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Archive for March, 2017

Mariton: Snow Mow

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

I mow the meadows at Mariton each year at the end of March. This year I had to start mowing before all of the snow melted at the bottom of the fields.  The brush hog was able to handle all but the first four passes.  The snow was gone by the time I finished mowing the other fields, so I was able to go back and finish the work.

Leaving standing vegetation over the winter provides food and habitat for wildlife. Waiting until the end of March to mow minimizes the time the fields lack cover.  In April, the ground heats quickly and plants soon sprout.  Walking the meadow trails daily in April is like watching those time elapse nature films.  (Of course you can’t experience the sounds, smells and fresh air by watching a video.)

All done, except the first few rows.

Vernal Pools

By Steve Eisenhauer, Regional Director of Stewardship and Land Protection

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that are covered by shallow water intermittently in winter and spring, but may be completely dry in summer and fall. Often threatened by development or other changes in land and water use, they are unique environments that provide essential habitat for many rare and important plants and animals.

At our New Jersey preserves, Natural Lands Trust has been working to restore valuable vernal pool habitat for wetland creatures like wood frogs, turtles, salamanders, and other important species.

At our Glades Wildlife Refuge in Cumberland County, staff installed “ditch plugs” in a series of woodland ditches on former agricultural land to keep fresh water from draining too quickly into the surrounding tidal marsh. The ditch plugs enhance existing vernal pools and as well as create new ones. They also help recharge groundwater, which staves off saltwater intrusion.

On a recent survey of the area, I noted that the early warm weather brought the wood frogs out in large numbers, resulting in loud daytime calling of male frogs looking to impress females. A few days after the above photo was taken, two masses of wood frog eggs were found in the same location, attached to submerged sticks (below). The eggs will hatch in approximately three weeks, depending on temperature.


Enhanced habitat for wood frogs and other amphibians also benefits the animals that prey on them, such as Barred Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks (both listed as “threatened” species by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection). Specialized plant species such as the cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor, right) also thrive in wooded wetland areas. Restoration of vernal pool areas and other important habitats not only help protect our freshwater resources, but they ensure that a diversity of habitat types are available to support the unique biological communities that call the Delaware Watershed and Bayshore area home.

This project received support from the William Penn Foundation whose Delaware River Watershed Initiative is an unprecedented collaboration of more than 50 leading nonprofits–including Natural Lands Trust–to protect and restore water quality in Delaware River watershed. Informed by science, the Initiative aligns priorities for land protection and restoration projects in these ecologically significant areas.

Mariton: Snow and the Vernal Equinox

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Last week, I would go inside during breaks in my plowing and shoveling to flip on the television to see the latest predictions. I found both disdain and amusement in the anchors who showed such shock that a winter storm could strike so close to the Vernal Equinox.  My, my.  I am ready for some spring too, but all things will come in good time.  Sitting on the tractor I knew there was verse that addressed my feelings on the situation.  Over the weekend I went to the bookshelves.  (Sure, I could have typed in a few key words and quickly found the poem.  It just isn’t the same – just as it isn’t the same to read about the outdoors without actually going outside.)  I found what I was looking for in Robert Frost’s The Onset. In high school I was attracted to Frost’s poetry. Sure, he wasn’t as hip as some of the modern poets, but he sure captured the many moods of nature.  He put into words the same things I had been discovering as a young woods walker.  In the following poem he also captured my mood about the latest snow fall.

The Onset

by Robert Frost

Always the same, when on a fated night

At last the gathered snow lets down as white

As may be in dark woods, and with a song

It shall not make again all winter long

Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground,

I almost stumble looking up and round,

As one who overtaken by the end

Gives up his errand, and lets death descend

Upon him where he is, with nothing done

To evil, no important triumph won,

More than if life had never been begun.


Yet all the precedent is on my side:

I know that winter death has never tried

The earth but it has failed: The snow may heap

In long storms an undrifted four feet deep

As measured against maple, birch and oak,

It cannot check the peeper’s silver croak;

And I shall see the snow all go down hill

In a water of a slender April rill

That flashes tail through last year’s withered brake

And dead weeds, like a disappearing snake.

Nothing will be left white but here a birch

And there a clump of houses with a church.


The world keeps turning.

Mariton: A Wee Bit o’ Green

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Thanks to St. Patrick I challenge anyone to find a snake at Mariton today. My wife gave me that little pearl of wisdom.  My wife could pass for Maureen O’Hara’s prettier sister.  Her grandparents spoke with a heavy brogue.  When asked if she is Irish, she adamantly replies, “I’m American!”   I loved that response when I first met her, and it still brings a smile to my face.  She is proud of her heritage, but she doesn’t need to proclaim it.  You can obviously see it in her blue eyes.

They say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Well even in the depths of winter, Mother Nature wears a little green.

Mariton: Storm Stats

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Our most recent nor’easter (March 14 & 15) was interesting. Nor’easters are high energy lows that often tap into coastal moisture (and warmth) before merging with a colder northern low.  Like all low pressure systems they rotate counterclockwise, so the winds start off in a north easterly direction.  A nor’easter packs strong winds.  If located off shore, those winds can lead to coastal flooding as water is continually pushed on shore with no escape.  Because of the high winds and drifting, it can be difficult to estimate snow depths.  The snow can be wet or dry depending on how much warmth the system picks up while forming in the south.

