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Archive for September, 2010

Consider the stink bug

If you think this has been a bad year for stink bugs getting into the house, you are not alone.

While I'm not amused by the invasion I think it is funny that websites listing their top ten searches typically list nine current celebrities and then the 10th: "stink bugs."

We seem to have fewer Asian lady beetles entering the house but this year has given us the greatest number of brown marmorated stink bugs yet. They are larger and a bit less pleasant to entertain at home.

In the fall and winter 2007-08 we had only a few; this year it is totally different. As I wrote then, caulk is part of the solution–sealing the points of entry keeps them out. But they also can do some damage to crops, and our problem now is that they enter the house at the same time and place we do: through the doors.

Crow’s Nest: Celebrating International Observe the Moon Night


Saturday night we hosted students and their families from Lansdowne Friends School who came out to view the moon from the dark skies at Crow's Nest. This was part of the first annual International Observe the Moon Night.

We began the evening with roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, shown here in progress. Then we walked over to a farm field with a clear view of the sky and set up telescopes, spotting scopes and binoculars. The teacher brought maps of the moon surface that we could compare with what we were seeing. It was ideal that the moon was not full because we could see the relief of the surface on the partly-lit edge.

The International Observe the Moon Night was promoted by many organizations including Astronomers without Borders. As they note, we all share the same sky; our earthly boundaries vanish when we look up. If we can see that we have this in common it will help us see what else we share.


Fall color predictions

I hate to be a pessimist but the severe drought has resulted in a lot of leaves that have already shriveled up without turning. Too wet a year can result in poor fall color, but too dry can affect it too. Farmers are starting to take in local field corn about three weeks early. But keep a close eye on fall color: it could happen early and fast so enjoy it while you can.

I'm sure we've had years when the lawns turned more brown (and it is important to remember—they did recover!) and other years I have heard more dire reporting than this year about the level of regional water supplies, but this summer has been incredibly dry for us. There will be some plant mortality from it but we won't know how much until next spring or summer.

On Fox Hill, the ridge traversed by our Deep Woods trail, spicebush has shriveled completely on the south-facing slope and bottomlands along Mine Run. But on the north side of the ridge spicebush is still green and still has the opportunity to achieve its usual clear yellow fall color. Even under the shade of an intact canopy of deciduous trees the south slope fared worse than on the north side, and the plants—even of the same species—on the normally-dry upper slopes fared better than those in the usually-moist (but now dry) bottomlands.

By the way, I guess that's where Northside Road gets its name; it is on the north side of the ridge.

On sun shadows and rain shadows

The drought has also given an opportunity to compare the location and effect of sun shadows and rain shadows. Just as a sun shadow is an area darkened by an object that blocks the sun, a rain shadow is an area (under a tree, for example) where some of the rain is intercepted by the leaves. During years of normal rainfall plenty of rain drips off the leaves, but during a dry year the area under trees can be conspicuously drier than elsewhere. Large trees also evapotranspire a lot of water and their roots draw moisture out of the soil around the tree.

The rain shadow is pretty much symmetrical around the tree, whereas the sun shadow (at least at this latitude and this late in the summer) is a circle shifted to the north side of the tree.

This year I placed an umbrella in the garden to shade Owen's sandbox. Grass that was in the rain shadow and the sun shadow still thrived, as did that that is under only the sun shadow. But grass that was under the rain shadow but not the sun shadow absolutely fried, suffering significantly worse than grass that was under neither.

We pay attention to sun and rain shadows (not to mention slope aspect and how wet an area normally is) because they affect the cultural conditions for plants growing on a site. These factors of microclimate determine what species we choose to plant where. Of course during a season like this the unusual conditions change the rules and plants that can be placed under a lot of stress.

Mariton – Hummingbird Feeder

There are still lots of hummingbirds around.  Our hummingbird feeder is getting constant use as the birds fuel up for migration.  I went away last weekend and filled the feeders before I left.  When I returned,  one was empty and the other was half full.  Hummingbirds frequented the feeders all summer, but their consumption has definitely gone up in the last two weeks.  So, if you have activity at your feeder, keep an eye on the level of the liquid.

Mariton – Pawpaw

It is that time of year again, when the fruit from the Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) drops to the ground and ripens.  That is an important note.  The fruits on the tree are not ripe.  You have to search underneath the tree if you want to taste this exotic, yet native delight.

Pawpaw is in the Custard Apple family (Annonaceae), and in the Pawpaw genus (Asimina).  It is a small tree of the southeastern United States.  We are on its northern range, but it has been planted widely by humans since before Colombus.  The fruit falls during September at Mariton and into October.  Unfortunately, it turns black and mushy very quickly in hot weather.  The photo below shows a ripe fruit, as well as one sliced open to the seeds.  The Pawpaw has simple leaves (even though the photo makes it look like compound leaves).

PAWPAW 2010 003 

There is a fruiting Pawpaw tree alongside the parking lot at Martion.  You are welcome to taste the fruit.  It can be eaten with the skin (the seeds are embedded in the flesh).  It is a fleshy texture, not unlike a banana.  The taste?  How about between a pear and a mango?  I never know how to describe it.  Except for quite tasty and interesting.  While I invite you to taste, please do not collect.

