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Happy Centennial, National Park Service!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Today the National Park Service celebrates 100 years, and (like the PBS documentary suggests) I think it is America’s Best Idea. These breathtaking places are a national treasure and making them parks has democratized them so that everyone can enjoy them—truly an American social as well as environmental legacy. And think of how much of the conservation movement worldwide has been a result of the ethic that wanted these lands protected, managed and shared.

We are particularly fortunate at Crow’s Nest Preserve to share a boundary with a unit of the National Park Service: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. More than just a neighbor, we have enjoyed the benefits of being their partner on many projects, from trail building to invasive plant management to dark sky initiatives to the land preservation efforts of the Hopewell Big Woods.

It’s hard for me to believe that it has been almost 20 years since we built the trail that connects Crow’s Nest to Hopewell Furnace. You can hike to the village (or many other trails there or in French Creek State Park) from our parking area and visitor center, or start there and find your way here! Their Baptism Creek Trail connects to our Hopewell Trail and you can easily walk from one to the other without using public roads.

Happy Centennial, National Park Service!

Crow’s Nest: Ash Tree Management Update

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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We’ve started the next step of ash tree management to reduce the number of ash trees along our roads before they die (from Emerald Ash Borer) and become a hazard. We contracted the removal of 16 trees or clumps of trees, less than 10% of what occurs along roadsides at Crow’s Nest.

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Some of the wood is given away to neighbors for firewood, some is left to become the nurse logs for a future forest, and some is chipped to provide material to surface our trails. We’ve started with the more difficult trees, around wires and close to the roads, but there are plenty more to go. Notably it’s easier and safer to work with trees that are not dead and brittle.

Below, Aubrey hauls a log out of a roadside hedgerow.

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Emerald Ash Borer was recently found in Philadelphia, and is present in all the counties around us, and it is 100% fatal in untreated trees (we’re also treating about a dozen ash trees with insecticide so that when the borer dies out after it wipes out its host, the tree species will not be extirpated from our region).

Crow’s Nest: Brutal Summer

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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This summer has been really brutal. I’m not sure we’ve set any record highs, but it has been consistently, brutally hot. We can’t ask staff and volunteers to work too hard in this heat—they need to take lots of rest.

We’ve missed most of the rain that places only a half hour north or south have received. Enough rain has now fallen to green up the grass, but lots of trees and shrubs are wilting. It has been a rough year for planting (the rain garden at Green Hills, a butterfly garden at home, 90+ acres of meadows at Green Hills). It’s taken a lot of extra work just to keep things alive.

Alas, we don’t control the weather—but we can complain about it. Hey, winter will be here soon enough.

Crow’s Nest Camp Week Five

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

The fifth week of summer camp is over; the summer was a whirl of activity. I enjoy hanging out with the 7th and 8th graders who have been through our programs for years and who we have watched grow and mature. We went on several field trips including kayaking the Schuylkill River and visiting Natural Lands Trust’s Cheslen Preserve. I ducked away from the program as needed to stay on top of land stewardship but I snapped photos from a few of the events.

We kayaked first on Hopewell Lake, did team-building activities, and hiked the perimeter of the lake. Here is one group at the new Hopewell Big Woods trail that connects Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site with French Creek State Park with an accessible trail. (If you drive from one place to the other it’s a few miles’ roundabout trip; but to walk from the core day-use area of the state park to the village at Hopewell Furnace only takes a few minutes.)

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Here’s an amazing wisteria vine at the park picnic area.

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The campers did a lot of service projects to give back to the preserve: they put away the building supplies the earlier camps had used, they moved rocks to build a low wall around the fairy village, they spread gravel on footpaths, and built a “vine house” that future campers can play in and on:

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The trip on the Schuylkill Canal and River was sublime, a glorious day to drift down the river. At the end of the week we cleaned up the kayaks before returning them so we don’t transfer any weeds or pests from one water body to another.

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The 7/8 camp is always bittersweet as we are saying goodbye to our oldest campers. But we hope that they will remain friends of Crow’s Nest and keep us up to date about their adventures.

Mariton: July Showers

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

The yearly precipitation deficit was drawn down during July at Mariton. I recorded 8.80 inches of rain for July.  The average for the month is 5.61.  Although 9 inches is a lot of rain for a month, it is not the wettest July.  In 2004, we received 12.27” at Mariton.  I have written before that July can be the driest month (0.40” in 1999), or the wettest.  It just depends on where thunderstorms dump rain, and if a tropical system moves up the coast.

Mariton’s tally for the year is now 27.94 inches, and the average for this point is 30.26”. We were lucky to receive some showers during the month that other areas did not receive.  A drought watch has been declared for the area.  It seems a little strange after all the rain last week, but overall we are in a dry weather pattern and the precipitation deficit could increase again.

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Four

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Kids in the 3rd and 4th grade camp rebuilt the canopy community that has been built and unbuilt at each week of camp. They personalize the space with hammocks, benches, tables, flags, swings, and paint. At the end of the week the kids take their accessories down and put away the materials; at the end of summer all of the scaffolding will be put away for another year.

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The barn is still filled with arts and crafts, murals of the sun and paper-mache planets hanging from the ceiling. The kids also made sundials, fabric squares for a quilt of leaf patterns using dye that is activated by the sun, and pizza-box solar ovens.

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There was plenty of time to play in the creek (another hot week!) and go on small group hikes to explore the preserve (below, meeting the calves). We hope the kids had as much of a good time as we did!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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