There were a lot of changes at Crow's Nest in 2008: the biggest for me was the birth of our son Owen. But there were a lot of other things going on here too.
Archive for December, 2008
At home we have replaced the last of our incandescent bulbs with more efficient lighting (we are fortunate that the preserve visitor center and our workshop were designed with low energy use fluorescent tubes).
A water and energy saving device Natural Lands Trust staff installed at the Crow's Nest visitor center is very popular. It is a toilet-top washbasin that uses the water that will fill the tank with clean water to be available for hand washing first.
I've eyed the Xtracycle but am looking for something with more all-weather utility and, honestly, a little less physical effort (land management itself requires a good bit of that). I've also been eyeing this mini truck at a local building supply store (list price $4795, 45 miles per gallon, 4wd). Santa, please add this to my wish list…
Scott Stollery and Nikki Flood have been conducting bird research at Crow's Nest Preserve this fall, collecting data that we will use to guide our land management and to help evaluate our public use. He writes the following guest post:
One of the first things I saw when I discovered Crow’s Nest
Preserve in 2007 was the small sign in the parking lot that said, “Important
Bird Area.” As a seasonal wildlife biologist who specializes in avian
research, I was intrigued by the sign and excited by the prospect of having a
good place to look for birds. As I routinely began to walk the trails with my
dog, Dixie, I took note of the birds that I would encounter, and I began to
daydream about the possibility of doing bird surveys in the preserve. Whether I
hiked through some untouched forest, or along riparian areas, or even along
edges of agricultural fields, I sensed that Crow’s Nest had an abundance of
birds, and cataloging what species were there would be a fruitful endeavor.
Then one day in early 2008 a fortuitous opportunity came. I
had a random chance to talk to the preserve manager, Dan Barringer, and I asked
if he would be interested in instituting bird surveys at Crow’s Nest. Instead
of being freaked out by a total stranger asking him odd questions on the side
of the road, Dan was actually very open to the possibility and asked if I would
meet with him again for further discussion on the matter. That subsequent
meeting also went very well and Dan told me to me to write up a proposal
outlining the study design, which would then be placed before the board.
Surprised at even getting this far, I wrote the proposal, took a seasonal job
studying Louisiana waterthrush in West Virginia, and waited for the final
To my sheer amazement the proposal was passed, and in
October of 2008 bird surveys began at Crow’s Nest. The purpose of the surveys,
we concluded, was to provide baseline data for bird species that use Crow’s
Nest, as well as to analyze how various management practices, such as burning,
thinning, planting of native grasses, and invasive species control, effect the
birds. The first order of business to that end was to set up transects in
various management areas that Dan deemed important. These areas were represented
by dense forest habitat, riparian areas, swamp, and grassland meadows.
My girlfriend, Nikki Flood, who is also a wildlife
biologist, jumped on the team at this point and helped out tremendously. Nikki
and I set up six transects that contained 50 point count stations (a “station”
being a GPS [Global Positioning System] waypoint with flags on trees marking the physical position)
throughout Crow’s Nest. At each one of these stations, we conducted a five
minute point count, which basically takes an inventory of all birds that are
seen and heard during that time. This fall we visited each point count station
twice, and we will duplicate that protocol in the coming spring.
As I suspected early on, bird diversity was rich at Crow’s
Nest, even as the chill of autumn began to take hold. Nikki and I detected 45
different species of birds during our two rounds of point counts. In the first
round we counted some migrants that had not left yet, such as the Eastern
Wood-Pewee and Yellow-rumped warbler. Some birds, like the American Robin, were
quite plentiful during the first round of counts, but not as common later, when
the weather was getting colder. One of the interesting aspects about conducting
bird surveys over time is seeing these patterns of movement in and out of a
place. Each species has its general time frame for how it deals with the
seasons, but there are always individuals that seem to sing to their own tune.
For fans of woodpeckers, Crow’s Nest proved to have a very
strong population, and at least one species was found in every
one of the established transects. Downy woodpeckers and Red-bellied woodpeckers
were very common, and detected the most. However, Pileated woodpeckers and
Yellow-shafted flickers often made their presence known as well. Hairy
woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied sapsuckers were present but rare, with one
One of my favorite moments during the counts was catching a
full-fledged grackle migration. Thousands of large, black birds with their
crazy yellow eyes were all around me for over ten minutes. Wave after wave of
the great grackle cacophony flew by my point count station, or landed in trees,
or ate what food they could find in the agricultural fields. It was truly an
amazing and beautiful sight to behold. As for Nikki, she encountered a
Long-eared owl one day, known by its strange dog barking sounds. Birds of all
sorts mobbed the area, making sure the owl would not have an easy time of it if
it wanted a meal.
And yes, in case there was any question, Crow’s Nest does
indeed have a large crow population!
the end, I am pleased to report that birds seem to thrive at Crow’s Nest, and
spring promises to yield even more bird species to the data when they are all
caught up in the passionate throes of the breeding season. As the sign says, it
is an important bird area. But there is also another moral to the story, and
that is the simple reminder that unexpected doors often open when one just
takes a chance.
