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Archive for March, 2014

Celebrate Earth Hour this weekend!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

This Saturday night, from 8:30 to 9:30 pm, is Earth Hour. Celebrate by turning off the lights for an hour. Enjoy the darkness and take the opportunity to think about what is important to you and the environment that supports us. This is the eighth year of this event!

Amphibian migrations

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

This evening or tomorrow evening are likely to be warm enough and wet enough for more amphibian migrations. We don’t know whether salamanders and frogs will be heading toward or away from the wetlands where they breed (maybe both), but keep an eye out for them crossing rural roads near wetlands. Spotted salamanders and wood frogs are the most common migrants, but there could be other species too.

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Please be cautious of them if you are traveling after dark in the rain.

Mariton: Seventy Years of History

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

It was 70 years ago this year the Mary and Antonio Guerrero (Mariton’s founders and namesakes) purchased the first parcel of land that would later inspire them to preserve Mariton.  World War II was winding down and they found an old farm house with some barns and several acres.  Over the next few years as they made the house livable, and thought about settling on the property, they documented some of the work with movies.

I will be showing these movies (in DVD format) on Saturday night, 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.  The movies mainly focus on the building renovations, but there are plenty of background shots to show how much the landscape has changed in 70 years.  Twenty-five years after that initial land purchase, they legally founded Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary by establishing the Trust that still governs and helps fund Mariton.  I find these movies an interesting insight into the people who would later assemble this 200 acre nature preserve.

These movies kick off the celebration of Mariton’s 45th Birthday, and the 70th anniversary of what got things started.

Hildacy Farm Preserve: Nest box work

By Michael Coll, Hildacy Farm Preserve Manager

As April approaches, it is the last chance to prepare nest boxes for the return of migrant species.  Throughout the next few months, breeding pairs will be searching for nesting locations and attention to detail within each nest box installation can be the difference between successfully attracting the target species and simply placing a wooden box in the landscape.

The first new box that I put up this year was a Wood Duck box near the restored wetlands at Hildacy Preserve.  The box was well constructed by a volunteer and on the opening now sits more than 8 feet off the ground.  I have used two wraps of metal flashing around the wooden post to hopefully prevent intrusion into the box by nesting squirrels and potential predators.

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My choice of location for this box was motivated by two separate ideas.  The first is as a potential nest spot for Wood Ducks.  Each year around this time I observe a few Wood Ducks visiting the wetlands (in fact there is a pair there now as I write this).  The birds are present for a few days or weeks, most likely feeding on the abundant plant life and insects in the wetlands, and then go somewhere else for the bulk of the breeding season.  I suspect these wetlands might be just a bit too busy for Wood Ducks to feel secure.  Different species are affected differently by the presence of humans and Wood Ducks tend to prefer a more secluded setting than, say, Mallards, which often don’t seem bothered by people at all.  However, it is also possible that these passing ducks haven’t stayed because there were no suitable cavities in which to nest.  If this is the case then perhaps they will make use of this new box.  I placed it as far from the main walking paths as the area allowed.  The placement was also determined by the idea that it could be easily observed.  I have put other Wood Duck boxes up in considerably more secluded locations on Hildacy and in fact these locations are so secluded that I have not properly monitored them and so I do not know if they have been used!

The second purpose for this box is as a possible secondary home for my resident Screech Owl.

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I have read that breeding Screech Owls will sometimes seek out secondary roosts near their nest sites.  Perhaps when a small box becomes full of young fledgling owls it is nice to have somewhere nearby for the adults to sleep.  Because Screech Owls will sometimes use Wood Duck-sized boxes, I thought that placing this new box in a direct line of sight with the existing owl box could possibly serve that purpose (assuming it is not occupied by Wood Ducks).

For the past two years, a Screech Owl has roosted throughout the winter in a box about 100 yards away.  I have a working camera in the box and, as I write this, he (I believe it’s a male) is sleeping the day away inside.

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Each spring when breeding season arrives for Screech Owls, I have heard the male calling from the opening of the box, but I have never observed a mate.  A few weeks later, the owl leaves the box (presumably to breed somewhere else) and doesn’t return until the fall. I hope that this year the presence of a secondary roosting spot will change this pattern and convince a pair to nest.

