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Stoneleigh: Air Power

By Ethan Kauffman, director of Stoneleigh

Work continues at Stoneleigh as we ready the property for its public debut (spring, 2018).

Last week, our friends at Shreiner Tree Care once again helped us out (they also donated their services to crane in the massive white oak stump used to carve our famous hare sculpture) by doing some air spade work for us.


The work was part of the installation of a porous-pavement walking path around the property. The air space lets us blow soil away without damaging tree roots, so we could note the exact location of roots that would be impacted by construction of the path. That way, we can adjust the location of the path slightly to avoid damaging the ancient trees here at Stoneleigh.

If we can’t relocate the path in a spot, the next best option is to cleanly cut the exposed roots. This not only allows them to heal more effectively, but also prevents lateral tearing of roots further back towards the tree, which can increase exposure to rot and disease, and is generally very bad.

In the photos, you can see two air spades trenches, each representing the outside edges of the trail. It’s interesting to note that the further the trench is from the tree (even only 6 feet), the roots are much smaller, and therefor less critical to the trees continue growth.

 

A Snake Enjoying the Sun

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

Earlier this week when Josh Saltmer (Bear Creek Preserve) and I were monitoring easements, Josh spotted black snakes in two different locations. I thought they might have been the more common Black Rat Snake.  When I got back to the office I checked my photos and the guides and then realized they were Northern Black Racers (Coluber constrictor constrictor).  Both of the snakes were probably  four to five feet long and sunning themselves when Josh spotted them.  Once discovered, they didn’t stay still for a clear photo.  The one quickly slithered up a tree when we tried to get its photo.  It was gone when we returned to the spot about 30 minutes later.

Mariton: Bluebirds Expecting

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

There are Bluebird eggs in two of Mariton’s nest boxes. Nesting activity started in one of the boxes on March 27 this year.  The two nests were started about a week apart.  One nest has 5 eggs; the newer nest has one egg so far.

There is also a moss nest started. It is probably a Chickadee nest, but I’ll have to wait to know for sure.

 

Crossings

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

Josh crossing a very deep section of creek.

Josh Saltmer (Bear Creek’s Preserve Manager) and I have been working in the Poconos monitoring conservation easements.   A lot of these easements were established to protect important water resources as well as unique habitats.  With all the rain we received in March and April we have been trying to avoid wet feet.  We have been crossing creeks on logs,  hummock jumping and making treks looking for shallow crossings.

This photo was taken several years ago, when the deck was much better. We still cross it to access a wonderful piece of protected property.

It has been a few years since I monitored these easements and it is good to be back on them again.  Like many of our easements, they protect a slice of history:  habitats that were once common in their region, but are being lost to development.  I often remark that when Mariton’s founders protected this property it was just like every other chunk of abandoned farmland in the township.  Fifty years later, most of those parcels are growing houses, and Mariton is unique.  The Pocono region has experienced exponential “growth”.  It amazes me how much more traffic we have to negotiate since I last monitored these easements.  So, it is good to thank the people with foresight who protect these important pieces of our heritage.  And it is important to take a moment to think about how to cross the obstacles to protecting more of our natural resources.

 

Mariton: First Quarter Precipitation

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

The first quarter of the year (January – March) carried a little extra precipitation to help the deficit of 2016. January was close to average.  February was about an inch below average, and March was 2 inches above average.  In the end we received 11.98 inches of precipitation for the first quarter, compared to the average of 10.67 inches.

March had over 6 inches of precipitation thanks to a lot of rain. The snow storm mid month yielded over 2 inches of melted precipitation, which is a lot of water in a 36 hour period.  It still wasn’t the wettest March at Mariton.  In 2010, we received 7.45 inches of precipitation.  Looking back at my records, we received 3.10 inches of rain that year starting March 13 and ending March 16 (the same time frame as this year’s snow storm).  Imagine how much snow that would have yielded.

Crow’s Nest: Prescribed Fire today

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Today we held our first prescribed fire of the year—very late! The late snow and rain that followed has compressed our season. We’re grateful for the opportunity nonetheless.

Above, intern Riley Clark-Long lights one line of the fire. We provide the opportunity for training for prescribed fire for our interns each year. This winter Riley completed Federal courses in Wildland Firefighting and Wildland Fire Behavior, and took training and a physical fitness test with the rest of Natural Lands Trust staff that conducts prescribed burns.

Above, the other crew, led by Sean Quinn (an intern from years ago, now Preserve Manager at NLT’s Cheslen Preserve) works its way up the hill toward us. We have to create a black line (a burned-out edge) that stays ahead of any fire they send toward us.

