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Eagle vs. Seagull

The McCausland family had an unexpected visitor over the holidays. A Bald Eagle has been hanging around their property, the iconic Erdenheim Farm in Montgomery County and protected through conservation easement with Natural Lands Trust. Chris McCausland was able to capture these images of the eagle just after successfully capturing a seagull.



Due to habitat loss and the use of a pesticide known as DDT, the number of nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in Pensylvania plummeted during the second half of the 20th century. Though DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, as recently as 1980 there were only three nesting pairs in the state. 

In 2006, a major milestone was reached for Bald Eagles in the U.S. when they were removed from the federal list of Endangered Species. They are still considered a “threatened species” in Pennsylvania, but have rebounded. Protected open space for hunting and nesting — like Erdenheim Farm — is critical to their survival. 

Erdenheim Farm is the crown jewel of 2,000 acres of nearly contiguous open space in the Wissahickon Valley between Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Fort Washington State Park in Whitemarsh. In 2009, 426 acres were preserved, ensuring that the sweeping vistas remain intact… forever.

Erdenheim Farm - photo courtesy of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

Natural Lands Protecting Against Climate Change

Guest blog by Andy Pitz and Roger Latham, Ph.D.

Have you ever heard of the puss caterpillar? Chances are that unless you’re from the South the answer is no.

Puss moth

But that could soon change as discoveries of this deceptively poisonous insect are becoming increasingly common in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

While the puss caterpillar is alarming in its own right—touching its barbs can cause intense pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes death—its migration is a sure sign of the greater effects of global warming.

Puss moth in caterpillar stage - photo: Edith Smith

In fact, scientists recently released a study finding that animals and plants are moving away from the equator to escape rising temperatures more rapidly than expected. As this happens, new arrivals will interact with existing species in our region in new and unpredictable ways. Existing species may be pushed out, afflicted by new parasites, or have to compete with a host of new invasive plants, insects, and animals. These migrations are just one example of how climate change is impacting the Delaware Valley.

As we have seen in the flooding associated with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, our region is not immune to extreme weather events. With increasing frequency, our region is left to grapple with the aftermath. Homes and property are destroyed by flooding. Crops are lost because of either too much rain or not enough. Businesses suffer.

Other changes are more subtle, but are sure signs that our planet is getting warmer.

At Natural Lands Trust’s Glades Wildlife Refuge along the Delaware Bay in Southern New Jersey, for instance, rising sea levels are causing saltwater intrusion into forested areas where many tree species not adapted to higher alkalinity are dying in startling numbers. Higher sea levels also threaten vast expanses of salt marsh that are a major nursery for fish and other sea life. While the marshes may be able to migrate inland to some extent, they will do so at the expense of forests and farmlands. And, because of topography along the coast, the majority of the marsh will not be replaced.

Though it is true that species migrations and periods of death and regrowth have been seen throughout the Earth’s history, the increasing speed at which they are now occurring is cause for concern. We may find that neither we nor our ecosystems will be able to keep up. This could result in the extinction of a range of plants and animals that we depend on for our survival.

This is why the work of land conservation is so important. By protecting and stewarding the land, Natural Lands Trust helps to build resilient ecosystems that can sustain—and in some cases help combat—the effects of global warming.

Our nature preserves and other properties contain more than 7,000 acres of wetlands, which store significant amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global climate change. And, where feasible, the organization is expanding that number by restoring previously threatened wetlands.

Additionally, for every acre of forest Natural Lands Trust keeps from being cut down, our planet has that much more capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, a report published this summer by scientists for the USDA Forest Service research center in Newtown Square, Delaware County, found that the world’s forests store far more carbon dioxide than was previously believed.

How forests are managed once they are protected, however, is just as important to their preservation and resilience. Natural Lands Trust is working to create and support healthy forests by controlling invasive species and by planting trees that can stand up to extreme weather conditions such as droughts, extreme heat, and saturating rains.

The organization is doing the same with grasslands and meadows. By managing these lands and planting species that can survive harsh conditions, we are better able to protect our ecosystems and prevent the extinction of wildlife and plant habitat. Natural Lands Trust is especially proud of its efforts to protect the serpentine barrens found at our Stroud, Willisbrook, and ChesLen preserves. These rare grassland habitats are not only home to large numbers of imperiled species, but they are also expected to be among the most resilient ecosystems in our region to the anticipated effects of a warming climate. The barrens may have much to teach scientists about ecological resilience in the face of global change.

