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Archive for July, 2016

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Three

By Daniel Barringer    Photos by Pete Smyrl

We’ve had a full schedule of camps, with a couple weeks to go! The youngest age group was at Crow’s Nest week for two, half-day sessions.


Our goals with this group is for them to become comfortable outdoors in just one part of the preserve, the “remote campsite” on Pine Creek. They ride a hay wagon over to the site each day and play in the creek and explore. Snacks are a welcome part of the day which is over all too quickly.


Aubrey and Molly planted and tended a sunflower house this year (more difficult than it sounds due to herbivory from moles and rabbits!) so the kids could play in it.


We look forward to watching these kids grow up in the the programs at Crow’s Nest!

Crow’s Nest plants we love: Buttonbush

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


A favorite plant here on the preserve is buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. It’s ball-shaped flower clusters are striking and their nectar is very popular with pollinators.

(I’ve written about my love of this plant before, here in 2012 and here in 2013.)

According to Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007) buttonbush is larval host to 18 species of Lepidoptera in our region including etherial promethean moth (Callosamia promethea), hydrangea sphinx (Darapsa versicolor), and saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea), [pp. 96-98].

A lot of our wildlife gardening is based on “plant it and they will come.” Buttonbush is a better choice than the non-native “butterfly bush” (Buddleja davidii) because although the latter attracts adult butterflies, its foliage does not support any species of North American butterfly larvae [p. 95]. Caterpillars only survive on the host species to which they are adapted.

Buttonbush prefers wet sites and is best planted at the back or in the middle of a butterfly garden. It has an irregular shape that is not suited to a formal landscape. But its beauty includes not just its pretty flowers, but the “flying flowers” they attract.

As natural areas have been replaced by houses, lawns, and non-native ornamental plants, habitat for butterflies has been lost. “To have butterflies in our future,” Tallamy writes, “we need to replace those lost host plants, no if’s, and’s or but’s.” [p. 95].

Mariton: Wild Bergamot Blooming

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

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on wild bergamot.

The wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is blooming in Mariton’s fields right now and attracting lots of insects. This plant seems to have expanded in our fields, and has really spread out in Meadow #3. You get a sense of that from the photo above. It is pretty impressive.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly


Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth

The hummingbird moth is a beautiful creature. It is a daytime moth that is smaller than a hummingbird, but really does resemble one the way it moves from flower to flower. Notice in this photo how the flower head is actually made up of several small flowers.

Some butterfly weed is still blooming in the meadows.

Pearl Crescent on Butterflyweed

Pearl Crescent on butterfly weed


Crow’s Nest: Xeriscaping in the East

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We don’t think about xeriscaping much in the East—but perhaps we should. Honestly, it takes me back to my urban forestry days (Morris Arboretum, USDA Forest Service, and various small town street tree councils) to think about it.

Xeriscaping is landscaping for low levels of water, appropriate to places that receive little rainfall. Usually it involves planting native species that are adapted to needing little water. Not lawns, but not necessarily cacti either.

We usually get generous amounts of rainfall in the East, but it can fall in uneven patterns. And certain landscapes, whether due to extensive concrete, rain shadows from surrounding buildings, or poor soils, can be drought-prone.

The landscape outside the intern apartment at Crow’s Nest is one example (you can read about planting it here). The slope outside the house is imported fill, and this west-facing exposure is at the top of the hill and subject to blazing conditions daily. I chose to plant only plants that could survive these conditions, a tall order since drought-tolerant species of the East are typically so-adapted because of sandy soils that drain too quickly, not the clay soils we have.


We are aided by the addition of a fountain in the garden; the sound soothes even as it cools the immediate area. Though it recirculates the water and is on a timer so that it is not always on, it does evaporate about two gallons per day, about twice as much as the whiskey-barrel water garden at our old house that was on the east side of the house and in more shade.

But a fountain is not the spirit of xeriscaping—ours is really there to create an aural separation between the two dwelling units. Now it also has the advantage of masking the new radon-exhaust fan with the sound of burbling water.

