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Archive for January, 2008

Crow’s Nest: Winter Chipping

ChipperWe’ve wrapped up this season’s chipping. On Friday I borrowed the chipper from Natural Lands Trust’s Idlewild Farm and started chipping brush piles that we’d created over the last few months. We leave plenty of brush for habitat, but we also maintain some temporary piles that we need to chip to make room for more brush. These branches are from trees that fell in farm fields or other places where they could not stay.

The winter’s frozen ground was ideal for getting the chipper out to the piles. These chips were distributed right out the chute; there’s no moving this material twice—if I can help it. Some were blown directly onto trails and others back into the woods edges.

The chipper, which we share among all of the Natural Lands Trust preserves, has moved on to Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve, where Tom has collected neighborhood Christmas trees to make chips for trails there.

Mariton – Snow Geese Part II

Mebus_geese5Mebus_geese8gagglewithdarkerThe Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) have been feeding in the fields near Mariton all week.  Several people noticed that there were darker birds amongst them, and asked me about it.  I think most people are seeing the immature "white phase" snow goose.  Immature white phase birds have a dark bill and a mottled gray back and neck, but white undersides.  These photos from Carole Mebus compare the immature and mature white phase Snow Geese.

Snow Geese also have a "dark phase".  (Similar to Gray Squirrels that are totally black.)  This goose was thought to be a separate species until recently and was commonly called the "Blue Goose".  The dark phase is all dark, except for a white head and tail.  The bill is pink.  (Immature dark phase Snow Geese have dark bills and dark heads.)

If that weren’t confusing enough, there are "intermediates" between the white and dark phases.  This goose has a dark back.  Its head, undersides and tail are white.  Its bill is pink.

Snow_geese_vs_002The geese returned to the fields this morning by the thousands, but then they left abruptly a little later on.  They may return tomorrow, or perhaps they have consumed all the food in those fields.  We knew when they arrived that they would eventually move on to feed  in other fields.

Crow’s Nest: Cold-frame gardening

ColdframeThere’s still snow on the ground but we are ready to start gardening! Well not quite, but this new cold frame should help extend the season. We plan to use it to keep growing cool-season greens from fall into the winter, to get the soil warmed up earlier in spring, and to protect seedlings being hardened-off—a transition from indoors where we germinate the seed to the outdoor garden.

Denise and I designed the cold frame to fit on top of the raised garden beds (it was design-as-we-go, and admittedly it took a year of occasional weekends to get it done). One of the window panels has a hinge that will open the window automatically when the temperature inside gets too warm. The other two will be manually propped open on warm sunny days. In the summer we’ll put the cold frame aside and use the garden bed as usual.

The design is based on one in Eliot Coleman’s book, Four-Season Harvest (Chelsea Green, 1992), which also contains information about what grows well in cold frames and hoop houses and is filled with other strategies to make vegetable gardening year-round possible (and he gardens in Maine).

I’m also being inspired in planning our garden by a book on my night-table right now: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Harper Collins, 2007), subtitled, A year of food life. It celebrates the seasonality of local foods, has delicious recipes to make year round, and ranges widely on the subject of raising plants and animals, eating as a political act, and what we give up when we don’t take responsibility for where our food comes from.

Denise and I are new to cold-frame gardening, but are willing to share our experiences as they occur. Stop by anytime and ask questions.

Preserved Lands

I have spent the last few days hauling and spreading wood chips with the tractor and trailer. I load the trailer with the tractor, then use the tractor to tow the trailer to where I’m going to spread it. It’s a project with repetitive tasks with a specific order which—if not followed precisely—would result in an unsecured load or worse. So I haven’t had much time to think about other things. But I also have been monitoring easements, about one each day.

IndianrunThese lands are spectacular, and the message I take away from these visits is that these places can only be protected by the efforts and desires of landowners, caring public officials, and Natural Lands Trust’s staff. There is no “default” protection option. It’s a choice that takes hard work but yields unbounded benefits.

Mariton – Snow Geese

Mebus_snow_geese54_2Like many places in the Lehigh Valley, Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) have taken up residence near Mariton.  Great flocks have been feeding in the  farm fields between Riegelsville and Mariton this week.  One can easily see the flocks from the roads around the fields.  Inside my office, I can hear them honking nearly a mile away.  Carole Mebus sent me this photo that she took yesterday. 

While Snow Geese are a marvelous site, there is a down side to the sightings.  Snow geese populations are at a record high.  Because of plentiful food on their wintering grounds these days, they return north extremely healthy.  They nest on the arctic tundra, a fairly fragile ecosystem.  They produce more eggs, with higher hatch rates and then feed heavily on the vegetation.  In recent years they have had huge impacts on their arctic habitat.  Biologists are concerned that a crash in both Snow Goose populations and the habitat (and the other creatures that live there) is imminent.  But when they visit, I still marvel at the spectacle.