Another project that I crossed off my list recently was to increase the height of my bat box. Originally this large, heavy (sail like) box was attached to a 12’x4”x4” post that was set into the ground with cement.

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With a few feet of the post buried in the ground, the opening of the box (which is on the bottom) was barely more than 7’ high. The recommended height for bat boxes is no less than 10’ and higher is preferable. I had hoped that placing it on a slope would help to make up for this, but after seeing it go vacant last year I decided to cut the existing post and add a second 12’ post, attached by carriage bolts at the top and bottom. This addition raises the opening of the box to over 13’.

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Hopefully, this will make the box more attractive to bats since its current location hits nearly all of the other recommendations for placement including: distance from trees (25 ft), proximity to water (stream and wetlands), good sun exposure, and south facing in an area where bats are regularly observed.

Last year was a banner year for Kestrels at Natural Lands Trust’s preserves with nesting pairs in boxes at both Gwynedd Wildlife and Hildacy Farm Preserves.  I am hopeful that the Kestrel box at Hildacy will soon be inhabited again by these small, brightly colored falcons.

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In that aim I have cleaned the box that was used last year (including scraping the interior walls, which the fledglings seemed to have painted white!) and replacing the bedding with new wood chips.

In addition I have added another Kestrel box at our Summerhill Preserve. I have previously observed breeding Kestrels on this preserve (I saw fledgling birds but never found the nest site). However, last year–possibly due to a nearby “forest cleanup” that removed some old standing dead trees–I did not see any young birds. It seems likely that the pair’s nesting cavity was destroyed, which makes Summerhill an ideal location for a box. With any luck, the pair will find the box and breed successfully in the next few months.

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The box was constructed by Force Of Nature volunteer Brian Bernero, who mounted it on a natural cedar post. To extend the length of the natural post we bolted it to a mostly buried 4”x4” making the final height of the box’s opening more than 12’ off the ground. Metal flashing was again used as a predator deterrent. The box faces south and is in a warm-season grass meadow that is rich with prey and removed from human disturbance.

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The last of the nest box preparations were performed by other members of our Force Of Nature team who have cleaned out all of the 44 Eastern Bluebird boxes at Hildacy and Summerhill. While many of these boxes are used each year by Tree Swallows, Chickadees, and House Wrens, bluebirds continue to find boxes to nest in as well. Last year, volunteer monitors reported seven successful bluebird nests at the two preserves yielding 31 fledglings. This year, I will change the location of the boxes that were dominated by House Wrens in an effort to discourage them. I will also be continually mowing small areas around some of boxes that are in the warm-season grasses. It is possible that by keeping the grass height lower, more bluebirds will return to attempt a second brood. (Download our guide to Eastern Bluebird nest boxes here.)

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Mariton: Field Management

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

This week I mowed the fields at Mariton.  My management protocol is timed to optimize benefits for wildlife.  During the winter the standing vegetation provides food and shelter for wildlife, especially when there is snow cover like this past winter.  Many of the tree shoots showed gnawing by voles and other rodents.  Even though the gnawing was a 12 inches above the ground, these areas were below the surface of the snow for much of the winter.  These creatures had tunnels in the snow and at ground level that allowed them access to fallen seeds and other foods in the fields.  Meanwhile, birds and other animals were able to take advantage of the seed heads and vegetation that were left standing above the snow.

Cutting right now will speed the green up in the next couple weeks.  It doesn’t seem like a lot of shade is provided by the grasses and tree seedlings, but things will start sprouting more quickly where I have mowed.  This allows the shortest turn around for food sources for wildlife.  The fields look bare right now, but the transformation happens so quickly.

Even while I mowed, bluebirds were diving down into the cut grasses to grab insects.  They were also checking out the nest boxes in the fields.  Mowing has made it easier for them to gather grasses for building their nests.  Another bird that took advantage of the shorter vegetation was a Red-shouldered hawk that was catching voles.

