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Archive for February, 2016

Happy 100 years National Park Service, and one week to the Flower Show!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

The National Park Service turns 100 this year, and it’s time to celebrate! I believe, as Ken Burns and Duncan Dayton assert in the PBS documentary, that the creation of National Parks is America’s Greatest Idea. If someone only has a weekend to explore the Philadelphia region, the top two places I direct people to visit are Independence and Valley Forge National Historic Parks. And you know if you visit National Parks, people come from all over the world to see their wonders and history.

This century milestone is being celebrated at the Philadelphia Flower Show this year, and the event begins in less than a week! The flower show theme is Explore America: 100 Years of the National Park Service, and it promises to be spectacular. The Philadelphia Flower Show is the among the most magnificent of flower shows in the world and is timed to give us an early breath of spring when it is most needed at the end of winter.

Crow’s Nest: More looking west at dawn

By Daniel Barringer


I see the title phrase above as a metaphor for looking for beauty in unexpected places… especially needed at this time of year as we yearn for spring. We’ve had gullywashing rains that have blown out some trails; it’s mud season, and nothing is green yet. But it’s February for a few more days, so that’s the way it is. There’s still beauty and promise in the world.


We did have some spring firsts this week. Some yellow-spotted salamanders and wood frogs did indeed migrate the other night, and will be active in wetlands that still have ice. I heard the first spring peepers calling and the first buzzy “Peet” of a woodcock. Snow geese are migrating high above. It won’t be long now; being impatient won’t make spring arrive any sooner.

Crow’s Nest: Tonight’s the night (maybe)!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


There’s a fair chance that the rain tonight, with the temperature rising, could mean this is the first night of amphibian migrations. The yellow-spotted salamanders and wood frogs are about to move from winter shelter underground in upland woods to the vernal pools where they breed. This mass migration is a spectacle to behold!

If you have to be out on back roads this evening near woods and wetlands, be very slow and cautious. Not only are the critters often forced to cross roads during the migration, there are also volunteers out to try to keep them safe on their road crossings.

Crow’s Nest: Mud Season

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


It is that time of year, as snow melts and moisture frozen in the ground softens, that we refer to as mud season. Conditions are roughest on the Creek Trail, where flooding last week made a mess (see above).

The boardwalk is tethered so it won’t float away, but it did shift a bit. We put it back yesterday with a come-along (tied to a tree across the creek) and a digging bar. The boardwalk was built in place; it can’t easily be moved!

If you plan to hike here, be aware that the frozen mud shown in the picture is likely to be a quagmire as the days warm up. The trail isn’t officially closed but you might want to try the Deep Woods Trail, Fox Hill Trail, or Hopewell Trail as alternatives.

In other news, there’s fresh beaver sign along the Creek Trail. They seem to be preferentially cutting oak trees. We’ll be putting wire around a few of the trees we’d like them not to cut.


Crow’s Nest: Summer will come!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


I’m thinking that about now you’re ready to be reminded that summer will return, it will be hot again, and there will be a riot of color in our woods and meadows!


Enjoy the frigid landscape while it’s here!


Easement monitoring

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

As always I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with landowners who have conserved their lands with conservation easements. I have been visiting many of these same lands for 15 or more years and enjoy comparing notes on land stewardship with the owners and watching how the landscape changes. These trees below were planted as seedlings to serve as a windbreak in a pasture.IMG_8735 copy copy (1) The photo below I took in 2002 of an old field undergoing succession. Cedars are filling in among the grasses.


Today in the same spot there are magical tunnels under the cedars. Some day these will give way to canopy trees in a forest.


Crow’s Nest: Winter white

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Finally, a pretty winter storm!




Mariton: Winter Green

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

As preserve managers we often cue in on green in the winter landscape.  These winter greens often indicate non-native, usually invasive plants.  Over time we develop the ability to identify an invasive plant off in the distance just by what birders call GISS (General impression, shape, and size).

Native green in the winter landscape

Native green in the winter landscape

Mariton is graced by several native plants that stay green during the winter.  So, finding green here often raises hope for the spring, rather than alarm.  At Christmas I wrote about Christmas Ferns.  Even after spending two weeks crushed beneath two feet of snow, the ferns above still look fresh and vernal.  Even the mosses in this photo are bright a cheery.

A hillside of green natives.

A hillside of green natives.

The native rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) abounds at Mariton, adorning hillsides with its green foliage throughout the year, and its white blossoms in late June.

Two of my favorite winter greens.

Two of my favorite winter greens together.


Stunning Footage of Bear Creek Preserve

Thank you to Joshua Miller for compiling this gorgeous footage of snowy Bear Creek Preserve.  This incredible drone footage takes you over the water and through the woods of our 3,412-acre preserve. This video may be how the songbirds that migrate through Bear Creek see our preserve.


Crow’s Nest: On my winter night table…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


More like “On my coffee table” since this is a large and beautiful book…

Over the last couple months I have been working my way through this complex book on landscape design by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Timber Press: 2015).

Not to drop names here, but I have met one of the authors at a book club meeting a few years ago. I met Claudia West long before I knew that she was working on a book. Probably, though, she knew she would be writing a book.

West and Rainer do not advocate a strictly native approach but focus instead on resilient landscapes that use native species and substitute non-native species when they can be functional analogs. These are low-maintenance spaces that look natural and, in our drastically human-altered world, function like natural places in providing habitat, flowers for insect pollinators, and beauty and inspiration for our senses.

Rainer is from the U.S. His story is one of habitat lost to suburban development—and what can we do in our own landscapes to make up for that. West is from the former East Germany and her story is about how resilient nature is—how it has come back in just a couple decades since industrial ravages there curtailed.

Like others who design natural landscapes, Rainer and West ask us to observe natural communities of plants and replicate some of their principles. Plants don’t naturally grow in beds surrounded by mulch—they are members of communities that share cultural requirements (conditions under which they grow well) and they weave amongst each other, filling available niches.

What sets their design principles apart is the vertical layering of plants. A typical “plan view” of a landscape design may show all areas occupied, but when you look at it at the ground view, many spaces under tall plants are empty, a place for mulch and weeds. The authors identify layers of structural and framework plants, seasonal theme plants, and ground-covering plants to fill in between. There are no sweeping masses of single species; groups of plants interact with each other and the site.

When a community is designed, as opposed to a random assemblage of plants, maintenance shifts to management. No longer are we caring for individual plants, but we are managing the conditions under which the community thrives and flows (my shorthand for the dynamic changes that also occur). The authors note that management is an affirmation that, “…design does not happen solely during the initial act of creation” (p. 61).

The photos of gardens and natural habitat are inspiring. When I have the opportunity to plan and plant I hope to employ as many of these concepts as I am able. This book joins Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden and Rick Darke’s and Doug Tallamy’s The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden on my bookshelf for inspiration and reference.







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