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Archive for June, 2014

Mariton: Rhododendrons Blooming

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Rhododendron 6.30.14

Mariton’s Rhododendrons have started to bloom.  These are the native Rhododendron maximum, which has a white blossom with hints of pink and green as it ages.  The trees are blossoming a little later than usual – but that is not unusual this year when everything seems to be a week or two late.  I don’t think this is going to be a year when every tree is covered in blossoms.  Still, I think that there will be plenty of blossoms in the woods.  If you don’t mind walking back up the hill, the River Lookout is an excellent place to see them in their glory.  Along the Main Trail is a good place to view the Rhododendrons without dealing with the hill.

The flowers are beautiful, but take some time to observe the entire package.  You will see that many of these trees are huge (as Rhododendrons go) and very old.  Their graceful arching form is another thing to admire.  Finally, because Rhododendrons are evergreen, you should be able to notice some leaves that are changing.  What we think of as autumn in deciduous trees happens throughout the year in evergreens (whether they have needles or leaves).

Mariton: Butterfly Cenus

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


We held the Annual Butterfly Census at Mariton on Saturday.  We tallied 16 species and 112 individuals.  That is a little low, especially considering that the milkweed and butterfly weed is in bloom.  The fields smell great from the aroma of the milkweed.

MEBUS SilverSpottedSkipperOnMilkweedMariton0628

Silver-spotted Skippers (above) were the most abundant species, and we counted 33 individuals.  This is probably the first time that this species came in as the most abundant.  Great-spangled Fritillaries or Cabbage White Butterflies are usually at the top.  The Fritillaries came in a close second with 29 individuals.

MEBUS CoralHairstreakOnButterflyWeedMariton0628-3

Probably the highlight was a Coral Hairstreak that perched on a Butterfly weed for several minutes giving everyone a really good look at this small but beautiful butterfly.

MEBUS TigerSwallowtailBlackMorphOnMolkweedMariton0628

Another good sighting was the black morph of a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  Most people are familiar with the yellow tiger striped butterfly, but unaware that the female sometimes appears in a black morph.  This butterfly was old and damaged, but we were able to see its black tiger stripes when the sun hit it just right.

I never get tired of seeing Great-spangled Fritillaries.  They look especially beautiful on the butterfly weed.

MEBUS GSFritillaryOnButterflyWeedMariton0628

MEBUS EasternTailedBlueOnButterflyWeedMariton0628

Eastern-tailed Blue

Kestrels at Summerhill Preserve

A new Kestrel nest box at the Summerhill Preserve successfully attracted it’s target species in the first year.   The box was mounted on a natural cedar post by FON volunteer Brian Bernero.  Installed, the opening of the box sits approximately 14 feet above the ground in a warm-season grass meadow.  I wrapped metal flashing around the post to prevent predators from climbing up into the box.


A pair of Kestrels found the box almost immediately in early April.  I observed the male sitting on the box with the female in a nearby tree.

A few weeks later towards the end of May I reached a camera on the end of a pole into the box and took this picture.

The fact that the female (pictured) did not leave the box when I approached it told me that she was likely incubating eggs.

A few weeks later on 6/12 I returned to take this picture showing some newly hatched falcons, probably 7-10 days old.


This week (on 6/25) I returned again to the box.  As I approached I could see the head of one of the young birds poking out of the hole.


Less than 30 days after hatching, young Kestrels weigh as much as their parents.   These 5 fledglings have grown most of their flight feathers and are nearly ready to leave the box.  Once they leave the nest their parents will continue to feed them for a number of weeks as they learn how to fly and become effective hunters.  All of them must race to become self sufficient before the fall when they will most likely attempt their first migration.

Crow’s Nest: Schuylkill Acts & Impacts tour

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager; Photos by Sierra Gladfelter

We were fortunate to host a group of high school students engaged in a tour organized by the Schuylkill Action Network: Schuylkill Acts and Impacts. The students, coming from each of the counties in the Schuylkill River watershed, were on a week long service-learning trip on the Schuylkill’s waters and lands, to learn about the legacy of coal mining on water quality, agricultural impacts including erosion and manure management, the role of land preservation in watershed health, and the impacts of stormwater and impervious services on water resources.

