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Archive for August, 2006

Wish List

We’re looking for a couple items to help us manage the preserve:

1. Tomato cages; these will be used to protect individual tree seedlings from deer browse. Concrete reinforcing wire that can be bent into cages is also handy.

2. Wood chips; if you are an arborist working in the neighborhood and need a place to dump chips (seed free) we can use them to put down on our trails.

Please call us at 610-286-7955 if you have something to share.

A Small Visit

RingneckWe had a visit today in the barn from this very small visitor, a ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). This one must be a juvenile because it is smaller than a pencil, maybe 5" but the Audubon Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians says they can grow to 10 – 30 inches. It also notes the ringneck’s prey includes earthworms, slugs, salamanders, lizards, and newborn snakes, which they partially constrict.

The book also says they rarely bite when picked up, but will void a foul musk. I used a tissue to move it outside.

The first time I saw one was when I first moved here. The house renovations weren’t completed and lots of wildlife found its way inside. My old cat Lucretia started making a racket in the middle of the night—but not the same racket as "I found a mouse!" She had a ringneck on the stairs to the basement and kindly alerted me.

Mushrooms

Mush1This has been a banner summer for mushrooms at the preserve. We’ve had every color of the rainbow and all sorts of wild shapes, of which these photos are just a small, tame-looking selection. I’m not going to try to identify them here.

Mush2Remember that the mushroom is only the reproductive structure of a potentially massive, threadlike underground fungus that we have no way of seeing without destroying in the process of removing the soil and roots it lives among. They may be the largest creatures on earth, and they apparently are more closely related to animals than to plants.

I recently read Michael Pollan’s new book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and he wrote a chapter about the risks and choices of foraging for mushrooms. In addition to the discussion of the cuisine, I gained an appreciation for the fungi that create mushrooms.

Mush3Although some mushrooms feed on dead tissue, others have a symbiotic relationship with live plant tissue. An awful lot of forest life as we know it depends on this association, since these "mycorrhizal" fungi make soil nutrients soluble to the plants (which the plants cannot do themselves) in return for the plant roots returning some sugars, the result of photosynthesis that the plant can do but the fungus cannot.

Mush4I am also amazed by how much a mushroom changes in appearance over the course of a few days. If I was not visiting the same spot to look at them I might sometimes assume it was a different species!

I recommend Michael Pollan’s book (for reasons much broader than the chapter on mushrooms) and I urge you to visit the preserve to see some of these mushrooms for yourself.

Pennsylvania Renewable Energy Festival

On September 22 and 23 (Friday and Saturday) the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association will be hosting the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival in Kempton, Pennsylvania (near Hawk Mountain).

There will be two days of workshops on a huge variety of topics: solar, wind, and biofuel power; how to make biodiesel; organic farming; pastured poultry, beef & pork; land conservation through easements; green buildings; low-impact logging; beekeeping; and lots more.

There are activities for kids, student films, exhibitors, demonstrations, and music (including Dar Williams). There’s also a raffle to win one of two hybrid automobiles.

Check their website for the schedule of workshops and events. Some of the workshops require pre-registration and a fee, but many others are free with admission.

On feeding wildlife

I have a couple bird feeders at the preserve, but I realize when I feed them it is for our benefit in viewing them, not strictly for their benefit. And I understand there are certain risks to feeding them: it’s not that they will become dependent on me but rather that gathering them together at a high density to feed can cause the spread of disease—so feeders must be kept clean.

I don’t recommend feeding deer or other mammals. They too are susceptible to diseases that spread at higher population densities, so feeding them could harm the species you intended to help. And there are often other consequences as well: trampled vegetation, artificially high populations of the species and perhaps their parasites, diseases, and predators, and species invasions due to the disturbance.

For example, a neighbor of the preserve has put salt blocks out in his backyard at the base of the steep hillside of the preserve. Over the last few years we have found that this otherwise undisturbed oak forest has developed soil erosion and a change of flora in the understory. Instead of oak seedlings and Ericacious plants (blueberry, huckleberry, deerberry, and pinxter azalea) the understory has become filled with signs of disturbance: pokeweed, wineberry, and mile-a-minute. I think the intense grazing of deer on the steep hillside has created the conditions that have fostered the vegetation changes. This was not an intended outcome of feeding deer, but everything is closely related.

The Game Commission prohibits feeding bear, even if unintentionally through having bird feeders that they will get into (people upstate only feed birds when the bears are hibernating). And some municipalities prohibit feeding deer precisely because they are grappling with the consequences of habitat change and high deer populations: increases in human Lyme disease, a complex of the populations of black-legged tick, white-footed mouse, white-tailed deer, and Borrelia burgdorferi , the spirochete that causes Lyme disease.

Why you shouldn’t release wildlife here

Occasionally I recieve calls about wildlife rehabilitation, and people also request permission to release at the preserve a groundhog (or other critter) they trapped in their yard. (And sometimes they don’t ask and I find them just doing it!)

We aren’t licensed or equipped to do wildlife rehabilitation here, and though we have varied wildlife habitats at Crow’s Nest Preserve, we don’t want you to release any wildlife here. Moving animals could spread disease, and many animals do not adapt to a new habitat successfully. And in some cases they could alter the web of relationships among wildlife, for example the release of non-native pet fish that consume the food sources of a host of native fish and amphibians.

For questions about mammals or birds you can call the Pennsylvania Game Commission Southeast Region office, 877-877-9470. For amphibians and fish: the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 717-705-7800.

In many cases it is best to leave injured wildlife alone. Animals are part of a complex community and people’s intervention could have unanticipated consequences for the individual or the other species that are also part of that community.

