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Archive for June, 2006

Swallows Leave – Bluebirds Return

With Nature Day Camp last week, and playing catch-up this week; I have had little time to post an update on the nest boxes.  Last week, I did find time to check boxes.  Both broods of tree swallows had fledged out.  That means there are 11 more swallows eating insects and performing aerial acrobatics.  The house wrens in the yard also fledged out.  But the big news was that I found the beginnings of grass nests in two boxes.

Copy_of_nest_box_062906_001Copy_of_nest_box_062906_002This week when I checked, I could confirm that both nests were bluebirds.  Each nest held 3 eggs!  It has been a long time since bluebirds have produced two broods at Mariton in one summer.  These second nests are in boxes within 100 feet of the boxes used earlier this spring.  Also, neither of the boxes had been occupied by any species this year.  On the left is the nest in Box #9. On the right Box #19.  (I realize they both look the same, but two pairs of bluebirds renesting is a big deal to me.)

Butterfly Census On Saturday

Copy_of_butterfly_count_053Because of the rain on Saturday morning, I postponed the Butterfly Census to this Saturday, July 1, from 9 a.m.to noon.  Hopefully, the weather will be a little more cooperative.  There will definitely be more flowers in bloom to attract butterflies.  If you plan to attend, bring binoculars if you have them.

Day Camp – Friday

Copy_of_groupchimneyrocknoflashWe wrapped things up at Nature Day Camp.  After a quick review of how we use wood products in our personal lives, we took a walk to the Chimney Rock.  Along the way, there were quizzes about different plants.  The kids like sitting on the Chimney Rock and it is a great place for a group photo. 

Copy_of_mountingplants3When we returned to the Nature Center, we mounted the pressed plants.  Then we went downstairs to look at the herbarium.  Polly Ivenz, Mariton’s original Program Director, did a wonderful job collecting and cataloging the plants of Mariton.  That collection now resides in the herbarium.  The herbarium specimens are very similar to the plants the children mounted.  One key difference is the identificaiton card.  That card not only identifies the plant, but also where it was found, when, and other pertinent facts.  The kids were very interested in that, and asked to see the herbarium specimens of many of the plants that they had learned during the week.  They wanted to see where Polly had collected the plant, compared to where they had found it during the week.  They also wanted to check to make sure that there were specimens of the plants they had connected to. 

After they left, I readied the Nature Center for the evening picnic and program.  I like the idea of ending the week with a picnic.  Parents have a chance to look at the photos, and relax in a great setting. 

Copy_of_suetantsits2Sue Tantsits of Edge of the Woods Nursery was our program speaker.  The nursery specializes in native plants for the landscape.  She brought two tables of potted plants and cuttings.  Then, she engaged the children talking about the plants and what makes them special and interesting.  Adults were easily sucked in by Sue’s enthusiasm, and I think a few will experiment with natives in their own yards.

The second Nature Day Camp for children entering Grades 1 – 3 will be held July 10 – 14.  We still have openings.

European Plants

There are many non-native plants at the preserve, due to its long history as a working farm as well as natural and human-caused disturbances. Only a few of them are invasive, growing so strongly that they displace many plants that would otherwise grow here. Here are two plants that are blooming at the preserve right now that are from Europe. They’re not species we’ve tried to control; they may be weed pests in some places but they occur only occasionally here. TrefoilBirdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is blooming in the turfgrass of some of the trails, and along a drainage ditch at the edge of a field. It gets its name from the shape of the flower. And we have both yellow- and white-flowered examples of moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) growing in the parking lot meadow. The common name refers to the fuzzy filaments on the anthers of the flowers; they look like moth antennae. This is a biennial species—each plant lives two years. The first year it is inconspicuous as a basal rosette; in the second year it sends up the flower spike. Mothmullein1Mothmullein2

Preserve Observations

This was a good week for wildlife watching. We have been treated to a trio of pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) working over the trees around the visitor center and parking lot. These birds are huge and their cry raucous. Since we were doing manual labor nearby, the birds didn’t pay much attention to us, and we got very good views of this somewhat shy species. When I see them I am reminded of the search in the swamps of Arkansas for the similar but ellusive ivory-billed woodpecker. I knew crows were nesting (living up to our preserve’s name!) when I saw a crow repeatedly gliding down off the ridge across the road to the creek—presumably to feed—and then "rowing" back uphill to the nest. Then last week the young started making a lot of noise, squawking. They’ve fledged by now I expect, as things have quieted down. SkullcapThis skullcap (Scutellaria elliptica) is now blooming along Piersol Road. PhoebeThis Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is raising young on our porch, providing endless entertainment for my (indoor-only) cats. You can’t tell from this photo, but there are a couple of little beaks sticking out of this nest. The phoebe co-exists easily with my occasional use of the porch. Their messy droppings are made tolerable when you realize what’s in them: phoebes devour a lot of insects. WinterberryflowerRemember that winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) that was one of my favorite plants for the fruit (February 2, 2006 entry)? This is what the flowers look like, right now, on the female plant. Not very showy, but they make possible the gorgeous fruit in winter.

