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Mariton: Those Ears

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

Eastern Towhee. "Drink your teeeee."

Eastern Towhee. “Drink your teeeee.”

When it comes to birding, I am really attracted to warblers. I started out like most people as a visual birder using my eyes.  When I discovered warblers I slowly became an auditory birder.  I enjoy the challenge of being able to recognize bird songs.  Birding by ear has its advantages.  Bill R., one of the people I bird with, said something that really stuck with me.  “When you learn to bird by ear, it takes your appreciation of nature to a whole new level.”   I know exactly what he means.  Even if you don’t know all of the bird songs, once you start learning them, you start hearing the differences.  When you start hearing the differences, you become aware of all the different species (and numbers) of birds that are around you – even if you can’t see them, or don’t know whose song you are hearing.

Indigo Bunting. "Fire, fires, where? where? here, here."

Indigo Bunting. “Fire, fire, where? where? here, here.”

You take the ability to hear the differences (even if you can’t identify the bird) wherever you go. Eventually, you can’t take a walk without being aware of the birds around you, and that is what raises your appreciation for any nature outing.  I can be pulling invasive plants or working on trails and hearing the birds around me makes the time more special.  Because I know most of the local birds by their song, I don’t need to see them to know they are there.  When I go to new areas with new birds I enjoy my time more because I hear all the different birds singing around me.  You even hear bird songs in movies.

Worm-eating Warbler.

Worm-eating Warbler.

So, here is the rub. As I (and the people I bird with) age we lose certain notes and frequencies.  The good thing is you don’t know you can’t hear the Worm-eating Warbler anymore until some wise guy points it out.  I have been pretty lucky so far (I think), but I know that eventually I will lose certain registers.

I was lucky; I dropped out of college for a couple years and worked in construction with my Dad. When I resumed my studies and sat in a classroom I realized immediately that I had lost some hearing.  I was still working on weekends, so I became very strict about always wearing hearing protection around machinery.  Fortunately, by protecting my ears I regained my hearing.  I was lucky that I learned this lesson so early, before I did permanent damage and before I really got into birding.  Hearing protectors are cheap.  You will find them everywhere in our shop, and hanging on much of the equipment.  I try to make it hard to start up equipment without putting on hearing protection first.

Black and White Warbler.

Black and White Warbler.

So I have some advice gleaned from half a life of experience. For young people:  ear buds don’t protect your hearing when working with machinery – wear ear muffs over them if you want to listen to your music.  Older folks:  don’t wait until you retire to try to learn bird songs.  Learn it now, appreciate it now.

Mariton: Tuesday Bird Walks Start

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

There are several “events” that usher in Spring for me. Two of them are mowing the meadows in March, and the return of the Eastern Phoebe.  But the real clincher for me is beginning the Tuesday Bird Walks (which usually coincides with the return of the Wood Thrush and warblers ).  The Wood Thrush weren’t in full song yet, but we heard enough to know they are back.  Some also saw a Hermit Thrush.

This week’s walk was really great and we had about 36 species. We started off with a male American Redstart in a blooming redbud tree.  That’s a pretty good way to start a bird walk.

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Warblers are both fun and frustrating because of their small size and constant movement.  Carole sent the above photo of a Yellow-rumped Warbler grabbing an insect from a tiny oak blossom.  The photo wonderfully conveys the incessant movement.  The oak flower is moving in the breeze.  The teeny insect is moving on the flower.  And the warbler has to capture enough food to fuel its own constant movement.   There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers during the morning, and fortunately they usually travel in groups.  It can be tough to get 10 people to see a warbler that is constantly moving, but if you can get people looking in the general area a Yellow-rump might pop into their view field.  We worked very hard for some of them (frustrating), and then had few pose right in front of us (fun).

One of the amazing sightings Tuesday was a Pileated Woodpecker that glided through the forest and landed on a dead tree. From there, someone saw it go into a hole.  Once we got everyone focused on the right hole (the tree had several woodpecker holes), people could see it inside the cavity.  I assume it is a nest cavity, but it may be difficult to see as the leaves come out.

Things really started happening when we got to the meadows. A Palm Warbler played in front of us for a long time, so we all got a good view of this warbler before it heads north.  We had Yellow-rumps, a Black-throated Green Warbler and Black and White Warblers perch in the open for easy viewing.

A Blue-headed Vireo (formerly called Solitary Vireo) perched at the edge of a Sassafras tree and gave everyone a good look.  The wildflowers are also blooming and we found time to “botanize” during the bird walk.  Spring has truly begun, and we will be doing it again next Tuesday.

Green Hills: Loading the truck

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

When we do projects at our home preserve, Crow’s Nest, we can undertake one thing at a time, load the tools we need, and get the job done. If we forget something we’re never more than a mile and a half from the workshop.

Things get a little more complicated working at Green Hills. It’s 15 miles away, so there’s no going back for an extra tool. And we have to plan for a variety of projects and have everything we need for all of them. Here’s the truck loaded for today’s projects.

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There’s a few hundred pounds of seed on there for sowing the meadows, which Aubrey will do while I’m doing these other projects. Also, an Indian tank (brand name of a backpack water tank we use for prescribed fire, here repurposed for rinsing the paint on the gazebo prior to painting later this week). A power-pole pruner for removing broken branches from the tree by the parking lot. Extra diesel for the tractor. Buckets of soil to fill abandoned groundhog holes along one trail. A weed whip for trimming grass around the rain garden at the parking lot. Spare parts and tools for the no-till seeder. A gallon of herbicide for spot spraying autumn olive, multiflora rose, privet, and shrub honeysuckle. And a hand-held gas-powered brush cutter to cut those shrubs down first. That’s it for today. Now I just need to load up the lawnmower on the trailer and go!

