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Archive for March, 2006

Spring Sprang Sprung

Pancakes One recent Saturday morning, Stroud seemed like the center of the maple sugaring universe.  Nearly 30 people joined us to watch maple sap turn into maple syrup.  We shared a delicious pancake and bacon breakfast cooked over an open fire.  Syrup Officially, the short maple syrup season is finished, but it seemed like a very long process.  After 2 months of collecting sap, 11 hours of boiling, and 2 hours of cooling, our 55 gallons of sap turned into 1.5 gallons of maple syrup.  It is the most delicious syrup I’ve ever tasted.  It was a wonderful process and we’ll more than likely do it again next year.

Join us in June for a demonstration in Beekeeping.  The Chester County Beekeepers Association www.chescobees.org will be on hand to explain the fundamentals of keeping a beehive (not the hairdo).  Contact Brenda Engstrand at 610-353-5640 x243 or at if you would like to attend.  Hope to see you there.

Just another day at the office…

RxfireWe conducted a prescribed burn at Crow’s Nest today in the savanna and in the blazing-star meadow. In the first habitat we have been using fire to encourage the growth of native warm-season grasses such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and discouraging several invasive species including autumn olive and Oriental bittersweet. And in the second we have been using fire to encourage the growth of the native wildflower blazing-star (Liatris spicata). These are two of five small management units where we employ prescribed fire.

Prescribed fire more closely mimics a natural process than mowing, an alternative we use when burning is not possible. A prescribed burn is a controlled application of fire to a meadow under appropriate weather conditions and fuel and soil moisture. This confines the fire to predetermined areas and produces the intensity of heat and rate of spread required to accomplish our goals. The burns only occur if all necessary conditions are met.Unit2_1

I’d like to thank Sean Quinn and Luke DiBerardinis who spent a couple days helping me prepare the site by mowing and raking fireline, and cutting and raking around each of the trees to keep them from receiving too much heat from the fire. And I am very grateful to the professional burn crew at Natural Lands Trust (which is also our preserves’ stewardship staff) whose skill and experience makes this unique habitat management possible (we have been burning on Trust preserves now for ten years). On the burn today Darin Groff lead a crew that included Tom Kershner, Paul Claypoole, Jim Thompson, Joe Vinton, Preston Wilson, and me. Thanks also to the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry for their support of this program.

Signs of Wildlife

BonesSometimes our observations of wildlife are not direct; we only observe that a species has been there. Under the category of “perhaps more than you needed to know” I photographed these bird droppings. A neighbor clued me in that these could be found at a nearby field edge, and that the “whitewash” included not only small bones but crayfish claws!

This is not my area of expertise, but I described them to a bird expert who thought they might belong to a long-eared owl, or perhaps a screech owl, and they represent indigestible material that was not coughed up in an owl pellet, but passed through the digestive system.

An Observation

The thorns of multiflora rose are recurved (scroll down for that closeup), so it is not hard to ease one’s way into the shrub to reach its base to perform some “management” there. It is, however, somewhat more difficult to extract oneself from the shrub. Did you know multiflora rose can rip clothes?

There are several species of native rose, but the introduced species that is so invasive can be distinguished both by its invasiveness and by the hairy stipules that appear at each compound leaf’s base. Multifora rose (Rosa multiflora) was deliberately introduced for soil conservation and promoted as a living fence for livestock. It has since become the scourge of everyone who enjoys or works outdoors.

A Thorny Issue

Multiflora_1Last week our summer camp staff walked around the preserve to scout out some locations for this summer’s programs. Each year we try to have a remote “camp” where the group can go for lunch, to play in the creek, to call their own. These woods must be open enough that we can walk around in them. This week the multiflora rose and Japanese barberry are just beginning to leaf out—just a suggestion of what’s to come, and a signal that the “slow season” (not that there is much of one any more) is over.

I have been saying for years that invasive plants have the capacity to interfere with the qualities that make a land worthy of preserving: scenic beauty, biodiversity, ecological function, passive recreation. Only I have never seen this problem so strongly as now on the land I manage—indeed, felt it pricking me as I tried to walk through the woods.

We have tried to limit the impact of our programs on the natural features of the preserve: choosing sites carefully and limiting how much activity takes place there. Maybe we should be more concerned about the impact of the vegetation on our programs!

By this summer we will have removed the multiflora rose from these program areas. I’d better get outside, there’s lots of work to do.

Volunteer Workday

On Saturday, April 1 we will be holding our annual preserve clean-up, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. We’ll be cutting vines and other invasives, and picking up trash. Come for an hour or for the whole morning; we’ll begin the day with coffee and pastries. When we go out in the field we’ll leave a map of where we’ll be at the garage so people can join us. As they say, “Steady downpour will cancel.” Bring gloves and loppers or a hand saw. See you then!

WebWalkers & Spiderlings

IntreeWe’ve finished the winter season of kids’ programs. The WebWalkers this winter were outside in all types of weather, from snow to short sleeves (and one day with both!). Our hikes have become wide-ranging, traveling to the far corners of the preserve and beyond.