Day Camp – Wood Products

Movinglog3_2This morning, the plan was to mill lumber using Natural Lands Trust’s portable saw mill.  We wanted the children to make the connection between the wood products that they use every day, and the trees that these products come from.  Many children understand that paper and lumber come from trees, but  they don’t comprehend that trees were actually cut down in order to make those products.  Their gut reaction when they hear a chainsaw is that there is a crime being committed.

Over the years I have milled quite a bit of lumber at Mariton.  Trees that blow down or have to be cut because they pose a hazard are generally milled if they are accessable with the tractor, have straight trunks, and are large enough in diameter.  We have used this lumber for projects like sheathing the bird blind, paneling the nature center and bluebird boxes. 

Using the portable saw mill and a hemlock log (that had been a hazard tree), we demonstrated how boards are cut out of a tree.  Then I showed the children the lumber piles from past milling projects.  I explained how I stack lumber to allow it to air dry.

FinishedboxPlantingseeds3Then the kids built little planter boxes from tulip poplar from trees that had blown down at Mariton.  The construction process was more difficult than the kids had imagined (another good lesson).  In the wooden boxes we added plastic pots, soil, water and sunflower seeds.  Following construction, we hiked to the section of woods where the trees had blown down, so the children could see how the forest was responding to this mini natural disaster. 

Photos by Carole Mebus.

Warm Season Grass Update

Gwynedd_meadow It has been just about three months since the prescribed burn took place at the preserve. The grasses are now regenerated and well on their way to maturity. Our goal was to reduce the numbers of invasive plants in the meadows. The fire did a wonderful job at that. We did have a small outbreak of Canada Thistle which was controlled by a light application of broad-leaf herbicide. Rebecca_in_meadow Here in this picture, Stewardship Assistant, Rebecca Shields-Moose stands in the grass that are now almost two feet in length. The grasses will reach a height of six feet by august.

On June 22nd Michele Goodmann from Webbed Foot Wildlife contacted me about a few Killdeer she would like to re-release onto the preserve. Webbed Foot Wildlife rehabilitates  native waterfowl, raptors, shore birds, game birds and wading birds. Killdeer She brought along two young Killdeer to release. So we took them down to the preserves wetlands and opened the door and off the two birds went. They circled the wetlands a few times and then were off to explore the rest of the preserve. Hopefully they will make the preserve their home for good. Please contact preserve manager Tom Kershner before any wildlife is re-released onto the preserve. Thanks

Day Camp – Ferns

Grouplookingforferns_1We explored the world of ferns in Nature Day Camp.  Virginia Derbyshire presented a great lesson in the Nature Center on the structures of these plants that are used for identification purposes.  Then  we went onto the trails and looked at several different fern species to compare similarities and differences.  In all, we saw 8 different ferns.

RattlesnakefernwithflashonUp until this point, we have been discussing flowering plants.  Ferns evolved before flowering plants, and so reporduce using spores (instead of seeds).  Each type of reproduction has its advantages.  This is a rattlesnake fern with its characteristic fertile frond.

Photos by Carole Mebus.

What is that flagging tape for?

This year preserve assistant Sean Quinn and I are keeping track of spots of mile-a-minute (Polygonum perfoliatum) infestation by temporarily hanging fluorescent surveyor’s tape in a branch over each site. Even if we immediately control the ones we found there, we leave the tape as a reminder to check that spot later in the season. We also maintain a hand-colored map of each spot where we’ve found each plant invasion, sort of a low-tech geographic information system. MamThe difficulty with mile-a-minute is not only that it can choke out other vegetation. At this time of year, trying to control it takes nearly all of our time, precluding more interesting restoration projects. This picture was taken at a local arboretum, and if you turn your back on it for a week it will do this to you! By the way, fluorescent tape is also used to mark preserve boundary corner pins. And little flags mounted on wire are being used to designate quadrats for research in the woods off of Northside Road, a long-term project. And this summer you’ll also see flagging mounted on posts in the meadow around the Chief’s Grove that is part of a research project: it is a study of bumblebees found in meadows that are surrounded by woods.

New blooms

ViburnumThe arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) has been in bloom for over a week now. The clusters of white flowers are attractive, and a it is a good wildlife plant, both for the flowers’ nectar and for the fruit in the fall. This fuzzy fellow was making good use of the shrub (and vice versa).Viburnumbee_1 PenstemonBeardtongue (Penstemon sp.) is also blooming on the preserve. This one is growing along Piersol Road, but you can also see lots of it in the meadow on Bethesda Road. Cow_wheatAnd on a dry ridgetop, cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) that has these funky bristles at the base of some of the leaves. It’s a tiny flower, one that is easily overlooked (I can testify to this). It grows on the outcrop of Chickies quartzite on the preserve, known locally as Monocacy Hill—not to be confused with the lovely Amity Township, Berks County, natural area by the same name.

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