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Archive for May, 2006

Have a Cigar

Blue_bird_photo_1 Here is this week’s update on the nest boxes.  Last week’s baby bluebirds are feathered out and will be leaving the nest soon.   There are still four young and they will probably be gone next week when I check the boxes.  This is probably the last photo of this brood.

Bluebird_photo_2 When I checked the other bluebird nest, the female flew out of the box.  Inside, I found 3 eggs and one freshly hatched baby.  I am really pleased.  That explains the title of this post.  As a bonus, I got a great photo of the new guy. 

The tree swallows still have 5 eggs in the first nest and should be hatching shortly.  The other nest, near the driveway, now has 6 eggs, and is full of feathers so that you can’t get a photo of the eggs.

Wren_eggs Finally, I have several house wren nests with eggs.  Here is one with 7 eggs.  This nest is made of finer materials than I am accustomed to for house wrens, and I wonder if it could be a Carolina wren.  Next week, I will spend a little time observing the box to see who visits.

Magical Morning at Giving Pond

On Tuesday (5/23), the Mariton Birders visited Giving Pond in Bucks County.  This is an old quarry, that is now managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  We had one of those magical mornings for birders.  (So magical, that I forgot to take photos.)  Many saw new species, and we all saw some uncommon species.  Afterwards, Carole listed the 41 species of birds we saw on our morning stroll.

We started things off with the uncommon sighting of a common nighthawk.  Someone saw it flying, but then we located it sleeping on a limb.  It was in full view, but very camouflaged.  As Carole would say, that alone was worth the price of admission.  I could have gone home content right then, but that was just the beginning.

On the pond we saw great blue herons.  At first it was just two, then two more.  By the end, I think we had picked out at least a dozen (and possibly 20) great blue herons hidden in the trees along the edge of the water.  We also saw tree swallows, but one didn’t quite match and we determined it was a rough-winged swallow.  There was an immature double crested cormorant.  We also saw ONE cedar waxwing.  Someone commented that where there is one, there must be a flock.  Then the flock of waxwings magically appeared.

We watched lots of Baltimore orioles and even found a nest.  We saw lots of goldfinches and heard several indigo buntings.  There were yellow warblers.  There were parula warblers.  There were field sparrows, song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, fish crows, catbirds, etc., etc.

Elsa found a killdeer and was probably close to the nest.  She said she was looking at something and the bird suddenly appeared at her feet.  Then it scurried away doing the "broken wing trick". Killdeers make a small depression in the gravel for their nest, and their eggs blend right in with all the pebbles.  When we returned to the parking lot we saw the killdeer.  Then it would stop moving and disappear before our eyes.  Magical.

At the next pond outlook, we heard the warbling vireo.  We also found one of the empidonax flycathers.  There are 5 species of empidonax flycatchers that are virtually identical except for their calls.  They prefer different habitats, but each species’ preferred habitat can overlap with at least one of the other species’.  We got lucky and this one was singing.  It was a willow flycatcher, and we got a great view of it.  (Well, perhaps it wasn’t luck.)

Then a mature bald eagle flew low above us.  It gave us a long look as it headed for the cliffs in the distance and finally landed in the forest.  Someone was talking about the osprey nest in Riegelsville, when an osprey magically appeared before us.  It was a magical morning.

Monarch caterpillar

MonarchcatI’ve been seeing the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the milkweed plants in the meadow. This host plant has thrived in the wake of prescribed burns in this area. It is important to remember that wildflowers serve buttterflies twice—first, leaves are a food source for caterpillars, and then flowers are nectar sources for butterflies. Chewed leaves are a small price to pay to have butterflies. I also saw two indigo buntings yesterday: spectacular.

Poison Ivy

Poisonivy_1The most frequently-asked question I hear when I am giving talks about invasive plants is "How do I get rid of poison ivy?" Now, I fully understand why people don’t like poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The contact dermatitis it causes for some people is serious, and I frequently have a rash. But although I might consider it a weed, I don’t consider it an invasive. It is prolific, but it rarely out-competes trees for sunlight, the way invasive vines can. As a native plant, it occupies a natural niche; deer eat it and birds eat the fruit. In the landscape, it offers good fall color. We try to cut it in places where people might come in contact with it, and we find ourselves having to mow it and weed whip it in areas we are managing with mechanical cutting. And we clip the vines on roadside trees, leaving the tops of the vines to die, so that the vines do not obscure any hazardous defects in the trees. But otherwise we follow the adage, "leaves of three, leave them be."

Great Time For Birding

There has been a lot of warbler activity this week at Mariton.  Lots of (very vocal) parula warblers have been hanging around the Nature Center and in the woods.  I was able to see a female the other afternoon, and today I got a good look at a male singing.  Hooded warblers have also been around.  I heard them singing on both Monday and Tuesday.  Eileen and Nancy birded on Wednesday and actually got a look at one.  Today, Joe was birding and got a great look at a Blackburnian warbler.  (He also found a hummingbird nest.)  We are hearing black and whites, redstarts, black-throated blues, and worm eating warblers (plus several more).