Though addressing climate change is not Natural Lands Trust’s primary mission, preserving forests, restoring wetlands, and protecting grasslands—the things the organization does day in and day out—are helping to mitigate the real and present consequences of a warming planet.

This work is a kind of insurance: an up-front investment that will protect us against potentially devastating climate changes in the future by making our lands stronger, richer, and more resilient.

Andy Pitz is vice president of strategic policy and planning at Natural Lands Trust. Roger Latham, Ph.D., is a conservation biologist and member of Natural Lands Trust’s Board of Trustees.

Crow’s Nest: Plants we love holiday edition

I know I’ve written about how much I love our native winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) before (here, here, and here) but I can’t resist mentioning it again.

The female plant by our kitchen window is a heavy fruiter and sustained some damage in October’s heavy snowstorm. Even after pruning it still looks beautiful and will reliably bring in bluebirds and robins in late winter. You can also see it along the creek trail and other sunny wet spots at Crow’s Nest.

Best wishes for the holidays and happy new year! I hope you are having an opportunity to spend time with family and friends in a place you love.

Mariton: Another Approach

Crossley ID

One of our members donates a book to the Mariton library at Christmas.  This year I discovered the Crossley ID Guide for Eastern Birds  left by our Santa and his wife. 

I had read the hype about this book, and was unmoved.  I am pretty happy with my Peterson’s.  But now that I have a copy in my hands, I am truly amazed.  Richard Crossley uses multiple photographs for each species:  in flight, perching, close/far, above/below, young/mature.  I’m hooked, and I have only perused the book briefly.  This is a really exciting book.

I don’t care for the size.  Nature Guides have become super-sized in recent years.  It is a trend that I hate.  Gone are the days of sticking a field guide comfortably into a back pocket.  It is because everything is digital now.  You can carry a field guide on your phone.  I get it; I just don’t care for it.  I love having someone with a songbird app when I am on a bird walk; but I still want to have a bird book that I can drop, or fall on, or check in the rain.  Still, I love this book and will be spending a lot of time with it.  (I will be bringing a backpack on bird walks.)

Sorry.  Wait, if you were planning to run over to check out our copy.  It is in my office right now, and probably won’t make it to the bookshelf for a few weeks.  This was a wonderful gift.  Thanks Santa!

Mariton: Another View

Maureen and I talk to lots of people on the weekends that have recently discovered Mariton.  It is great to meet people and hear where they learned about Mariton. 

The River Lookout Trail is always a desired destination.  Don’t get us wrong.  The view from the River Lookout is amazing when the leaves are down.  Walking through the “tunnel”  of Rhododendron, and then coming out to the rocks that lead to the overlook is quite exciting.  The downside (pun intended)  is that you decend 200 feet in elevation for the view and have to climb back uphill.  The trail to the Lookout is only a small portion of Mariton’s wonders, and many people are discouraged to return after checking out the view.

View from Chimney Rock

However, the Chimney Rock Trail offeres a another great view of the Delaware River.  One also gets to experience a little bit more of the preserve in the process, without walking any farther.  Because Chimney Rock is near the 90 degree bend in the Delaware, you actually see more of this amazing natural resource.  Plus, you get this view of the Chimney Rock, a neat geological formation that makes a great perch for enjoying the scenery. 

Chimney Rock

There are very steep sections on both trails, but you only drop 100 feet in elevation on the Chimney Rock.

2011 Nest Box Season

A pair of bluebirds at Paunacussing Preserve – Carole Mebus

In 2011, ten NLT preserves collected nest box data.  These are nest boxes designed for small cavity nesting species like Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Chickadees, etc.  Most preserves have nest boxes, but not all have the staff or volunteers available to do regular (7 – 10 days) monitoring. 

Bluebird babies

A nest full of Bluebird babies.

Lee Shull, the Preserve Manager at Reineman Preserve in Carlisle, has great Bluebird habitat along with a dedication to keep making adjustments to promote Bluebirds.  Lee had 51 nestboxes; 29 of the boxes hosted Bluebirds which produced 118 fledglings!  This year he also took the top honors in Tree Swallows with 104 being fledged from his boxes. 

Tree Swallow babies

Tree Swallow babies.

Darin Groff at Binky Lee Preserve has a long record of success for Tree Swallows and Bluebirds (90 Tree Swallows and 50 Bluebird fledglings in 2011).  Darin has a very dedicated volunteer, Gail Freese, that monitors and maintains the boxes. 

