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Archive for May, 2011

Crow’s Nest: Open house and contra dance June 4

Come one, come all to our annual open house followed by Elverson Dance holding a contra dance in our barn.

We’ll start with a hayride tour of the preserve around 4:30 pm, followed by a potluck dinner around 5:30 in the barnyard. Then stroll around on your own or join the contra dancing upstairs. There is no charge for the hayride and dinner; the contra dance is $8 payable at the door (discounts for students & seniors).

There will be two callers for the dance, Reuven AnafShalom and Shane Knudsen, calling to the music of Cantabile.

Coming for the hayride and potluck doesn’t mean you have to stay for the dance—but it sure is good fun. For the dance wear comfortable soft-soled shoes; you don’t need to bring a partner. Instruction begins and 7:00 and the dancing at 7:30. See you here!


Greater than the sum

Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  This has rung true so many times for me during my years with Natural Lands Trust.  As an organization, it is amazing what our staff accomplishes.

On a more local level (at least for me) the Stewardship Department is a unique blend of talents and personalities.  Throw us together on a work project, and with no boss, the job gets done in half the man hours.  Considering that most of the time we work by ourselves at our own preserves, that is pretty magical.

When ChesLen Preserve was generously added to the “portfolio” of Natural Lands Trust preserves, it was an achievement that could only be accomplished by an organization where the “whole exceeded the sum”.  With ChesLen, NLT gained two valuable assets.  Roger Nichols and David Castaneda manage ChesLen, and added their talents to the NLT Stewardship pool.

Among other things, Roger and David are now the “go to guys” for major equipment issues.  All the preserve managers perform routine maintenance on our equipment, but the addition of Roger and David raised us to another level.  This spring I needed to replace all the hydraulic lines on the tractor.  It was a little more than what I was comfortable doing, so I called Roger for advice.  He said they could do it with no problem.   

Well, they not only replaced the lines, but they repaired a lot of the “little idiosyncrasies”.  They brought the tractor back up to specs, and made it as new as a 20 year old piece of machinery can be.  It looks great and runs even better.  (And they stayed within Mariton’s budget.)

Roger and David are an example.  I could go down the line of Stewardship Staff and list how they make NLT a stronger organization.  I’ll even go out on a limb and boast that we have the best Stewardship Department out there.  The reason is simple.  For us, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Mariton: Nest boxes

There is good news and bad news.  The wet and cold weather was too much for some of the nests.  A nest of baby Bluebirds died.  I think it is due to exposure.  There were big enough that the parents had to be constantly foraging for food.  Since the adults were away from the nest a lot, the babies probably got damp and cold.  I also found a nest of Chickadees that had died.  In both cases, I cleaned out the box and hopefully the adults will renest in one of the boxes.  It is sad, but it happens. 

 On the other hand, there are 15 chickadee babies in two other boxes.  They look pretty healthy, and I am crossing my fingers that it stays warm, at least for a week.  Here is one of the Chickadee nests.

Chickadee babies

We also have 5 eggs in a bluebird nest.  This box is in the yard, so I watch the parents checking the box during the day.

Bluebird eggs

Crow’s Nest: The “eyes” have it

Snapped a shot of this fellow with the fierce mien in our barn. Be assured that every wolf spider I have come across wanted less to do with me than vice versa.

Mariton: Birding at Merrill Creek

It has been a few years since the Bird Group went to Merrill Creek, so it was good to go back.  Bill and Sharon Roehrig guided us into some great bird areas.  We had great views of Baltimore Orioles, Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, Kingbirds, an Osprey and many other birds. 

We heard Wood Thrushes, Veerys, American Redstarts, Blue-winged Warblers, and Prarie Warblers. 

The Highlight was spotting an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the orchard that posed for quite awhile.  We didn’t hear it sing, but then it doesn’t breed here.  It was just passing through on its way to New England or Canada. 

The following are photos by Carole Mebus of some of the birds we spotted.  A gold finch.

An Indigo Bunting.

A Baltimore Oriole.

And the Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Crow’s Nest: Tick research continues

University of Pennsylvania researchers have returned to Crow’s Nest for another season of field study on ticks, Lyme disease, and the small mammals that are an alternate host for the disease. They are working on how to vaccinate a wild population of white-footed mice so that the mammals can’t pass the Lyme disease spirochete, thereby interrupting the bacterium’s life cycle.

Here researcher Jamie Mackay shows kids in our WebWanders program the traps they use to catch mice and feed them the vaccine in a bait.