Schuylkill Acts and Impacts tour photo by Sierra Gladfelter

The students prepared camp-style meals and stayed overnight in our barn. We hung out around a campfire in the evening to talk about our education programs at Crow’s Nest. The next morning, we walked around the preserve and talked about land stewardship.

Schuylkill Acts and Impacts tour photo by Sierra Gladfelter

One of my favorite activities is sharing the preserve with visitors, and especially with students who ask lots of good questions. The program looked like a great experience and I hope they return next year.

Crow’s Nest: Getting to summer

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


It’s been a busy late spring with some incredibly beautiful weather (except for just a couple days, it has been low humidity and not too hot) punctuated by some dramatic storms. Our trails have suffered from the abundance of rain. We installed a new plank bridge over the pond dam spillway (above) and another (below) to cross a drainage ditch that crosses the Creek Trail. It used to be easy to step across but the mud has grown too wide.


The rain means the grass has been growing especially fast, and we’ve been plagued by equipment problems. The diesel lawnmower was out for ten days and is still not right. (At Crow’s Nest, it’s never more than a mile to walk home if you break down; at Green Hills the stakes are a little higher as we have to load the running mower on the trailer to get it home.) We had two flat tires—one on the small lawnmower and another on a trailer. Plus we’ve had the normal parts replacement of the small equipment expected at the height of the busiest season.

This week Natural Lands Trust Arborist Tom Kershner came over to Crow’s Nest and Green Hills for a productive day. He removed five hazard trees at Green Hills Preserve (dead trees along the roadside) and helped identify five more for the inventory at Crow’s Nest—more work for fall or winter. At Crow’s Nest he scaled a de-accessioned utility pole recently turned over to us by the power company and hung a kestrel box there.


Mariton: Tree Swallows Getting Ready

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Tree swalows 6.11.14

Activity is winding down in Mariton’s nest boxes.  I have one brood of five Tree Swallows that should be leaving sometime next week.  The photo above is from last week when they were pretty tiny.  One of the adults is in the photo covering most of the chicks.  The photo below is from this week’s monitoring trip.  They are getting feathered and will soon be ready to fly.

Tree swallows 6.18.14

The Bluebirds and Chickadees were fledged last week when I monitored boxes.  There is still time for Bluebirds to start a second nest, so I will keep monitoring for a few more weeks.

Mariton: Butterfly Walks

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

Our Tuesday Butterfly Walk was good.  The milkweed is just starting to bloom.  The butterflies that we saw were not staying still, so it was a little frustrating.  I am an intermediate butterfly person, and I still have difficulty with several species.  These Tuesday Walks are a great way to become familiar with butterflies.  Each week there will be some new butterflies as different flowers come into bloom, but there will also be “repeat” butterflies so you can work on learning their characteristics.  More blossoms will be open next week, and hopefully we will see butterflies sitting still while they sip on nectar.

MEBUS AmericanLadyOnTrailMariton0617

Despite their flightiness, Carole was able to capture some great photos.  The Squeeze Trail has become good butterfly habitat following Hurricane Sandy.  Since this is the route we usually take, we were treated to a variety of butterflies before we ever reached the meadows.  The American Lady pictured above was one of the first butterflies we saw as we left the parking lot.  It is a beauty whether the wings are open or closed.

MEBUS SilverSpottedSkipperMaritonField0617

Compare this Silver-spotted Skipper (above) to the Hoary Edge (below).  The “frosty” appearance of the spot on the Hoary Edge is where it gets its name and distinguishes it from the defined edges of the Silver-spotted Skipper.  Once you begin to recognize the bright white spot, the Silver-spotted becomes easy to recognize, even in flight.

MEBUS HoaryEdgedSkipperMaritonField0617

MEBUS GSFritillarySqueezeTrailMariton0617

The Great-spangled Fritillary is a very common butterfly at Mariton.  I think many people see this orange and black butterfly zip by and assume it is a Monarch.  The white dots on its underside have an iridescent quality in the right light –thus the name.

