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Archive for March, 2012

No Fish Story

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

One of the GREAT natural resources in our back yard is the Delaware River.  The longest (330 miles) un-dammed river east of the Mississippi.    Designated a Wild and Scenic River by Congress.  Providing drinking water and recreation to 5 % of the nation.  The birthplace of our nation.  The lifeblood of Native American nations that lived here before us.  At Natural Lands Trust, almost all of our Preserves and Conservation Easements are also within the Delaware’s Watershed. 

Upon returning from our vacation to Oregon, I read how the Shad fishermen had captured and released a Sturgeon in New Hope.  This was of interest to me, because we had stopped at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery along the Columbia River, where they raise White Sturgeon.   In Pennsylvania, Sturgeon are protected from fishing, but they remain part of the fisheries in the northwest. 

Sturgeons are an ancient group of species, dating back 70 million years.  Like Salmon, most species are anadromous, meaning they travel up freshwater streams to spawn.   Interestingly, the Delaware River once supported the largest Atlantic Sturgeon fishery on the East Coast.  That was before the 1900’s.  Before overfishing and loss of habitat decimated the Sturgeon populations all along the Atlantic Coast.  While research continues, the Delaware River probably holds the best hope for an Atlantic Sturgeon comeback.  Since Sturgeon don’t negotiate fish ladders, having an undammed watershed is crucial.  The continual improvement of water quality in the streams feeding the Delaware watershed is another reason for hope.  Finally, we need to improve fishing techniques to help Atlantic Sturgeon survive to spawning age and reach the freshwater streams for spawning.

At the Bonneville Hatchery, we watched several Sturegeon, including  “Herman”, a 70 year old White Sturgeon that weighs 240 pounds and is over seven feet long.  Who knows, one day fisherman may once again catch Atlantic Sturgeon the size of Herman in the Delaware River – that great natural resource in our own back yard.

Mariton: Drink Your Tea-e-e-e-e

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

(Photo by Carole Mebus)

Maureen and I were away on vacation during those hot days (more on that in another post).  Spring really sprung while we were gone.   So, this morning while working in the meadows, I was delighted to hear:  “Drink your tea –e-e-e-e!”  Birders know that is a mnemonic device for remembering the song of the Eastern Towhee.  (We used to call them Rufous-sided Towhees, which I still like.)  It is one of those bird songs that seem to brighten one’s day.  It is also a birdsong that everyone can learn.  In the spring, hearing a returning bird, or finding a new wildflower emerging from leaf duff is a special treat, and so much has happened while we were gone.  I will try to bring things up to speed, and you are welcome to pffttt at something you already discovered in your woods a couple of weeks ago.

Three bluebird pairs have started nests at Mariton.  I saw a tree swallow in the meadows.  Lots of birds are proclaiming their nesting territory.  In particular, the Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Song Sparrows have been singing loudly in the yard.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ), Rue Anemone ( Anemonella thalictroides ), and Hepatica (Hepatica americana) are blossoming.  The Mayapples look like little half-opened umbrellas pushing up through the leaves.  I have heard reports of Spring Beauties, but I haven’t seen them at Mariton yet.  The Shadbush (Amerlanchier sp.) is blooming, and I see the local bait shop has shad darts advertised.  I saw Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) blossoms opening in the woods.  The Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is leafing out, and in some places flowering.  With a little rain this weekend, I really expect things to get going next week.  Spring happens fast; don’t miss it.

Crow’s Nest: on baling twine…

You’ve heard the old expression, “…held together with baling twine”? Now I understand it.

When you have livestock you have no shortage of bailing twine. Jack has taught me to save it, draping it over a peg in the barn. When you need it, it’s there.

Gene Lodgson (“The Contrary Farmer”) writes in praise of bailing twine.

Jack and I are also trying to improve our ability to move our grazers and browsers around the preserve as needed to improve habitat by removing invasive plants. We started prescribed grazing at Crow’s Nest with grant-funded wire fence but no animals of our own. Difficulties in locating animals to borrow and transport led us to get our own goats and cattle. Now we’ve added portable electric fencing (donated) and additional troughs. We can move the animals around inside the larger units to concentrate them briefly where we want them to be.

The latest step in our “adaptive management” was developing our own means to transport the cattle between our management units and winter pasture (the goats walk nicely on dog leashes; our steers do not). We altered the preserve’s dump trailer with removable sides to move the steers. All the wood is scraps from other projects: a confiscated tree stand, wood we milled that was not suitable for other projects, and a few pieces of wood from constructions kids made at past summer camps. So far we haven’t gotten the cattle on the trailer yet but we are acclimating them to it.

