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Archive for June, 2011

Mariton: Tree Swallows

Activity in the nest boxes is winding down.  These three tree swallows should be gone in two weeks. Last year, we had bluebirds nest very late in the season.  In fact, they started their nest July 19.  Normally, I stop monitoring boxes by that time of year.  It was pure luck that I decided to check one more time, and found the nest.  Four bluebirds ended up fledging out of that nest.  So, this year I will continue monitoring until the end of July, just in case.

Crow’s Nest: Sharp eyes

The kids at camp have sharp eyes for the little critters that underpin the food web but usually go unnoticed. This is a Definite Tussock Moth caterpillar (Orgyia definita) and that name is not a measure of my confidence in identification—that’s its name.

Only a few feet away and a few minutes later we spotted this cecropia moth:

And along the creek damselflies flit among the plants:

Mariton: Butterflies

The last Butterfly Walk for the season was held on Tuesday.  We are finally seeing good numbers of Spicebush Swallowtails (Papilio troilus).  Their main food plant is Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), but they also like Sassafras (Sassafras albidum).  Both plants are abundant at Mariton. 

Probably the highlight was this female Eastern-tailed Blue (Everes comyntas).  This is another tiny butterfly that is worth a closer look.  Carole Mebus took both photos, one with the wings closed, and the other with the wings open. 


Crow’s Nest: Giant Leopard Moth

The kids at summer camp yesterday saw this beautiful moth, recently emerged from its cocoon. It’s a giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) whose caterpillar is a woolly-bear type.

Crow’s Nest: What’s blooming

There is a lot blooming at the preserve, more than I’ve been able to keep up with. Here and there in the woods along French Creek you can find Canada lily (Lilium canadense):

In the wetlands you can see some water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata) which also goes by the names beaver-poison, spotted cowbane, and musquash-root.

Crow’s Nest: Visiting other preserves

Owen and I have now visited 14 of the 16 preserves listed in the Field Guide to Natural Lands Trust Preserves. This weekend we visited Gwynedd Preserve and Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a bit of a shock to find Tim at work in his office on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, but he was compiling the butterfly survey stats from that morning’s walk. We explored his visitor center with its animal mounts, bones, tracks, nests and pelts.

Our preserves span the continuum of states of succession of natural areas in our region. Both Gywnedd and Mariton contain lands that were formerly farmed, but Gywnedd’s fields were farmed more recently and most of it is managed as an early successional grassland, good habitat for grassland-nesting birds. Step down the path at Mariton and you find yourself suddenly in mid-successional woods that look like they’ve been there much longer than they have (about 100 years). Interpretive signs there inform you about the age of each section of woods, ranging from a sassafras thicket that was meadow a decade ago to 50, 100, and greater ages. As forests age, their structure usually diversifies—they become stands of more uneven age. And their species composition changes to trees that are more shade tolerant—at least until the next disturbance.

Natural Lands Trust Preserves are diverse, representative of different habitats and, I might add, a great place to get away to on a summer’s afternoon. They are quiet places away from the crowds.

Being there as a visitor is a different experience for me. I usually arrive at another preserve first thing in the morning of a workday after having fought rush-hour traffic (something I don’t contend with on the 100-foot walk from house to barn at Crow’s Nest) and get briefed over coffee about the day’s work. This weekend I had nowhere I needed to be and nothing to do but spend the day with Owen (now almost 3).

Owen walked some of the trails, got carried some, picked up and threw twigs, screamed at a wriggly worm and then gave it a welcoming “hi” when I held it for him and then blew it a kiss. We saw an indigo bunting, a fritillary, and lots of milkweed in flower. Mariton appears to be a little ahead of us in this latter species’ blooming.

Mariton: Interesting Variant

Yesterday, during the Butterfly Census, we came across this interesting morph of Butterfly Weed(Asclepias tuberosa).  Most Butterfly Weed is orange (as in the photo below), but we found a yellow morph.  In the Plants of Pennsylvania by Rhodes and Block, it lists “flowers yellow to orange-red”, so it probably isn’t as rare we thought.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Mariton: Butterfly Census

Butterfly count

Today we held the 21st Annual Butterfly Census.  We had good weather and six butterfly enthusiasts.  We ended the morning with 20 species and 147 individuals. 

