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Archive for May, 2015

Mariton: A Bear Creek Field Trip

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

The Mariton Birders are always game to check out new spots.  So, when Joe Vinton told me he was doing a Bird Walk for NLT at Bear Creek, I asked the Birders if they would like to go.  Silly question.  I filled the van with “nature nuts” and we headed north.  Joe Vinton is the Preserve Manager at Bear Creek.  I can’t say enough good things about what Joe, his assistant Tyler, and the many volunteers have done at this preserve.  The trails are wonderful.

The tail end of a Black-throated Blue Warbler

The tail end of a Black-throated Blue Warbler

Almost immediately we were greeted by the song of a Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Since they rarely breed at Mariton, it was wonderful to see them so plentiful in a place they like – and they definitely like Bear Creek.  We got to see lots of them, which was very cool.  (Here is a tip:  if you are camera shy, you can’t complain when the photographer takes a less than complimentary photo.)

This is a more representative photo that Carole took at Mariton.

This is a more representative photo that Carole took at Mariton.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

We also heard a Chestnut-sided Warbler very early in the walk.  I associate this species with brushy areas, but we heard them continuously as we walked through Bear Creek’s forest.  This is an amazingly beautiful warbler.  We saw them several times, even though (like most warblers) they were constantly in motion.  On the ride home, Bob made the comment that we heard Black-throated Blues and Chestnut-sided Warblers singing continuously on our hike.  Amazing.

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We didn’t hear many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks singing, but this one posed for everyone to see.

Painted Trillium

Painted Trillium

When we weren’t birding, we admired the many wildflowers growing along Bear Creek’s trails.  This Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) was stunning.  We also saw Wild Lily of the Valley, Pinksters, Sheep Laurel,  Wild Bleeding Heart, Bunchberry and other great wildflowers in bloom.  Since the habitat is so very different from Mariton and our usual birding spots, these were great finds for our group.

This field trip was important for me, because it reminded me that all the things that I am “used to seeing” at Mariton are still very special, and would be viewed with awe by someone coming from a different region.  Someone once told me that using the word treasure was inappropriate when talking about natural wonders.  They said treasure should be reserved for paintings, sculptures, and great pieces of art.  Sorry, but I don’t buy that.  Bear Creek and the other NLT Preserves are as rich as any museum, and filled with world class treasures.  I am still fascinated (and humbled) by the beauty.

Mariton: Birding Variety

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


This week, we walked along the towpath from Wy-Hit-Tuk Park in Williams Township.  We had some interesting birds including another Yellow-throated Vireo.  We saw an Immature Bald Eagle and a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (for size variety).  We also found the nests of a Baltimore Oriole, American Robin and Yellow Warbler.

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Most people are used to seeing the flamboyant Red-winged Blackbird.  At least they are familiar with the male.  The female is a very different looking and can confuse you if you aren’t already thinking blackbird.  She looks more like an overgrown sparrow, until you examine the beak.


American Redstart - first year male

American Redstart – first year male

Two weeks ago, I showed Carole’s photo of a male American Redstart.  The females are olive colored and have yellow patches where the male has orange.  But a first year male looks like a female, with a little orange under its wing near the “armpit”, which you can see in Carole’s photo.

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This is a great photo of a Baltimore Oriole in its orange glory.

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This Yellow Warbler has a green tint from the sun shining through the leaves.  We had a variety of sizes, a variety of colors, and a variety of bird groups.

Mariton: Another Tuesday Bird Walk

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

Last week, we ventured to northern New Jersey for the Tuesday bird walk.  We had to drive through rain and fog to get there, but once we arrived the day just got better and better.  Everyone got to see a Yellow-throated Vireo (which are easier heard than seen).  This was a great place to learn the song of the Least Flycatcher.  The Least is one of the 5 Empidonax Flycatchers that are virtually identical.  Habitat can be a clue, but hearing them is the only way to be sure which species you have.  (The Least says “che-BEK”).  We heard lots of Wood Thrushes, Ovenbirds,  and Red-eyed Vireos.  There was a load of different warbler species including Black-throated Green, Parula and Black and White.

Here are just a few of the birds that Carole captured with her camera up close:

Black and White Warbler singing

Black and White Warbler singing

This Indigo Bunting was brilliant and perched in the wide open.