And the wooden sides? They’re held to each other at the corners with baling twine.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 28, 2012.

Crow’s Nest Camp Reunion fun

 

We had a good time at Saturday’s Summer Camp Reunion, despite the weather that threatened to get us wet. About 20 families joined us for a hike and play in the woods, slideshows and videos of last summer’s camp, s’mores around an open fire, and games upstairs in the barn.

Thanks to everyone who came; see you this summer (if not before)!

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 26, 2012.

Crow’s Nest: Biggest. Event. Ever. (Delaware Valley Orienteering Association)

I bet you didn’t know we can fit 70 cars at once into our ten car parking lot with 20-car overflow on the grass. Luckily the time of year was right and it wasn’t too wet (or too dry!) to park on the recently-mowed stubble of our meadow. Crow’s Nest has never seen a group this size before.

But the 120-plus people who participated in the orienteering courses didn’t seem like a big crowd at all. The course starts are purposefully dispersed in time so out in the woods you might only see an occasional one or twosome passing by. Neighbor Jack was tilling his garden within sight of the starting tent and told me he had no idea of the total number of people who were now spread out in the preserve. Yesterday’s courses also made use of only the southern half of Crow’s Nest Preserve, so future courses will be quite different.

The weather was cool and cloudy until the end of the day—so probably ideal for those who run the course (but cold for me, directing traffic in the parking lot).

I believe the courses were well received, and the new map that debuted that includes Crow’s Nest is beautiful and precisely detailed. It is the “French Creek South” orienteering map and joins French Creek North, East, West, and Central. The folks who came to try out the courses were a fun bunch, all ages—even young Owen completed the beginners’ course (in his mom’s backpack). Most of them had never been to Crow’s Nest Preserve before. Many thanks to the folks from DVOA who organized the event.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 26, 2012.

Bald Eagle Chicks at Tinicum Marsh

 

By Kirsten Werner, director of communications

Photo by Adrian Binns, FOHR

The Friends of the Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum reported earlier this week that Bald Eagle chicks have hatched. Or perhaps there’s just one chick–the nest is 80 feet up in a tree, so it’s tough to tell the exact number! This is the third consecutive year that Bald Eagles have nested at the 1,000-acre refuge.

Once a common sight in North America, the number of Bald Eagles plummeted in the mid-20th century due to habitat loss and the use of DDT, a pesticide that caused sterility or the inability to lay healthy eggs. But thanks to conservation efforts and a ban on DDT, the species’ population has rebounded from the brink of extinction. It was officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995.

At Natural Lands Trust, we’re always happy to hear news of wildlife thriving. It’s further evidence that protected open space is critical for a diverse and healthy natural world. After all, without the trees to nest in and the marshes to hunt for food, the only Bald Eagles at Tinicum would be on the bumper stickers of football fans’ cars!   

But we’re even more interested than usual when it comes to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, since we can trace our history back there. In 1953, a group of avid bird watchers came together as volunteers to protect these very marshes and soon found themselves in the vanguard of the private conservation movement.

Allston Jenkins

Allston Jenkins

In the years that followed, the group—known as the Philadelphia Conservationists—preserved natural areas, wetlands, and forests along the East Coast and even as far away as Costa Rica. In the early 1960s, they established Natural Lands Trust as a vehicle to permanently own and care for land. Thus began the building of what would become Natural Lands Trust’s 21,000-acre (and growing) network of nature preserves.

The Philadelphia Conservationists were led by an unlikely hero. Allston Jenkins was an accountant who was new to birding, going to ornithological classes with his wife as a way to get out occasionally and, according to his daughter, “enjoy a night away from the kids.” When Allston learned of the threat to fill the Tinicum marshes with dredging material, he began an association with our organization that would span five decades as both President of the Board and Executive Director.

To our friends at the Heinz Refuge, we extend our congratulations and wishes for many happy returns—of the eagles, that is!

Bald Eagles are frequently spotted at many of our preserves, most recently at Binky Lee, Hildacy Farm, and Gwynedd Wildlife Preserves, and Glades Wildlife Refuge. Grab your binoculars and come on by!

 

Check out the events at our preserves!

Elsewhere on this website (here) you can read about many of the events going on at our preserves. Most are open to the public, some are just for members (so join, already!). It’s a full and exciting schedule, check it out!

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 22, 2012.

