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Archive for February, 2008

Mariton – Mapping Trails

Gps_trail_002Mike McGeehin and Megan Boatright came from the NLT main office yesterday to map Mariton’s trails using GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  As Mike put it:  "By using quality units that tap into multiple satellites, we are able to map the trails with great accuracy.  GPS technology wouldn’t be possible without government support.  They put the satellites into space, and it is a real public service."

Gps_trail_003At Mariton, we are getting ready to assemble a general brochure that will include a new trail map.  I love the map we have now, but with the new technologies, I am excited to see what Mike and Megan come up with.  Mike and Megan are GIS Analysts for the Trust and are often called upon to document boundaries, along with man made and natural features when NLT acquires a new property or a conservation easement.  The two used a Trimble GeoXT, and a Thales MobileMapper to gather data.  Mike explained that these units are much more accurate than recreational units, and allow very accurate mapping.  Combined with aerial photographs and other technologies they will be able to go back to their office and create a very detailed, user friendly map.

Yesterday was bone-chiller, and we had to walk all of the trails to get data.  (Their data will tell us accurately how many miles of trails we actually have.)  Hiking the trails would have been fine, but we stopped along the way often to collect points and "do the dance" for satellite acquisition.  I was dressed for the weather, but I admit I got chilled occasionally when the satellites didn’t cooperate.

On the other hand, while hiking we got to see two pileated woodpeckers in the woods.  We talked about different animal tracks and did tree identification.  Best of all, I got to spend a day with two fun folks that are as passionate about their work for the Natural Lands Trust as I am.

Crow’s Nest: On my night table

BooksI am reading two really great books right now. The first is Claire E. Sawyers’ The Authentic Garden: Five Principles for Cultivating a Sense of Place (Timber Press, 2007). It’s not a coffee-table-sized book but it will join just one other garden design book on my coffee table: Page Dickey’s Inside Out: Relating Garden to House (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000).

Claire Sawyers is the director of the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College (a place of great beauty and inspiration for me) and took the photographs that clearly illustrate the five principles. Since the five are listed on the outside of the dust jacket I feel I may repeat them here:

1. Capture the sense of place
2. Derive beauty from function
3. Use humble or indigenous materials
4. Marry the inside to the outside
5. Involve the visitor

There is an emerging ethic which celebrates that which is unique to our place: to grow native plants in our gardens, to try to capture what is special about where we live—rather than imitate historic styles from other climates or cultures. Sawyers articulates what makes American natural landscapes—and the gardens that fit them—distinctive and gives examples from New Mexico to Maine.

The other book is Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy. (I reported on hearing him speak at a conference last summer.) This book turns on its head what is written in almost every other gardening book: instead of choosing garden plants that will be completely unblemished by pests for the greatest possible beauty—choose plants instead that will support the greatest number of herbivorous insects so that you sustain the food web and can enjoy the beauty of the birds and other wildlife that depend on it. And if done well, with a diversity of native plants, insect damage never becomes an aesthetic problem.

Tallamy’s argument is that human-altered landscapes dominate the country and these landscapes will not support the full species diversity that historically existed here, unless we encourage our suburban landscapes to meet these species’ needs.

And the best way to support wildlife is to cultivate the plants that feed the insects that support all other species. Insects are often specialist feeders on only the plants to which they’ve adapted. Given a diet of non-native ornamentals, they disappear.

I particularly like that he advances a new metaphor for the role species play in an ecosystem (36-38). Earlier concepts cite the presence of a single “keystone” species, without which the habitat changes drastically: beavers, sea otters, and prairie dogs are ones that are familiar examples. The new metaphor Tallamy describes is like the game of Jenga ™, where players remove blocks from lower levels of a tower of blocks and replace them on top. In the game,

…the role each block plays in the stability of the tower is relative and constantly changing. If ecosystems are [like] Jenga towers, almost any species can play a keystone role under the appropriate circumstances (37).

I think we’ll be playing Jenga at WebWalkers next week…

After describing the “why” of inviting nature into our yards Tallamy describes groups of native plants and lists some of the insects each supports.

And then there is a large and wonderful section of the book called, “What does bird food look like?” which is simply a guide to the native insects that these plants will attract. Tallamy is an entomologist and suddenly you realize that this gardening book is also a thinly-veiled bug book, one that is a much more entertaining read than a non-entomologist might expect.

Like Sawyers’ book, the author took most of the stunning photos; many of them are from Tallamy’s own yard, a place where he has experimented with bringing wildlife back by planting what it needs.

Crow’s Nest: WebWalkers & Spiderlings on

WinterkidsWe are holding our WebWalkers & Spiderlings programs today, though we have moved up our afternoon sessions to 2:30 since school is out and the roads may freeze later.

We went on a winter hike this morning. The snow hides some things and reveals others. We saw mouse tunnels in the snow, goose footprints on the trail, and landforms outlined by the snow.

