April 29, 2006
I can’t let the spring planting season pass without writing again about farmland preservation.
My friend Glenn Nelson, Environmental Educator for Chester County Parks, frequently reminds us of a message delivered by a college professor he had who came from China. Dr. Chen said [I paraphrase], “Never forget, what makes America great is that she can feed herself.”
At that time China was a net importer of food, and historically, the U.S. has been a net exporter, although imports here are rising faster than exports (U.S.D.A. Economic Research Service).
In this region we live amidst the richest agricultural soils in the nation that do not need irrigation. To pave that over, to convert it to houses, shopping centers, and parking lots, is to take that land out of food production pretty much forever. It also precludes any future that involves restoring natural habitat.
It seems to me that it is a matter of national and regional security to ensure that we have a local way to grow our own food. To do that, we need to preserve the land on which that food grows.
Please support your local farmers, your local land trust or conservancy, and ask community leaders to support measures to protect the open space upon which we all depend.
April 27, 2006
Last week I wrote about a bluebird nest that was completed in one of the nest boxes. This week, there are 4 eggs in the nest. I was surprised that the bluebirds chose this box. It is a little close to the woods’ edge, and gets shaded in the morning. My biggest concern for this nest is the house wrens. I am quite conflicted about house wrens (like I am with deer). Wrens are great singers, and they eat tons of caterpillars. But they are also aggressive when it comes to nestboxes. They will break bluebird eggs, or even build a nest on top of babies. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me too much, but bluebirds have a tough enough time getting a brood fledged, while wrens are very prolific.
Since house wrens like brushy areas, I have several nestboxes set up along the edge of the meadows. Then I place a handful of boxes in the middle of the fields away from the edges. This has been a pretty good strategy over the years. Wrens have used the edge boxes, and have left boxes in the middle of the fields alone (at least until the bluebirds are finished nesting). Occasionally, a bluebird will nest in one of the edge boxes. If it is early enough, it will be able to raise a brood, before the wrens get start claiming territories. I am hoping that this is the case with this nest. I will keep you informed.
In another box, we now have a chickadee nest. I wrote last week that I found moss in one of the boxes and a pair of chickadees was flying nearby. This week, the nest is pretty much done. You can see the moss in this photo. This box is also an edge box, but I am hoping it is early enough to fledge chickadees before the wrens start claiming boxes.
April 27, 2006
Here’s a flower I haven’t noticed before: cut-leaved toothwort (Dentaria laciniata). According to the Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers it is named for tooth-like projections on the roots. I’ll take their word for it; I’m not going to dig one up.
And here’s a very different one that is just about to flower (the photo is from early May last year). Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) is a wildflower that comes up in the lawn and by the roadside near the visitor center. Technically speaking, members of the Compositae, or Aster family, have both disk and ray flowers. What looks like petals here are actually small flowers, as are the cluster of disk flowers at the center.
Also blooming right now: the paw paw tree (Asimina triloba). There’s just one planted in the yard here, but there are suckering groves of it growing on the ridges of French Creek State Park. It is the only member of the Annonaceae, or Custard-apple family that grows in Pennsylvania, according to Rhoads & Block The Plants of Pennsylvania. Custard-apple is a good name, since the fruit is somewhat pear shaped and the consistency of a bananna, like custard. Ours has not fruited, but I have tasted them elsewhere. They wouldn’t ship well and have never enjoyed commercial success as a food. The tree usually grows in moist sites, and indicates to me that the ridges of French Creek State Park have “perched” wetlands in places.
April 26, 2006
Spring is beautiful at the preserve, as in this scene along Pine Creek. Birding has been good as well; after the storm front came through over the weekend there were some warblers flitting in the tree tops, eating insects among the oak flowers. I heard my first wood thrush in the deep woods south of Northside Road yesterday, and soon they will be heard throughout the preserve.
In case you were wondering how the savanna we burned is doing, this is what it looks like about four weeks after the burn: the Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is really greening up.
Carolina silverbell is blooming around the Preserve Center, and the spring beauties, violets, and Jack-in-the-pulpits are up.
The tent caterpillars that feed on black cherry trees and other members of the rose family are already hatched and growing in their tents in the crotches of the trees. Their feeding on the leaves can cause some damage to entire branches of leaves, but rarely do major harm to the tree.
We invite you to the preserve, open daily dawn to dusk, to see some of these beautiful scenes, such as this pink dogwood and redbud growing together.
April 25, 2006
What a great morning for a birdwalk! It took us awhile to get out and on the trail. Everyone was talking about the birds they were seeing at their houses. It ended up that we saw a lot more this morning than anyone expected. Right out the door, we were watching chipping sparrows and goldfinches. We could hear a yellow-rumped warbler singing in the pines. It ended up that yellow-rumpeds were the bird of the day. We saw many of them everywhere we went.
As we headed into the woods we were watching yellow-rumpeds when we heard the “wick-wick-wick” of a woodthrush. We waited in anticipation and it rewarded us with its beautiful flutelike song. Then it perched where we could watch it sing. We heard more during the morning. We also heard the first ovenbird f the spring.
We were watching another flock of yellow-rumpeds, when we heard a new song. The pine warbler was calling (from the top of a tulip tree). We were able to see it, but not well enough to tell it was a pine warbler.
