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Archive for October, 2006

Color Parade

I think this weekend (and the coming week) will be a good time to view Mariton’s fall colors.  The tuliptrees are yellow, the maples are red, the hickories are on fire and the oaks are changing.  Additionally, the sassafras saplings in the meadows are gorgeous. 

Mebus_maritonfield102406 I haven’t taken any great photos of the colors this season.  Fortunately, Carole Mebus and Molly Border came out on Tuesday, and Carole sent me this photo.  If the colors aren’t amazing enough, remember that this meadow was literally mowed down in March of this year.  Now, there are sassafras saplings that have grown four and five feet in only seven months.

Saturday’s weather forecast is dreary, but I think there will be plenty of leaves to view on Sunday and the rest of the week.  Places I recommend you visit are to walk out the Woods Trail to the Main Trail and follow that up the hill into the meadows.  Walk around the meadows and come down the Turnpike Trail.  If you feel up to it, take a side trip to the River Lookout.  (Remember it is easy going down the hill, but that you will have to come back up eventually.)  The view of the Delaware River and the bluffs across the River should be glorious.  Don’t forget to stop along the way to appreciate the color of individual trees. 


RoofingThe buildings crew—and a couple volunteers from other departments—are putting a new roof on the historic Jacobs barn. They are removing the old metal roof a little at a time, nailing new lath to the rafters, and nailing in new hand-split cedar shingles. The road side goes on this fall, the forebay side next spring.

Digging Holes

Off and on over the last couple weeks I have been installing a fence to go around an expanded vegetable garden, some of which will be a teaching garden for the preserve: kids will plant seeds and seedlings in the spring WebWalkers and Spiderlings programs, and have a chance to harvest some at summer camp or at the fall programs. This sounds more smooth than is likely to work out, but there will be something to plant or harvest in the garden for any of the growing season programs.

Although I could have borrowed a power auger I am digging the post holes by hand, since the soil here is so rocky that the auger would bounce off the rocks or repeatedly break its shear pins. There is a certain Zen to the repetitive actions of digging: loosen the soil with the iron digging bar, scoop out soil, repeat.

RockOne of the holes I am embarrassed to say took an hour to dig (or perhaps I should be relieved that they all didn’t take an hour). There was a massive rock in the precise spot the post needed to go—picket fencing is not flexible about post locations. Here’s a photo of my truck about pull the rock away.

Well, at least that’s how big it seemed when I pulled it out.

The Rhythm of the Seasons: Work

We are passing the seasons of mowing. The mile-a-minute, a perniciously fast-growing annual vine, has been hit by frost and is finished for the year. So I’ve moved on to the next project: this is a good time of year to identify and pull Norway maples. Although we have no mature, seeding trees left at the preserve, there are some landscape trees in the neighborhood and each year I pull thousands of seedlings.

We’re also doing some vine control, particularly of Oriental bittersweet.

Hayride thank you

Fall_vistaThank you to everyone who came to our hayride yesterday; your attendance made it a success!

Thank you also to Frank Hartung for lending us his haywagon, to Sean Quinn for helping load the straw, and to Eloise Smyrl for working with the kids and interpreting the preserve during the hayride.

Star Stories

NightskyThis morning, walking the dogs a little after six, I saw a shooting star in the southwest sky. It was the brightest and slowest I have ever seen, leaving a sparkling trail for about 30 seconds after burning out. This wasn’t the image burned into my retina, it sparkled and then drifted, like fireworks on the Fourth of July. A quick internet search suggests that it was part of the Orionid meteor shower from the debris left over from the passage of Halley’s comet through the inner solar system.

I also heard great horned owls calling this morning, and on tonight’s walk I heard insistent whinnys of the screech owl. Nighttime at the preserve offers a different experience than the day.

I have written about light pollution here before, and have learned to appreciate whatever dark skies I can find. (If you click to enlarge the photo above, you will actually see the stars, rather than the blank black rectangle you see now).

