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Archive for January, 2015

Mariton: Signs of the Season

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Snow shoe tracks

(My snowshoe tracks on the Main Trail, in the meadow.)

I have been snow shoeing on the trails this week.  The conditions have been good, and it has been great to get out in the woods.

I really enjoy walking in the snow to look at tracks and figure out what animals are doing.  Long before we had trail cameras, “woodsmen” could read the subtlest signs in nature.  I think I am a pretty good tracker, but know I am nowhere as good as my Grandpa.  Technology has dulled our senses, and lack of use has weakened our skills.  Anyone should be able to find tracks in the snow though.  It is fun to flex our primordial muscles and figure out what the tracks are telling us.

Fox hunted here

(A fox hunted here.)

The photo above shows where a fox dug into the snow for a rodent.  Foxes can hear rodents, like voles, moving under a few feet of snow.

Deer bed

(The dark oval is a deer bed.)

So far this winter has been fun, because there have been frequent little snow events.  These little flurries help me gauge when the animal walked by.  There is just enough snow in the deer bed in the photo above for me to know that a deer slept right in the middle of the River Lookout Trail yesterday afternoon.  My fresh tracks are just to the right of the deer bed.

It was time spent with Grandpa, and my fascination with tracks as a child that has helped me retain some tracking skills.  It is never too late to start practicing, and this winter is ideal.


Crow’s Nest: More Winter Projects

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Crow’s Nest remains open in the winter so our first priority is plowing the parking lot and shoveling the walks at the visitor center. Then, in addition to monitoring our conservation easements, there is plenty of work that is best done when the ground is frozen and access is easy. We don’t want to make ruts in wet soils as this causes compaction and changes the hydrology of the site.


We mow all of our meadows once a year and we try to do most of them starting in mid- to late winter to take advantage of the frozen ground. We choose days when it is below 20 degrees and try to get them finished before the sun hits the fields. We also do just one meadow per day, perhaps just one or two per week, so that we limit the impact on wildlife at the preserve.


Winter is also a good time to manage invasive plants such as multiflora rose (might as well do it when you’re comfortable wearing heavy clothes!). Some of this work is done with the tractor and bush hog but we can be more careful and targeted in our work with handheld gasoline-powered brush cutters, chainsaws, and clippers. It is also much easier to see into the thickets of brush in the winter to selectively cut only those species which are invasive.


Winter is also a fine time to do hazard tree work, and we have some scheduled this season. And if a tree falls into the farm fields this is a good time to clean it up so that it isn’t in the way come spring.

Green Hills Preserve does not get plowed in the winter; the preserve remains open but the parking area may not be. But still we’ve taken advantage of the frozen ground and hauled three truckloads of trash (wire fencing, old box springs, and rusty fence posts) out of one spot; we’ll work on others as time allows in future winter seasons.


Crow’s Nest: Snow and light

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


The snow has been light, but we’ll take what we can get. The springhouse below nestles in the snow.


The overcast has given way to the warm sun. The snow may be with us for a while yet but the inevitable sun will prevail.


Giants of Crow’s Nest

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


While they might not be state champions, there are a few large and significant trees at Crow’s Nest. Above is the “wolf poplar” (Liriodendron tulipifera) that greets visitors on the path between the parking lot and the visitor center barn. A wolf tree is one that grew up apart from the forest; the surrounding trees—if present—grew later, and are smaller and not as broad-spreading because they are racing upward for sunlight.


Above is the “courting tree,” a large, spreading black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) along Northside Road. According to local lore this tree back in the day had a swing hanging from it where couples went-a-courtin’.

And below is the “boundary oak,” a white oak (Quercus alba) that at one time marked the division between two farms that now make up Crow’s Nest Preserve. Notice how much smaller are the red maples that make up the forest around it; they weren’t there when the white oak first grew. You can see this from the part of the Deep Woods Trail loop that is north of Northside Road.


I have written about some of these trees before, but never was able to photograph them in their entirety. They’re just too big to be captured by a traditional wide-angle lens. It took this long to occur to me that I could use the panorama feature on the iPhone in a vertical plane. (You don’t see horizontal panorama photos on this weblog because pictures have to be resized to a relatively small 500-pixel width.)

Come see these trees in person, they really inspire awe.

