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Archive for January, 2010

Crow’s Nest: Summer interlude in photos

It's cold, it's the middle of winter. You know spring will come but there's no sign of it yet. The sap is not rising in the trees (I know because I was pruning). Buds are not swelling. Days are getting longer but darkness still prevails. Did I mention it is cold?

What better time to take a look at some wildflower pictures? These are reduced versions of three that were taken last spring and summer at Crow's Nest by Denis Manchon. It's just good to know that these plants are out there, waiting, and reliably they will return.

D.Manchon-bloodroot09

One of the first of spring will be bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis.

D.Manchon phlox09

Then blooms our native meadow phlox, Phlox maculata. And below in mid-summer, cardinal flower, Lobilia cardinalis will grace the banks of French Creek.

D.Manchon-cardinal09

Mariton – Wolf Moon for Icicles

Last night, the moon was the closest full moon of 2010, which made it big and bright.  Actually, tonight (Saturday) is the full moon.  I chose last night for the walk, because I wanted the moon to be high in the sky to light the trails as we began our walk.

JANUARY NIGHTWALK 002 The moon was so bright, that we were able to make distinct hand shadows on the trail as we walked.  We could have read (large print) by the moonlight.  We certainly didn't need flashlights to navigate the trails.  We had the added bonus of Mars being just to the left of the moon, and visibly red.  The Native Americans call this the Wolf Moon, because hungry wolves howl at the moon on cold winter nights. 

And it was cold.  So cold; that we could actually hear the Rhododendron leaves curling up to protect against the cold.  Yet it was worth dressing appropriately to view the scenery of a moonlit landscape.  We did not hear wolves, but we did hear at least one Screech Owl as we walked through the woods.  If you missed Mariton's walk last night, Crow's Nest will have a program tonight which will be a lot of fun.   If you can't make the Crow's Nest program, you owe it to yourself to bundle up and go outside to view the Moon and Mars.  And don't be afraid to howl.

Crow’s Nest: New version of aerial photo

Crow's Nest aerial cropped

Here's Crow's Nest as seen in an updated aerial photo. The photo baseline is from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (2005) and the parcel data is from Chester County. The information that overlays the photograph is only approximate.

Our boundary is shown in orange and our trails in various other colors. What's new in this version is the newer section of the Deep Woods Trail which appears as a solid yellow line that squiggles across the lower third of the image. This trail, built by volunteer Peg Watson, connects to a farm lane and completes a circuit with the original part of the deep woods trail (green dashes on map). 

I collected this trail data with an inexpensive GPS; I walked it twice to make sure the GPS readings were consistent. I uploaded the data to Google Earth ™ and emailed the file to Megan Boatright in our GIS department; she converted the data and added the it to the map. 

Crow’s Nest WebWalkers on!

The roads were a little iffy earlier this morning but are improving steadily. We will hold WebWalkers this morning as planned. Be careful with your travel and it is okay to be late—or to decide not to drive.

Crow’s Nest: The falls in flood

Falls-flood

This is what the "falls" on Mine Run looked like today—and this is a stream with an entirely forested watershed. Imagine how much higher, faster, and more muddy this flow would be if there was impervious surface or bare soil upstream. This stream originates in wetlands in State Game Lands #43, passes through Crow's Nest, and joins French Creek at the top of the falls at St. Peter's Village (bet those falls were impressive today).

By comparison, here is a photo of the same area as it more frequently looks under drier conditions:

Falls-dry
And below is a picture of the oxbow of Mine Run at Crow's Nest as it appeared today from the Horse-Shoe Trail on the bed of the old Boars Back Railroad, just a little downstream from the small falls above.

Oxbow

A tornado skipped through this valley in 1995 and felled about fifty trees here. We left the fallen trunks undisturbed, only weeded out a few Paulownia and Ailanthus trees that sprouted. The forest is filling in well.

Five years of Blogging

It seems hard to believe but we have been writing this weblog for five years. Here's a link to the first entry which appeared in a slightly different form from the current one.

We hope you enjoy reading the entries as much as we enjoy writing them.

Practical Stewardship Notes 7: Manage the Carbon

Soils and the plants that grow on them can hold a good deal of the element Carbon. How we manage land can affect the distribution or flow of carbon, a primary component of organic matter.

Forests in our eastern biome gradually accumulate carbon in trunks, leaves, and on the forest floor: leaf litter, rotting logs, and humus. Carbon is released gradually through fungal decomposition and some of that is made available for future growth of the forest. Forests gradually accumulate more carbon from the carbon dioxide plants respire from the air, and so are referred to as carbon sinks.

In contrast to forests, our local Serpentine barrens are poor in organic matter; only plants that can grow in conditions with naturally-occurring heavy metals from the parent rock survive there. But there too, carbon gradually increases. It is only as organic matter builds up from the decaying leaves of these plants that the soil conditions toxic to most plants are buffered; without some intervention in the carbon cycle the rare plants adapted to this ecosystem will gradually give way to species common to our region.

