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Archive for May, 2014

Mariton: Alternate-leaved Dogwood

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Right now the Alternate-leaved Dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia) are blooming at Mariton.  There is an easy to find tree on the edge of the meadows.  This is not a common species, but I have been finding it more the last few years.  There are patches of small seedlings about Mariton’s woods.  I have also found some saplings here and there.

Alternate-leaved Dogwood

You can see that the flowers are very different than the more common Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).  The big white bracts (they aren’t actually petals) of the Flowering Dogwood are missing.  The leaves of the two species, however, look similar.  In the fall, the berries will be blue or black, while the Flowering Dogwood’s berries will be a brilliant red.

Dogwoods are in a small group of native trees in which the branches, or leaves, grow off of the main stem opposite of each other – instead of alternately down the stem.  The Alternate-leaved Dogwood is an exception to that rule.

Mariton: Oak Galls

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Galls are something that have intrigued me since I was a little boy.  In the wild fields of my boyhood the goldenrods got galls that formed a round ball on their stems.  In late fall, you could cut the stem above and below the ball, and it would look like the old round wooden bobbers I fished with.  Except they all had a little hole (where the insect left its home).  Sometimes leaving the goldenrod gall wasn’t by choice.  I remember watching Downy Woodpeckers as they worked a field full of goldenrods, drilling into the balls looking for the insects living inside.

Oak leaf gall

I get lots of questions about galls, especially oak galls.  I use the term loosely, as there are a few different species of insects that make galls  just on oaks.  Each of them look different.  Gall making insects are usually species specific.  In fact, a species will target a specific part of their host plant like the leaves, or twigs, etc.  Explaining galls is one time that I feel you don’t have to be too scientific or precise.  There are just too many different insects out there making galls on different plants.

Oak gall

To put it simply, an insect lays an egg on its host plant.  But when it lays the egg, it also injects a plant growth hormone, or at least a synthetic hormone.  Because of the injection the plant is tricked into growing material around the egg.  That plant tissue provides food, moisture and shelter for the hatchling.  In these photos, the leaf actually grew around the egg to form the gall.  Ideally, when it is done feeding and developing, the baby eats its way out of its little biosphere to continue its next phase of life.  Of course, there are other animals (including insects) that view galls as feeding stations.

Galls don’t really hurt the plant.  Leaves keep photosynthesizing, and stems keep growing even with the galls.  Do the adult gall insects attack insects that harm their host plant?  That would be neat, but I don’t know.  It is just a cool way that insects use plants.

Mariton: Chestnut Update

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Chestnut Seedling

You may recall that Mike and Kieu Manes planted several American Chestnut seeds one month ago.  I found several Chestnut seedlings when I checked the protective tubes.  The three of us are  optimistic, but realize that the odds are stacked against our little babies.  So, any that actually sprout and bear leaves are progress.  There are several tubes that are empty, but there is still time for those seeds to sprout.  I will keep readers informed of the progress.  Mike and Kieu also planted seeds that they collected at  our Bear Creek and Diabase Preserves.

Mariton: Little Chickadees

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Little Chickadees

As predicted, the Chickadee eggs hatched out sometime during the last week.  This is one of two broods.  Right now there are a total of 9 Chickadee babies.  Hopefully, they will all be able to fledge.

 Bluebird young

The bluebirds that were hatched last week are getting feathers.  You can see in this week’s photo how much they developed in just one week.

Watchful Parent

There is one Tree Swallow nest with 5 eggs.  This adult was reluctant to leave the nest, but was perched in a way that I was able to count 5 eggs without disturbing it.  Pretty exciting stuff.  Another Tree Swallow nest is started and should soon have eggs.

Mariton: Birding At Hugh Moore Park

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

Our group went to Hugh Moore Park on Tuesday.  This park is located in Easton along the Lehigh River and Canal.  We got to see some birds that we haven’t seen on other field trips.  We also got better views of some species that we had seen previously.  We probably got our best look at Blue-gray Gnatcatchers here.

MEBUS BarnSwallowHughMoorePark0527

Barn Swallow

At one point we could see Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Rough-winged Swallows at the same time.  It really helped me be able to differentiate between Tree and Rough-winged Swallows to see them side by side.

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I never get tired of seeing Baltimore Orioles, and we saw them quite a bit.

The highlight of the day was a Yellow-throated Warbler.  This is not a common warbler, and everyone got to see it briefly; several of us saw it really well.  I don’t think anyone got a photo.  Because it is so uncommon, we were concentrating on making sure that everyone saw it, instead of stopping to take a photo.  That was a big thrill for me and the Price of Admission bird of the morning.

MEBUS TigerSwallowtailsPuddlingHughMoorePark0527

Besides the birds we also saw this group of butterflies puddling.  The yellow butterflies are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.  The lone black butterfly is a Spicebush Swallowtail.  Butterflies do this to get minerals, salts, amino acids from the mud.  You can also see this behavior on dead animals or even scat where butterflies are trying to get essential nutrients.

