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Archive for July, 2006

Barnyard benches

Bench2Early this morning before camp started Luke DiBerardinis delivered the benches he had built for the visitor center barnyard. I am especially excited because I have long anticipated having a place where visitors could sit and enjoy the barnyard garden and barn architecture.

Bench3I designed and installed the gardens with spaces for the benches in 2001, but I knew I couldn’t build benches myself of the quality I wanted. And these oak benches are from hazard trees from here on the preserve, so they have a story.

I hope you’ll stop in and enjoy this addition to the preserve.

Fallen Trees are Food

Last week’s storm dropped a lot of branches and many trees in the woods. We did not have the major tree failures along the roads that many people suffered, but we had lots smaller stuff come down, and big trees here and there deep in the woods.

Within a week we are noticing heavy deer browse on these fresh green branches that are suddenly within reach of their mouths.

And in Pine Creek today we saw some of the fresh branches had apparently been chewed by beaver. The cambium under the bark of green twigs is more of a fall and winter food for beaver, but the fresh branches that fell into the stream were a bonus this summer.

We know that trees falling in the forest is part of a cycle of life and death, creating opportunities for some species at the expense of others. Deer and beavers were particularly quick and noticeable beneficiaries of the storm.

Ready For Take-Off

Copy_of_nest_box_072506_002The nest box activity has really slowed down.  There are still 3 young bluebirds in Box #9; here is their photo.  I expect them to be gone next week when I monitor. 

Summer Camp

I apologize, dear readers (both of you—hi mom!) for not updating this weblog recently. With a full day of camp followed by a part day of land management, there is no time left!

KidsshelterHere are some scenes from the first week of camp (we are now starting our third). The kids built some neat shelters in the woods. One evening while mowing after camp I found some preserve visitors enjoying the "porch" of one of them.

KidsandrockThe planning and construction of the shelters was a cooperative effort. The kids had to reach consensus on what goes where, and then help each other moving materials, drilling holes and screwing boards together. On the last day of camp everything was disassembled for later groups.

Hayride_1As we explored the "five corners of Crow’s Nest" we employed a haywagon to shorten travel times.

Kids_in_streamAnd we played in French Creek, explored one of its tributaries—Pine Creek—and also spent a couple hours at Mine Run, here looking for crayfish.

Butterflies Galore

Copy_of_wild_bergamot_002 Right now the wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is blooming in the meadows.  It is very attractive to butterflies.  I saw lots of eastern tiger swallowtails, spicebush swallowtails, monarchs, silver-spotted skippers, and other butterflies visiting these blossoms.  Now is a great time to look for butterflies in the meadows.

I also saw several hummingbird moths (Hemaros thysbe) visiting the bergamot.  These are so named because they feed while hovering, and their wings beat so quickly; like a hummingbird.  If you have been wanting to see one, now is the time to visit Mariton.  I was unable to capture a photo of these quick moving insects.  I did, however, find several websites with good photography. 

Bluebirds Hatch

Copy_of_nest_box_071806One of the bluebird nests now has 3 young.  They look like they are only  a few days old.  You can see some feathers developing, but their veins are still visisble under the skin.  Unfortunately, the second nest was empty when I checked it.  The three eggs were gone, and there were no young.  It is too soon for the young to have hatched and fledged.  This second pair also had problems with their first brood of young.  I can only guess that there is an adept nest predator living in this meadow.

Day Camp – Friday

Mountingpressedflowers3Nature Day Camp came to a close on Friday.  We began the morning with a walk to review.  I was plesantly surprised that kids pointed out things that they had learned.  When we returned to the Nature Center, the kids mounted the plants we had pressed on Monday.  I really like these pressed flowers and ferns.  It is simple, but it is really beautiful artwork. 

Nedheindel1MadscientistFriday evening, the kids returned with their families for a picnic.  Following the picnic was a very special program.  Dr. Ned Heindel set up a science lab in the Nature Center and then proceeded to make plant extracts from mint, pine needles, cinnamon, vanilla bean, etc.  While working with the different extraction methods, he talked about plant materials that are used in modern pharmaceuticals.  He discussed how companies are now revisiting Colonial and Native American plant remidies and re-discovering medicines, or finding new cures for ailments from old medicines.  It was a wonderful mix of chemistry, botany, history, and pharmacology.  I found it fascinating, and so did the children and their parents.

Photos by Carole Mebus.

Blooming Now

This week we saw the first blooms of germander (Teucrium canadense) that I wrote about last July. And the monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) is also blooming in wet, sunny streamsides and roadside ditches.

StingingnettleStinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is also blooming now, the visual sign a bit helpful in avoiding it. It grows here mainly along the wet edges of Pine Creek, well away from our trails. Also known as "7-minute itch," it provokes a variably short-lived reaction. It’s not a bad native plant, and has several herbal uses.

Blue vervain (Verbana hastata) has also started blooming in our wet meadows (see the July 26, 2005 entry).

EnchantersnightshadeAnd enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) has finished blooming and is forming its more distinctive hairy seed pods. As so often the case, the hyphen in the common name means a lot: this is not a true nightshade (Solenaceae) but is in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae). The bur-like seeds will invevitably become established on someone’s trousers…


I have been here long enough to observe a few cycles and trends. When I started here ten years ago, there were conspicuously few wild rabbits to be seen on the preserve. Today, for whatever reason, they are common.

Populations go in cycles. This year has been an especially good year for Japanese beetles. They have converted the Virginia creeper into a brown lacy outline of itself, and hit the sassafras hard. I compared notes with neighbors and other land managers, and they are experiencing the same.

I have seen more butterfly weed (Asclepia tuberosa) this year than ever before, and am thrilled that it is doing so well. It seems to be a slow-growing and difficult-to-establish plant, so it is great to see it just "show up."

And the fringed loostrife (Lysimachia ciliata) I wrote about recently is definitely a lot more common than I’ve ever seen before.

Of course some of the weedy invasive plants are also increasing, but that’s a story for another day.

Declines are more difficult to detect; none specifically come to mind, though I’m sure they’re going on.

Sharp eyes

SpiderKids at camp see a lot of things I might otherwise miss. Witness this "brownish-gray Fishing Spider" (that’s its real name)—Dolomedes tenebrosus—we saw while doing a stream walk on Pine Creek.

These spiders can be found away from water as well. This one has a very soft appearance; according to the Audubon Field Guide to Insects & Spiders, air clinging to body hair appears sufficient for the spider to breathe underwater for 30 minutes or more (p. 894). Given its size this one is a female (they can have a legspan over 3"). We think the front legs are folded under in this photo.


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