DredgepilesFor example, while I knew there was a raised bank alongside the drainage below the springhouse, I had never realized how man-made the bank was—a generation or more ago—until I saw it today, clearly outlined by the piles of mechanically-removed fill.

Last-minute alert: Richard Louv lecture Wednesday

Tomorrow night, at West Chester University, Richard Louv will be speaking. He is the author of Last Child in the Woods, a groundbreaking book about kids’ increasing disconnect from nature. We use his guidelines for free, unstructured play at our nature programs at the preserve.

The lecture will be at 7:00 pm at the Sykes Student Center Ballrooms.

Amphibian Migration

With a few evenings of (relatively) warm rains, amphibian migrations may begin soon. It may be a cold rain for us but 40 degrees and rain can be enough to get spotted salamanders and wood frogs moving to wetlands for breeding. And if there are roads to be crossed, there can be conflicts with cars.

There will be a meeting at French Creek State Park about the migration and orientation for volunteers who help ensure a safe crossing. It will be on Wednesday, February 27 at 7:00 pm at the State Park headquarters building. The speaker will be Brandon Ruhe, a herpetologist whose work includes habitat surveys, field investigations and radio-telemetry for many species of concern within the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

For more information please call me at 610-286-7955. If you are planning to attend please leave a message so I can pass along your RSVP to the event organizers.

Crow’s Nest: Thank you parents

ShoesWe have to thank the parents of the kids in WebWalkers and Spiderlings—twice.

First, for bringing your wonderful kids to participate in the nature programs at Crow’s Nest.

Second, for taking them home again, despite our getting mud all over them.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and many days above freezing, but the frost is still in the ground. There’s no place for water to sink into the ground, and the surface soil has become a bit of a quagmire.

That didn’t keep us from exploring a bit of woods, swinging on vines and balancing on a log across a gully. But none of us stayed clean. Each kid took home a little bit of the preserve this week…

Thank you, parents!

Mariton – Saw Whet Owl !

Exciting.  Last night our neighbor walked over to visit with Maureen.  When she came in, she asked:  "What animal makes that ‘do do do do do’ monotone noise?"  Right away I thought sounds like a Saw Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus).  I have been listening at night for years hoping to hear one at Mariton.  I grabbed my coat and ran out doors and there, sure enough, was a Saw Whet calling in the pines near the Nature Center. 

You have seen a picture of a Saw Whet if you have seen the owl on the PA license plate.  It was once thought their populations were in severe decline in the state, and thus the Wildlife Resource Conservation Fund used it as a logo on license plates.  More recently, trapping and banding studies have revealed there are a lot more Saw Whets around than previously believed.  That is good for everyone.  Mariton is a little south of its breeding range, although we are well within its winter range.  I hope to hear it often this winter.

By the way, it gets its name from its call.  The call is a mechanical one note repeated over and over.  It sounds like a file repeatedly stroking a piece of metal.  Or, like a woodsman whetting his saw with a file at the end of a day.

Mariton – Wood Thrush Mount

Wood_thrush_001I recently picked up a Wood Thrush mount from the  taxidermist.  Unfortunately, the Wood Thrush had flown into a window in Easton.  Fortunately, I was able to take it to the taxidermist and it was suitable for mounting.  Mariton’s collection in the Nature Center is lacking in song birds (we have a good collection of hawks and owls).  Because Wood Thrushes are so abundant at Mariton during the summer I am glad to have a specimen for visitors to study.

Mariton has both federal and state salvage permits which allows us to collect dead birds, eggs and nests for educational displays.  Without the permit, you aren’t allowed to collect these items.  It really wasn’t that long ago that many varieties of birds were market hunted for feathers.  Eggs were also collected for private decorations.  The Migratory Bird Act protected species that were being over hunted; and the permit requirement is part of that ongoing protection. 

Crow’s Nest: Spiderlings & WebWalkers underway!

OldappletreeWe’re well into our winter season of WebWalkers and Spiderlings—our kids’ nature clubs. We’ve enjoyed hikes throughout the preserve, stopping to climb trees, look at massive groundhog holes in the farm fields, and observe what the turkey vultures overhead are doing. Indoors the kids have experiments going with bacteria. The spring session will run March to May shortly after the winter program ends.

Crow’s Nest hikers brave the cold

Yesterday twenty-one hikers with the Elverson Walking Club, ages 7 to 80, braved the high winds, mud, rocks, and a snow squall to enjoy a hike from Crow’s Nest to Hopewell Furnace. (Today, at 9 degrees, the mud was gone until the sun warmed the ground—though not the air.)

A recent study suggests that people are hiking and doing outdoor activities less—and experiencing life through an electronic intermediary more—but we still get a lot of visitors with local hiking clubs. And our kids’ nature clubs are growing larger every year.

Enjoy this wealth of information that arrives so easily online (it wasn’t always this way) but be sure to go outside and immerse yourself in the real thing.

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