This Indigo Bunting was brilliant, and perched in the wide open.

This Scarlet Tanager was so scarlet that we weren't sure it was real at first.

This Scarlet Tanager was so scarlet that we weren’t sure it was real at first.

Notice how this Prairie Warbler is perched on the tips of pine needles.

Notice how this Prairie Warbler is perched on the tips of pine needles.

A big thank you to Bill and Sharon for suggesting that we visit this area.  It was worth the drive for the variety of birds and the beautiful scenery.

Crow’s Nest: A Hike of their Own, Part 3

[Part 3 and conclusion of the story.]

…the good part—it was on video and the camera didn’t get wet. The bad part—Lily got very wet!


Then Lily went to catch crayfish with the boys and Nina and Joy went too. The crayfish hunters caught lots of crayfish and almost caught a salamander.

Then it was time to go so we radioed Molly so that she would be there with the car to pick us up and we walked out to meet her.

The kids met us at the cars for a ride back to the Visitor’s Center (we didn’t make them walk both ways!) for some lemonade. They were tired, happy, excited about the experience (even Lily, who had gotten soaked.)

In the weeks of planning for the hike, and in the week after, we saw a noticeable change in the dynamics of the group as what had been two separate groups (boys and girls) began spending more time together. The hike also increased their confidence—the next week we joked that they were going to lead the younger kids in the group on the same hike, and though they whined a little about doing such a long hike again, they had no problem with the idea of taking charge of the group.

This was a great experience for the kids, and I’d encourage you to have your kids try doing something alone that normally they’d do with an adult. (The actual activity should vary by age and ability, of course!) You—and your kids—might be surprised by what they are capable of! (As further reading on this subject, I’d also recommend Free Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy.)

Crow’s Nest: A Hike of their Own, Part 2

[The story continues… since this is a weblog you’ll have to scroll down to read the earlier part of the story.]

Nina said, “What?” and no reply came back.

At this point, Nina and Lily started freaking out a little. [Editor’s Note: That’s the description from one of the other kids, not from me.] Joy said, “Molly said ‘Only talk to me if it’s an emergency or if you’re updating me.’ So if this is a test we could tell her Lily fell and broke her leg.”


Still no response. We tried everything. So we sort of gave up. We decided if we got lost it would be okay. Joy and Nina knew safe plants to eat. And it would be ok (no, we mean fun) to live in the wild. Nina was planning to make a bow so she could hunt deer. [Editor’s Note: They were literally still within sight of the house of a Crow’s Nest staff person.]

Declan suggested we just go down the hill on the path and turn right [Editor’s Note: …which was the planned route] so we did that. Walking in the woods was really peaceful and we saw lots of cool things.





Soon we got to Mine Run. We were able to get there much quicker without any adults. AJ, Mikey, Declan, and Larsson went to catch crayfish. Nina tried Molly on the radio hoping for an answer…a voice came through! “Have fun” it said. MOLLY at last! [Editor’s Note: It had MAYBE been fifteen minutes.] So Lily, Joy, and Nina told her about what happened so far.


We took a few selfies with the camera and then Lily started taking a video walking through the water. She knew to be careful because the camera was “water resistant” not “water proof” by she fell in the water anyway. The good part—it was on video and the camera didn’t get wet. The bad part—Lily got very wet!

[To be continued…]

Crow’s Nest: A Hike of their Own, Part 1

This spring we had a group of 6th graders in our Thursday morning nature clubs who collectively have many years of experience at Crow’s Nest. They know the preserve well, and have routinely impressed us with how responsible they are, so we decided to give them a new challenge before they aged out of nature clubs at the end of the spring season: to go on a hike without any adults!

In the early part of the spring we did a little bit of planning for the hike each week: picking a destination and route; deciding what the kids needed to bring with them; reviewing how to use a compass; discussing what to do in an emergency. By the second-to-last week of the season they were ready, so we sent them off on their hike.

Below is a description of the hike written by the kids, the first installment of the story, to be continued in future entries.


We were leaving for our 6th grade hike. We got a walkie-talkie (which we couldn’t believe Molly let us have!) and a camera. Lily took about ten pictures before five seconds of our hike were even up. We told Molly over the radio when we got on the road. I could have just said that without the radio, because she was following us. [Editor’s Note: I was seeing them off, not “following” them.] We reported where we were all along the path through the fields and when we crossed Northside Road and all the way to the edge of the Deep Woods. We stopped for a drink a few times (yes, we were smart enough to bring water.)