Crow’s Nest Traffic Alert: Harmonyville Road west of Preserve will close tomorrow for bridge replacement

PennDOT will be replacing the last of three structurally-deficient state highway bridges on Harmonyville Road starting tomorrow. Unlike the most recent one replaced (which actually split Crow’s Nest Preserve), this one is about a mile west of us, between Route 345 (Pine Swamp Road) and Bethesda Road. If you are traveling to the preserve from the west, or following directions that lead you to the preserve from Route 23 via Route 345, you will be directed to follow a detour.

The detour uses Hopewell Road from Route 345 to Keim Road back to Harmonyville Road. If you are coming to Crow’s Nest Preserve you need not follow the full detour. You will pass the other end of Piersol Road while you are on Hopewell Road, and can simply turn onto Piersol Road from there and follow it to our parking area, trailhead, and visitor center barn at 201 Piersol Road, before you reach the other end of Piersol Road at Harmonyville Road.

If you are coming to the preserve from Route 23 via Trythall Road to Harmonyville Road you will not be affected by the road closure. You will see detour signs directing traffic for Harmonyville Road westbound to turn east and follow the detour, but you can proceed west because you will reach Crow’s Nest long before you reach the section of road that is closed.

You can read a PennDOT press release about the bridge replacement here.

Crow’s Nest: Force of Nature volunteers rock!

Yesterday the Natural Lands Trust Force of Nature volunteers met at Crow’s Nest for training in identification and management of invasive plants. Some of them will be performing invasives management  when they volunteer at our preserves; all of them will likely have an opportunity to interact with the public on this topic.

We spent some time in the classroom on the complex subject: Manage for a positive goal, not simply to eliminate the invasive plant; working in less-invaded sites will have greater success; objectives may vary from site to site depending on species present. For example, at Crow’s Nest we don’t have illusions about being able to remove Japanese stiltgrass from disturbed floodplain woods (with more growing upstream from us) but we can, and do, keep it out of a high-quality upland forest here.

Then we went to work in a section of woods that has received little recent attention. It’s about a mile from our visitor center so we took a hayride to get there. Our tractor’s clutch is slipping and probably could not be trusted to pull the haywagon (but soon we will fix); our farmer Frank Hartung offered the use of his brand-new farm tractor, which he even had washed for the occasion. I always thought our tractor had a lot of gears (9 forward, 3 reverse) but this one (if I’m counting correctly) has 24 in each direction. Thank you, Frank!

In an hour the twenty-five Force of Nature volunteers carved a half-acre hole in the multiflora rose, privet, honeysuckle, and barberry that they found in this section of woods. Cutting these plants back will buy time for a diversity of native plants to grow this spring; I will return for more cutting and probably to dab some herbicide on the invasive plants as they resprout. The effect of the volunteers’ work will be even more visible over the next couple weeks as the tops of the  invasive plants, which were already leafing out, wither. It’s amazing to see what a large crew can do!

We didn’t have time for a comprehensive introduction to the preserve but the return hayride did follow Northside Road through our largest section of woods (which has received more attention in recent years than the site on the other side where we had been working and looks comparatively good to me). Then we turned down the farm lane and cut through the fields back to the visitor center, stopping to see our other invasive plant control experts, goats Seamus and Duffy, who were taking a break lounging in the sun in their winter pasture.

Thank you to all the wonderful folks who have joined the Force of Nature team and contribute their time and effort to the stewardship of our preserves!

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 18, 2012.

Crow’s Nest Spring Progress

Spring is here. I saw a couple spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) blooming yesterday, and even some of the Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus). I heard toads trilling the other day, joining the chorus of wood frogs and spring peepers. Red maples branch tips are flushing red with their flowers, and spicebush flower buds are the plump spheres I enjoy seeing. Some invasive shrubs are leafing out: multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, and Japanese honeysuckle. I didn’t see bloodroot blooming yet but since the flowers fold when the days are overcast I may not have been in the right place at the right time.

We finished chipping the last of the storm damage, but now spring projects must start: doing prescribed burns, controlling invasive plants (there’s a window to do this while most of the native spring ephemeral wildflowers are still dormant), mulching flower beds, touching up paint, etc. Many winter projects including the pruning of apple trees and did not get done—and it’s too late now, the sap is running and pruning cuts would bleed too much.

We’ve replaced more boards on creek trail boardwalks and mulched other trails (with chips from the storm damage). The ground is actually drier now than any time in the last six months, so now is a good time to get outside and enjoy the preserve.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on March 17, 2012.

 

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