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Archive for February, 2012

Diabase Farm Preserve

Trailcam pics provided by Diabase Farm Preserve hunter Brandon Cravener.  Thanks for providing an opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of nature.

Paunacussing Preserve

These pictures, provided by Carole Mebus, offer a glimpse of early spring activity in this year’s mild winter.

Crow’s Nest: Leap-day thoughts on winter and spring

A rainy day toward the end of a mild winter has me thinking about the seasons.

Although it has been a mild winter it has not been an easy one. We have spent about a third of our time over the last four months cleaning up from October’s snowstorm. We are now within a few hours’ time of having completed that cleanup (I’d rather say we’re all finished, but there’s one more pile of brush from a hedgerow to run through the chipper, and a few more truckloads of firewood to pull out from the farm fields where trees fell.) And of course we haven’t cleaned up every tree that was damaged, only those that were along roadsides, trails, near buildings, and those that fell into farm fields and meadows.

Many of the other winter projects I had planned—pruning low branches and controlling invasives—got pushed to the back burner in order to accomplish this cleanup.

We’re have performed the winter mowing of meadows for all the ones we can—there remain two that are too wet to mow unless we have very cold temperatures for an extended period. We’ll try again next year; there’s no harm letting them go an extra year. We took advantage of every morning when it was below 25 degrees Fahrenheit to mow meadows, chip brush, or haul wood out. We pushed the limits on testing soft ground but managed not to make ruts that can damage soil structure and alter drainage patterns.

Winter isn’t over and we will likely have more cold weather—but I’m not going to count on much more frozen ground. The sun is rising higher each day and the window during which the ground is firm each morning has been getting earlier and shorter.

I have also prepared the three meadows we would like to burn this spring in lieu of mowing, though I learned today that this year Crow’s Nest will be lowest priority among our preserves for burning (the past few years we have been first on the list, and since our prescribed fire team is at the mercy of the weather and spring’s progress for conducting burns not all of the sites on the list will likely get done each year).

Don’t forget we did have some snow this winter. But it was nice not to have continuous snow cover present for a long period of time so that we could accomplish some of these projects. I have just one easement left to monitor (another task made easier without snow). We’ve serviced our mowers and trimmers. Good thing we’re on schedule—spring is ready to start.

Our small population of the invasive spring ephemeral lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) has not made its appearance (yet?). Could it be that I’ve finally controlled it? Populations elsewhere are already up and blooming.

Red maple buds are plump but not flowering yet. Bloodroot, usually our first native spring ephemeral wildflower to bloom, is not up yet.

A note about amphibian migrations:

We’ve had a few relatively warm rainy days recently but very little salamander and frog migration has been reported yet—it’s still early for the season. But it’s raining now and if it continues there could be some activity this evening. If conditions are right (evenings usually in March with rain and temperatures above the low 40’s) you may find salamanders crossing local roads tonight. Avoid using these back roads if you can and if you can’t then drive slowly enough to spot the critters.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on February 29, 2012.

Restoring Serpentine Barrens: Willisbrook Preserve

By Ariel Senko, Communications Intern

Clearing woody plants from the serpentine barrens at Willisbrook Preserve.

Our Land Stewardship staff recently began to clear shrubs and small trees from the Sugartown Barrens at our Willisbrook Preserve in Willistown Township, Chester County. This is part of a two-year project to restore about 42 acres of the barrens, for which we received a grant from the USDA’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). After we have cleared out the woody vegetation, we’ll prevent it from returning by periodically burning the area.

The serpentine barrens at Willisbrook Preserve are among 18 remaining serpentine grasslands in the eastern U.S. Serpentine barrens derive their name from the presence of serpentinite, a type of rare greenish bedrock from which the soils are weathered. The soils’ particular chemical characteristics—high in magnesium and nickel and low in calcium—make them inhospitable to most plants. In fact, the term “barrens” was coined by farmers who noticed that their crops would not grow on them. However, a few tenacious plant species have adapted to these extreme soil conditions. Many of these plants are rare, threatened, or endangered as are some of the animals that make the grassy habitat their home. Without the barrens, these native plants and animals could be lost.