We strive for an upright smoke column (above). That means there is sufficient heat generated in the meadow for our management goals, and also disperses the smoke out of the immediate neighborhood.

That’s our house in the background (above). Now we can watch the field green up from our porch. It will do that quickly over the next couple weeks.

Above and below, before and after photos of a high-bush blueberry in the second meadow we burned today. Even with all the rain we had last week, the surface fuels (grass and dead leaves) are very dry, yet underneath the ground is wet enough to get a vehicle stuck (we didn’t, though).

I also like clean edges on our prescribed fires—they’re a sign of the intentionality of what we’re doing. Prescribed fire more closely mimics a natural activity than mowing, the other alternative for maintaining meadows in our region. We burn our meadows on about a 5 – 6 year rotation, and mow most of them once a year in between.

Thank you to the Natural Lands Trust team of Land Stewardship staff who cooperates to make these burns possible.

Mariton: Hi-Ho Silver

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

This marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the partnership between Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary and Natural Lands Trust. In 1992 the two boards signed a management contract that detailed the working relationship between the two organizations.   Natural Lands Trust would take on the day to day management of the property.  Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary would remain its own entity and would fund operations.  The partnership provided a small organization, like Mariton, a network for managing staff insurance and benefits, as well as resources for large physical projects.

I was hired on April 6, 1992, twenty-five years ago today.   I started work on the property two weeks later.  Over the years I have had a good working relationship with Mariton’s Trustees while remaining an NLT employee.  This could be a tricky line to walk, but it never was for me because there was always a great staff at NLT, and a great group of Trustees at Mariton.  I have managed to keep the budget within Mariton’s means, which continues to be a challenge.  Over 25 years, I’ve witnessed changes in the forest that precipitated changes in the animals that call Mariton their home.  I’ve learned a lot about resource management from seeing what worked and what didn’t over the course of decades.  And I have really enjoyed the Friends of Mariton, and the educational programs that I started here .

After 25 years, I realize that this partnership has been a great benefit to both organizations, and I feel honored to have played a role. I doubt I’ll work at Mariton for another 25 years, but I am excited about the future.

Mariton: Band Aids for Chestnut Trees

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

American Chestnuts have issues. Since the early 1900’s a fungus that results in Chestnut Blight came to North America with Chinese Chestnut trees.  It infected and nearly wiped out American Chestnuts on this continent.  Some barely resisted the blight.  Some died, but continue to send up new shoots from old root stock.  Mariton is blessed with some of these so called stump sprouts that grow, get the blight, die, and then resprout.  These wild trees offer hope if they can survive long enough for humans to discover a way to combat the blight and return full grown American Chestnuts to our forests.

For the past several years I have been working with volunteers Mike and Kieu Manes, who are volunteers with the American Chestnut Foundation. We have planted chestnut seeds (and blight resistant hybrids) at Mariton.

Blight affecting a young chestnut sapling.

Recently we have been trying an experimental technique to fight blight on young saplings. We call it the band aid technique.  The theory uses the fact that the fungus that causes the blight cannot grow in soil.  We wrap the area where blight is starting with black plastic and then fill the wrapping with soil.  We seal up this band aid for 2 months and then remove it.  This “smothers” the fungus and the tree can keep growing blight free a little longer.

Mike Manes (l.) and Tom Levendusky (r.) performing the treatment.

We first performed this technique in 2015 on a shoot that was badly damaged by blight when we found it. The band aid did stop the blight, but the damage to the tree was too extensive, and it died last summer.  Last fall, I discovered that blight was just beginning on that sprout’s “twin” (they are both sprouting from the same stump, so genetically identical).  This week we put a band aid on the new sprout.  Stewardship Assistant, Tom Levendusky, helped out with the procedure.

Mike, Kieu and Tom with our latest experiment. The area by the shovel handle was treated in 2015.

We will know better in two months, but I am hoping we caught it early enough to extend this sapling’s life a few more years.

Crow’s Nest: Film series continues

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Next Saturday night, April 8, we will have our second in a series of environmental films at Crow’s Nest Preserve. We started last month with Dirt: The Movie. Our next screening will be of Hometown Habitat, a documentary about the value of native plants in our home landscapes to support wildlife. It features Natural Lands Trust board member and University of Delaware entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and, with Rick Darke, author of The Living Landscape.

Read more about our screening and register to attend (it’s free!) here. Bring a potluck dessert to share. We hope to see you!

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.

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