Turkeys come knocking on the Nature Center doors occasionally. They see their reflection in the glass, and in the fall it seems to elicit some flocking response. I was working in the office downstairs, when I heard thumping upstairs. As I walked up the stairs, I could hear the turkeys purring to each other. So, I slipped back down and grabbed the camera.
When I tried to take a photo from outside, they caught movement and were airborne. There were about a dozen birds in this group. The next day, I saw about 20 birds in a flock. We haven't seen a lot of turkeys this year. The fox population is healthy, in part due to turkeys.
I expect the fox population will start to cycle downward in the next year or two. Then the turkey population will probably cycle upward. But it isn't a simple cause and effect cycle. Foxes depend on more than just turkeys; and turkeys are preyed upon by more than just foxes. A wet cold spring can kill as many young turkeys as a healthy fox family. Likewise, a year with lots of mice, berries, and insects can keep a fox family healthy without turkey on the menu.
We received over 3 inches of rain yesterday (very close to 4 inches this week). I was thinking about how all of the small creeks are bursting. So, I checked the gauge for the Tohickon Creek on the Internet. The gauge reads over 6 feet! That got me to thinking about a trip I took at the beginning of November, the weekend they released water from the dam on Lake Nockamixon.
Jim Thompson, from Paunacussing Preserve, and I hooked up with our friends from Nature's Way Canoe and Kayak to run the upper section of the Tohickon. The dam releases are famous in the northeastern U. S. The lower section (from Ralph Stover State Park to the Delaware River) is technical whitewater during the releases and high water events. It is way beyond my skill, but the upper section (from the dam to Ralph Stover) is Class I and II and within my skill level. Most of this section is just fast water, with few obstructions.
We did a three mile section, which ended too quickly. The fall colors along the water were vibrant, even though the colors everywhere else were faded. While the scenery and canoeing were wonderful, it was the people I was with that made the trip special. We told stories as we floated, shared lunches and had a lot of fun together. Tomorrow the water level should be at a fun level to run. Hmmm…..
Polly Ivenz passed away on November 15, at the age of 91. Polly served as Mariton's Program Director for 30 years beginning in the early 1970's. She is the reason Mariton has such wonderful educational programs for school and scout groups. She started our Summer Nature Camps, and established nature walks for the public throughout the year.
Her impact is far reaching. Every year adults tell me how they knew Polly as children either at Nature Camp or in scouts. Her teaching influenced them to become biology teachers and scientists. The number of people that became amateur naturalists under Polly's tutelage is staggering.
Polly was wonderful botanist. You could show her any piece of a plant and she would instantly identify it. I remember her mostly as an all-around naturalist. I only know a few people that have the depth of Polly's knowledge in so many disciplines. She was great with insects, trees, fungi, birds, etc. The fact that she was self-taught is a testament to her natural ability.
While she was doing so much at Mariton, she was also involved in the community. She worked on local environmental issues, studied history and was a scout leader. In each of these activities she researched the topic and then educated others.
While Polly has left us, her influence will be felt for many generations to come. She was an amazing lady.
November was a busy month for me. I had some issues with my internet connection, and I spent several days working at other preserves. Throw in schools, scouts, and some vacation days and I got way behind in the office. I am now getting caught up and plan to provide more entries on the Blog.
I had some neat wildlife encounters during November. One day while examining something along the Chimney Rock trail, I heard what sounded like a flock of crickets approaching. Actually, it was a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets. These beautiful birds flit through the rhododendrons like warblers. Males have a red patch bordered by yellow on their head. Several of the males had bright orange patches instead of red. They were quite colorful.
I saw male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on several occasions. Their call is quite distinct, and they seem to be less shy than other woodpeckers. (They are less likely to hide on the other side of the tree.) Most of the ones that I encountered were feeding on Tulip trees near the bench on the Main Trail. Several trees in this area have the horizontal series of holes characteristic of past sapsucker activity.
Pileated Woodpeckers have been very active and vocal near the intersection of the Spruce and Main Trails. These woodpeckers can be very shy, so if you hear one, stand still and wait until it feeds its way towards you. Speaking of vocal birds, Great-horned Owls are courting right now and are very vocal from dusk 'til dawn. A few years ago, Virginia Derbyshire told me that the low monotone call is made by a female. The male makes the higher 4 or 5 note call. That little bit of information has really increased my pleasure when listening to owls at night. I hope it does the same for you.
I have sighted a few Brown Creepers. These birds feed similarly to a Nuthatch, except they tend to start at the bottom of a tree trunk and work their way upwards. They resemble a Carolina Wren in color and markings, but their tails, body posture and habitat are completely different. I know I should be able to find them during the rest of the year, but it is only during the winter that I ever see them. They have great camouflage against a tree trunk, and make little noise while feeding.