Xeriscaping is achieved with the choice of plants. And those on this hill are doing pretty well despite the nearly complete lack of rainfall this summer (you might have gotten rain where you live, but we managed to miss most of it). Lawns are dormant, shrubs and trees are flagging, even warm-season crops are stressed.


This planting has not yet had a chance to mature, to fill in and hide the mulch, which I planned that it will do. And although most of the plants have not yet bloomed this year the bed still delights. Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) and rattlesnake master (Eryginum yuccafolium) shrug off the drought with their grey-green leaves. The mint makes a nice scent to brush past on the way to the intern apartment porch.

The native prairie grasses lend their fine texture and adaptability to difficult conditions: Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) are among them.

The flowers that fill in the spaces include the feathery-foliaged tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata), wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), and a couple species of prairie asters (Symphotrichum or Aster, depending on the day of the week).

If there is a criticism to be leveled at this planting, it is that it likely creates a novel community—that is, it includes species which might not normally grow together and create the kind of natural habitat that we are maintaining elsewhere on the preserve. On the other hand, it uses native species that will support pollinators and insect herbivores, and thrives in a location that might otherwise be barren. It looks beautiful and brings joy.

This residence is at the far end of the Creek Trail as you work your way back toward Piersol Road. A hiking trail runs right up our driveway so feel free to stop over and see this garden for yourself!

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Two

By Daniel Barringer  Photos by Pete Smyrl

Our second week of camp, for 4th and 5th graders, was also a huge success. It’s always amazing to see how different groups use the same materials yet do different things.


The fallen log at the creek became a volleyball net.


These kids also sent seed balls of native wildflowers flying into the meadow.


There are always trees to climb, and ways to slide down out of them…


The days were filled with building in the scaffolding in the forest, small group hikes, stream time, games and crafts.


“Create” is the root of “recreation”.

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

A great day of canoeing with good friends in the Adirondacks.

A great day of canoeing with good friends in the Adirondacks.

Maureen and I went to the Adirondacks this summer on a “working” vacation (I taught classes at the Adirondack Canoe Symposium). We arrived several days early to camp and canoe with friends.  We had a great campsite, and with just a short carry* from our tent we could canoe.  (*In the Adirondacks, portages are known as carries.)  Every day we awoke to Hermit Thrushes singing and went to sleep with Loons yodeling.  And it was cool during one of the hottest weeks at home.

Canoeing in the bog.

Canoeing in the bog.

One of our day trips had us canoeing through a bog. Our friends and I had a great time botanizing.  We saw Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), Bog Rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla), Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea), Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris), and Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) all in bloom.  We also found a lot of Sundews (Drosera intermedia) along the edge of the bog, although they were not flowering.

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemiolium) at one of our lunch spots.

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemiolium) at one of our lunch spots on a piney island (not a bog).

We came across several pairs of loons with babies as we pond-hopped one day. We got to see the babies riding on their parents’ backs.  We had to laugh at one baby that was a little too big for piggy-back.  Another pair was teaching the babies to find their own food.  The parents would catch small fish and impair them enough that the chicks could catch them when they were dropped back into the water.

One "carry" on a d ay of pond hopping. We were traveling light (no camping gear).

One “carry” on a day of pond hopping. We were traveling light (no camping gear).

One of the things that I really like about the Adirondacks is the regional approach to land protection. The Adirondack Park is huge.  In fact, it is the largest protected natural area in the lower 48.  (Yes, you could put several large National Parks within the confines of the Adirondacks.)  Natural Lands Trust also adopted a regional approach to land protection several years ago.  Obviously, NLT works in a region that is much more developed, and our resources are more limited.  Still, we have protected an outstanding patchwork of lands in Eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.  It makes me proud to work for an organization that is making the place where millions of people live more habitable by providing natural areas where they can re-create locally.  In some ways NLT’s work is even more important, because more people have easy access to these natural areas.

I absolutely camp in the Adirondacks to see Rose Pogonia and hear loons, but it is a busman’s holiday on another level. I get to be the visitor without seeing the “to do list” of unfinished work.  I come home with a better appreciation and new perspective- which is re-creation at its very core.

