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Archive for October, 2011

Mariton: Interesting Birds Sightings

We had some interesting bird sightings at Mariton this week.  On Tuesday, during the nature walk, a Northern Harrier flew over the meadows.  This large hawk is also known as the Marsh Hawk and has a characteristic white patch on its back where the tail meets the body.  Its wings are also held arched over its back (more like a Turkey Vulture).  During migration nothing should surprise me, but the small brushy meadows at Mariton aren’t exactly where you would expect a Northern Harrier to be hunting.  They often glide low over marshes or fields looking for rodents. 

One late afternoon, I saw a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets feeding amongst the Rhododendron along the Main Trail.  There were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets feeding with them.  I noticed a small bird foraging on the ground.  It turned out to be a male Black-throated Blue Warbler.  I eventually saw two males.  I have been seeing this warbler species quite often for the last month.  However, I was surprised that they were still around, and that they were feeding on the ground. 

On Wednesday evening  it was damp but warm.  Maureen and I sat out on the patio as the twilight shaded into night.  I had spent the day at Stroud planting trees, and she had visited factories giving flu shots.  As we talked about our days, a curious shape appeared on the patio just a few feet away.  It was a small dark bird with a curved bill.  I was able to sneak back inside to retrieve a bird book without disturbing it.  It turns out it was an immature Virginia Rail.  It was soon too dark to see anything more than movement as it walked along the stone walls.  Just goes to show you that in migration anything is possible.

Another busman’s holiday in New Jersey

He’s 50% older now than when he started (he’s now only 3) but Owen has finally completed the Natural Lands Trust Trail Guide Challenge: visiting the 16 Natural Lands Trust Preserves in the Field Guide to Preserves distributed to our members.

We completed the last two by spending a beautiful autumn day with Owen’s lovely mom, my wife Denise, at Peek and Glades Preserves in South Jersey. You may notice that I blurred in this photo the kiosk keywords preserve “baggers” may be seeking—you’ll have to visit on your own!

With these last two landscapes being so different from our home at Crow’s Nest Preserve I am reminded of the diversity of lands Natural Lands Trust protects—and am proud to work for the organization which conserves all of them.

Over the last eleven months we have been out in all weather, seen some beautiful and unique lands, and met a lot of interesting people who are visiting the preserves. Here’s prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), native to New Jersey, at our Peek Preserve.

And this is Jenkins Landing on the Maurice River, named after our founder, Allston Jenkins:

And nothing compares to sunset at Turkey Point at the Glades Wildlife Refuge.

We have to get back to try out the water trails that are marked here…

Crow’s Nest Light

Crow’s Nest: No frost yet…

It’s a bit late this year but we haven’t had any frost yet. Even if I hadn’t been here to experience it I would know because our sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is still green. It is among our most susceptible plants to frost (hence sensitive) and turns black and dies back when we get close to freezing temperatures.

A beautiful fall evening at the preserve with friends

The Crow’s Nest BabyWalkers (the mom’s group that meets here on Wednesdays) had a potluck dinner here this evening with their entire families. It was a treat to meet the other husbands. Their babies are now toddlers and a few wonderful new babies are also now here. Bundled in blankets we went on a short hayride in the crisp fall air up to visit the goats.

Mariton: Fungi Walk

Our Tuesday Nature Walk had a special guest.  Marion (Martie) Kyde, a mycologist, lead the walk as we discovered fungi.  We saw about a dozen types of fungi and learned a lot of new information. 


For instance, I always called shelf fungi like the ones above Turkey Tails.  They have bands of different colors like a turkey’s tail.  However, I learned that Turkey Tails are polypores.  There are similar looking fungi that have “teeth-like” structures underneath, instead of pores.  Some even have gills underneath.  So, now when I look closely, I will know the difference.


Witch’s Butter Tremella mesenterica is an interesting fungus.  I learned a long time ago, that you can let this dry up.  Then a drop of water will re-hydrate it as you watch, bringing out the yellow color again.  Like magic.


This is one of the poisonous puffballs.  Specifically Poison Pigskin Puffball (Scleroderma sp.).


While not a fungus, this slime mold known commonly as Wolf’s Milk Slime is small, but very pretty.

A big thank you goes out to Martie who shared her knowledge and answered numerous questions about different fungi.  It was an interesting morning.  (Phots by Carole Mebus.)

