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Archive for October, 2007

Crow’s Nest: First frost & other thoughts

FallbackyardWe had our first frost last night—two weeks later than last year. Fall color has been a little muted this year, but still beautiful. In this photo of the backyard the two green trees are ones I planted in the patch of meadow between the lawn and the woods: a paw paw and a sweet gum.

HawkmtnYesterday we went with WebWalkers and Spiderlings families to Hawk Mountain. Even the fall color there was muted, though the vista is stunning. The hawk watching was good too, and the four o’clock bald eagle was glorious gliding into the sunset.

I had the opportunity recently to cut down a tree at my parents’ house that was one I had grown from seed as part of an Arbor Day celebration in 1991. I had scarified the seed (cut a notch in the protective shell) and cold statified it (put it in moist vermiculite in the fridge) for a few months to meet the species’ needs for germination. We grew them in paper cups and then the organization I was working for distributed thousands of them to Philadelphia schoolchildren.

In sixteen years the goldenraintree (Kolreuteria paniculata) had grown quickly to 8 inches diameter and fifteen feet in height. But it had also reached for light in a place that had seemed large enough when I planted it but had proven too small. The tree grew at a 45 degree slant and crowded out other plants. (That was not the first or last time I failed to leave enough space for a plant as it grew large—a very common landscaping problem.)

So its time to replant, this time with some native shade-tolerant shrubs that won’t grow so fast or so large. With the closure of one growing season it is time to prepare for the next.

Mariton – Persimmons

Presently, there are fruits on the persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana).  Mariton doesn’t have many persimmons, but this year they produced a lot of fruit.  Persimmons are in the ebony family (Ebenaceae).  Like other ebonies, the wood is quite hard, strong and dark.  Persimmons are the only trees of this genus that are native to the United States, and can be found in most south eastern states.  There are 175 species in this genus world wide, with most being tropical or subtropical species.  (Source:  Groiler’s North American Trees by Thomas S. Elias)  The wood, though hard, has little commercial use, except by craftsmen for various projects.

Persimmon_003The orange, fleshy fruits are interesting and look delicious.  But before a heavy frost, the fruit is very astringent.  Biting into fruit before it is fully mature will dry your mouth and pucker your lips.  This isn’t a problem if you are near lots of water, but I have become cautious about sampling the fruit while afield.  Because it is an important food for wildlife, I prefer to leave it for the raccoons, foxes and deer.  The fruit is available at many supermarkets around Thanksgiving, which is a better source for sampling.

Mariton – Color Report 10.26.07

Color_102507_008Color_102607_010Things are still pretty green, as you can see from this photo from the River Lookout Trail (left).  Many leaves have already turned color and fallen at Mariton.  So, the walking trails themselves are very colorful.  The hickory and birch trees are bright yellow right now.  Some of the sassafras trees are gorgeous.  Likewise, some of the red maples are brilliant, while others are still green.  These red maple leaves (right) were spectacular.  The tree that held these was covered with similar leaves.  If you are waiting for the peak weekend, you will likely miss small treasures like these.  Plus, with the warm, dry fall (until recently), we may not have a traditional peak.  If I had to predict, I think the best colors will be between the November 3 – 11.

Color_102607_001_2For viewing colors at Mariton this weekend, I would recommend walking up one of the trails to the meadows.  There should be a variety of colors (including green) from this vantage point. 

Crow’s Nest: Holy bat cave!

Bat_puppetsThe kids at WebWalkers and Spiderlings are making bat finger puppets, here shown hanging in the “bat cave.” They’re learning about creatures of the night and of the day and why a species might be active in one or the other.

Crow’s Nest: Prescribed Grazing

100_5896We now have cattle at the preserve, performing a duty we call “prescribed grazing.” Much like the prescribed fire we use to manage meadows and serpentine barrens on Natural Lands Trust preserves, this grazing has a specific land-management objective: to reduce the cover of plants in a wetland to return it to an earlier state of succession.

Crow’s Nest was historically grazed as part of a dairy farm; when the animals were removed many years ago the landscape began to grow up in thickets and trees. While this is desirable in many places, particularly along the streamsides of French Creek, there are a couple small wetlands that have been taken over by cattails, reed-canary grass (a non-native), and red maple trees. We’d like to maintain a portion of these wetlands as open tussock-sedge marsh.

