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Archive for July, 2013

Mariton: Nature Camp – Creekin’

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

MEBUS 4522-KickNet

Nature Camp went on a field trip to Fry’s Run this morning.  Bob Schmidt, of Fry’s Run Watershed Association, talked about the importance of protecting our local watersheds:  the small watersheds are part of bigger watersheds (like the Delaware River watershed).   We could see Mariton rising up on the other side of the creek, so it was easy to understand how rain falling at Mariton could eventually make its way into Fry’s Run.

MEBUS 4536-StudyingAquaticFindings

Then Bob helped us collect and identify the aquatic insect larvae that can be used to monitor a stream’s health.  The kids enjoyed looking at all the interesting bugs that live in our streams. 

MEBUS 4539-StudyingAquaticFindings

I took the field microscope, so things looked really awesome.

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Collecting and learning about creek critters are important to camp.  Splashing, tossing stones and getting wet is an important part of camp too!

MEBUS 4552-MeasuringStreamQuality

So how did the creek score today?  Well, Bob tallied a score of 23 based on what we found this morning.  That is a Very Good grade.  Bob had our score sheet for 2010 when Nature Camp visited and we had a score of 30 (or Excellent) that morning.  There are a couple things that could account for the different scores.  We had some major rainfall last weekend that could have washed some of the organisms downstream, or covered them with silt.  We also had a major heat wave a few weeks back that heated up the water and depleted oxygen.  The lack of oxygen eliminates some of the higher scoring aquatic insects.  (I think the intensity on the children’s faces speaks volumes.)

Mariton: Nature Camp – Birds

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

MEBUS 4458-BirdersLookingAtMourningDove

Tuesday’s focus at Camp was birds.  Carole started with a slide program on bird watching before we headed outside.  We had barely made it out the door when the kids saw a Mourning Dove land on a branch.  Binoculars came up and they helped each other locate the bird in the tree.  A cardinal soon flew by and their excitement was barely contained.

MEBUS 4465-InTheBirdBlind

They settled right in when we got to the birdblind.  They were teased by a Chickadee that would fly in for one seed and then zip back into the brush to eat it, before returning.  The Downy Woodpeckers were more cooperative. 

MEBUS 4483-DownyWoodpeckerSeenInTheBirdBlind

MEBUS 4482-DownyWoodpeckerOnSuetObservedAtBirdBlind

The kids were having so much fun in the blind that we had to practically pry them out.  But as soon as they were back on the trail, new wonders caught their fancy.  We had another fun (and educational) hike through the woods.

MEBUS 4489-ObservingWoodpeckerHole

Mariton: Nature Camp – Day One

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Nature Camp started off great.  We have a good weather forecast for the week, and a wonderful group of nature lovin’ kids.  Our theme this week is Wildlife.  Today was insects.  Virginia Derbyshire started the morning with an overview of different insects that we might find this week, while also covering the life cycles and body parts of insects. 

MEBUS DogbaneBeetlesMaritonField0729

Then it was a hike to the fields to look for things.  As soon as we entered the first field, the kids found these shiny Dogbane Beetles.  (The kids remembered Virginia talking about them.)

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When we reached the field with the bergamot there were butterflies everywhere.  The kids used binoculars to see them better. 

MEBUS TigerSwallowtailOnMonardaMaritonField0716

It is easy for kids to recognize the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (above).  The kids got a lot of positive re-enforcement, because there were so many “tigers” in the field.    But Tiger Swallowtails have a black morph (which can be confused with other swallowtail species).  Carol got a great photo with the tiger stripes backlit (below).

MEBUS TigerSwallowtailBlackMorphMaritonField0729

(Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Black morph female)

Hummingbird Moths were also in the field.  We saw a rare one sitting still on a leaf, but then the kids got to see a few flying and hovering just like a hummingbird might.  (Hummingbirds don’t have antennae or a curled proboscis.)

MEBUS HummingbirdMothMaritonField0729-3

I am looking forward to the week as we study birds, aquatic wildlife, herptiles and mammals.

Crow’s Nest Camp week four

We had another great week of camp at Crow’s Nest, this time with much cooler weather and still very lucky avoiding thunderstorms.

The third and fourth grade campers built rafts and held a regatta on French Creek.



The theme this summer continues to be the water cycle (“Nature’s Plumbing”) but it appears that breaking free of gravity was also a strong interest.


The kids built a low zipline through the woods.


They still “precipitated” down the sliding board.


A rope in the tree made the kids into human tether balls…




We’ve had a wonderful week. Just one more week of camp to go!

Posted by Daniel Barringer on July 26, 2013.

Carolina Wrens Fledge

Mike Coll, Hildacy Farm Preserve Manager

For the second time in three years, a pair of Carolina Wrens made a nest in a little ceramic birdhouse that my wife crafted and hung by our back door at Hildacy Farm Preserve (we live on the preserve).  Carolina Wrens can be differentiated visually from House Wrens (which are also very common) because of the prominent white stripe above their eye.

Here the adults are feeding their young:

Then the big day came and the young birds made the jump to the outside world!

A few minutes later, the whole brood was sitting in a nearby shrub and the parents were flying around feeding them. All of the young had fluffy feathers around their heads and short tails.



Crow’s Nest: Consider the reel mower


Consider the simple hand-pushed reel mower. Crow’s Nest Preserve is 600 acres, has miles of trails, and not insignificant lawns around several historic houses on the preserve. So there’s no way we could use a reel mower on the preserve.

