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Archive for August, 2013

Green Hills: There’s a there there.

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Things are humming along at our Green Hills Preserve. Volunteers have started trails and maintain new bluebird and kestrel boxes there. Botanical research has gotten under way. And while the parking lot itself has not yet been built, the preserve sign is installed at the future trailhead on Gunhart Road. Now when you get there, you’ll know you’re there!

Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 29, 2013.

Crow’s Nest: New footbridge to Deep Woods Trail

Thanks to Force of Nature volunteer Matthew Roberson, the footbridge I started building two years ago is finished! I just couldn’t find the time to fit that project into my schedule, and Matthew, a restoration carpenter and Natural Lands Trust volunteer, identified this as a project that he would like to finish.

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Matthew, whose normal work is probably a bit less rustic than this, was able to copy the design of outriggers for the handrails that I had started and match it on the remaining three corners. I think trail users will be as delighted as I am that there is now an easy way to get over the ditch and into the Deep Woods.

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Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 28, 2013.

Crow’s Nest: Pancakes and Panoramas members’ event

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There is an exciting calendar of fall public events at Natural Lands Trust preserves here, and one of them is a members-only breakfast at Crow’s Nest on Saturday, September 28. Food always tastes better outdoors, I think, and especially in a setting like this. You can register for events directly from the calendar of events on our website.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 22, 2013.

Force of Nature at Green Hills

Yesterday the Force of Nature volunteers and people interested in the program arrived at Green Hills to create a new trail in the woods that volunteer Jim Moffett had designed for us.

Below, our group charges the hill above the future parking area to the point where the future mowed meadow trail will enter the woods. When completed the meadow trail will meander up the hill so getting there won’t be so steep. This will be the view for hikers emerging from the wooded trail, a bonus I hadn’t anticipated when we began working on this.

FoN volunteer day at Green Hills

It didn’t take long for the volunteers to clear the new trail and then they turned to cutting Oriental bittersweet vines along the forest edge that were overwhelming the trees there. By the time we took this group photo (below) a few people had left, and not all the tires had been found.

FoN volunteer day at Green Hills

We discovered we were working near (but fortunately not on top of) an indigo bunting nest. Jim Moffett got a great photo of this beauty.

The Force of Nature volunteer program is generously sponsored by PECO.

FoN volunteer day at Green Hills

Photos by Jim Moffett. Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 12, 2013.

 

Quiz: Where is this located?

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Can you identify at which Natural Lands Trust preserve this abandoned farm implement can be found? Hint: it’s at our newest preserve, the one at which we will be holding a Force of Nature Volunteers Meet and Greet this Sunday from 1 to 4. We’ll be building some new trail and doing some invasive plant management.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 9, 2013.

Star Watch at Hopewell Furnace

This Saturday night, August 10, the Chesmont Astronomy Club will be holding their annual star watch (rain or cloud-cover date is Sunday the 11th) at Hopewell Furnace National Historic District, around the corner from our Crow’s Nest Preserve. Both properties are part of the Hopewell Big Woods, one of the best places left in our region to see the night sky.

Before the sun sets there will be presentations related to astronomy and dark sky preservation. After dark there will be public stargazing though amateur telescopes provided by the club. The event is free and two telescopes will be given away in a prize drawing. The program starts at 7:00 pm and runs through 11:00 pm.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 7, 2013.

The Milkweeds and Their Little Buddy

By Russell Rogers, volunteer at Stroud Preserve

Red milkweed beetle

Mid-summer is upon us and with it are the milkweeds. Ever since I can remember I have had a fascination with milkweeds. They are most often large and showy, and in my opinion their flowers are amongst the most visually interesting flowers that can be found around here. The petals are flexed backwards as far as they can go, while the rest of the flower, the parts that most other plants keep hidden, is thrust forward into space. This gives it the appearance that the flower bud exploded and then was frozen in time right as it was about to fly into pieces. To add to its strange appearance, the parts of the flower that are extended forward are unique in that they consist of hoods and horns. It truly has the appearance of something from another world.