There are a few rehabilitators in our area: Tri-State Bird Rescue, 302-737-9543; Wild Wings Rehabilitation Center, 610-486-6067; and Reynarden Farm Wildlife Rescue, 610-584-5686. These are nonprofit, often volunteer organizations that need the support of the people who contact them.

Hiking Clubs at Crow’s Nest

There are several hiking clubs that make use of Crow’s Nest Preserve, and I recommend joining these clubs as a way to be introduced to new places to hike and to socialize with a nice bunch of people.

The Chester County Trail Club routinely visits Crow’s Nest and other Natural Lands Trust preserves. Crow’s Nest is often included as part of a 12-mile loop they do that starts in French Creek State Park (such as one on September 9), or one that starts here and travels into the state park. The club leads short and long hikes, including a full moon hike on the Struble Trail, walking at Valley Forge, as well as extended trips such as sections of the Appalachian Trail and Tuscarora Trail.

The Elverson Walking Club visits local open spaces and is exploring the just-opening sections of the Schuylkill River Hiking Trail.

The Blue Moutain Eagle Climbing Club, which maintains a nearby section of the Appalachian Trail, will be hiking at Crow’s Nest on December 3. And the Berks Community Hiking Club was just here last week.

Other groups that regularly come here include the Roamers Hiking Club, the Wilmington Trail Club, the Sierra Club, the Horse-Shoe Trail Club, and Valley Forge Audubon.

It’s so dry…

…that even the ragweed is wilting! Other species showing pronounced signs of water stress are jewelweed and Pennsylvania knotweed or "chewing-gum" plant: Polygonum pensylvanicum.

The places where these plants are wilting are not out in the full sun where you might expect. It’s on the edge of the woods in partial shade: the herbacious plants are competing with the nearby trees for moisture and the bigger trees are winning.

Perhaps because of the heat this seems to be a banner year for crabgrass in the lawn. We’ve had few problems with it before; we cut the lawn high (3.5") and that seems to shade it out. But with the cool-season turf grasses long dormant the crabgrass has flourished (we also lowered the mower to 3.25" during camp to make the lawn more friendly to foot traffic, and that may have been a factor).

Home

Sunflower_1It’s great to be home again, back at the preserve. This thin-leaved sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus) is blooming near the parking lot entrance.

The Joe-Pye weed is still blooming and covered with butterflies. Black-eyed Susan is also blooming, as is the cardinal flower and blue vervain.

Ironweed_1Joining them is New York ironweed (Vernonia novaboracensis). Again, this photo did not get the color right. It is much more violet than pink in person.

After 10 days in the north woods, I was amazed on the drive home by how much corn we are growing in this region!

I am also stunned by how dry it is here. New England has had a very wet season, but it hasn’t rained significantly here this month. After an extremely dry late spring, and July’s severe storms which mostly ran off, the dogwood trees and goldenrod here are conspicuously wilting. Those strong storms stick in people’s memory as a very wet period, so unless you are out on the land you might not realize how dry it really is.

Whenever I visit New England in the summer I am taken by surprise that their fall wildflowers such as goldenrod and aster bloom earlier than ours. I have it stuck in my mind that our plants flower earlier, since all of our spring blooms occur before theirs. But since fall also comes earlier in northern latitudes, their blooming season is compressed and their fall blooms start sooner.

Not much goldenrod is blooming here just yet. But my nose tells me that the (much less showy) ragweed must be starting. I haven’t seen the wind-pollinated ragweed flowers open yet or their puff of pollen, but my allergies are just starting.

Vacation!

KatahdinrainbowI’ve just returned from an excellent vacation: hiking the 100-mile Wilderness and climbing Mt. Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Every couple minutes was another view that looked like a tourism bureau calendar, though photographs do not do the views justice. When we saw this rainbow (over Rainbow Lake) a couple days out from the mountain, the summit of Katahdin was obscured in clouds. The people who tried to summit on this day were turned back by hail and sleet.

Visiting such a huge landscape is inspirational. Although this is all second-growth forest, and there remains logging roads and other signs of past human intervention, looking out from the many mountains we saw no signs of human presence on the land, something you can’t find most places.

BelowsummitI feel privileged to have experienced this hike. There are some perspectives you can only see from the mountaintops and these you can only reach by hiking. We found the terrain very difficult—rocks, roots, and mud—but the views worth the work. Katahdin itself required hand-over-hand climbing above treeline and was socked in a cloud when we were at the summit, but things started to clear away as we descended.

BogboardwalkThe alpine flora was amazing, and I was also interested to see the methods the Maine Appalachian Trail Club uses to maintain the trail. Of the 120 miles we walked, probably two miles were in boardwalks and nearly the same in stone stairs.

StonestepsOne could argue that these constructions interfere with the wildness of the "wilderness." However, they are constructed entirely of natural materials from onsite: the boardwalks are split hemlock and cedar logs, and the stairs are made of nearby rocks winched and dug into place. We saw a crew of volunteers building a set coming down Whitecap Mountain. They make the hike much safer and only a little bit easier. And most importantly, they protect the natural resource: these trails get such heavy use that it causes erosion on steep slopes and smothered vegetation where hikers skirt muddy trails. Boardwalks and steps confine users to a narrow track allowing vegetation to recover right up to the edge of them.
Mtns

Thanks go to Sean Quinn for looking after the preserve so that I could get away. He mowed trails, pruned low-hanging branches over them, cleaned up from summer camp, repaired equipment, weed whipped, and mowed lawns.

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