Monday, a woodcock flushed along the River Lookout Trail.  It is not something you expect at Mariton, although I have seen them a few times over the years.  I wondered if all the rain had flooded its normal haunts, and it moved to higher ground to forage.

Veerys are finally singing.  We have seen them for a couple weeks, but they were silent until recently.  It is one of my favorite songs, so I have been anxiously awaiting their singing.  Black-billed cuckoos are also being heard regularly.  There is an abundance of the oooooh-aaaaah birds like the scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and indigo buntings. 

Copy_of_nest_box_51806_006_1I checked nestboxes this morning.  One bluebird nest has four young birds, the other nest has four eggs.  If you left click the photo, you should be able to see the closed eyes and the bill of one of the youngsters(and feathers and body parts of its siblings).  This is really exciting. 

Copy_of_nest_box_51806_002_2 Copy_of_nest_box_51806_010_2Last week, I promised a photo of the tree swallow nest.  The nest on the left is typical.  It has a shallow grass base, with a lot of feathers (usually white).  Unfortunately, the glare from the feathers doesn’t allow you to see the 5 white eggs in the nest.  On the right is another tree swallow nest.  This one is uncharacteristic, in that it has a single blue jay feather, but you can more clearly see the 3 eggs in this photo.  This nest is located in a box along the driveway.  Everytime you pull in for the next few weeks, you should be able to watch the swallows around this box.

Our Tuesday Morning Birdwalk had to be cancelled because of the rain.  I have rescheduled the trip to Merrill Creek for Tuesday, May 30.  This coming Tuesday (05/23), we will be visiting Giving Pond in Bucks County, and probably birding a little along the towpath in Tinicum.  It is an exciting time to be a birder.

Open House & Contra Dance!

ContraIt’s only a couple weeks until our annual Open House! On Saturday, June 3 (rain or shine) we will have tours and hayrides at 4:30 p.m. Then at 5:30 we will hold a potluck dinner in the barnyard. We will provide beverages; the food people bring is always awesome! R.S.V.P to Dan Barringer at 610-286-7955. There’s no charge for the afternoon activities.

Then as dusk falls we turn the barn over to the Elverson Contra Dance for contras, squares, waltzes and more. The caller will be Shane Knudsen and music will be by the Forge Mountain Ramblers. At 7:30 there will be some beginner instruction; at 8:00 the dances begin. Please pay admission at the door for the dance: $8 ($5 for high school studens and seniors over 65).

Conta dancing is easy; new dancers are welcome! That’s Natural Lands Trust’s own Erich Estes (Stroud Preserve) in the photo. It is not necessary to bring a partner. Wear soft-soled shoes and casual, comfortable clothing. Please bring a snack to share at the break.

See you there!

Plant a Tree

Several organizations are collaborating to increase the tree cover in Southeastern Pennsylvania. You may be able to receive a rebate up to $25 for a tree purchased before June 30, 2006 for planting in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Mongtgomery, or Philadelphia counties.

Ask nursery retailers if they are participating in the program, or check out TreeVitalize, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Inside the Barn

Salamander_2Last night this little feller showed up in the utility room of the barn. It’s a yellow spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) that was poking its head and forelimbs over the edge of the concrete like a World War II “Kilroy was here” graffito. By the time the camera was brought out it had retreated.

I was in the back room of the barn poking and prodding the network dial-up modem into responding when it otherwise wouldn’t. The salamander may have gotten in though the window wells, but I can’t rule out the possibility that it burrowed under the barn foundation and came up in this gap between the wall and the concrete floor. I wasn’t able to move the salamander and today it has gone elsewhere.

More woodland wildflowers

SarsaNow blooming is a bit of the wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis). Borne on a separate, taller stalk, the leaves are not visible in this photo. The specific epithet of the Latin botanic name (the second of the two words, the first being the genus)—nudicaulis—means naked stalk; the flower stalk is “naked” of leaves. The leaves you do see in this photo are of Virginia creeper and Christmas fern.

MaplevibThe maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium) is just about to bloom. The leaves look a little like those of a red maple, and even are paired opposite on the stem (like most maples and viburnum). But this is a woodland multistemmed shrub.

OsmorhizaAlso blooming is this wildflower. I’m going to call it aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis), though sweet-cicely (O. claytonii) is very similar. The former is supposed to have more glabrous stems (not bearing hair), and a more strong anise (licorice) smell. I think we have both species growing together.

Mayapple2Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) has been blooming for a while, and deer have been eating the single umbrella-like leaf off the stem, exposing the pretty flowers.

True and False

SoltrueThe Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is blooming now at the preserve. This is the “true” Solomon’s seal which gets its name from the shape of the leaf scar which is said to resemble the seal of King Solomon (Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers, p. 611).

Solfalse1There is also a false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) that has feathery flowers only at the terminal tip of the plant, rather than bell-shaped ones in the leaf axils all the way down the stem. False Solomon’s seal, which is sometimes classified in the genus Maianthemum, is not in the same genus as Solomon’s seal—regardless of name offered. When not in flower the two look similar, but the false Solmon’s seal lacks the distinctive leaf scar.

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