Leaf-peeper alert: Fall color approaches peak at Crow’s Nest


The red maples are at their peak of fall color in an outrageous combination of bright reds, oranges and yellows. Where they grow in the open in our swamp they are at their showiest now and look great against the backdrop of trees in the hills that haven’t turned yet—mainly tuliptree and oak. Some of the goldenrod is past peak but there’s still a lot to see in our meadows.

Dogwoods are a deep burgundy in this photo and sassafras is a bold orange; the fiery red is sumac. Ash is mostly past and wasn’t great this year. A lot of the walnut is finished but some still has a clear yellow fall color. Black gum is usually spectacular and is just about to finish. Hickory is also a nice yellow right now.

Pine Barrens Paddling

This goes under the Busman’s Holiday catergory.  Over the weekend, I joined some friends from the Pittsburgh area to canoe in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  The Pine Barrens were really hit hard during Hurricane Irene, and we weren’t sure what to expect.  The State Forest had closed a couple streams because there was no way to get help into areas in case of emergency.  Fortunately, my friend researched which rivers were open, and the State re-opened the Mullica and Batsto the day we arrived.

We started on the Mullica River above Atsion Lake (where we camped).  It looked okay where we put in, but we soon hit many obstructions and had to really work to get through.  It seemed like we spent the day clearing brush and dragging over blowdowns to stay in the River.  However, when I reviewed my photos, there were several areas where we paddled uninhibited.  Much of this section is very intimate, not even as wide as a canoe is long.  We were covered with mud and brush, and we were beat when we reached the campground.  However, after a shower and supper we were revived enough to sit by the campfire and plan the next day’s trip.

We spent the next two days paddling more leisurely rivers.  We did the Wading and Oswego Rivers.  The Oswego, in particular, was so beautiful and secluded that it took our breath away.  We paddled most of the day in silence and only spoke to each other when we were close enough to converse quietly.  It was an experience I will never forget.

We saw an immature Bald Eagle one morning as we started our trip.  Wood Ducks flew up in front of us as we came around bends in the river.  At one place, I called Chickadees right down to the branches overhanging our canoes as we glided under. 

While eating lunch one day,  Megan found this beautiful blue flower.  When I got home, I keyed it out as the Pine-barren Gentian Gentiana autumnalis.  This is a endangered wildflower found in pine barrens down the east coast of the United States.  Quite a discovery for us.

At another stop, while eating wild cranberries, we discovered a field of Pitcher Plants Sarracenia purpurea.  These carnivourous plants hold rain water.  The inside of the pitcher-shaped flower is slick and insects can’t crawl out.  When insects enter, they are trapped and drown.  Probably, as the insects break down in the reservoir it begins to smell and attract flies and more insects.  The protiens from the insects can be absorbed by the plant.  Another one of those fascinating adaptations that never ceases to amaze me.

I experienced some new Pine Barrens Rivers, and around the campfire, my friends and I made plans for next year’s excursions.


About those trails (Crow’s Nest):

I hate to have to be apologetic about anything at the preserve, but here goes: our trails are still really wet. Many we cannot mow because there is standing water on them; others that I mowed I wished I hadn’t. Our lawnmower is an extremely capable machine so I didn’t get stuck, but I did leave ruts in a few places that were too soft to drive upon.

And the culvert replacement project is on hold until French Creek goes down some more. The pumps needed to draw down the construction area cannot keep up with the flow of the creek, elevated from the recent heavy rains. So the creek trail is still closed.

Not only did we receive all of that heavy rain directly falling on the preserve, but since we are located in a valley, we are also receiving a portion of the rain that fell a couple weeks ago on the surrounding hills in surface and subsurface flows.

We hope things will dry out before they freeze for the winter. In the meantime you can hike here, just wear waterproof boots!

The best job in the world…

I gave a presentation yesterday to the fifth graders of French Creek Elementary, about Crow’s Nest Preserve and what I do there for Natural Lands Trust. We looked at photos from the preserve: flowers, landscapes, animals, and education and family activities we do at the preserve. We talked about how lucky we are to have this much nature right in our neighborhood, and how we need to work to keep these habitats natural and beautiful. Then we looked at a map of the preserve and its trails in Google Earth (TM).

When I finished the kids told me what I already know: “You have the best job in the world…”


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