Crow’s Nest Winter Scenes

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


While reviewing photos documenting last year’s conservation easement monitoring I have been struck by how last winter, everything was snow free in early January, until suddenly, it wasn’t. The next couple months of easement photos were all white. So I have been appreciating the easy access of snow-free days so far this year, and the time saved that is not spent shoveling or plowing.


Today’s snow was pretty but didn’t last. It did briefly change how the preserve looks.


This stone wall isn’t normally visible until it gets a dusting of snow on it.


Not all is black and white in the landscape. The Jersey steers have a fuzzy red coat that lets them laugh at the snow.


Green Hills: Force of Nature trail completed

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager – Photo by Jim Moffett

Force of Nature volunteer day to build trail

A hardy crew finished the trail construction on Sunday afternoon. This path went from impenetrable thicket to quite a nice trail in a couple hours, thanks to the combined labors of our volunteers. We even started cleaning up a dump that is present nearby.

It was great fun and great company. I enjoy the camaraderie of the people who enjoy being outdoors who gave so generously of their time. Thank you!

Crow’s Nest: Winter work

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


We’ve made it through the days of single (but positive!) digit temperatures, for now. We took advantage of that “hard-edge” of winter to get equipment out on the frozen ground. We cleaned up a fallen tree (above) and completed the first day of our winter mowing of meadows.

We’ve been inspecting our lands under conservation easement and unstaffed preserves too. Here Cody is attempting to cross over a frozen stream on a log (it wasn’t frozen enough to walk on the ice, according to the guy who went across first to take this photo).


Today the ice is still slippery but the day has a softer edge as freezing rain falls. Too soft for the tractor, and luckily I have some indoor work: photo documentation to map from last year’s easement monitoring.


Enjoy Winter! Birds of a Feather

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

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Last winter I wrote of a series of Blog posts that listed my tips for dressing for success during the winter.  If you want to review, you can click on this Enjoy Winter! link.

This winter, I thought I would touch on adaptations used by local wildlife to survive frigid temperatures.  I’ll start the series with birds.  (Much thanks to Carole Mebus whose photos illustrate several of my points perfectly.)  Birds have an interesting strategy for dealing with the cold.  Many people think that birds migrate to escape the cold, but that isn’t completely true.  Most birds migrate to find food.  If you eat flying insects, finding food becomes difficult when it gets cold.  So, you either change your diet, or follow your food to some place where it is warmer.  On the other hand, if food is available through the winter why risk the dangers of migrating?  Birds that feed on seeds, dried berries and burrowing insects can find enough calories to survive the cold winter.  Here are some of the ways that they do it.

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Insulation.  The best sleeping bags and jackets use goose down because down provides amazing insulation.  Down has lots of air spaces to trap heat.  Birds “fluff” up on the coldest days to make their insulating down layer even thicker with more air spaces.  To further protect from heat loss, outer feathers serve as a shell, providing a barrier to heat loss, as well as another insulation layer.  The oils on outer feathers repel water and add even more insulation.

Migrating birds add fat reserves to help provide fuel over lengthy migrations.  Wintering birds also add fat reserves in the fall that will provide an extra layer of insulation, and important calories in times of need.

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Furnace.  Birds are warm-blooded and have high metabolisms.  Their hearts are more efficient than ours, and they maintain higher body temperatures.  So the internal furnace runs hotter, but that means it takes more fuel to maintain.  We can help by putting out foods with lots of fat calories, such as suet and oily seeds.

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Circulation.  Birds have a neat adaptation that allows them to restrict blood flow to their feet and legs where heat would be rapidly lost.  Think about ducks standing on the ice, or a Cardinal perched on an ice-coated branch.  They can reduce the volume of blood reaching those extremities by constricting arteries.

They also use a technique copied recently by home heating technology.  They facilitate heat exchange by running arteries (warm blood flowing away from the heart) next to veins (cooled blood flowing back to the heart).  In this way, warm arteries exchange heat to leg veins before that blood renters the body core.  So, blood returning to the heart is not as cold, which reduces fuel needs in keeping blood warm.

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Of course, eventually extremities in severe situations would freeze (much as we would get frost bite).  So, a bird’s body can release short bursts of warm blood to keep the tissue alive.  It is quite an amazing adaptation.