Crow’s Nest: Strike while the ground is cold

We need these days with frozen ground; it’s the only way to get work done on the preserve in winter with the tractor. We don’t know how many days of this we’ll have, so I try to make use of every one I can. On warmer days I can do hand work, chainsawing or brushcutting—but I save the cold days for mowing meadows or other tractor work.

Today I moved firewood from a downed tree on a remote part of the preserve to the yard across from the barn at 401 Piersol Road. The wood is free—please help yourself—but it won’t last long. It’s red maple and fresh, so it’s best for next winter’s burning.

It may seem ironic but somehow efficient that on each trip out to pick up the firewood I was bringing a load of wood chips from the same yard where the firewood was going. The chips are spread on trails on the way to the downed tree. It’s all wood, but in this case its state matters.

Mariton – Movie and a Night Walk

This Saturday, Mariton will kick off its Winter Programs with a short nature video followed by a night walk.  The video is "Pennsylvania:  Conserving Nature’s Diversity".  This half hour video was produced by the Wild Resource Conservation Fund.  Biodiversity is a word used a lot, but never explained.  This video does a great job of explaining it, and then using real life examples from Pennsylvania to illustrate the point.

We will start the program at 8:00 p.m. Following the video, we will get some fresh air with a walk outside.  Bring your flashlight and bundle up, as a COLD night is in the forecast. 

Mariton – Eastern Redcedar

Cedar_trees_002I used the fog last week to silhouette this "ghost" or "skeleton" tree.  It is a dead Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).  It is one of those sculpture trees that I admire on my walks along Mariton’s trails.  Redcedar wood is fairly rot resistant and will stand long after the trees that shaded them out have become a forest.  While they don’t like the shade, they can be found in a broad range of soil conditions.  Redcedars can grow in wet areas as well as dry, and are very drought resistant.  Generally, they are among the first trees to pop up in a field when left fallow.  They also can signal that an area was pastured, as cattle and sheep avoid the prickly needles while grazing.  So, this tree can indicate past land uses.

Redcedar is not really a cedar, but rather a juniper.  So, if you look for it in the index of a tree guide it will not be listed under "cedar".  Dr. Rhoads hyphenates it in "The Plants of Pennsylvania" (the proper way to indicate that it isn’t a cedar), but I find it listed more often as one word.

Cedar_trees_003A beautiful live specimen can be found beside Mariton’s information kiosk.  The classic cone shape is visible here.  This particular tree (a female) produces abundant berry-like cones that the birds love.  One can watch bluebirds, goldfinches, chickadees or cedar waxwings foraging in this tree on almost any visit.  No doubt that the birds are responsible for the Eastern Redcedar’s appearance in fields, pastures and gardens; as well as along fences and under powerlines.  Because of its tight, prickly foliage it also provides excellent shelter.

I think Eastern Redcedar looks great in yards.  Besides its value for wildlife, it has interesting color and shape.  It grows quickly and lives long (in sunshine).  It can provide privacy, or just and interesting feature in the yard.

Crow’s Nest Internship Opportunity

InternsCrow’s Nest Preserve has an opening for a summer internship in land management:

The Summer Intern in Land Management will have the opportunity to learn about the workings of a land trust, become familiar with local flora, and gain experience in land stewardship techniques (that’s last year’s interns Alex and Katie, above).

This is a hands-on job that will include, among others, the following duties: invasive plant management, lawn and trail mowing, maintaining native plant gardens, and restoration of natural areas and hedgerows. Tools used in the course of the work (training will be provided) include: power string trimmers, brushcutters, hand and power saws, pruners, lawnmower, truck and tractor.

The expected rate of pay is $10.00 per hour, 37.5 hours per week, for up to ten weeks. A valid driver’s license and background check for working with kids is required. No housing is available.

For a full job description please call 610-286-7955.

To apply: Please submit a resume and letter of interest to the Preserve Manager at the address below.

Natural Lands Trust, Inc. is an equal opportunity employer. All decisions with respect to hiring are made without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, ancestry or disability. Decisions are made solely upon the basis of qualifications related to the requirements of the job.

Crow’s Nest Preserve
201 Piersol Road
Elverson, PA 19520

Crow’s Nest: Easement Monitoring

EasementwoodsThis is the time of year when we monitor easements. These are private lands that are conserved by a legal agreement that Natural Lands Trust holds and enforces. Each one is unique, designed to meet the conservation needs of each landscape and landowner. Each winter Natural Lands Trust preserve staff gets out to walk the land and make sure no violations have occurred.

When I started at Crow’s Nest twelve years ago I was responsible for monitoring 7 easements. Now I am responsible for 27 different properties, mostly in Chester County. Even more significant is the increase in protected acres: from personally monitoring about 200 to more than 1,200! Each of the preserve managers has experienced a similar change in workload, itself a result of the hard work of the people in the land protection office at Natural Lands Trust.

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