In fact, the Sugartown Serpentine Barrens represent one of the most biologically diverse serpentine sites in Pennsylvania, and include at least 14 known plant species of special concern (classified as endangered, threatened, or rare) in Pennsylvania, including one that is globally threatened. Eleven rare butterfly species and 37 rare moth species are known to live in serpentine barrens in Pennsylvania, which amounts to 17% of the butterfly species and 32% of the moth species currently listed by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program as candidates for endangered or threatened status.

Serpentine barrens at Willisbrook Preserve

Trees and other non-barrens plants can slowly take over the serpentine grasslands if we don’t intervene. As the leaves of nearby trees fall and decompose, a layer of fertile soil develops on top of the serpentine soil, which allows more plants’ seeds to germinate. Controlled burns eliminate the buildup of this organic layer, called duff, and the non-barrens plants that sprout from it.

Natural Lands Trust has long used controlled burns to restore and maintain certain habitats on our preserves. The fires are sometimes referred to as “prescribed burns” because they act like medicine for areas whose health—and that of the animals and insects that live in them—is threatened. Burning controls non-native plant species, removes layers of leaves and other organic matter, and creates soil conditions that favor native species.

We currently perform controlled burns on 20 acres of serpentine barrens at Willisbrook Preserve as well the barrens at ChesLen and Stroud Preserves. Our Land Stewardship staff is highly trained in fire safety and are experts at this process.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources declared three of our preserves—two of which include serpentine barrens (Willisbrook and ChesLen Preserves)—as Pennsylvania Wild Plant Sanctuaries.


Mariton: Check Your Nest Boxes

It is not too early to begin getting bluebird boxes ready for the breeding season.  Bluebirds have been singing almost every morning in the yard.  They will soon be looking for places to raise a brood.  If you are going to put up boxes for the first time take advantage of the fine weather we have been having.  Now is the time to repair and replace your older nest boxes.  It is also a good time to clean out any debris left over from last year.  You can leave nest box doors open so they can air out for a week.

In checking over the records from the different preserves the earliest that Bluebird nesting activitiy has been recorded is March 9.  That is very early; most years nesting starts in late March or early April.  If you start now, your nest boxes should be ready.  Our nest boxes also attract Tree Swallows, Chickadees and House Wrens, all of which nest later in the spring.

I checked boxes this week, and a quarter of them had mice nests.  Those that were not active were removed and the side was left open to air.  The active nests were left undisturbed, but I left the door open.  Those mice will relocate by next week, when I will remove the nests and let them air another week.  By then bluebirds will be moving in to boxes.  It is not too early to get started.

Geocaching at Crow’s Nest

This weekend Owen and I located the third of three geocaches hidden at Crow’s Nest Preserve. There was some confusion on the three-year old’s part at first: “Johnny Cash?” (his favorite musician) but he soon caught on.

Geocaches are small containers hidden in the landscape that people try to located with a GPS-enabled device. This could be a Global Positioning System unit or a GPS-enabled device like most smartphones (purchase of an additional app may be required).

First you go online to to select a region where you would like to search. Create an account (it’s free) to access more of the website’s features. Then download the latitude and longitude points; there may also be some additional remarks or hints available. Many people enjoy the excuse to get out and walk, or visit new places. There is a code of conduct to follow when geocaching.

When you find the little box you find a visitors’ log inside, typically along with some trinkets. If you bring one to put in you may take one with you; some trinkets are actually tracked as they travel around the world in and out of geocache containers. You can then report back on the geocaching website that you found the cache and comment on your trip.

When the activity first became popular a few years ago we at Natural Lands Trust were not sure we wanted it going on at our preserves—after all, protection of the natural resources here comes first. We didn’t want people trampling wildflowers, for example, in search of a tiny box. But we also want people to enjoy our lands, and this can be one more way to do that. We have since developed our own guidelines for placement of geocaches on our preserves and are monitoring their use. We require that placement follows the rules and have added a few that go beyond theirs.