Torpor.  It is a risky adaptation, but severe situations call for extreme measures.  Many birds can temporarily lower their metabolisms and body temperatures to enter a state called torpor.  It allows the bird to conserve energy at a cost of being virtually immobile during torpor.   When human body temperatures drop significantly, the condition is called hypothermia.  Hypothermia can be deadly for humans without medical aid.  But birds can come out of torpor and raise their core temperatures back to normal when the weather improves, or food becomes available again.

Behavior.  There are lots of simple things that birds (and smart people) do to conserve heat.

Get out of the wind.  Whether you stand behind a tree or nestle into a spruce tree, getting out of the wind is important to retaining body heat.  Grouse even bury themselves in snow banks.

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Perch in the sun.  There have been lots of mornings perched in a tree stand when I really appreciated the sun as it rose above the horizon.  Watch birds in cold weather and you will witness them taking advantage of the sun.

Tuck.  Just as we tuck cold hands under our arms for warmth, birds can insert their face or feet into the insulation of their feathers to warm their extremities.

Shiver.  It is a short term solution, but in both humans and birds shivering is the body’s method of burning calories to generate heat.

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Find a friend.  Some birds roost together and share body heat.  I have occasionally found chickadees bundled together in nest boxes during the winter.  But in the absence of a cavity, birds can huddle together on a protected branch.

You can help.  If you have bird feeders, keeping them full of high quality foods during the winter is important.  Food is fuel for a bird’s heating system.  (If you have ever run out heating oil, gas or electricity during the winter you can understand the consequences wildlife running out of food.)  Shoveling patches of snow under feeders and around the yard can also expose food for foraging birds.

Providing habitat around your feeding area is also important.  Planting food producing shrubs in your yard is a good start.  I also place unsold Christmas trees around the bird blind to provide shelter (from both weather and predators).  They lose their needles in the spring, but still provide safe perches until the following December 26th.  Put out roosting shelters where birds can snuggle together during bad weather or a cold night.  These can be as simple as a bird box, a shelf under your house’ s eaves, or a hollow log protected from predators.

Birds delight us with their flight, colors, and songs.  The winter is hard for them too, but how they deal with the weather makes them even more amazing to bird watchers.

Sources:  The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior,  Melissa Mayntz, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Mariton: Pileated Woodpeckers

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Pileated holes

I often hear Pileated Woodpeckers at Mariton while walking the trails, and even when working in the yard.  I am lucky to see them regularly.  These holes on a Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) tree are very fresh.  I had walked by this tree about a week before an it wasn’t marked.  This is located right where the South Fox and North Fox Trails merge.  This tree is one of the larger Sassafras’ at Mariton, so I always look at it when I pass.  There are three large holes and several smaller ones.  In the photo above, the Pileated hole to the right of the trunk is the same hole seen on the left in the photo below.  A lot of work in a week.

Pileated holes 2

Green Hills trail building volunteer day this Sunday!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We’re planning our regular “rotating” Force of Nature volunteer day this weekend to be held at Green Hills. Everyone is welcome to join us—we’ll be building a new section of trail from 1 – 3 pm Sunday afternoon.

I’ve drawn in the new section of trail approximately on the map below. We’ll be relocating a trail that is somehow simultaneously steep, muddy, and located in full sun with a section that is more gentle in grade, avoids a known perennial wet spot, and is shaded by a patch of forest (trust me, that will be welcome in July).

Green_Hills_Public_Access one relocated trail (1)

For the first couple years at Green Hills we’ve made use of old tractor paths as trails (since they were still being used for farming). I’m hoping that by this time next year the trail system (which will be about the same length and mainly go to the same parts of the preserve) will be moved onto higher, un-eroded ground, making for better visitor experience. We can use your help making this happen.

Will it be cold on Sunday? You bet. Dress appropriately, and bring warm work gloves, loppers, and pruners. This section of woods is loaded with invasives but could someday be beautiful. We’ll be leaving the parking area at 1 pm to get started, and will finish the afternoon with some hot chocolate.

While I personally prefer warm weather, land managers also need the cold weather so the ground is hard enough to get equipment in without creating ruts. While marking and prepping the trail alignment today we could not haul out any of the old dumps that exist on the preserve: the ground was too soft. We’ll drive the pickup off-road to the work site on Sunday only if the ground is frozen hard so that we don’t create ruts, compact the soil, or get stuck. Even if it’s cold, strong sunshine can soften the surface so we might be walking in.

Please give me a call at 610-286-7955 if you think you’ll be there on Sunday. We’ll want to make enough hot chocolate.




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