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Archive for June, 2016

Mariton: Rhodies are Blooming

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

Rhododendron blossoms

Rhododendron blossoms

One of the things I consider a “natural wonder” of Mariton is the blooming of the Rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum).  This native “rhody” holds soils on the steep slopes below the Main and Chimney Rock Trails.  Besides being steep this section has a northeasterly aspect making it a little cooler and darker.  The rhodies love it.  It is tough to get a photo that shows all the blossoms on the hillside, but it is spectacular in person.

A riot of rhodies.

A riot of rhodies.

The native doesn’t bloom until late June, unlike the rhododendrons planted in yards . Right now there are still lots of flower buds that haven’t opened, so I think they will look nice into early July.  Every year I anticipate the blooming.   How many blossoms will open each year is unpredictable (at least for me).  I have been watching these trees for over 20 years and still haven’t figured out why some years every tree is covered with flowers, and other years there are only a few blossoms scattered across a forest full of Rhododendrons.  Another reason it is a natural wonder for me.

If you visit to behold the spectacle I recommend walking out the Woods Trail to the Main Trail, and then follow the Chimney Rock Trail for a ways. You will be able to put your face right into the blossoms without having to stray off the trail, where you might damage other wildflowers.  If you don’t mind the climb, walk down (you will have to walk back uphill) the River Lookout Trail for a view of a hillside of rhodies in bloom.

Paunacussing Preserve

*click on images to make larger

Dirt: An Essential Ingredient for Childhood

dirt 1
1.  Did you know dirt is good for our brains? Certain types of bacteria that are naturally found in soil can activate the neurons that produce serotonin, a key natural anti-depressant. In other words, dirt can actually help make us—and our kids—feel happy.

2.  A little bit of dirt can boost the immune system, especially in children. Recent studies indicate that early exposure to the naturally occurring microbes in soil help build stronger, more disease-resistant children. These findings may explain the rising rates of autoimmune and allergic diseases in sterile, antibiotic-saturated countries like the U.S.

3.  If you’ve read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, you’re familiar with the term “nature-deficit disorder.” In our technology-driven world, kids are opting for screen time instead of outdoor play, a trend that has been linked to attention disorders, depression, and obesity.

4.  Children who play outside laugh more—up to 20 percent more—which lowers their blood pressure and stress levels.

5.  Outside play develops important character traits. Kids who spend time outside are more adventurous, self-motivated, self-aware, and cooperative, and they are better able to understand and assess risk.

OllieLogoVerticalYou bring the kids, we’ll provide the dirt!

Ollie Owl’s NaturePlayGround is the newest edition to our ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township, Chester County. Like walking into a secret garden, an interactive trail leads kids to a forest playground with a log bridge, tee-pees made of branches, shallow streams perfect for splashing, tree stumps to climb and jump on, a wooden see-saw, and more. Loud, silly, messy, creative, and “unstructured” play is encouraged!

The NaturePlayGround is open daily, dawn to dusk. Stop by to explore with your kids anytime, or register for one of our upcoming Nature Play Days. These open-house-style events include a story and craft based on the book we’ll read, as well as light refreshments. Natural Lands Trust staff and volunteers will be on hand to welcome you to the play area and guide activities.

(Photos clockwise from top left: Dan Barringer, Molly Smyrl, Pete Smyrl, Steve Eisenhauer, Oliver Bass, Pete Smyrl, Steve Eisenhauer, Molly Smyrl)

Mariton: 26th Butterfly Census

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

Coral Hairstreak

Coral Hairstreak

We held the Annual Butterfly Census on Saturday morning. Dating back to 1991, this was the 26th butterfly count at Mariton.  We ended up with 15 species and 120 butterflies.  The species count is a little low from recent counts, but the individual count is similar to recent years.  It felt like there were less butterflies this year (with the exception of Great-spangled Fritillaries and Silver-spotted Skippers which were abundant).  The milkweeds and butterfly weed are blooming, which is usually a good attractant.  It will be interesting to see if some of the butterflies we expected to get on the count show up in the fields over the next few weeks.  Mariton definitely has great pollinator habitat to attract butterflies.  More importantly, the diversity of food plants for caterpillars translates into diverse butterfly species.

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail



Crow’s Nest: Down the river…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We were excited this week to host a group of students exploring land and water issues as they travel down the Schuylkill River through a program called Schuylkill Acts and Impacts, a partnership of the Schuylkill Headwaters Association and the Fairmount Water Works. This is their third year camping here and learning about Crow’s Nest Preserve and Natural Lands Trust. (You can see photos of this year’s trip on their Facebook page.)