I generally don’t measure snow fall depths. While it is interesting, there is so much variability that I put more faith in my rain gauge after the precipitation is melted.  On Tuesday, I was about to start plowing around 11 a.m. as I didn’t see it snowing outside the window.  When I opened to the office door I discovered a down pour of soft sleet.  It was more like rain than sleet.  It didn’t fall as crystals, but it didn’t fall as drops either.  “It must have been sleet though, because the radar and weather forecasters all said there was absolutely no rain in the area.”  Anyways this heavy precipitation fell for about an hour.  Trust me, this type of precipitation affected snow depths.

The storm was interesting from a rain gauge standpoint. From the two day storm, I recorded 2.03 inches of melted precipitation.   Two inches is A LOT of water in a day and a half.  This however came as mixed precipitation.  To put it into perspective, with colder temperatures in the upper atmosphere this could easily have yielded 20 inches of snow.  Had this been a January storm with shorter days and extremely cold temperatures, we could have seen 30 inches or more of snow.  Yet, when I ran the snow blower through the grass for a snow depth indicator I couldn’t find more than 9 – 10 inches of snow.  That is why my rain gauge tells me more than a yardstick.

If you thought it was heavy to shovel you are right.  Two inches of water on a 18″ x 12″snow shovel weighs over 15 pounds.  You can do the math on how many shovelfuls you lifted.

Mariton: We Are Open

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

The parking lot is plowed and the walks are shoveled.  The trails are open for snow-shoers, cross-country skiers, and hardy hikers.  Just be careful out there.  There could still be some patches of ice.

Crow’s Nest: Splash blocks

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Aubrey installed this week a series of cobblestones under the dripline of the barn addition overhang. Without a gutter the rain falling off the roof was scouring away the soil beneath it. I’ll take credit (or blame) for the idea, but Aubrey, along with Riley, did all the work. Thanks also to the Building Stewardship guys for cutting a couple of the stones in half so they could be staggered. I think it looks great!

Glades: The birds & the bees… and the frogs

By Steve Eisenhauer, Regional Director of Stewardship and Land Protection

The wood frogs have been out in large numbers at many of our preserves, including Glades Wildlife Refuge. Males are loudly calling during the day for females, and some–like the ones I photographed here–are finding love.

The wood frog is believed to be the most cold-tolerant frog species in North America, and is the only frog found above the Arctic Circle.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website notes, “Wood frogs are well suited to a cold climate. They spend winters burrowed in the leaves that fell the previous fall. They stop breathing, their hearts stop beating, and ice crystals form within their hibernating bodies. A special antifreeze they produce keeps liquids from freezing inside their cells and killing them.”

Mariton: More Spring Preparations

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Nest box season is quickly approaching. I cleaned the boxes two weeks ago, and have been doing nest box maintenance.  Some boxes have been replaced completely, while others just received new roofs and some repairs.  Bluebirds have been checking the boxes for a few weeks now.  Now we just need longer days for the birds to get interested in nesting.

We also replaced the four bat boxes in the meadows this week. The bat boxes were originally installed as part of an Eagle Scout Project in July 2007.  Woodpeckers have bored some large holes in the boxes, and it was time to replace them.  Fortunately as part of his project, Austin built extra bat boxes for the future.  I have stored them all these years, moving them occasionally.  They are ten years old and dusty from sitting in the wood shop, but are otherwise brand new.

New bat box waiting for residents.

Hares Under Repair

Natural Lands Trust is restoring the iconic wooden rabbits that watch over County Line Road from their perch at the edge of Stoneleigh. These charming carvings were created by local chainsaw artist Marty Long in 2002. Long was commissioned by John and Chara Haas, the former estate owners, to depict the Haas family as hares (Haas means “hare” in German) for this playful sculpture, which includes two large rabbits—mom and dad—and five baby bunnies representing the five Haas children.

Photo by Kirsten Werner, staff member.

Over the years, the rabbits have been dressed up for holidays, graduations, and sporting events, becoming a beloved landmark in the community. But exposure to the elements over the years has taken its toll and now the wooden sculpture is crumbling. Natural Lands Trust acquired Stoneleigh in Villanova in April, 2016, through a generous donation from the Haas family. As a part of the extensive preparations for Stoneleigh to become a public garden, Natural Lands Trust prioritized refreshing the rabbit sculpture.

“Stoneleigh is a pretty spectacular place,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “But the thing I’m most often asked about since we acquired the property is the rabbit sculpture. Everyone loves it! We knew we needed to give the bunnies the rehab they deserved after more than a decade watching over the grounds.”

Stoneleigh includes stately trees, winding pathways, and lush gardens that the Haas family carefully stewarded over the decades. In the past, Chara and John Haas hosted friends and family for the annual Stoneleigh Stroll-About, where visitors could spot many rabbit references all over the gardens. Dennis Canakis, a longtime caretaker at Stoneleigh and currently the Property Manager at the garden, recalled the local relationship to the sculpture. “People know it’s just part of the community and adore it,” he said. “It was definitely a big attraction here. During the Stoneleigh Stroll-About people would always head toward the bunny sculpture.” When John and Chara Haas passed away in 2001 and 2012, respectively, the rabbits wore angel wings; some members of the community left flowers at the base of the sculpture.

Fortunately, artist Marty Long was available to carve a replica sculpture—a process expected to take up to a month—so the rabbits can continue to be the face of Stoneleigh.

Steve Shreiner of Shreiner Tree Care donated the white oak stump that will serve as the base of the new sculpture, as well as the services to transport and place it at Stoneleigh. This is a huge donation—literally—as the trunk weighs about 22,000 pounds! With this donation and the commitment of the original artist to this project, the rabbits will be rejuvenated and ready for their new life looking over Stoneleigh as it welcomes visitors once again.

Stoneligh: A Natural Garden, will open to the public in the spring of 2018.


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