And yet—a few times a year we do.

I speak of the barnyard at our visitor center barn as the “golf green” of the preserve. Its grass needs to be well trimmed and neat for foot traffic. I subscribe to the theory of landscape design that areas further from the buildings should be more wild than those places very close, so the barnyard is kept pretty tidy. The 60 x 60′ barnyard sometimes gets mowed with just this hand-pushed mower and a little bit of sweat.

Most weeks we use a commercial walk-behind mower in the yard and barnyard, but occasionally we pull out this reel mower. Our equipment is stored almost a mile up the road in another barn, and sometimes it isn’t worth going all the way up there to get the power mower.

The reel mower is quiet and relatively safe to operate so I can be mowing while our four-year-old is out in the yard. I enjoy the quiet snipping of its blades and the sounds of nature instead of the roar of the gas mower. I like not using gasoline. The reel mower has so far been entirely maintenance-free (11 years).

A reel mower makes a sharper and finer cut than a powered rotary mower, though it doesn’t scatter the clippings as evenly.

I like that it is a bit of a workout to use, though ours is much easier to use than the cast-iron ones of my youth. I feel like I’m gaining a benefit myself while doing something positive for the preserve. Newer designs than ours feature edge-to-edge cutting and are even easier to use.

Most summers I ask the intern to give it a try. It’s likely something they’ve never experienced, and generally they appreciate the opportunity (if only to understand how much easier it is to use a power mower).

Someday I’ll have a smaller lawn and this is the only kind of mower I’ll use.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on July 25, 2013.

Mariton: Hummingbird Moth

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus

MEBUS HummingbirdMothAtMonardaMaritonField0716

This Hummingbird Clearwing (Hermanis thysbe) also loves the nectar of Bergamot and other flowers.  If you have ever seen one of these moths in action you will know how it came to be named after a bird.

While smaller than a hummingbird, this moth’s appearance and actions have confused people.  Neither the moth, or bird stay still long for study.  Both zoom from flower to flower to get nectar.  We commonly think of moths as being most active at night.  The Hummingbird Moth, however, is busy during the day. 

MEBUS HummingbirdMothAtMonardaMaritonField0716-2

The bergamot and other flowers in Mariton’s fields attract the adults.  Yet, like butterflies, they must also find plant hosts on which to lay eggs, so their caterpillars will have a food source while growing.  I checked out David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America  to discover that viburnums are the major food plant.  We have several different native viburnum species at Mariton.  This is an interesting species and worth a walk up the hill to find.

Mariton: Bergamot and Butterflies

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

MEBUS TigerSwallowtailOnMonardaMaritonField0716

The Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is in full bloom at Mariton.  You will find patches of it throughout the third meadow along the Main Trail.  Where you find the bergamot in bloom, you will also find lots of butterflies.  Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, like the one above, are one of the more numerous species I see visiting the patches.

 MEBUS SpicebushSwallowtailMaritonField0716

Spicebush Swallowtials are just as numerous.  Isn’t the blue on this male’s hindwing spectacular?

Both of these swallowtail species can find lots of food plants on which to lay eggs at Mariton.  The Spicebush Swallowtail’s caterpillars thrive on (you guessed it) spicebush (Lindera benzoin), but they also can be found on the leaves of Sassafras (Sassafras albidum).  Both plant speces are in the same family, and both are abundant at Mariton.  The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars live on Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera).  You will find no shortage of either of these tree species at Mariton, but the Tuliptrees are the more abundant of the two.  (Source for food plant information:  Jeffrey Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars.)

MEBUS WildIndigoDuskywingMaritonField0716

The Wild Indigo Duskywing would be a little bit more challenging for me to identify.  However, Carole got great photos with both open and closed wings to  make the identification easier.  Major foodplant?  Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) of course; unfortunately I am not aware of any growing at Mariton.  Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia) is also listed by Glassberg as a food plant for this butterfly, but I have tried to keep this invasive out of Mariton.  There is some Crown Vetch undoubtedly growing along some of the local roadsides and perhaps the bergamot attracts the adults from those areas.

Whether you want to enjoy the butterflies or the flowers, now is a good time to venture into Mariton’s meadows for a walk.

Kestrels at Hildacy

Mike Coll, Hildacy Farm Preserve Manager

The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon.  It is a cavity-nesting bird that lives in open areas like meadows. Because grassland habitat has decreased in this part of the country and because there are few old dead trees left standing that could provide cavities, Kestrel populations have shown significant declines in recent years.

I put a nest box on a post in the upper meadow at Hildacy about three years ago. While I had previously seen Kestrels sitting near the box at the beginning of breeding season, it wasn’t until I moved the box further into the interior of the meadow this year that a pair decided to take up residence.

With the help of volunteer Ron Zigler, I was able to capture this video of the young birds when they were about two weeks old.  It is tough to tell if there are three or four birds in the box, but since then they all have successfully fledged and I’ve seen them sitting in the trees surrounding the meadow.

Ron recently completed a study of kestrels nesting at our Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve… check out that blog post, too!



Night Sky film screening & discussion

Last week was a day on which to consider the sounds of nature around us—World Listening Day.

This week there is a local event regarding the sights of the dark night sky: a screening of the film City Dark followed by a discussion. Sponsored by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council, the event will be held at Montgomery County Community College West Campus in Pottstown from 6:30 – 8:30 pm on Tuesday, July 23. The event is free and you can register at the link above. You can preview the film’s trailer here.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on July 21, 2013.


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