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Archive for November, 2007

Crow’s Nest: Fresh Perspectives

Perspective_2I spent a day this week in the field with Mike McGeehin, collecting GPS data on features at the preserve using his ultra-accurate Global Positioning System device.

Using the GPS to collect precise location, distance and area gave me a different perspective of the land than I had held before. For example, in my mind’s eye the pastures—which are each large enough that you can’t see all of them at a time—were irregular five-sided polygons in shape. By the time I walked it with the GPS I realized that each actually has twice as many vertices.

We also measured the precise size and shape of each of the meadows that we manage with prescribed fire—quite an improvement over the 15 year-old hand-drawn maps based on aerial photographs and enlarged with a photocopier.

Some of the displacement of perspective comes from the change of seasons. Although I have been very familiar with the changes visible from the yard, places I haven’t visited in a while have changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.

As I looked out over the valley from Northside Road I spotted a structure I hadn’t noticed before. With binoculars I realized it is a neighbor’s house a mile away that the light was catching through the now-bare trees. Our local roads bend and twist so much that this house—which I would have imagined to be located further west—is clearly not where I thought it was.

And I explored a section of woods along French Creek (photo above) where I spent a lot of time this summer controlling mile-a-minute weed (this time I had returned to look for Norway maple seedlings to remove.) I had come to know how to find my way through the thick vegetation, where to cross the creek on tree trunks, where not to step on the yellow-jacket nest, and where to look for mile-a-minute. But I last worked on mile-a-minute here in August when everything was still thick and green. Today even the “permanent” features—logs and trunks—look so different simply because everything around them looks different.

In other observations, I have been seeing ten black vultures at a time sailing overhead. Normally I see just two of these at a time, usually mixed in with turkey vultures.

Interesting Birds

While I don’t bird as much during the winter I have been seeing some interesting things.  Golden-crowned Kinglets seem to be plentiful this winter.  I have seen them feeding with flocks of Chickadees and Tufted Titmouses, especially in conifers.  I have seen a Red-breasted Nuthatch from time to time on the feeder by the house, though I haven’t seen them while walking the trails.  I have seen Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers often in the woods.  In fact, I am seeing them as often as Red-Bellys and Downys.  I have been hearing the Pileated Woodpecker, although I haven’t sighted one for a little while.

Finally, I was thrilled to see two Hermit Thrushes recently.  They have a marvelous song in the spring, but they rarely sing here.  They will migrate north to breed in the Poconos and beyond, where you can hear them sing.  In the winter the easiest distinction is their bobbing tail.  I saw them in the spicebush, presumably looking for berries.

Student Research: “How Many Honey Bee Hives is Crow’s Nest Worth?”

Last year’s senior seminar in ecology at Bryn Mawr College had one other paper that I haven’t written about here yet. This is a long-term project conducted by Rosemary Malfi, who also used other Natural Lands Trust preserves as study sites. Her paper is subtitled One case of native bee pollination as an ecosystem service.

She returned to the meadow above the Chief’s Grove many times to do plant and bee surveys and then used other research to develop a formula for the value in pollination services for “our” bees.

She cites that 30% of the U.S. diet consists of bee-pollinated food. Native bees are effective crop pollinators—and their services are free. But there needs to be adequate habitat for nesting and foraging in the area. Crow’s Nest offers a native pollinator resource pool for surrounding agricultural lands; the value varies by crop and distance from the preserve. The value is computed in terms of the startup and maintenance costs of hives of honeybees performing the same duties.

Rosemary and the other students have graduated and it is exciting to think about what contributions their future research will yield. We thank them and their advisor Patty Zaradic for adding to what we know about Crow’s Nest.

Happy Thanksgiving

PersimmonpuddingWhat are these guys doing? We needed more persimmons for pudding than our tree had, so our friend Pete climbed up his tree to throw some down to us on the day before Thanksgiving. We caught many in a tarp and a few on our clothing. A passing horse ate a few that fell on the road.

ThanksgivingSince the weather was so warm, we had our first ever outdoor Thanksgiving dinner. Being in such a beautiful setting gave us even more about which to be thankful.

Retreat at Bear Creek Preserve

Bear_creekToday we had a stewardship staff retreat at our new preserve, Bear Creek. Tim Burris could tell you much more about it since he has been looking after the preserve recently. I will tell you simply that it is spectacular.

We carpooled a couple hours north into a snow squall and found it to be as cold there as we expected. We divided into two groups and went though an exercise using the GPS units to locate features (and answer questions that had been prepared about them) on the preserve. In four hours we only covered a fraction of the land; then we retreated to a local restaurant to replenish calories.