Crow’s Nest: WebWalkers, WebWanderers, & WebWigglers Fall Programs

In October Crow's Nest will have a full schedule of kids programs at the preserve: this fall the theme is "It's OAK-a! Let's Go!" about oak trees and the species interactions that involve them. The six-week sessions begin the week of October 11.

On Wednesdays we will have after-school WebWanderers (formerly called Spiderlings) from 4 – 5:30 pm, October 13 through November 17. This program is for 2nd and 3rd graders.

Thursday mornings we host WebWalkers for homeschooled kids (ages 9 to 11 as of 9/1/10). These programs run 10 am – 12:30 pm from October 14 through November 18. After school on the same days we hold WebWalkers for kids in grades 4, 5, and 6, from 3:30 – 6 pm.

On Fridays we have WebWigglers programs, again for homeschooled kids (ages 5 – 8 on 9/1/10) in the mornings and after school programs for kids in kindergarten and 1st grade. These programs run 10 – 11:30 am and 4 – 5:30 pm.

These programs have nothing to do with the internet: they are about the web of life and interconnectedness of the plants, animals and fungi found in nature at Crow's Nest Preserve. At each session we will go for a hike, play games, observe nature, have some free time in the woods, or do a craft.

These Natural Lands Trust programs cost $30/child for the six-week session. Please register by October 5th. Call us at 610-286-7955 for more information.

More events!

No events list is ever complete but here are a couple I missed in my previous post:

Sugarbush Nursery is also having its open house this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. We are blessed to have two native plant nurseries in our area—and no excuses not to plant natives! Yellow Springs Farm (mentioned in my previous post) is to our southeast in Chester Springs. Sugarbush is to our northwest in Mohnton.

It wouldn't be September without the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival September 17, 18 and 19 in beautiful Kempton, PA, near Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. This will feature speakers, workshops, vendors, art and music, children's activities and food.

Mariton – Butterfly Extravagance

This has been a banner summer for butterflies in our region.  Mariton has been especially active.  Last summer, (probably due to a cool and wet summer) butterflies were almost rare.  In fact, the weather probably caused gypsy moth populations to crash across the state.  That was a good thing for oak trees, but not so good for plants that need butterflies for pollination (or for the people who love watching butterflies).  This summer has been great for butterflies, (although most of us are lamenting the recent lack of precipitation).

MEBUS SwallowtailsOnThistleMariton0904-2 Carole Mebus visited Mariton last weekend to see what was fluttering here and she sent me some of her photos.  She was amazed at the abundance of butterflies.  We usually think of butterflies here during the Milkweed and Monarda bloom periods.  In actuality, there is always something blooming here during the summer that attracts butterflies.

MEBUS GrayHairstreakMaritonFields0904 MEBUS GrayHairstreakMaritonFields0904WingsOpen-2 One of my favorites that she captured so well was this Gray Hairstreak.  I love the variability in the shade of this species.  She took this interesting photo on the left with the wings open.  That is something you don't always see (or so Carole tells me). 

This Variegated Frittilary is a species that I have never seen except in photos.  But Carole found them at Mariton.

MEBUS VariegatedFritillaryMariton0904

Regional Events

In addition to Natural Lands Trust's events at our preserves (see the schedule here), there are a number of events of cultural and conservation interest in our region this month.

This weekend is the Hay Creek Festival at Joanna Furnace. This popular event from Friday to Sunday includes early American crafts, foods, technology, a tractor show and antique car show, archeological and restoration work at the historic furnace, music and entertainment.

Yellow Springs Farm is having their open house and native plant sale this weekend as well.

If you're interested in what open space and recreation will look like around here in years to come, on Septmber 24, 7:00 to 8:30 pm there will be a public meeting at Owen J. Roberts High School to update the community for the Northern Federation of Chester County Municipalities regional parks, recreation and open space plan.

And at the end of the month the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Farming will be holding their 3rd annual Chester County Bike Fresh Bike Local event. It has 75, 50 and 25 mile courses that highlight the farms that they pass. Food along the route is donated by local farmers and prepared by local chefs.

A Connoisseur of Clouds

This summer I have been watching clouds.

Maybe it is because I attended the wildland firefighting course at the beginning of summer, S-290, Intermediate Fire Behavior. A good bit of the course is about weather since it, along with fuels and topography, is a major factor (and the most variable) in influencing fire behavior. I've had my eye out for a good cumulonimbus storm cloud, the anvil-top clouds that are a sign of an unstable atmosphere and severe weather. And there's nothing like a Maxfield Parrish sky for beauty.

Or maybe it's because we've had so little rain here this summer, that I am looking for those clouds that will bring us needed precipitation. I know we've had more-publicized droughts but this one seems pretty severe. We've had enough rain that the lawns haven't completely gone dormant but even the largest trees have wilting leaves. I have never watered so much as this summer, an effort to keep the high-traffic barnyard (our program area) from becoming dust and preventing the loss of newly-planted trees (that normally are left on their own).

Here's a photo from our vacation this summer in the low country of South Carolina. I thought this storm was going to pass us by right up until the time it hit. It rained every day there that week but not for long and so it never interfered with enjoying the outdoors.


Here at home, without significant precipitation in the last couple months—and many days above 90 degrees—it's a different story.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for tomorrow, Wednesday September 8 for parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland: "A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly: A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures will create explosive fire growth potential."

Hang on, be prepared, and watch the sky for the rain that will eventually come.


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