The most common butterfly was the Great-spangled Fritillary.  We counted 30 individuals.  While that is a big name, the butterfly is pretty spectacular when the sun catches the white spots underneath its wings.  This is an easy-to-learn and common butterfly at Mariton.  Its major food plant (what the caterpillars eat) are different violets.  Photo by Carole Mebus.

The next most common species was the Silver-spotted Skipper (29 individuals).  Another butterfly that is fairly easy to recognize.  The silver spot on its underwing is the giveaway.  Photo by Carole Mebus.

Another species, though not very common this morning was the Hackberry Emperor.  There are patches of Hackberry trees on the preserve, so we often see this beautiful butterfly.  This is a species that is often lands on people to gather salts from their skin.  Photo by Carole Mebus.

Mariton: Summer Woodland Flowers

Most forest plants need to flower early in the spring.  They need to take care of business before the trees overhead block the precious solar energy necessary for reproduction.   There, of course, are exceptions.  Two of the exceptions are blooming right now in Mariton’s woods, and they are spectacular.


The native Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) blooms at the end of June.  Personally, while the ones planted in yards have beautiful colors, they don’t hold a candle to the beauty of our native tree.  Now is the peak of the blossoms at Mariton, so you want to get out to see them this weekend.  The best places are on the River Lookout Trail.  You can also find several along the Main Trail.  While you are visiting take note of the girth of Mariton’s Rhodies.  They are huge and very old.

Black Cohosh

Another eye-catcher is the Black Cohosh (Cimicfuga racemosa).  Looking at the photo above, you can see why children call them Fairy Candles.  In the deep woods the bright white flowers light the understory.  My favorite place to view these is along the River Lookout. 

We often think of summer wildflowers in the fields, but these two are worth a walk in the woods.

Mariton: Delaware Sojourn

Boat variety

I spent the weekend on the Delaware River Sojourn.  In Pennsylvania, many river organizations host sojourns on their river to raise awareness .  This was a special year, because earlier this year the Delaware was named Pennsylvania’s River of the Year.  I only went for the upper stretches of the Sojourn, traveling from just below Hancock, NY to Calicoon, NY.  One could sample sections of the river all the way to Bristol, PA.

A sojourn is more than a bunch of paddlers getting together to journey down a river.  While I like reconnecting with friends I have made on past Sojourns, I am attracted by the programs.  The Delaware Sojourn usually has three short educational programs each day.  Many of the programs dealt with the river’s effect on wildlife, since this year’s theme was River of Life.

Don Hamilton - Mussles

One of the programs I really liked was on Freshwater Mussels presented by Don Hamilton of the National Park Service.  Don did his presentation in the water just off of the Butternut Island.  I learned that there are still nine species of mussels found in the Upper Delaware and they are instrumental in filtering the water in the river to make it cleaner.  While I was impressed that there are still nine species, we learned that there were historically 27 species.  Some of the remaining mussel species have been reduced to isolated populations that are threatened.  Freshwater mussels deserve much credit for the high water quality in the Delaware, but there are threats to their survival. 

Lackawaxen River

On Monday, we paddled the Lackawaxen River.  The Lackawaxen River is a tributary of the Delaware, and was named River of the Year in 2010.  Monday’s trip coincided with a whitewater release from Lake Wallenpaupack.  This was a beautiful river with lots of big waves.

Dolores Keesler

I would like to end with a quote from Dolores Keesler.  Dolores was named Lady High Admiral on Day One for her work in protecting the upper stretches of the River.  She kicked off our Sojourn with her recollections of a young girl moving to the area.  The veteran sojourners applauded when she said:  “Once you get into the River; the River gets into you.”  So true.  Probably one of the main reasons I return to the Sojourn every year.


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