual planning meeting. It won’t be long now until frogs and salamanders are crossing local roads to a wetland “hotspot” and these volunteers are planning a safe & effective crossing for this spring. Your help is needed in forming a plan, listing equipment needs, and writing guidelines for volunteer organization and road safety.

If you are would like to volunteer with any of the road crossing work this spring, you should plan on attending the meeting. The APA wants to train all volunteers on expectations, road safety, and parking etiquette. Please call me at 610-286-7955 for more information.

Winter Seeds

If you’re like me, you’ve been looking over seed catalogs recently, thinking about the tastes of summer. We’ve been eating good winter meals lately, hearty dishes with root vegetables and beans, but are longing for fresh tomatoes and corn. I mended the deer fence around our vegetable garden this weekend, though we have months before we’ll use it again.

Maysies_barnOr if you’re not planning your own garden, maybe you’re thinking about joining a CSA—a community supported agriculture farm. This is the time of year to do it; you buy a share of the farm’s produce before the season begins, sharing the risk and reward of farming among many people. It’s a cost-effective way to buy local, organic food, keep local farms a viable business, protect open space, and be a part of the community. I’m joining Maysie’s Farm CSA ( again this year to supplement what I grow in the garden at home. I’ll pick up my share once a week; the farm also offers children’s and family programs that follow the cycle of the season from planting a seed in screened compost to harvesting crops and eating them for lunch.

For more information on CSA’s and Farmers’ Markets in Chester County, check out Or the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture,

Birdhouse Building with Hay Creek

Bluebird_boxOur neighboring watershed organization, the Hay Creek Watershed Association, will be having an evening of birdhouse building, snacks, & fun for all ages on Wednesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. at the Geigertown Fire Hall. They request an RSVP by February 1 so that they know how many kits and snacks to buy. Give us a call at 610-286-7955 and we’ll put you in touch with them, or check out


We had a very successful camp reunion this past weekend: 25 campers returned for an afternoon of hikes, games, crafts, and food. Some of the campers are old enough that they drove to the reunion.

The weather held. We played giant checkers in the barnyard; one group hiked the deep woods trail, another to the Chief’s Grove. We painted squares of fabric to sew together to make a new, larger quilt for future camps. And on seven borrowed Macs we had slideshows of the last eight years of camp.

All too fast the afternoon ended and it was time to go home. Until summer camp…

You probably didn’t need to know this…

January 20. First dandelion of the year. Not kidding.

Hopewell Furnace

HopewellIt is hard to believe today, with a second-growth forest rising from the hills in this region, that most of the woods around here were cut down to fuel the fires of our local iron-making furnace, Hopewell Furnace. This activity has strongly influenced what we see around us at Crow’s Nest Preserve today, from the charcoal platforms to the species composition and age of the trees in our woods.

Even more exciting is that this history is alive and visible to us. It’s a short walk or drive from here to get to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, the restored iron-making village that shaped our region. (Our trail system even connects with theirs.) The National Park Service does a wonderful job of preserving and interpreting this history; Hopewell is one of very few national historic sites dedicated to telling the story of ordinary, working people. Nobody famous was born here, but the iron made here had an impact on the founding of this country and the strength it acquired.

Hopewell Furnace is a reliably good place to take the family, or friends from out of town. It’s pleasant to escape the 21st, or even the 20th century walking the dirt road through the middle of the village, or watching the millrace flow, or the farm animals graze. The peaceful scene there today belies the noisy, sooty industrial activity of its heyday. I enjoy watching the casting demonstrations there in the summer, and sheep-shearing day in May is always fun.

This spring Hopewell will be offering a charcoal-making class; the pile of wood constructed during the class will be lit in the charcoal pit on May 11 and will burn for about a week.

Call Hopewell Furnace at 610-582-8773 for more information about all of their programs.

Meadows and perspectives

Questions about our meadow management: Why do we mow our meadows?

If we don’t mow or burn a meadow, in our region the field will eventually turn into forest (or much worse, a thicket of invasive autumn olive, multiflora rose, and bittersweet). The areas that we maintain as meadow have been chosen as appropriate habitat for meadow, or there are significant sun-loving meadow plants we want to conserve present, or the meadows preserve an open vista or historic pattern of land use. Mowing or burning once a year sets back the woody plants that would otherwise take over.

If the ground never freezes enough in the winter to get the meadows mowed, what else can be done? There is a second window of opportunity to mow meadows in early July, after ground-nesting birds finish with the habitat, to mow meadows. It is usually drier then, and though desirable meadow plants are set back by this mowing, they come back strong before the end of summer. Late winter mowing is my first choice, though, since the plants are dormant and mowing can be accomplished with minimal negative impact.

We also try to burn a couple meadows each spring. Burning more closely replicates a natural process; fire removes excess nutrients from the meadow and stimulates many native fire-adapted species. But the meadows still need to be dry enough to be able to access them, and the weather absolutely has to cooperate (called being within “prescription”).

