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Archive for March, 2016

Old-growth daffodils?

By Steve Eisenhauer, Regional Director of Protection and Land Stewardship

Deep in the woods at our Harold N. Peek Preserve grow some ancient daffodils. Although perhaps not unlike daffodils sprouting at innumerable other old home sites in many other wooded areas, these daffodils bear reflection.

As the preserve’s namesake, Harold Peek, once told it, the King sisters were the last residents of a house that once stood here. All that is left today is a deep hollow area where the cellar was located, many walnut and hackberry trees (the older ones probably planted by the homesteaders and the younger ones growing as their offspring), and three concrete brick-lined depressions from long-gone silos. As the story goes, the King sisters’ house burned down 80 years ago or so, and they had to move. The fire was suspicious, since the King sisters were away from home at the time and a dispute had been ongoing about a timber harvest by a neighbor who questioned the property line. (I once visited the Cumberland County Historical Society in Millville to find out more details but, other than verifying the King family lived in this general area at the time, I could not locate anything else to substantiate the story.)

So, as far as I can tell, these daffodils were growing here 80 years or so ago. They may have been planted a century or two before that! Referencing the lifespan of daffodils, the literature refers to them as long-lived or “living “indefinitely.” Over time, domestic varieties of daffodils typically spread vegetatively, adding bulbs and crowding themselves to the point where flowering becomes less and less common. As seen in the photo above, in each clump of daffodil plants—that may have hundreds of bulbs at each base—only a few are still flowering. Gardeners will often separate the bulbs to replant them, thus reducing competition for water and nutrients, and stimulating more flowering. The daffodil patches at the King sisters’ home site are in what botanists call a “naturalized” state: they’re not invasive (spreading rapidly and pushing out native species) but are fitting into the forest landscape as a reminder of bygone human activity and as a welcome broadcaster that spring has finally arrived.

I couldn’t help noticing that a few of the blooms had spiders on them. Certain spiders, such as crab and flower spiders, take advantage of the limited color range in the eyesight of insects like bees. The spiders simply wait within or on blooms, in obvious sight of our human eyes, but almost invisible to the insects they’d like to eat. As some of the first flowers to bloom in spring, crab spiders gravitate to them to jump-start their own life-cycle, at the expense of a few insects. The spider on the flower in this photo resembles a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton), and seems to be mimicking those other spider species to try to get a meal.

So, whenever you see crowded daffodils growing in fields or forests, with little or no evidence of human residences nearby, take a closer look. The variety or species of daffodil you may be examining may have been one the Pilgrims planted. It may no longer be available to purchase. We may never know if the original bulb planted one or two or three hundred years ago in each patch is still alive today. It may have the prettiest flower you now see.  Or it may be long gone, with its countless descendants carrying on its life as identical genetic clones.

New species discovered at Glades Wildlife Refuge

In October of 2014, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog (Lithobates [Rana] kauffeldi) was introduced to the world as a new species. Although this Anuran (order of frogs and toads) had been observed throughout the wetlands of New Jersey as far back as 2003, it took modern technology–such as DNA and digital bioacoustic analyses–to convince the larger scientific community that the frog was unique. Often, L. kauffeldi was simply mistaken for one of the other leopard frog species in the Northeast, such as the southern leopard frog (L. sphenocephalus) or northern leopard frog (L. pipiens).

Atlantic Coast leopard frog, photo by staff member Brian Johnson

Atlantic Coast leopard frog at Glades Wildlife Refuge, photo by staff member Brian Johnson

As its name suggests, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog’s range is the northeastern coast of the US,  from central Connecticut to northeastern North Carolina. The species is thought to inhabit 10 states, but the entirety of its distribution and range is not yet known. They prefer to inhabit large wetland areas, such as marshes or wet meadows, with clear, shallow water. Our Glades Wildlife Refuge and Mauricetown Preserve (Cumberland County, NJ) offer ideal habitat.

“To me, they sound like wood frogs and southern leopard frogs calling together. I’ve been calling them wood frogs for years!” said Preserve Manager Brian Johnson. “It’s so amazing that a new species can still be discovered in our area.”

Listen to an audio recording of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog at Mauricetown Preserve, recorded by volunteer John Custer:

Celebration at Awbury Arbortum

Friday, March 11th, saw a party inside Awbury Arboretum’s Cope House in Philadelphia. Speakers from Natural Lands Trust, Awbury Arboretum, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and state legislators gathered to celebrate Natural Lands Trust’s permanent protection of Awbury Arboretum via conservation easement. (Under an easement, property remains in private ownership, but is protected from future development in perpetuity.) The arboretum, which covers 55 acres of wetlands, meadows, and other habitat, has been open to the public for nearly 100 years. Awbury - WCS essays - March 2016_Page_1

The day’s special guests were five students from the Wissahickon Charter School who frequently visit Awbury to learn and play. The students read moving essays about their love for Awbury and their experience listening to the rustle of the trees or watching the snow fall. In the middle of the city, this place is a natural playground for the children in the community.