Mariton: Nesting Bird Census

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

MEBUS OvenbirdFemaleMerrillCreek0514


We conducted the annual Nesting Bird Census on Saturday.  We counted 45 species and 233 individual birds.  I am really happy with this count.  Some of the highlights were the 20 Ovenbirds and 16 Wood Thrushes that we tallied.  I use both of these species as barometers of forest interior health.  The effects of Hurricane Sandy left a lot of open areas in Mariton’s forest and increased the amount of edge, for the time being.  I wasn’t sure how that might influence the nesting of some of the forest interior birds.  So far, so good.

MEBUS BlueWingedWarblerJacobsburgSP0521-Notsinging

Blue-winged Warbler

One of the things that I feel is definitely a result of Hurricane Sandy is the two Blue-winged Warblers that we counted.  While it may not seem like a lot, it is more than we have counted in over a decade.  Blue-winged Warblers inhabit brushy habitats and forest openings.  We usually count one in the meadows on top, but we also counted a male singing in the blow down below the Bird Blind area.  Another brushy habitat specialist are Eastern Towhees.  We counted 8 this year.  That number isn’t totally out of the ordinary, but some of the new places that we counted them this year are in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Mariton’s Nesting Bird Census is conducted by volunteers on a June morning when it is assumed that birds have finished migrating and are settled in to breeding territories.  We walk along and count the birds that we see, as well as the ones we hear singing.  We have been using the same walking route for many years.  We know we don’t get every species and every bird, but it is a good snapshot of what is here.  For instance, females don’t sing (they may have calls), so when we count singing birds, we are only counting males.  We can assume that they are with a female, but don’t count the extra bird unless we see her, or hear the call.  Some birds that nest early get silent because they are busy tending to young and don’t need to proclaim their territories.  Some we flat out miss.  On Friday, I had a Hairy Woodpecker, a Yellow-Throated Vireo and a Black-billed Cuckoo while walking the trails, but we didn’t hear or see them on Saturday, so they didn’t get counted.

Even though it is just a snapshot, Mariton’s Nesting Bird Census can tell us a lot about our forest and change over time.  This census has been conducted annually since 1981.  In 1988, they started also counting individual birds. Over three decades of information that is very revealing!

Crow’s Nest: About that hail storm damage

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We still see trees whose tops look thin where the leaves were chewed up by the falling hail. Because of the leaves’ reduced size the trees look like they’re permanently stuck in the month of April, when they were just leafing out. These leaves will not get bigger again however, and although some new leaves might grow, that doesn’t appear to be taking place widely yet.

But some places got hit harder than others, even in patches within one view. If you look across the valley from our parking area you see a brown hilltop amidst the green:


And if you hike toward our Chief’s Grove you get an even better view. The hill in the foreground is on this side of Route 345 in Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. The hill that has turned brown is Mt. Pleasure on the west side of Route 345 in French Creek State Park.


I was concerned enough that I sent the interns over to climb the hill and scout it out from under the canopy. They report that it is cross-species damage, so not likely an insect or disease that would affect some and not others. And it’s mainly the leaves at the tops of the trees that got so badly shredded; the lower branches were somewhat protected by the upper ones.

Here is a zoomed-in portion of the photo above:

IMG_6341 - Version 2

That’s not what trees around here normally look like in June! Incidentally, this hill was not one that burned in the April 2012 wildfire at French Creek.

Usually it is difficult to tell from our parking lot that these are two different hills separated by the saddle where Route 345 cuts through. Right now due to the storm damage it is easy to tell them apart and where each hill is located.

It will be interesting to watch how this event, like the wildfire, will affect the forest long term.

Mariton: Butterfly Walks

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

MEBUS AmericanLadyOnGoldenrodFairmountRdField1007

American Lady on Goldenrod

Weekly butterfly walks will start on Tuesday, June 10.  For the next four weeks we will butterfly at Mariton 9:00 a.m. – noon.  As the summer progresses, different plants will be in bloom in Mariton’s fields, so new butterflies will be seen each week.  It is a great way to familiarize yourself with some common butterflies, because we will see them each week, along with the new species.


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