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Archive for March, 2011

Crow’s Nest: Progress on the farmhouse

Geothermal wells

The buildings crew has been plugging away on the farmhouse renovations at Crow's Nest in between projects at other preserves. They are framing walls, replacing rotten beams, and building new stairways. This week there was a lot of noise while four new wells were being drilled as part of a geothermal heating system. This system, while expensive, will lower operating costs in the long term.

Crow’s Nest: Now blooming

Elm flower

The flowers are subtle: they're small and high in the trees, but American elm (Ulmus americana) is now in flower at the Crow's Nest. Many of our elms have died during drought years but you can still find some in the floodplain woods and hedgerows. Across North America large specimens of this once-common tree are now very rare due to Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease spread by the elm bark beetle.

Finished annual monitoring of conservation easements

Tussock sedge

I just finished monitoring the 28 conservation easements that are my responsibility at Natural Lands Trust (just a small portion of the total)—and just in time for the March 31 deadline. I started in December, was delayed by the weeks of deep snow, and then saw the first signs of spring.

As always I am thankful for the generosity of the landowners in protecting their lands with conservation easements and their graciousness in hosting my visits. As part of the annual monitoring I take photos, write notes, and keep records about these diverse and beautiful lands.

Crow’s Nest Volunteer Day April 2

We'll be holding our annual cleanup/volunteer work day at Crow's Nest on Saturday, April 2 from 8 am until 12 noon.

This year if all goes well we'll be planting native trees and protecting them with tree shelters. Some will be planted where there are gaps in the canopy along French Creek, some in an area where we cleared lots of vines this winter, and other places where they are needed around the preserve. So if you are arriving later in the morning there will be a sign at the visitor center showing the project areas and you can call me to find out which one we are currently working on.

Then if we have time we'll be cutting vines and addressing other needs. Bring work gloves and pruners; we'll provide shovels. Give me a call at 610-286-7955 if you plan to come so that I know how much coffee to put on.

Crow’s Nest: Wood chips wanted

If you are a local landowner or arborist working in the neighborhood we have an ongoing need for clean wood chips (no seed or diseased trees) to use to mulch some of our trails. Our pile is located across the road from the Jacob barn (401 Piersol Road, the barn with the stone silo). Let me know if you have some and need a place to put them (610-286-7955).

Crow’s Nest Spring WebWalkers, WebWanderers, WebWigglers

Spring WW

Our spring nature clubs are scheduled with the theme, "What's Up?"

WebWanderers (after school for grades 2 – 3) will run Wednesday afternoons 4 – 5:30 from April 6 to May 18 (no session April 20).

Morning WebWalkers (for homeschooled kids ages 9 – 11 as of 9/1/10) will be held on Thursdays 10 am to 12:30 pm from April 7 to May 19 (no session April 21).

Afternoon WebWalkers (grades 4 – 6) will be held on Thursdays April 7 to May 19 (no session April 21).

Morning WebWigglers (for homeschooled kids ages 5 – 8 as of 9/1/10) will be held on Fridays 10 to 11:30 am from April 8 to May 20 (no session April 22).

Afternoon WebWigglers (grades K – 1) will run Fridays 4 – 5:30 pm from April 8 to May 20 (again, no session April 22).

The fee for the six-week program is $30/child. For more information please call us at 610-286-7955.

Crow’s Nest: Wildlife at dusk

Dusk 3-11

Dusk is a great time for wildlife viewing. I haven't been working late recently, since my wife Denise goes to work in the evenings when I come in from outdoors to look after Owen. But now Owen is getting old enough, and the weather nice enough, for him to help with after-work projects on the preserve.

Last night we were digging fence post holes (more on that in a later blog entry) up the road behind the other barn, with Owen making noises appropriate to his efforts with the digging bar (one-handed, with dad holding above). We witnessed a pair of Canada geese landing heavily on our very small pond. That kicked up a pair of disgruntled mallards. And shortly thereafter a great blue heron came in to land on the water, only to find the geese who made a ruckus causing the heron to move on. The preserve's pond is small enough—and we've let the vegetation grow up around it enough—that it doesn't normally support geese, which sometimes overstay their welcome in other landscapes.

The evening was topped off by hearing the buzzy "Pzeet" of a woodcock in the thicket below us. I've always known they are here but have rarely heard them. You have to be outdoors at the right time and right place to observe them.

I know our signs say the preserve is open only dawn to dusk. If you would like to stay a little late to observe some of this wonder, that's fine. Just let me know in advance or leave a note on the dashboard of your car.


Practical Stewardship Notes #8: When not to be thorough

Most things I think if worth doing, are worth doing well. But that's not always the same as being thorough.

When I mow meadows with the tractor I am reducing the height of last summer's grass and wildflower stems from three or four feet to 4 – 5 inches. I've already waited to the end of winter so that the vegetation has provided winter cover. But those stems are also full of insects that are a food source for birds and other animals. Even for the few weeks until grasses start growing again there is a temporary loss of habitat associated with the meadow's mowing. However, with no management the meadow itself will be lost, that is, it will become another kind of habitat, and not the one we are managing for at that location.

As much as I enjoy the aesthetic of a neatly-mown meadow (that's why we like turfgrass lawns, right?) I know that mowing a little less thoroughly offers a few benefits.


The circles of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) left standing in this mowed meadow are my attempt at creating patchiness in this meadow. The standing patches serve as refugia for the species that depend on the cover or the species that reside therein. Next year, the unmowed circles will likely be left in different spots in the meadow so there is no impact in managing the meadow.

One of the advantages of using prescribed fire to manage a meadow is that it naturally creates patchiness: some parts burn well and others don't. We burn these meadows about every five years and mow each year when not burned. Below is part of the meadow that is scheduled to be burned this year, some time in the next couple weeks.

Chief 3-11

Practical Stewardship Notes (c) Daniel Barringer

Mariton – Butterflies

While mowing the meadows on Friday, I saw my first Mourning Cloak of the season.  These are early butterflies.  Many over winter under leaves on the ground and so emerge to remind us that spring is close.  The name mourning cloak makes one think of a drab butterfly, but these are actually quite beautiful if you look at them closely.  That is where binoculars come in handy. 

I could have used a pair of binoculars.  While mowing, I saw a small orange butterfly that moved too quickly for me to identify.  Two butterfly species on March 18!

Mariton – Meadow Mowing

Like Dan, I have been mowing my meadows.  I mow three of the meadows at this time of the year (and another one in July).  Many of the Preserve Managers have to mow their meadows during winter when the ground is frozen (if there is no snow).  Since the Mariton meadows are on top of the "mountain" and well drained, I have the luxury of being able to do it whenever (if there is no snow).   

I like being able to wait until the end of March.  It allows the flower and grass stalks to stand during the winter.  This structure provides food and shelter for rodents and birds, and hunting cover for predators during the winter (especially if there is snow!).  We will be without that structure for a few weeks, but you will blink and it will suddenly be green.  It is amazing how fast it will grow back (considering that everything in the Before photo grew in 6 to 7 months).


Meadow mowing 2011 002 

After mowing:

Meadow mowing 2011 007 


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