Poke milkweed by Russell Rogers

Poke milkweed showing the hoods and horns

Milkweeds can afford to be showy as their milky sap is poisonous to most animals. Insects that feed on the plant are also brightly colored. A statement to the effect of “look, but don’t eat.” A well-known example of an insect that feeds on milkweed is the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly. However, the insect that caught my eye was a little red and black longhorn beetle called Tetraopes tetrophothalmus, or simply the red milkweed beetle. They are interesting in of themselves as the antennae completely bisects their eyes, creating two sets of compound eyes. Thus the name Tetra “four” opes “eyes.”

As an ecologist I try to make observations of the natural world without injecting my own biases and assumptions. That said, my assumption about the milkweed and its little buddy, as I call it, was that they held some type of symbiotic relationship. Symbiotic meaning that they benefit from each other’s presence.

A little research showed that there may, in fact, be a symbiotic relationship, albeit, not between the beetle and the milkweed, but instead, between the beetle and the grasses that grow next to the milkweeds. As it turns out, the beetles only lay their eggs on the stems of dried grasses that grow immediately adjacent to the milkweed plant. The eggs hatch and the larvae drop off and burrow into the soil where they feed only on the roots of the milkweed plant. The larvae pupate in to adult beetles and continue to feed on the milkweed. All of this feeding upon the milkweed by the beetle ultimately inhibits the milkweed’s growth, in turn making more room for grasses to grow.

While the sap of the milkweed plant can be a culinary hazard, the nectar is not and attracts a wide assortment of butterflies and other interesting insects. If you would like to see these strange and wonderful plants and the insects that they attract, the Stroud Preserve is a great place to do so as there are at least five species of milkweeds that call the preserve home. Look for the poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) pictured above in moist shaded woods. Swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), common milkweed (A. syriaca), and butterfly-weed (A. tuberosa) can be found in the open fields throughout the preserve. Lastly, look for the rare whorled milkweed (A. verticillata) in and around the serpentine barrens. (The whorled milkweed is quite common at the Willisbrook Preserve, near Malvern).

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) by Russell Rogers

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

 

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by Russell Rogers

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

 

Butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa)] by Russell Rogers

Butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

 

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) by Russell Rogers

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Crow’s Nest Camp week five

I wasn’t actually present during the 7/8 camp at Crow’s Nest last week, so I have to rely on the photos and the (perhaps biased) description from the other counselors.

But it appears we had an unusually outgoing, friendly group of 7th and 8th graders at camp this year. No sullen teenagers on the first day, here.

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The campers performed a service project that will benefit campers of all ages in coming years at Crow’s Nest: building a footbridge to a play area along French Creek.

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There was kayaking on Scotts Run Lake and on the Schuylkill River, the better to put in context Natural Lands Trust’s conservation efforts in the region.

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Climbing the rocks at Natural Lands Trust’s Fulshaw Craeg Preserve… and cleaning up the kayaks before returning them—so that we don’t inadvertently introduce plants or animals into different watersheds.

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Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 5, 2013. Photos by Pete Smyrl.

 

Mariton: Nature Camp – Mammals

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

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Today was a great program for a Friday.  Scott Shoenigger of Hunter’s Moon Taxidermy brought in literally a truck load of animal pelts and a box of predator skulls.  He talked about how mammals hide can be removed and preserved.  Taxidermy is one of the oldest jobs known to humans, so Scott spent a little talking about his job.

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He spread the hides of bears, moose, deer, coyotes, mink, fox, otter, etc. on the floor.  Then he invited the children to sit on the hides on the floor.  How cool is that?  Of course, having access to all those different animal skins was a sensory overload, so I am not sure how much they learned about mammals today.  They will remember how big a moose is, and what a fox pelt feels like.

Crow’s Nest: The MA-IPC Conference

I had the good fortune to attend the biennial Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Conference this week held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. You may read about specific sessions in future weblog posts; I thought I’d post now just a couple photos from the beautiful NCTC campus.

At National Conservation Training Center, WV

When arriving at the NTCT you abandon your car at the perimeter of the campus. You won’t need it to get to classes. Although each dorm and classroom building seems isolated in the woods all are within a few minutes walk—more compact and yet more natural than any college campus I’ve seen. A circuit of paved paths, and one lovely pedestrian bridge (above), links the core campus.

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But there are also rustic hiking trails that wind through the wilder parts of the outer campus, intended to give attendees some space in which to reflect and reconnect with nature. Each evening I took a walk around these areas as the sun set. They showcase good management practices as well as nature’s beauty.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on August 2, 2013.

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