Enter five young Jersey steers, generously loaned to us by a couple colleagues, Erich Estes and Jack Stefferud, who raise them at their farms. The calves will be here through the fall and will return next spring (we don’t have shelter for them here or a frost-free water source). They will graze a small area but not at a density or duration to impact water quality.

This project was initiated by Natural Lands Trust’s Senior Director of Science, Dr. Jim Thorne, and the arrival of the calves is the result of a couple years of planning and background legwork.

Img_2929This restoration is being funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the nonprofit Environmental Defense, as well as the William Penn Foundation, Natural Lands Trust, the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife Program, and Pheasants Forever.

Thanks also to Brandywine Conservancy for their support of these changes to the land for which they hold an easement, and to our neighbors who let us build a portion of the pasture on their land so that we have some upland habitat for the cattle—also critical for unloading and loading the steers.

This project is cutting edge wetland restoration and is very exciting. The cattle are not near existing trails, but if you see them when visiting you should be aware that the fence is electrified—enjoy them from a respectful distance.

If you have any questions—of if you see a loose steer—please call Dan at 610-286-7955.

Crow’s Nest – Fall Color Report 10.22.07

The fall color of the red maples, at least those growing in the wet areas where they dominate, is at peak now. This weekend was a great time to be out at the preserve and many visitors and groups took advantage of the warm weather.

The rest of the fall color is… still coming? All the oaks are green. Tulip poplar is a third green, a third yellow, and a third already dropped. Fall color is generally late and we’ve had more glorious. But the preserve looks great right now.

While camping this weekend at Green Lane Park we saw hundreds of turkey vultures, and a few black vultures, kettling at dusk. It was probably the largest and closest group I have seen.

Mariton – Fall Color Report 10.18.07

Mariton will have a Fall Color walk this Sunday from 2 – 4 p.m.  But colors are far from peak.  The ash trees are turning that interesting orange, but there is more green in the woods than any other color.  Things are beginning to turn though, and we should have color changes for the next month.  Leaves are dropping off the trees and so there is a new openness in the woods letting in lots of light. 

Bear Creek Hike

This weekend, while Dan Barringer was at ChesLen Preserve, I was visiting NLT’s new Bear Creek Preserve.  Located in the Poconos, Bear Creek is NLT’s largest single acquisition (although it is not our largest preserve).  It is home to several different and unique plant communities.

Bear_cr_101307_004This walk was a Membership Event, led by Dave Steckel.  We visited a few of the plant communities and Dave talked about each.  Here Dave (center) talks about the cranberry-sedge bog we are standing in.  (We were able to stand in it because of the dry fall.)  There were still some cranberries for people to sample.  The cranberries and wonderful vistas were just part of a wonderful hike on a wonderful day in a wonderful place.

Visiting the new preserve

CheslenThis weekend I had an opportunity to visit our new preserve, ChesLen, near Embreeville, Chester County. I had already met the preserve’s land managers, Roger Nichols and David Casteneda, but I hadn’t seen the land. Natural Lands Trust held a public dedication ceremony to thank preserve donor Gerry Lenfest and officials who worked to make the project possible. You can read more about the preserve elsewhere at our website. I just wanted to share my first impression of the land.

It is big and beautiful. At over 1,000 acres including the lands acquired from Chester County the preserve is the largest private nature preserve in southeastern Pennsylvania. Over the next year we will complete a natural resource management plan and then develop trails and visitor amenities. Stay tuned!

In the photo above David Casteneda drives us on a hayride through this spectacular preserve.

Crow’s Nest: How deep went the rain?

Yesterday Sean, Luke, and I were digging holes at the preserve to put in posts that will have trail directional arrows on them. We have had a couple inches of rain—finally—and the ground is a little softer for these projects.

But as we dug we came to a layer about 8″ down that had not received any of this water. It was dry and light-colored, like sand but much harder.

Most plant roots are within a few feet of the surface, but even so, we will need more water to meet their needs.

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