Keep your eyes open for progress at this preserve. In the future as we build trails and trailheads this is sure to be a great destination.

Crow’s Nest Fall Member Event

StewOn Saturday we had a wonderful members’ event at Crow’s Nest: dinner and a hike.

It was a raw day, the kind of day where a brisk walk followed by hot apple cider and stew is perfect. The group divided into two to take a memorable hike at the preserve; dinner was delicious. Here volunteer Denise Barringer stirs the stew Eloise Smyrl made for the event. We made several new friends and had good conversations over the meal.

Mariton – Tree Sculptures

While I think that every tree is a work of art, I frequently run across trees that outdo much of the works that we find in galleries and museums.  (Okay, so I am biased.)  These trees are often sculpted by environmental forces.  Perhaps a limb was shaped by a nearby tree that fell decades ago, or shade makes the tree distort its shape in search of sunlight. 

Color_110907_002Color_110907_001I recently found these two white ash trees that had fused together at their bases.  They eventually separated, and then reattached.  They look like two lovers embraced in a kiss.  It is really lovely.

Mariton – Fall Foliage 11.09.07

Color_110907_008I checked trails this morning and took some photos of the foliage.  The tulip trees are glowing yellow.  Many of the American beech trees are now yellow, and some are turning bronze.  The oaks are beginning to turn colors.  There are still many red maples holding their foliage.  These are scattered throughout the forest, and each one really shows up. 

Color_110907_005But the colors are not overwhelming this year.  I think that all the recent frosts may affect colors from here on out.  The sassafras saplings in the meadows, in particular, looked quite dull this morning.  A sunny day will help highlight the colors, but I am afraid, that they may not put on their usual show this fall. 

If you are coming to Mariton for the foliage, I suggest you walk out the Woods Trail.  The tulip trees are really beautiful here.  Then walk the Main Trail.  The contrast of deep green from the rhododendrons and Christmas ferns with the colors of the other trees is nice.  At the bench, follow the Main Trail up the hill and take it into the Meadows.  Either come down the Turnpike Trail, or double back and meander down the Squeeze Trail. 

Frank Gill lecture

Last night Denise and I went to hear Frank Gill speak at Natural Lands Trust’s main office at Hildacy Farm. This was part of a lecture series organized for conservation landowners—people who have land under conservation easement—and local birders.

Gill is the retired Chief Scientist for National Audubon and has worked for The Nature Conservancy and gave a talk entitled, “Bird Lands.” He noted that although there are some bird species that are doing very well—including some, like the bald eagle, that had in the past faced severe reductions in numbers—there are others that today are experiencing rapid declines in population size. The largest factor he cited is habitat loss.

He praised the work to create Important Bird Areas (IBA’s), a process that applies consistent scientific criteria to habitats all over the globe to evaluate them for bird habitat (at Crow’s Nest, we are in Pennsylvania’s IBA #74, the Hay Creek/French Creek Forest block). These places then can be prioritized for protection so that these efforts will have the greatest effect in preserving bird populations.

But, Gill noted, IBA’s are embedded in a mosaic of built-upon lands, so what people do in their backyards really matters. Everyone can help by planting native species, keeping pet cats indoors, and managing for the right kinds of habitat. We at Natural Lands Trust have fact sheets on which species to plant for wildlife, and there are many other resources online, such as habitat guides from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We have long said, “Build it and they will come”—plant the right communities and the wildlife will find its way there. It was great to hear Gill cite data that supports this statement.

He also talked about the Great Backyard Bird Count, scheduled for February 15 to 18, 2008, another way that people can help birds by providing data on their numbers. The data set is so large, and the event has been going on for ten years, that backyard birdwatchers have made a valuable contribution to science.

Tree Planting at Stroud Preserve

TaylorrunYesterday it was on to another tree planting, installing large balled-and-burlapped pines that will screen a planting of 2,800 seedlings on this hillside at Stroud Preserve overlooking Taylor Run.

Preserve staff Erich Estes, Sean Quinn, and Preston Wilson have spent a couple weeks preparing the site: removing multflora rose, autumn olive, bittersweet and ailanthus. You barely can see from this distance that the banks of Taylor Run have already been planted with trees in tubes as part of an earlier restoration. The next step in restoration is planting trees on this very steep hill.

You can help! Volunteers will be needed to help plant these tree seedlings. We’ll be having a planting day on Saturday, November 17. Call Natural Lands Trust’s Mandy Santiago at 610-353-5587 for details.


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