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It was a reminder to everyone present what we are working for: our community, the children in the room,  and the children who will play in the shade of the beautiful, large trees of Awbury in the generations to come. The significance of this open space within the City of Philadelphia is extraordinary, and the celebration was a wonderful reminder of what’s been accomplished at Awbury Arboretum: saving the trees and trails, and the passing on the gift of shade, blossoms, and singing birds on to the next generation… all protected forever.

Photo by Mae Axelrod

Clockwise from left: Awbury Arboretum Board Chairman Mark Sellers, Natural Lands Trust President Molly Morrison, PA DCNR Regional Advisor Andrew Gilchrist, State Representative Stephen Kinsey, and students from the Wissahickon Charter School

Meanwhile back at Crow’s Nest…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) started blooming this week, although not as many as there will be of this abundant wildflower. I also saw one (so far) bloodroot flower (Sanguinaria canadensis). These are among the earliest native wildflowers we see along the roadsides, and they will be out in numbers on a sunny day soon. This progress means that round-lobed hepatica is almost certainly already blooming in the Deep Woods, though I haven’t gotten there to see it yet.

Last evening was the first time I heard a tentative trill of American toads added to the chorus of spring peepers. The wood frogs are mostly finished calling and breeding.

In addition to a garter snake who was too quick for the camera, this juvenile black rat snake has been hanging out in the stone wall by the visitor center.

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Green Hills: New kiosk map

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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We added a new, larger map to the kiosk this week at the parking lot trailhead. We hope you find it as functional as beautiful.

Notice also that we’ve had the two small meadows mowed. We will be seeding 91 acres of farm fields to grasslands this spring, so there will be many more meadows next year!

Crow’s Nest: Prescribed fires completed

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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We held a successful prescribed burn of four meadows at Crow’s Nest today. The predicted high winds never arrived, though light variable winds kept us on our toes. The dry conditions meant that we had unusually complete combustion for a burn here. Above we’re lighting the second meadow of the day, the meadow above the Chief’s Grove.

Most of the photos I took with my phone as I part of the crew. My wife Denise took the two photos below from the farm field across Piersol Road. They’re both of Crew Boss Darin Groff (right) and me as the fire passed the Chief’s Grove (that’s the bench by the grove at right).

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A prescribed burn is a controlled application of fire to a meadow under appropriate weather conditions and fuel moisture. This creates the conditions to promote the growth of native warm-season grasses and wildflowers in our meadows, and more closely mimics a natural process than mowing, an alternative we use when burning is not possible.

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We achieved the desirable upright column of smoke. Today we had such great flanking fires that we really didn’t have to tie off the ignition on the perimeter. The two backing fires came closed together like scissor blades and eliminated the fuel between them. A slow mowing backing fire, though less dramatic in flame height and appearance, is actually hotter at ground level, and offers better results for our objectives of clearing woody and invasive plants.

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This is the 22nd year of Natural Lands Trust’s prescribed fire program. While a few of us are still around from the early days we have many wonderful new crew members. We work really well together, each of the two crews anticipating the other’s moves with little need to communicate the obvious on the radios.

Over the next few weeks, weather permitting, we will try to burn at several other Natural Lands Trust preserves.

Mariton: More Trail Cam Photos

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Squirrel Highway

Squirrel Highway

I moved the trail camera about a month ago to another location. I wanted to try a larger opening.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but there was a log lying on the ground directly in front of the camera.  The log is a squirrel highway, and I got lots of photos of squirrels, or the tips of their tails, leaving the picture frame.

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Raccoons and foxes used the log occasionally.

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It isn’t a deer travel area, but I did get a couple photos.

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It was a bonus to capture a small flock of turkeys on the camera.  It wasn’t a total surprise; I had seen a lot of turkey sign in the area.

Green Hills: Clearing Access

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

So we did cancel today’s volunteer day, a big disappointment. (For the record, it is snowing out right now, but we could have gotten the workday in.) Knowing that snow was forecast we went to Green Hills on Friday and attempted to get some of the work done with chainsaws and brushcutters.

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We cleared a thicket of invasive plants that had closed off this old farm lane. The objective was to be able to get the truck in to clean up an old dump—and we did complete the access route! Below Aubrey clears the vines off of the debris. We’ll reschedule the volunteer workday to clean up this dump a bit later in spring.

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Crow’s Nest: Spring Creeping In

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Spring is arriving slowly in our native woods, despite the unseasonably warm weather we had two weeks ago. A couple of the most reliable early blooms are red maple (above) and alder (male catkins, below). Both have small flowers, only a tiny preview of what’s to come.

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Green Hills: Continuous improvement

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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In our efforts to make Green Hills more accessible and attractive we have installed an information kiosk at the parking area (new, larger map, coming soon). Luckily Cody (who is really, really good at digging holes) won’t be needed to prop up the kiosk cabinet—we added a second post for that.

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While we were there, we dug a couple more holes, to add this bench along the trails. Enjoy!

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