The students collected water quality data daily as they kayaked from the upper reaches of the watershed to Philadelphia. Here we made the connection between land stewardship and water quality, how agriculture and forest land affect water quality. We had s’mores at the campfire while engaging in discussion about stewardship and the following day hiked several miles of the trails here. As a service project the students made seed balls with native wildflower seed, clay and compost, and launched them into a meadow to augment the diversity there.

This is a great program that we love hosting; the students bring a fresh perspective to our work here and ask a lot of insightful questions.

Mariton: Summer Mourning Cloak

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

MEBUS MourningCloakMaritonField0621

We had a Mourning Cloak butterfly on Tuesday’s Butterfly Walk. This is one of the first butterflies to appear in the late winter.  They overwinter as adults in the leaves.  Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas are good reasons not to remove every last leaf from your yard in the fall.  I figure it is good to have piles of leaves around the foundations and in flower beds over the winter for insulation, as well as butterfly habitat.

MEBUS MourningCloakMaritonField0621-SideShot (2)

The Mourning Cloaks that we see in March are pretty and a reminder of things to come. The one we saw this week was “freshly minted” as we say, and much more intense than the March butterflies.  The blue dots along the edge of its upper wing were brilliant.  The cream border along its under wing was rich.  This is one of those butterflies that was made for binoculars.  Perched in the vegetation it looks subdued (as funeral attire often is), but when you look at the butterfly up close and undisturbed, you remember that those paying respects can mourn and celebrate life at the same time.

Our butterfly count is this Saturday. Hopefully we will see this species and many others on the count.

Crow’s Nest: Welcome Michael Rahling

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


We are fortunate to have summer intern Michael Rahling joining the crew this season doing land stewardship at Crow’s Nest Preserve. He is a recent graduate of Hobart College and has had experience doing land management, leading summer camps, and doing environmental research here and abroad.

Michael has already been here a few weeks and is helping us with much-needed projects around the preserve as we prepare for the upcoming five weeks of summer camp. Welcome, Michael!

Mariton: Butterfly Season

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

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyrs were numerous last week on our butterfly walk. There were considerably less of them this week.  We are nearing the end of this spring’s brood, and likely won’t find any next week.  The caterpillars of this species feed on grasses, and the butterflies are usually found in the shade of trees along the edge of fields.  It is small but handsome, with its many eyespots that help to confuse predators.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

There were quite a few Spring Azures this week. This is a very small butterfly, but adds bits of blue as it spreads its wings and rises up from the vegetation.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary on an early milkweed.

Great-spangled Fritillaries are one of the most common butterflies at Mariton. This orange butterfly is often mistaken for Monarchs when flying because of its color and size.  There is plenty of food for both species’ caterpillars here (fritillaries eat violets, Monarch eat milkweeds).  Next week, the milkweeds should be in full bloom at Mariton.  Milkweed blossoms attract many species of butterflies for the nectar.  We should have a good morning next week.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Butterfly season is when we seem to see more Common Yellowthroats. We hear them on almost every bird walk, but after their young hatch they seem to come out of the thick brush for better viewing.  This male has a moth in its bill that it was taking to the nest.  They are stunning warblers and have a wonderful song to go along with their looks.

Green Hills: The Rain Garden Rain

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Sooo, we planted native perennials and shrubs in the rain garden, and we had (a little) rain. But what about the last week, when we have had desiccating winds, sunny warm days, and no precipitation from the sky?

When their roots are well established these plants will be able to handle a wide range of moisture—that’s why these species were chosen as good rain garden plants. (See a Penn State Cooperative Extension list here.)

But until then? I’m spot watering each of them every evening after work. The 125 gallon tank stays on the truck and gravity feeds the hose. It’s a bit labor intensive but my son comes with me and we have a good time watching the wildlife and meeting the after-work preserve visitors whom I wouldn’t ordinarily get to meet—I’d rarely spent any time at Green Hills at dusk.

It’s still touch-and-go but we’ll try to give these plants the best possible opportunity. A good rain will fill the basin under the plants and provide plenty of water for a couple days.

Crow’s Nest & Green Hills: Thank you volunteers!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We are thankful for all our volunteers, without whom we would not be able to get all our work done. The Owen J. Roberts Club came over to Crow’s Nest this spring and pulled invasive garlic mustard. Here they are with bags of garlic mustard they collected after school from an otherwise pristine habitat area at the preserve. Special thanks to Margot Taylor from Green Valleys Association for organizing the outing.

Volunteers play an important role in these labor-intensive projects. I may just be speaking for myself, but as much as we on staff enjoy pulling garlic mustard, there is a point each spring where we experience “garlic mustard fatigue.” Many hands make light work.

DSC_0196 (1)

Last weekend volunteers planted plugs of native wetland wildflowers in the rain garden at Green Hills, shortly before it rained. You do the math: the two hour project would have taken me, alone, perhaps ten hours. Thank you all!



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