Fortunately Crow’s Nest still exhibits a bit of dark sky, and we will be showcasing it in an upcoming event. Called "Star Stories," this is a nighttime family event to be held on Saturday, November 11:

Visit the preserve at night to gather together for soup, bread, and potluck side dishes and dessert. Then tell made-up stories about constellations, learn traditional myths, or just enjoy the night sky.

We’ll meet at 6 pm for dinner, then go outside if the skies are clear. This won’t be a telescope-based star watch but an opportunity to pause to appreciate the night sky as generations before have done.

The event is $5/person, $15/family. Please RSVP by calling me at 610-286-7955.


Beech_dropsI nominate to my personal hall of heroes and heroines: Joan Maloof, the author of the recent book Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest (University of Georgia Press, 2005).

Each essay combines a description of a species of tree with the interactions with other organisms that are going on in our last remaining natural areas—an eloquent and impassioned plea for diverse natural forests. She teaches biology and environmental studies at Salisbury College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; the Coastal Plain habitats she describes are only a little different from the Piedmont here at the preserve, and all of the book resonates.

For the chapter on the beech tree, for example, she details the relationships of the trees with red-backed salamanders, beech-drops (photo from Crow’s Nest above), tway-blade orchids, fungal gnats, and many fungal species. Land cleared for pine plantations or subdivisions loses this richness.

Her most famous essay, a version of which was originally published at A Journal of Natural and Built Environments, is about the chemical compounds found in the air in old-growth forests, and that although they have been little studied, these compounds are likely to offer health benefits to the humans who breathe old-growth air. "Let’s hope we don’t have to drive too far to breathe it," she writes (5).

It’s a small book, but packed with enough information that I’m going to have to reread it right away. She approaches the subject with the rigor of a scientist but also the sensibility of a poet. She quotes often the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (from his "Ninth Elegy," and illustrates the book with the drawings of artist-naturalist John Abbot (from The natural history of the rarer lepidoterus insects of Georgia…, 1797).

We have been selecting interdependent relationships Maloof describes—such as that of oaks, squirrels, a weevil, acorn moth larva, mice, owls, gypsy moths, deer, and songbirds—in our investigations with the kids at our WebWalkers program. We can go out at the preserve and find the evidence, and we can thank Joan Maloof for bringing this wonder to our doorstep.

Great Discovery!

I happened to pick up a brochure today that is a guide to eleven nature preserves in Chester County. There’s a description and contact information as well as detailed direction maps for each of them. Four of them are Natural Lands Trust preserves, including Crow’s Nest, Stroud, Sadsbury Woods, and Willisbrook. Other participants are the Willistown Conservation Trust, Brandywine Valleys Association, and several township park natural areas.

You can view and download this brochure online at the Chester County Open Space website.

Butterflies and Spiders

Spider_1 Naturalist Jim Dowdell was doing his periodic butterfly inventory at the Burden Hill Preserve when he noticed this butterfly not taking off like the others. Looking more closely (you can click on the image to see a bigger version), he noticed that it was in the grip of a yellow flower spider, also known as a crab spider. These spiders sometimes sew petals together and hide under them in wait for prey. And they–like this specimen–are sometimes camouflaged the same color as their host flower.

New benches

Bench_1I have long admired the benches preserve manager Darin Groff made at Natural Lands Trust’s Binky Lee Preserve, situated to capture stunning views. Now we have a couple new ones at Crow’s Nest: Luke made two more benches that match the ones in the barnyard. This one is located at the edge of the Chief’s Grove and looks out over Crow’s Nest’s agricultural landscape; the other replaces one I had made a few years ago along French Creek but had rotted. There is also one that Eagle Scout Mike Watson built at the top of the hill at the start of the Deep Woods trail.

You might want to wait a few days before enjoying the new benches, though. They were treated with a water repellant that hasn’t quite dried. I posted them with wet paint signs.


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