Chickadee babies

Newly hatched Chickdees and eggs.

Mariton had 14 Chickadees fledge out.  While we don’t have the best bluebird habitat, Chickadee nesting has increased in recent years.  I was surprised that we fledged the most Chickadees, especially considering that two broods were lost during the wet and cold spring.

In all, 220 boxes were monitored.  Fledglings produced:  248 Bluebirds, 283 Tree Swallows, 120 House Wrens and 27 Chickadees.

Crow’s Nest: Not quite a goat rodeo*

Last week Sean and I moved the goats to their winter pasture where we have frost-free water and set up a heated water trough. Seamus and Duffy will share the pasture and a larger shed with the two steers that Jack and I are sharing that are also being used for prescribed grazing.

I was concerned that moving the goats would be difficult. After all, they outweigh me and might have their own ideas of where to go. But Sean and I put dog leashes on their collars, picked up a pan of sweet feed each, and away we went. We walked about a half mile down Piersol road to the new site in Jack’s yard on Harmonyville Road. It was no more difficult than walking a dog. Have I mentioned we have really good goats?

We don’t have photos of the event because—although it went well—our hands were full. The goats are gradually getting used to the larger and curious calves.

*A goat rodeo, I read in looking up a recent music CD of the same name, has several definitions. A common one is to describe a situation where many different things have to go right for there to be a successful outcome. Moving the goats turned out to be too simple to be considered a metaphoric goat rodeo.

Mariton: Tree Sculptures


The October Snow Storm left its mark on Mariton.  There are many downed trees, broken tops, and sheered limbs.  This is another sculpture provided by the snow’s weight.  This is located in the successional area along the Main Trail (just before it joins the Turnpike Trail).  You can see the saplings in the foreground on the left are leaning to the right.  The trees in the back ground on the right are leaning left.  It is interesting that large blocks of trees were weighted by the snow in one direction, while others close by lean a different direction.

Crow’s Nest: new garden labels

I don’t usually cut back perennials in the barnyard garden until the end of winter so they provide wildlife cover. This year the October snow flattened everything so we cut them back already. Plus I am making new labels for the plants and needed to be able to place them in the mulch.

We designed and installed barnyard garden almost ten years ago using a bequest from the extraordinary horticulturist Sally Reath. The barnyard garden at Crow’s Nest is mostly—but not exclusively—native plants. It also includes cultivated varieties of native plants as shown on the label above.

These labels are cheap and legible (the handwritten ones I made before were merely cheap). I got the idea of using a labelmaker from the native beds at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The labelmaker doesn’t do italics well so the Latin names are not italicized. Each label has the plant’s Latin scientific name followed by its common name.

Labeling in one bed is completed. I am trying to do one plant label each day this winter, or a few while waiting for appointments at the visitor center.

Safety Training Day

The Stewardship Department had our annual safety training this week.  Several years ago, Natural Lands Trust set out to protect its most important resource:  the employees.  It set up a safety committee that reviews incidents, and sets up safety policies.  As part of that process, equipment, buildings, and trees at Mariton all get separate safety audits at least once a year, with follow ups as necessary.

Another part of the safety strategy is that the Stewardship Staff have safety training days.  When you consider that we participate in two of the top five most dangerous work enviornments:  logging (we use chainsaws regularly) and agriculture (tractors are our work horses), our staff has an amazing safety record. 

The first workshop of the day was “Working Alone”.  We all work alone a fair amount, and safety is critical when no one is around to watch your back.  While several things were presented to consider, the staff added their personal tips and procedures when working alone. 

Ladder safety was another topic.  Besides the standard do’s and don’t’s, the staff again contributed their personal experience. 

Knot tying was another topic.  We have two climbers on staff for the off-the-ground tree work.  When they are working in a tree, there is someone assigned to be their ground person.  That person has the responsibility of sending up equipment like saws, swinging down limbs, and maintaining the climber’s line.  So, we reivewed the knots the climbers prefer for sending up saws, ropes, etc.  There was time afterwards to practice.  Here Tom Kershner, NLT’s arborist, is working with Stroud Preserve Manager, Fred Gender, on a bowline knot. 

After lunch we did a review on tire safety and maintenance.  That was followed by a review on towing trailers. Since there are new trucks and trailers in the NLT system, it is a good time to review these items.

The safety workshops are a great tool for us.  Plus, they come just as we get ready to prepare next year’s budgets.  It is a good time to think about purchasing safety items, and replacing equipment. 




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