We require that they be placed near trails for example, and not near streams, and 1/4 mile apart from other geocaches. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to add that we have more trails here than are shown on our trail map. I think that one of the geocaches here is easy to find, one medium, and one difficult—but that was just my experience. The hardest one I found when I returned a second time at a different time of day when the sunlight was different. And this is was in the winter without leaves on the shrubs and wildflowers!

I’m pleased with the geocaches here. We ask that visitors follow “Leave No Trace” principles when visiting our preserves and it appears that so far everyone does. If you are considering placing a geocache on a Natural Lands Trust preserve contact us and we’ll provide you with a copy of our guidelines.

There are other ways of using GPS technology to explore our preserves. You may have read about the SCVNGR Challenge elsewhere on our website which requires visitors to answer questions about what they experience at our Stroud Preserve.

There is also where there is no actual cache to find—just a point of interest. I found the Crow’s Nest Preserve entrance sign is posted here, for example, along with a lot of places of historical value in this region.

So, get out there and enjoy!

Edible Invasives

I was looking something up this morning when I came across a list of recipes that use invasive plants as ingredients on the Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council website. I have done some foraging among weeds and urban plants but haven’t tried any of these. Come spring I’ll take a closer look.

A disclaimer and word of caution: identification of the correct plant is paramount, and some knowledge of the plant’s physiology is also necessary: some plants that may be edible in one stage of growth may not be in another. Also be sure that the weeds you plan to chow down on have not been sprayed and are not growing in a place where they might be contaminated with exhaust or chemicals from the soil.

Mariton: Lewis and Clark and Me

On Friday Night at 8 p.m. Peter Osborne will be presenting his program on the Lewis and Clark Expedition at Mariton.   The program is free.  Mr. Osborne is a historian and author.  He has worked in museums, served as a living history interpreter, and written 11 books.

For the Lewis and Clark and Me presentation, Peter spent 3 months following the trail of the most famous expedition in United States’ history.  You will learn about the men that made up the Corps of Discovery, and what happened to the group along the way.  This journey was precipitated by one of the great events in our nation’s history.  In turn, our nation’s history was profoundly affected by the expedition.  Peter is a talented presenter, and I have enjoyed his programs on numerous occasions.

Conservation Easements: Reflections

Thursday was a very reaffirming day.  I started in Springfield Township, Bucks County talking with a landowner who established their Conservation Easement in 2003.  At that time he and his wife felt that much of the open space in their township was ripe for development.  They worried that the loss of so much open space would change the whole character of their community.  So, they made the commitment to put a conservation easement on their property.  They would try to set the example, and be able to answer questions for others that might be interested.  When we met Thursday, he was very proud to tell me that two of his neighbors had recently established conservation easements, and a third was seriously considering it.  That is a sizeable block of land that is now protected.  He was even more proud to announce that the township now is about 17% protected.  Sometimes it just takes a few dedicated people to get the ball rolling.

My next easement was in Williams Township, Northampton County.  The couple there had been instrumental in getting their neighbors to put an easement on their large property.  Afterwards, they realized that by putting an easement on their own property, they would be expanding the block of open space.  They just felt it was the right thing to do.

My final monitoring visit was in Haycock Township, Bucks County. This is a brand new easement, located near Lake Nockamixon State Park.  The couple bought the property 40 years ago, and built their house about 20 years ago.  They just love the property which is a forested boulder field and protects two tributaries of the Tohickon Creek.  They were also enthusiastic about the process of protecting their property.  Again I heard, “It was just the right thing to do.”  (I wonder how their commitment will affect the map of open space in the future.)

Crow’s Nest: more beautiful snow (and not enough to need to plow)

The wet snow this morning is spectacular, making the woods a fairyland of white. And the best part is that so far it’s not sticking to the roads, so no plowing to do. This may turn to rain later so enjoy the show now!


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