In disturbed or damaged forests, fungal activity is disrupted and bacterial decomposition dominates. In these forests earthworms and bacteria may accelerate decomposition so much that leaf litter is absent from the forest floor. Increases in runoff erosion and the presence of invasive plants correlate to this condition.

The study of how much carbon forests can sequester in the cycles of growth and decay is in its infancy. You can read about one study here as it was applied to our Crow's Nest Preserve.

So carbon cycling is directly related to our land management activities: mowing, prescribed burning, invasive plant management, managing for water quality, managing a site in a particular state of plant succession, managing for wildlife, and choosing what to do with trees that fall in (or outside of) the forest. Also most management involves the use of power equipment that emits carbon from long-sequestered sources.

In our forests we usually want to allow the natural process of accumulating carbon to proceed. It will result in deeper soils that hold more water, improved growth and good wildlife habitat. So we only remove trees if that promotes other goals, such as encouraging structural diversity, encouraging species such as oaks that are especially beneficial for wildlife—but need more sun than an older forest may provide, or reducing invasive plants that can displace a diversity of native species. Most trees when they die are left to provide habitat for insects that feed other wildlife and cavities for the birds that depend on them for nesting. When the trees fall their trunks provide additional habitat and serve as nurse logs for new seedlings. We also have to consider the implications of dead wood in forest fires.

Wood

Yet when a tree falls outside of the forest, say into a farm field, it may become an obstacle. Some trees can be dragged back into the woods to decay. Some may yield wood we can use in our trails' footbridges, summer camp activities, or building renovations; we are prepared to make use of that with a portable sawmill we share among the preserves. Some we cut up and share with neighbors as firewood.

Burning wood releases the carbon much more quickly than natural decomposition and sends some of that carbon off into the air where it offers us less benefit—but, used to heat homes it offsets the use of other carbon sources. Where we can we try to avoid burning brush piles in the open air where there is no benefit to offset the release. (According to the Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, debris burning is also a leading cause of wildfires.)

Where there is room to accommodate it small brush can be left in the woods to provide roosting sites and cover for wildlife. However, brush piles in hedgerows or in the open can become management problems as they become covered with invasive vines. So some brush piles we chip and use the wood chips to surface our trails. Small chips release carbon more quickly than big chunks but more slowly than fire. From a carbon-release standpoint, rotting whole is better than chipping which is better than burning.

Morris Arboretum now has sculptural stacks of wood from maintaining its collections: material too large to chip and yet they don't want to burn it. The wood will rot slowly in these log cabin-like structures keeping the carbon tied up as long as possible.

We use prescribed fire on our Serpentine barrens and to maintain other habitats (such as meadows) in a particular state of succession. Although this releases some carbon this is the intervention necessary to protect rare species in the former case and to replicate a natural process in the latter case. Usually the fuels are light—so the quantity of carbon involved is small—and prescribed fire is only undertaken when there is a specific objective in using it.

It's a tricky balance but something we think about as we are doing land management.

Practical Stewardship Notes (c) Daniel Barringer

Crow’s Nest: Pruning apple trees

We are again pruning apple trees at the preserve: light annual pruning of the three near the visitor center and substantial rejuvenation of the ones on the land added to Crow's Nest in 2008. On these older trees that had been let go we are in the middle of a three (or more) year plan to bring them back to a manageable size; already we can make cuts we could only dream of last year.

We don't prune for the sake of pruning, and we prune no more than we think we have to. That goes for all trees, but apples are a bit of a special case since their health and fruit set are so dependent on good pruning.

First we remove any dead wood, then crossing branches, then ones that are pointing in a direction we don't want the plant to grow—such as too tall to reach the apples. We can only cut a little each year since severe pruning creates an imbalance between roots and above-ground mass that stimulates unwanted shoots and suckers.

By the way, we do have some apple wood available. If you are interested in wood chunks to use in smoking or flavoring food, or fresh twigs to offer a pet rabbit, please give me a call, 610-286-7955.

Mariton – Night Walk

We will be holding a Night Walk on Friday, January 29, from 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.  This should be an interesting walk, as there are plenty of red foxes at Mariton that may vocalize.  We have also been hearing both Screech Owls and Great-horned Owls calling in the evening.

The flier that was sent to Friends of Mariton, incorrectly said Saturday, January 29.  The correct night is Friday, January 29.  Please call if you plan to attend. 

Crow’s Nest Moonlight Night Hike

Moonlight hike flyer

At the end of the month we'll have a full moon family hike with hot dogs, hot chocolate, and potluck desserts. Click on the flyer above to enlarge it, and call me to sign up.

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