When we got to the top of the hill and were ready to go into the woods, the exciting part happened: we radioed Molly to tell her where we were, and she said back, “Don’t forget to crackel pop vumvum.

Nina said, “What?” and no reply came back.

[To be continued]


Crow’s Nest Preserve: Signs of Spring—Wood ducklings

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


A female wood duck leads her ducklings along French Creek at Crow’s Nest Preserve while a Canada goose looks on… we are lucky to have forested creek sections that provide wood ducks’ habitat.

Crow’s Nest Volunteer Cleanup Success

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager. Photo by Jim Moffett

Well, I suppose the volunteers cleaned themselves up pretty well afterwards. But I can tell you they did a great job cleaning up part of an old dump at the preserve on Sunday!

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We collected two pick-up truck loads of cans, bottles, broken dishes and toys on a recently-acquired parcel of land. We’ll head back to this spot in the fall or early winter when it’s cooler and the vegetation has died back. We made a big dent in the pile this time. And we sure got dirty ourselves!


Green Hills Hike

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager. Photo by Lisha Rowe

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We had beautiful weather for a hike at Green Hills last Saturday, and an hour and a half was the right amount of time to cover the roughly two miles of trails.

Here I’m pointing out the damage weevils (Rhinoncomimus latipes) are doing to invasive mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) seedlings. The weevils were introduced in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to slow the spread of mile-a-minute; the weevil is native to Asia where it feeds only on mile-a-minute, a member of the buckwheat family. Researchers looking for a biological control of mile-a-minute chose this weevil because it only feeds on this annual vine that is so invasive in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The feeding on the leaves by adults weevils doesn’t have as much effect as when they lay eggs and the larvae burrows through the stem. We have observed a later flowering start—mid-July instead of late June, and therefore fewer seeds overall (since it flowers continuously until frost). And a shorter internodal length (the length of the stem between leaves). So perhaps it’s no longer mile-a-minute, just a half-mile-a-minute.

The hike wasn’t all about weeds though. Kelsey Boyd, a Planning Assistant in our Conservation Services Department, talked about the development of a management plan for Green Hills Preserve. This document is nearly finished and will help us prioritize projects over the next few years there.

And our Volunteer and Engagement Manager, Debbie Beer, also pointed out all of the birds she was observing along the way. You can see the list on eBird here.

Nature Revisited: You can go home again

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Back on February 9 in a Crow’s Nest blog entry I mentioned in passing that there was a park I visited as a small child where my friend and I were allowed to play in the woods and stream while his dad sat nearby with a newspaper and gave us the gift of supervised but unstructured play time in the woods. I couldn’t remember the name of the park and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. I was almost certain it was in Lower Merion Township, not far from where I grew up, but was not in my hometown itself.


Yesterday I was called to advise a volunteer group, Friends of Wynnewood Valley Park, on goals, objectives and strategies for managing invasive plants in a wooded section of a neighborhood park. I thought this might be the park, or perhaps if I had time I might drive around looking for other parks that might be it. I was delighted to see that this is the park, and that it is thriving and beautiful!


Most childhood places you revisit as an adult look much smaller than memory. Perhaps because the trees are so much taller now this park looks every bit as large and magical as I remember it.


Lower Merion Parks has an active volunteer group that is helping with weeding, mulching, and planting in this park.

I identify my time at this park as a major influence for why I chose a career in conservation. I also grew up across from a schoolyard, but that was mainly playing fields, little more than turf grass. (One time a nearby tree fell over, and until it was cleaned up it was our rocket ship and fortress. We also jumped off the bleachers with garbage-bag parachutes. We also played in an abandoned house and overgrown yard in our neighborhood, but my mom reads this blog so I’d better stop there. The point is, it doesn’t take a pristine natural area for a child’s imagination to work.)

In contrast Wynnewood Valley Park offered us a clean stream to build little dams in, a “mountain” to climb to reach the gazebo, all under the watchful eye of a parent (his other eye was reading the paper, remember. That’s important, he didn’t tell us what to do, or for that matter, what not to do). I am grateful for that time and space in my childhood and so glad that the park is still there and under such good stewardship.


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