We heard a fair amount of black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouses and blue jays wherever we went. We saw a red-tailed hawk in the meadow, and then watched a blue jay do an imitation of a red-tailed. The field sparrows were also singing in the meadows. We were enjoying a male bluebird, when Elsa spotted a warbler in the grass. It turned out to be a palm warbler, and we got a good look at it.
A group of us were watching some field sparrows in the brush. They were soon joined by a trio of cowbirds. We were watching them through binoculars when a flash of hawk filled the frame. It was a sharp-shinned hawk. It didn’t get anything, but sent the cowbirds for cover. Then the hawk circled above the field for quite awhile accompanied by a tree swallow. Our cohorts joined us in time to see the hawk circling. They had been watching a Baltimore oriole. Rufous-sided towhees were singing, as well as house wrens. We got a great look at a ruby-crowned kinglet.
We came down the Turnpike Trail with more ovenbirds and woodthurshes. At the bottom, we saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher and more yellow-rumped warblers. During the walk we also thought we heard a black and white warbler, a redstart and a blue-winged warbler. After everyone left, I walked out to the mail box and heard a black-throated green warbler. So the warblers are back.
Next Tuesday, we will be meeting at Mariton and 7:30 a.m. and then driving to the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
April 24, 2006
It has been almost been a month since we had the prescribed burn here at Gwynedd. The native warm season grasses are just starting to regenerate as the soil temperatures start to increase with the warming weather.
Almost all of the undesired plants have been killed by the fire. The one lone invasive plant that survived the fire–and in fact is benefited by it–is the Canada Thistle. Thistle hadn’t been growing in the meadow prior to the burn, although its seeds had been lying dormant in the soil from many years before, unable to grow due to the thick matte of grasses over them. By burning away the grasses, we’ve released these seeds to sprout. Even with the growth of the the thistle, though, the burn has done more good than harm. Only a few small patches of the thistle are growing, and all of the other invasives are gone, so overall we need less herbicide to control the invasives in the meadow.
In these photos you can see the warm seasons regenerating. You can also see the oriental bittersweet has not come back from such intense heat from the fire.
April 22, 2006
I’ve enjoyed this rainy Earth Day, typing up notes for work with a cat tucked under one arm and a dog under the other. Fortunately, the Earth Day Outdoors Fest we are attending at Warwick County Park is scheduled for next week, when the weather is likely to be better.
In the spirit of Earth Day, a few words about resource use and management. Most of our management on Natural Lands Trust preserves involves getting two things accomplished out of each one action. Hazard trees that need to be removed are made into paneling for the barn and wood chips for our trails. It’s a process of moving something that is located where it isn’t helping to some place where it might. Most brush is left where it falls, but if there isn’t space for it, we move it or transform it in a way that solves the problem where it was and solves another problem where it is going.
Luke DiBerardinis made the stepstool in the library out of a Norway spruce that stood in the yard at the Lodge house on the preserve but that had declined. A few years ago Natural Lands Trust’s arborist Tom Kershner cut it down—I remember the day well, but I can’t find the pictures I took of the event. We painted the log ends to keep them from checking, and stored the log until we found the right use for it. Luke based the design on a Shaker stepstool with a post added to help one balance on it. Even the library shelves are red oak that came from hazard trees at Natural Lands Trust preserves.
On a similar subject I recommend the book Nature’s Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies, a short volume of essays edited by Kenny Ausubel. The title does not imply that nature needs to be operated upon, but rather we have a lot to learn from nature in how we might better operate our own affairs. It covers—among many other things—biomimicry, bioremediation, natural capitalism, and the magic, or wonder of nature.
April 21, 2006
There’s nothing quite like WebWalkers or Spiderlings to stir things up at Crow’s Nest. We have minimal programming for the spring sessions; we just get out and see the preserve. Both age groups took long hikes this week, from the Deep Woods Trail to the loop along the Creek Trail. We looked for wildflowers, the homes of wildlife, and we played “Sardines” in the boulder-strewn deep woods.
April 21, 2006
This has been a busy week at the preserves, typical of spring and appropriate for Earth Week. I can report only on the small portion that I participated in or heard about. Early in the week we hosted vegetation management training at Crow’s Nest, led by Art Gover from Penn State, to help us get a handle on the mile-a-minute and other weed problems. I understand that on Wednesday tree seedlings and wildflower plugs were successfully planted at Binky Lee. Then on Thursday a few of us planted this native garden at Hildacy Farm with plants reprentative of the Piedmont: mountain laurel, rhododendron, native azaleas, spicebush, redbud, and dogwood. Sean changed the bush hog blades to get the Crow’s Nest tractor ready for mowing trails next week, and we bought more mulch for around existing plantings. And our afternoon kids’ programs started this week: WebWalkers and Spiderlings.
April 20, 2006
I really like our native groundcover Allegheny pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens). I planted it in the garden around the house and I like the mottled semi-evergreen foliage, and love these flowers. There’s nothing wrong with the Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis—with terminal flowers instead of those of the native species that grow from the plant’s base)—except it’s overused in the landscape and occasionally escapes into the woods. I prefer the unique and distinctive native pachysandra.
Also blooming this week at the preserve, Dutchmen’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). And the dogwood bracts are opening—in the case of this pink variety, spectacularly.