What happens if I don’t mow the fields?  Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods) wants to be a forest.  In fact, these fields are quite literally forests that are managed to stay at a certain point in forest succession.  It will take a couple months, but visit the fields in the summer or fall and you will see just how many tree seedlings live in these fields (along with grasses, milkweed, bergamot, goldenrods, etc.).  By the time winter returns, many seedlings will be over five feet tall.  That is quite a bit of growth in a few short months.  These open areas are a boon for wildlife all year long.  Birds, butterflies, rodents, foxes; many species will take advantage of these forest openings to find food and raise young.

Crow’s Nest: Sounds of Spring

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

You still have to search a bit to see signs of spring… red maples are starting to bloom and skunk cabbage flowers are thrusting up in our wetlands. But the sounds are also starting.

I heard wood frogs making their quacking, squabbling calls in a wetland—not here at the preserve but at an easement I was monitoring—just a bit south of here. So any day now for us. At Crow’s Nest you can hear them most easily from the far end of the Creek Trail where there is a thicket of wet woods with vernal pools.

And at dusk last night I heard the buzzy Peent of woodcock. It sounded like it was coming from the field across French Creek from our house and the visitor center barn. You can hear a sample of woodcock calls at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Crow’s Nest: The Big Night!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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It is a Big Night! Owen and I walked the stretch of Piersol Road at the preserve and saw lots of spotted salamanders and a few wood frogs. A couple were smushed, but we moved a few others out of the way of cars.

Conservation Easement Monitoring Progress

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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We’re nearing the end of our easement monitoring season, after a long hiatus while the land was under deep snow. We’re lucky to be able to spend time in beautiful landscapes and a grateful for landowners’ conservation ethic and generosity that makes saving land possible.

Mariton: Spring Break is Relative

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Two of my friends visited over the weekend to escape winter .  As you ponder their sanity, you have to put a few things in perspective.  My buddy Paul lives just south of Buffalo, NY. He had a long, snowy and cold winter.  Paul called Bruce, who lives north of Pittsburg, to plead:  “I need a break!”  Bruce had already been contemplating a lateral migration to visit the Martin Guitar museum and factory, so suggested they call me.  It was a great idea!

They arrived during last week’s big chill, but for Paul it was an improvement.  The guitar factory was a pretext, but since we share a love for guitars, canoes and the outdoors, it was a great excuse for them to get away.  To continue the guitar theme we visited local luthier, Bill Mitchell.  That was great inspiration to play guitar in front of the wood stove in the evenings.  (We usually play guitars around a campfire, so this was close.)

We spent a lot of time hiking the trails.  Most of the trails on the south side of the hill are clear now, and Paul and Bruce were happy to get out in the woods.  I lapsed into naturalist mode when they asked about trees and birds.

Delaware River in March

The lakes were still frozen, so we canoed on the Delaware River on Saturday morning .  The wind was gusting, the sun was hidden, but we were glad to be traveling on liquid water for a change.  (We wore dry suits and life vests, so we were comfy and prepared for any mishaps – none of which happened.)   The ducks were flighty and we only got long distance views of them.  But this was new water for Paul and Bruce, so they were taking in all the sights and sounds.

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When we returned to Mariton, the sun finally appeared and we wore t-shirts as we sat on the patio.  Paul’s experience is a good reminder that while this spring is reluctant, it is close at hand.  Paul left Buffalo in a snow storm on Thursday, and returned on Sunday to snow showers with a smile on his face.

Crow’s Nest: New trail markers

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

As you walk down the path from the parking lot at Crow’s Nest to the Creek Trail, you will now find a new trail marker, and if you follow it, a new trail.

The existing Creek Trail and the the northern loop of the preserve is marked with black arrows on yellow diamonds (and yellow lines on our trail map). The new trail shown here directs you to turn south with white arrows on red circles, same as the rest of the southern loop of the preserve (red lines on our map).

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This trail leads back between the visitor center barn and the creek. Initially it started out as a trail used to monitor bluebird boxes and to lead out of the “natural playground” we use with kids’ programs. Now it also passes along the creek to Harmonyville Road. If you then (carefully!) cross the highway bridge there and turn down the farm lane and follow the arrows you can access the Deep Woods and Fox Hills trails at the southern end of the preserve.

At this writing, the Creek Trail is a muddy mess, so these other trails are highly recommended.

This new trail doesn’t yet show up on our printed trail maps but it open and maintained.

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