GrantI was able to get away to northern New Hampshire this weekend and stayed in a cabin I have been going to for over a decade, at the Dartmouth Second College Land Grant, a 27,000-acre preserve used for sustainable forestry and education (thereby answering the question, where does a manager of a 600-acre preserve go on vacation? to a 27,000 acre one). We spend the days X-C skiing and snowshoeing, chopping a hole in the river ice for water and gathering around the woodstove with friends.

This trip “resets my clock” and I don’t mean in a temporal sense. It shows me again how diverse a world we live in, how different a place can be than where I live, even close by. We’ve had winters there colder than -25 F, and it is an amazing place to experience.

Mucking around

Marsh_1Last week I had an opportunity to monitor another new conservation easement Natural Lands Trust holds to protect the lands around this marsh—spectacular lands in perhaps the most wild part of Chester County.

Poison_sumac_1While there I saw some poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, synonym Rhus vernix) growing in the swamp. We don’t have any that I know of at Crow’s Nest, though it grows naturally in this region. It’s a tall, leggy shrub or small tree that grows in swamps. If you’re climbing around in knee-deep muck and reach out for support, you might be around poison sumac.

Poison_sumac_2Poison sumac looks a bit like other sumacs, with compound leaves, but with white berries that look like those of poison ivy. The fruit is a good wildlife food that is consumed by pheasants, grouse, and rabbits. The sap has been made into a shellac or varnish for wood, even though it is extremely toxic and can cause a contact dermatitis reaction even many years later. I’ve always managed to spot the shrub in the wild before touching it.

In addition to using this winter season to monitor conservation easements, here are the other projects we are working on at the preserve:

Cutting vines and invasive shrubs in the woodlands, cutting multiflora rose in hedgerows and woods edges, planning winter/spring/summer events, pruning, searching for potential hazard trees, and mowing meadows.

We gamble a bit with the weather on mowing meadows; we try to mow each meadow once a year, usually at the end of winter when the plants are dormant. The gamble is that we try to let it go as late in winter as we can so that there is winter cover in the fields for as long as possible, but we don’t want to wait so long that the fields no longer have any chance of being frozen solid enough to get the tractor out on them. (This year, the ground has not been frozen hard enough yet when there also has not been snow.) The tractor won’t exactly get stuck, but it can tear things up. A nice cold morning below 20 degrees is best for mowing the meadows, in the hours before the sun is high enough to warm the ground. So, the job gets spread out, no more than one meadow a day over a period of several weeks, which also minimizes the impact on wildlife.

Beaver Take Over Burden Hill Preserve Pond

Beaver_tree_with_nlt_sign2_1 About a year ago, beaver moved from an adjacent landowner’s property to a pond on Natural Lands Trust’s Burden Hill Preserve. They raised the water level a couple of feet by damming the pond’s small waterfall and built themselves a nice lodge along the pond’s edge. They have felled many trees (including this one that held an NLT sign!) for lodge and dam construction, and to more easily eat the tasty bark.

Some trees are girdled rather than felled completely. White oak trees seem to be especially tasty; they have completely girdled a number of oaks up to two feet in diameter or more. Beaver_tree_and_liz In this photo, Liz Eisenhauer (daughter of New Jersey Manager Steve Eisenhauer) poses by a large white oak that the beavers have been gnawing on. Girdled trees, even if they are not brought down by the beaver, may die within a year or two since their nutrient flow is cut off, preventing the tree from carrying nutrients to its limbs to support leaf growth in the spring.

Though it is interesting to see beaver on the preserve, it is always somewhat startling to see the amount of destruction they can cause to trees and shrubs. After humans, beavers are the animals that cause the most change in their habitats.

Shade Sculptures

A fog moved in this afternoon.  I took advantage of it while checking trails to take some photos of tree silhouettes.  I was originally going to title this entry “Sun Sculptures”.  It is a tree’s requirement to maximize its exposure to sun that dictates its form.  But as I walked through the forest and looked at trees, I realized that sunlight is not the only artist at work.  The influence of shade on a tree can be similar to the influence of chisel to stone.  A falling tree can sculpt the shape of the tree upon which it falls.  Vines, rocks, disease (see Tree Burls) and even deer can sculpt trees.

Shade_sculptures_001 These two photos are of the same species of trees.  Both are tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera).  The one on the left has grown in the meadow with very little shade from other trees.  It looks like an arrow head, or inverted ice cream cone.  If you look closer, you will see that there are actually two trees growing side by side.  The shade from each tree on its twin has influenced its branching to look as if it were one tree.

Shade_sculptures_002 This tree was in the middle of the forest.  Shade from its neighbors caused it to prune its lower branches.  You will probably need to click on the picture to see it better.  Even its upper branches curve sharply upward to get away from its neighbors and reach for the sun.

Sun and shadow.  Darkness and light.  I didn’t take art classes in school, so I can’t describe it in those terms.  But I can see the influence on nature, my favorite artwork.


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