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Crow’s Nest: Looking back…

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.

We had eight calves here this summer and fall as part of a wetland restoration, and conducted our first woodland prescribed fire as part of an oak regeneration/old growth acceleration research site.

Much as been reported about a lack of acorns in the East this year; we also had very few. But there were lots of walnuts this year and a cyclical abundance of beech nuts. The Asian lady beetles that have entered our house in great numbers over the last decade were largely absent this year.

We installed two bat boxes on relocated telephone poles, and three new wood duck boxes on trees near the creek.

The renovation of the barn that serves as our workshop was nearly completed and we moved into it in 2008. The sheds that served as temporary storage were moved to our ChesLen Preserve while its workshop is rebuilt.

I gave talks at the Mile-A-Minute Task Force meeting in Harrisburg, at the Land Trust Alliance Rally in Pittsburgh (with Tim Burris: Managing Threats to Protected Lands), for the New Century Club in West Chester and for the Natural Lands Trust Advisory Board. We had exhibits at the Warwick County Park Outdoor Festival and West Vincent Day. We hosted a board meeting in the barn at Crow's Nest in October and contra dances in June and October. We've had a busy schedule of four seasons of kids' educational programs.

We rebuilt the boardwalk along the creek trail, flagged (with volunteers) a new trail in the "Trythall Woods" part of the preserve, and hosted researchers studying ticks and Lyme disease and others conducting a bird census.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the addition of two acres in the middle of the preserve and some major habitat restoration work there. We look forward in the next few years to more replanting on this site and rejuvenating the existing apple trees there.

I hope you have a happy and peaceful New Year.

The Last Incandescent

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).

I was an early adopter of compact fluorescent bulbs; remember when they were $28 each? For better or worse (newer ones are more compact, have better color, and light up more quickly) most of them are still in use now, fifteen years later. More good news is that many home centers will accept back dead ones for recycling, particularly important to recover the toxic mercury in them.

The low-hanging fruit has already been picked at our house: the lights that are turned on the most already had efficient bulbs. In an exercise to see how low can we go we have replaced the remaining fixtures with CF and LED bulbs. Even these candelabra bulbs in the reproduction fixture are warm white LED's, reducing the total from 50 watts to 15. It's a small part of the solution; we have no illusions about it, but we want to do what we are able.

Actually, there are a few incandescent bulbs left: inside the sewing machine, refrigerator, freezer, and dryer (more on drying clothes below).

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.

It's a concept that kids seem to understand quickly; adults seem a bit more mystified. Perhaps the emphasis we collectively place on kids' handwashing makes the device seem appropriate; you are washing long enough to sing Happy Birthday or Yankee Doodle, right?

As the sink fills the tank we are saving a little bit of potable water and the energy to pump it out of the ground. The toilet is a 1.6 gallon unit with insulation (mainly to prevent sweating in the summer, but also has the advantage of not allowing the water to be unnecessarily heated in the winter). There is a post on treehugger about how much energy is used to heat the water in a toilet tank and then lost when it is flushed (the crackpot who did the calculations is a college roommate). At our house we have not taken the extra step of turning off the water to the toilet tank before flushing to avoid this heating, nor are we engaged in cold house chicken—that is, waiting to see how late in the season we can tolerate the cold before we'll turn the heat on.

We are, however, trying to use the clothesline more often, particularly since we have diapers to wash almost every day. I like the pulley-and-aircraft cable setup; since you don't have to move while you load the clothesline, the far end of the cable can be much higher off the ground, so large and heavy items don't drag on the ground.

The next frontier is the energy use of travel, particularly around the preserve in the course of managing it. The preserve is two miles tall and a half mile wide, and I am often running from one part to the other with a chainsaw, a brushcutter, or a load of branches to be chipped. We have a full size pickup truck for plowing, towing the 5,000-pound chipper we share among the preserves, and hauling heavy stuff. But for many runs the travel could be much lighter on resources.

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…

Crow’s Nest Guest Post: Bird Research at Crow’s Nest

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
detection apiece.

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.

Mariton – Turkeys Over Glass

TURKEYS 08 002 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. 

TURKEYS 08 003 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.

Crow’s Nest: After the Deluge


We, too had four inches of rain this week—and thankfully not ice. It sure is nice to see the sun again.

We started our winter project of vine cutting this week, clipping and sawing at honeysuckle, bittersweet and multiflora rose.

Mariton – High Water

PB010026 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.

PB010010 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.

PB010006 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…..

Crow’s Nest: Free greens


We are continuing the cleanup of recently-added land at Crow's Nest. I removed five of nine evergreens that were disfigured from having been planted too close together (and too close to the Norway maples we removed). They were planted about 25 years ago, by my ring count, and are one-sided due to the shade of adjacent trees. They were also planted on the south side of the road, so this stretch of Harmonyville Road remained shaded on winter days when the sun could help keep it ice-free.

We'll keep the remaining better-spaced trees and hope they fill out a bit. In the meantime, we have piles of free greens—Douglas fir, Norway spruce, and white pine—available at the site on Harmonyville Road, free while they last.

Mariton – A Great Naturalist is Gone

PollyAndChildren1990 (2) 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.

PollyAndBirdFeeder 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.

Mariton – Busy November

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.

Crow’s Nest: New wood duck boxes


We installed today three new wood duck nesting boxes at Crow's Nest along French Creek. Our old ones had rotted and new ones were donated.

Wood ducks are cavity nesters, so they usually occupy woodpecker-excavated holes in forests with adjacent water. They are a shy species and rely on the cover of the woods and meandering creek.

Believe it or not the young are pushed out of the cavity before they can fly, land safely on the water or land below, and paddle away. Our boxes are mounted high to avoid predators. The boxes are filled with wood shavings just like a natural cavity.


Look carefully for two of them along the creek trail; the third is along a section of creek well away from the trail. We don't know for sure that wood ducks will use them; in the past I have seen squirrels and screech owls take shelter in them.

Wood ducks are also among our most beautiful ducks; I don't have a picture of them but here's a photo of a wood duck decoy carved by Steve Ayres, my predecessor here, and an artist.



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