Jamie is a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who is spending the summer working on this project along with two other researchers in addition to project manager Godefroy Devevy. The project is part of Dustin Brisson’s lab at Penn.

If you see the researchers in the field feel free to ask them for an update. Because they are interested—and out in the woods every day—they offer another perspective of nature at Crow’s Nest.

Crow’s Nest Preserve: Looking like a farm

Crow’s Nest is foremost a “Preserve”—protected open space that Natural Lands Trust owns and manages for its native species, ecological value and public use. But historically it was a farm and some of it remains that: we lease about a quarter of the preserve to Frank Hartung who grows crops on our fields.

But recently other parts of the preserve have taken a farming turn. We added goats to perform prescribed grazing in one habitat for clearing multiflora rose. These Nubian wethers are pets with a job and are outstanding employees of Natural Lands Trust (out standing in the field).

We also just added a couple steers, again for a specific habitat restoration goal. In past years we borrowed some steers but transportation logistics made it more attractive for colleague Jack Stefferud and I to go into partnership on a pair that belong to us personally but will be used for habitat restoration here.

My wife Denise who has put off my interest in chickens for a couple years (while we had Owen, for example) came home the other day and told me we needed to get some “tonight.” So we did. The three of them are delightful, still in the barn, and will be egg-layers and family pets. I’ve never seen anything grow faster, except perhaps mile-a-minute weed. There’s no habitat restoration component to their arrival, though we plan to run them in a portable “chicken tractor” moved each day so they will eat plenty of bugs, and the kids in our nature programs have enjoyed visiting with them.


And our neighbor Brent Sanders has been busy adding bee hives all over the Crow’s Nest, pollinating and making honey. I don’t know what is next but I am excited to see the return of animals to fields that historically were pastures.

Crow’s Nest: dodging raindrops

I feel like I got away with something today: I mowed the lawn at Crow’s Nest during the only dry two hours this week, got the mower cleaned up and put away just as the skies opened up again. I never get that lucky.

I mow around the visitor center barnyard, parking lot and path to the Creek Trail and then while the mower is out flex my time to take off to mow around the tenant house where we live. I am fortunate that I can mow when the grass needs it—and when the weather cooperates—and not have to wait for weekends.

Our lawn is a “freedom lawn” mown high and relatively infrequently, diverse with the many species (some call weeds) that green it up. It was, however, getting long enough that I was worried about it ever drying up.


Mariton: Night-time Kayaking

Moonlight kayaks

Our first Moonlight Kayak Trip of the spring was great.  Clouds obscured the moon, but there was enough ambient light for us to navigate after the sun went down.  Lake Nockamixon was satiny smooth.  It made for a relaxing paddle.  We had a great group of people on the trip, and I enjoyed chatting with them when I could. 

The highlight that most of us will remember is the Bald Eagle.  A few of us spotted it flying at tree height along the shore.  When it landed in a tree, we waited for the group to gather.  There was still a lot of light, so everyone got to see it perched on a bare branch about 40 feet above the lake.  It was magnificent.  It was there first Bald Eagle sighting for several people, and it was a wonderful look at our nation’s symbol.  It eventually got bored by all the “oohhhs and ahhhhs” and flew off, so everyone got a great view of its white head and tail against the dark trees. 

As dusk turned to night, we watched a Great Blue Heron fishing from a stump only a few yards from our kayaks.  Actually, it was the heron’s silhouette backlit by the glow off  the lake that we admired.  Even after seeing a Bald Eagle, the heron was still a magical sight.

It was a great night and no one seemed upset that the moon failed to make an appearance.  As we beached the kayaks in the dark, everyone pitched in to organize gear and help load the boats in the trailer.

Mariton: Bird Census

We held our Migratory Bird Census last Saturday.  The weather was a mostly a light drizzle with a shower.  While that doesn’t bother most birds, it made it a little harder for the birders to hear bird songs.  We ended the morning with 41 species and 218 individuals ( a little below average).  Considering the weather, I am happy with the count.

One of the highlights were the Wood Thrushes.  We counted 20 of these birds, the most of any species.  Blue Jays, Red-eyed Vireos and Ovenbirds all tied for second with 14 birds each.  I hadn’t been hearing many Red-eyed Vireos before Saturday, so was pleased by the number we counted that morning.  We also counted a Cape May Warbler for the first time on a census.    

It was a good morning to be out, even if it was a little wet.  We will be doing the Nesting Bird Census on June 4th, which is very similar.


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