Next week we wind up the weekly birding series with a trip to Lake Nockamixon.

Crow’s Nest: After a storm, a rainbow

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


A full day after the hail storm there is still unmelted hail in piles where it washed off the farm fields (along with mud) in the rain. The soil must insulate them and the piles are deep enough to stay cold. Today’s storm passed us by but we still got a great rainbow, here above the Jacob house at Crow’s Nest.


Crow’s Nest: After two hailstorms

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

hail storm

Wow. This was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Two heavy hailstorms separated by a few minutes of sun. Just wondering, how do you count the depth of precipitation when it is hail?


The ground is completely covered by hail here. The green is not grass but leaves torn off the trees above. Even now, five hours later, there are still patches of hail unmelted on the ground (and it was 80 degrees when the storm hit).


The rate of precipitation was also unusual. The flooding after just a few minutes was more typical of that of hours of rain.


Between the storms it was lovely. But the perennials at the base of the sign are stripped of leaves.


I was inspecting damage when the second storm hit. It was pretty scary to be in the truck, especially in the woods. I took refuge at a neighbor’s house. Northside Road, pictured above, is covered in leaves, hail and fog.


The storm washed the hail, and no small amount of topsoil from the farm fields, downhill into piles in the cattle pasture. (The steers had the good sense to take shelter in their shed, and our chickens that were free ranging were fine.)

hail storm

This weather makes one think about the resilience of systems. Plants and animals displayed remarkable endurance over this year’s difficult winter, and many will spring back fine from the damage today. Pastures and woods will rebound, though this year’s growth ring in trees might be a bit smaller since they just lost so much of their photosynthetic surface. Hayfields might be okay. Row crops didn’t fare so well—the young corn plants got pummeled and the some of the bare soil washed downhill out of the fields. Pollinators might find conditions difficult as many flowers were stripped off of plants.

hail storm

Our vegetable garden has gone largely unplanted so far this year, as we had baby rabbits born in the raised beds, and we were waiting for them to leave (and to fix the fence) before planting. It’s just as well, much of it would have been lost today. Perennial gardens around the house and barnyard are much diminished compared to this morning.

hail storm

Mariton: Bluebird Babies

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Bluebird babies

The nest boxes at Mariton are starting to get more active.  Above you can see one of the boxes has 4 baby Bluebirds that probably hatched last week just after I monitored boxes.

Chickadee eggs

I have two active Chickadee nests.  The nest above has 6 eggs that should start hatching any day now.  In the photo below, the mother wouldn’t leave the nest when I monitored it.  The timing of this nest should be pretty close to the one above.  Perhaps the eggs are beginning to hatch and that is why the mother was reluctant to leave.  No problem, I can wait a week to find out what is happening.

Chickadee mom

Tree Swallows and House Wrens have also begun building nests.

Mariton: Birding at Jacobsburg

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manger.  Photos by Carole Mebus (unless otherwise stated)

Birders at Jacobsburg

This Tuesday, we visited Jacobsburg State Park for our birding field trip.  I took this photo of our group on a bridge over Sobers Run.  We had a great morning ramble and got some really great birds.  It was interesting which warblers we aren’t hearing because they have migrated north; and how much harder it was to locate birds behind leaves.  One week really made a difference.  Being able to distinguish the bird songs really makes a difference at this time of year when the trees start leafing out.

 MEBUS CedarWaxwingJacobsburgSP0520-2

We saw Cedar Waxwings (above) right at the parking lot .

 MEBUS IndigoBuntingJacobsburg0520-2

An Indigo Bunting under the power lines.

 MEBUS YellowBilledCuckooJacobsburgSP0520

Price of Admission bird?  This Yellow-billed Cuckoo that everyone saw.  Fortunately, the bird and birders were patient, because it took a little time to direct binoculars into the tree where this was obscured.  Note the large teardrop shaped white spots on the tail.  The Black-billed Cuckoo has thinner crescents on its tail.  Carole was also able to capture the yellow bill in her photo.  Sometimes, that is a little harder to see when the bird is hiding in brush.

 MEBUS LouisianaWaterthrushLock200425

At the same time that the cuckoo made its appearance, we heard a Louisiana Waterthrush.  We never did see it, but Carole shared a photo of one that she took earlier this year.

We had brief views of Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, Veery and Ovenbirds among others.   A great morning to go out birding.

Green Hills volunteer day: Meadow seeding finished!

 By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

volunteer day

We had a great group of volunteers yesterday representing all three years of Force of Nature classes: 2012, 2013, and 2014. We seeded and raked in wildflower seeds to create better habitat in this farm field we are converting to meadow. We’re just sowing patches, not this whole field, but it was still a huge job. But—many hands make light work.


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