The spring sessions of WebWalkers, for grades 3 – 6, will be held on Thursdays, April 20 through May 25, from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. The theme is “Special Places, Secret Spaces.”

Spiderlings this spring (for grades 1 – 3) will be held on Fridays, April 21 through May 26, from 4:00 to 5:30. The fee for each 6-week program is $25/child. For more information please call me at 610-286-7955.

Not reinventing the wheel

Last weekend I attended Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Ninth Annual Southeastern PA Regional Conference for Environmental Advisory Councils. I was giving a talk in a break-out session on invasive plants on municipal open lands (what else?).

Many municipalities in Pennsylvania have established Environmental Advisory Councils (EAC’s): volunteer boards that help the township, borough, or city deal with stormwater issues, draft and review ordinances, protect open space, remediate brownfields, or assist with other environmental projects. The conference is intended to give these volunteers an opportunity to network and learn how EAC’s can best accomplish these goals.

Pennsylvania has 2,567 municipalities making local land use decisions (more than almost anywhere else), so it is helpful for local governments to network. Each muncipality is unique, so ordinance language in one may or may not be appropriate for another. But at least with people talking with each other one township can borrow that part of another’s that meets their needs without having to start from scatch.

The Annual Pack Test

The Prescribed Fire season is about to start.  Natural Lands Trust uses controlled burns on some of our preserves to promote warm season grasses and to restore serpentine barrens.  (Mariton is not one of them.)  It is called a prescribed fire because we only operate within certain parameters; the prescription.  These refer to humidity, wind speed and direction, how fast the fuels will dry out, etc.  If the parameters don’t meet the prescription; we don’t burn.  If things change during the burn and go beyond the prescription; the fire is stopped immediately. 

Pack_test_002 The members of NLT’s Burn Crew take a physical fitness test each year.  Our test was yesterday.  For controlled burns we use what the Forest Service calls a “moderate” test.  We need to walk (running is not allowed) two miles within 30 minutes while carrying a 25 pound pack.  A 15-minute mile is a very fast walk, but doable.  The pack test is to simulate the stamina required for working on a controlled burn.  We often carry backpack water sprayers with 5 gallons of water (about 45 pounds) for several hours while working on a prescribed fire. 

For some reason the Annual Pack Test causes me to act irrationally.  The test is held at the end of winter, right after my birthday.  The scales of time are tipping on me, and each fall my beard grows grayer.  The fact that I am twice as old as some of the Crew members doesn’t help.  For some reason, I use the pack test to convince myself that I am not “THAT old”.  What is ridiculous is that I rarely think about my age.  But there is something about the pack test that flips a switch in my subconscious and I can’t override it.  (Probably the fact that I also gained a couple pounds over the winter adds to my paranoia.)  Anyway, I get really competitive.  As the test approaches, my goal is to beat my previous year’s time.  This year I shaved 30 seconds off of last year’s time.

Meadow Mowing

Meadow_mowing_002_1 Meadow_mowing_006 I mowed the meadows this week at Mariton.  I mow 3 of the meadows in March, and the other one in July.  Mowing in late winter allows the plants to provide food and shelter for wildlife, even when there is snow.  This is also the window before things really start growing, so light can germinate seeds, and perennials can regenerate.  Believe it or not, but in just a few weeks this will be all green.  By late summer it will be repopulated with tree saplings.  And this fall the sassafras shoots will be golden and orange.

Meadow_mowing_004 Often, there is snow on the ground and I have to wait until the end of the month to begin mowing.  Almost always I have to wear 3 or 4 layers, including insulated coveralls.  This year, was a little different.  I started out mowing the meadows on Monday, and for the first time ever, I wore just a t-shirt and jeans.  On Tuesday, Joe Vinton mowed one of the meadows and he donned a light sweat shirt, more for the wind than the temperature.  Thursday morning when I started mowing the last meadow, I was bundled up.  I stayed comfortable, except for the occasional cold gust.

This was the first year, since I have been at Mariton, that I wasn’t visited by a red-tailed hawk while mowing the meadows.  Several years ago in the newsletter I wrote about a hawk that I named Gray-Head.  I assumed it was an older hawk and probably a female.  For several years, whenever the tractor was up in the fields this hawk would usually show up within about 15 minutes. 

I don’t want to portray human logic on wildlife, but it seemed to figure out that it was dinner time when I mowed the fields.  Voles and mice run into the mowed area ahead of the tractor and this hawk took advantage of the situation.  It would perch in trees along the edge of the meadows and hunt ahead of the mower.  As I got down to the last few strips of mowing, the vole activity would get pretty heavy, and so would the hawk action.  The hawk would swoop down to make the kill and either eat the animal in the meadow, or carry it to a tree branch.  Even in the summer if I had the tractor in the meadows to work on some project, it would hear the engine and soon show up to investigate.  I enjoyed watching it, and really missed its company this year.

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