Green Hills Preserve: Gazebo then and now…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I really love then and now pictures, and while I didn’t set out to take these two, I stumbled across somewhat similar images in my photo library and wanted to share. There is a gazebo at Green Hills that predates the preserve. It was covered in poison ivy but was surprisingly sound.

I haven’t even had time to get back to finish repainting it, but still the improvements have been dramatic. This is what the site looked like in January:

IMG_8343And in June:

The funny thing is, the gazebo is not located on any of our existing trails (yet). So as I was painting I knew that very few people would be able to appreciate my labor. We’re not quite ready to build the next loop of trails (planting grasslands and making some other habitat improvements has come first, and we have a limited budget). But when the trails reach here the gazebo will be stabilized and ready to be enjoyed. That’s stewardship.

At the natural playground…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I have been off this week at home with our son. We’ve done plenty of work around the homestead at Crow’s Nest, building a new raised garden bed, planting (and watering!) trees, and moving our cattle to fresh pasture. (We also worked on learning to ride a bicycle, built Legos, and cooled off in French Creek, which is make-me-scream cold, perhaps 30+ degrees colder than the air temperature mid-afternoon.)

Today we took our puppy to an veterinarian appointment and I found myself not far from NLT’s Cheslen Preserve. Why not visit Ollie Owl’s Nature Play Ground there? I mean, tonight is Friday Night Lights (sold out!) but things should be quiet there this early in the day.

I have been to the playground in a professional capacity, looking at its design with colleagues. But I hadn’t yet visited with a child. I’m pleased to report that it was a hit.

First we stopped at the restrooms (thank you!). Then I was happy to find that dogs (leashed!) are allowed in the playground. That was a relief since there was no way to leave a dog in the car in today’s heat. I hadn’t planned the side trip but did have water, leash, bowl, and treats. We stopped to admire the native wildflowers at the visitor center. I know how much work staff and volunteers put into these beds and it really has paid off!


After we walked down into the beech forest hollow where the playground is located Owen and I walked around to each of the features and read all the signs. There was nobody else there, but he was content to try out the teepees, log bridge, seesaw, stumps, and musical instruments. Below, the dog mugs for the camera (note the leash!).


The way the playground was really a success happened after I sat down out of the way and Owen explored on his own. It’s not a flashy place but kids will find plenty to observe and do there. He looked for earthworms, swung from a grapevine, and crawled into a hollow tree. It made a great excursion on an otherwise chore-driven day.




Crow’s Nest: Camp 2016 Week One

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

We have a week off from camp due to the short week of Independence Day but last week we had a great first week of 5th-6th camp! The theme—the Sun—was picked up in some of the crafts and projects. Below, making paper mache planets for the solar system in the barn.


Building Stewardship Staff loaned us (and set up) their scaffolding in the woods to make a community space in the tree canopy. The kids built this into spaces for their activities this week:



Then we ran a small zip line through the trees:


Other projects included making solar ovens with pizza boxes (great for making nachos) and small group hikes covering various topics. The Crow’s Nest Challenge Hike used a three-mile hike from top to bottom on the preserve to represent the solar system with scale-relative edible treats at their appropriate orbits.

A special project was making and deploying “seed balls”—small balls of clay, compost, and native wildflower seed—lofted into the meadows using a giant slingshot. We hope that this will augment the pollinator species there with a mosaic of wildflowers.


Mariton: June Trail Cam Photos

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

Gratuitous Cute Fawn Photo.

Gratuitous Cute Fawn Photo

I moved the Trail Camera a month ago to a trail that has an intermittent mud puddle. The puddle holds water after it rains, but dries out quickly.  I expected to see some animals using the water in the puddle because I see tracks there.  I didn’t get any photos of animals actually drinking from the puddle, but I did get a lot of photos of deer using the trail.  In particular, two different does (both of them have two fawns) are using the area frequently.

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How do I know that these are two different does?  *

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(The photos with both fawns are mostly blurred or cut off.  By going through the photos I can piece together the information.)

*Look at the does’ right ears (on your left).


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