Mariton: Tree Flowers

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Everyone know that trees like Magnolias, Cherries and or Dogwoods have flower blossoms, but all trees have flowers*. I often tell people that seeds come from flowers and flowers make seeds.  While this may not technically be true, for children and most adults it makes people aware of a flower’s real purpose – reproduction.  Some flowers also provide nectar to entice pollinators, and coincidentally feed butterflies and hummingbirds.  But all flowers have pollen, some is carried by the wind, some by insects, some by other animals.  A flower’s main job is reproduction.

Going back to flowers make seeds, most people don’t think about tree flowers if they aren’t showy like a Magnolia’s Blossom. Oaks, in fact, have flowers.  They aren’t very showy, but they produce acorns.

Sassafras blossom

Sassafras blossom

So here are some trees that some don’t think about flowering. The Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) has a delicate small yellow flower that lights up Mariton’s forest edges in spring.

Pawpaw

Pawpaw

The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) has this brown-purple flower that develops into a tasty fruit (that of course holds seeds).

*Gymnosperms ( trees like pine, spruce, cedars and ginko) technically don’t have flowers. Their seeds are naked, and angiosperms (true flowers) seeds are surrounded by an ovule. But gymnosperms have unisexual reproductive parts that serve similar purposes.  Gymnosperms have male cones that produce pollen, and female cones where seeds develop.  Gymnosperms’ seed come from cones that serve the same basic function as a flower.  This is more technical than most people (including me) care to know, so I don’t feel guilty when I say that seeds come from flowers.

Crow’s Nest Fun Fact of the Day: Snakes Climb Trees

By Daniel Barringer

Some species also shape their bodies into an airfoil to fly (or at least control their descent), but that’s not the discussion we’re having here.

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This beautiful black rat snake climbed a beech tree while I watched. This was a defensive move since I happened to be walking by with the lawnmower at the time.

We are fortunate to have black rat snakes, which are not poisonous, around the barnyard since they help control the mouse population there.

Green Hills: Seeding the meadows

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Happy Earth Day! Sometimes we plant something other than trees…

We have been at Green Hills all week seeding meadows. We’re enjoying adding locally-collected seeds of pollinator species to the mix that goes in the hopper; Aubrey and and feel like chefs: a pinch of this, a handful of that…

Aubrey has been driving the tractor for four days straight (we decided not to seed today because rain was forecast). We’re about half finished the 90 acres. She needs to keep track of where she’s been by looking at the no-till scratches in the fields, most of which were in soybeans last year and are just sprouting the first weeds of spring (the field in the foreground below was already planted as a  meadow). I can tell you just how mentally exhausting that is.

Wait, you can’t see Aubrey and the tractor in the photo below?

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Let’s zoom in a little: see that speck against the wood edge? This should give you an idea of the vast acreage we’re dealing with. Visible in this photo is maybe one quarter of the site.

Photo with magnifier

And here she is, much closer.

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Every hour or more she checks the hoppers for seed (we’re planting a cover crop of oats as well as a mix of native grasses and wildflowers). I bring enough bags of seed for the day in the truck and meet the tractor to fill the hoppers as needed.

In between fill-ups (diesel too) I am doing a blitz of projects: a few strategic invasive management projects (brush cutting and spraying), mowing trails, and fixing a boardwalk.

This meadow will take about a year and a half to mature. We’re really excited about the grassland habitat it will create!

Mariton: The First Eggs

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

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I have been watching one Bluebird nest for two weeks in one of the boxes. This week, there are 5 eggs in that nest.  Another pair of Bluebirds have started nesting in another box.

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Chickadees are building nests in three different boxes. None of the nests is completed, but the one above is getting close.  It won’t be long before I find eggs in one of these nests.

Prescribed Fire Progress

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Stewardship staff held two prescribed fires last week, both on Serpentine barrens. The first was at Willisbrook Preserve and the second was on the Unionville Barrens at Cheslen Preserve.

Natural Lands Trust has been burning at Willisbrook for fifteen years and the burn crew discussed how the vegetation has changed over the years. Remember that we are burning there to return the habitat to ideal conditions for rare wildflowers that grow in full sun—species that are adapted to survive on the rare outcroppings of Serpentine soils but can’t compete with other plants that grow in less inhospitable soils. When we started organic matter had built up on top of the Serpentine, a cycle of plant growth making possible more plant growth, but at the expense of the rare species. Occasional fire reduces competition for sunlight and returns the soils to the conditions where the rare species can survive but many common ones cannot.

So I dug into my archives and found this photo of Willisbrook in 2001. Note the maple tree in the background for reference, and notice that the cedars (though native) have taken over a lot of the barrens, which ordinarily should look like grasslands or savanna.

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Here’s approximately the same site last week, fifteen years later. The maple tree is still in the background. Flame heights are much lower because over the years burns have reduced the fuels. There are some fire-tolerant Virginia pines scattered on the barrens but mainly it has become the grassland that supports the rare species.

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We burn a portion of Willisbrook Preserve almost every year, though any particular part gets burned on a 3 – 5 year rotation. Natural Lands Trust Preserve Manager Darin Groff, preserve assistants and volunteers have done other management on the barrens too, to manage invasive plants such as ailanthus and autumn olive. Fire is a tool that has been effective at achieving the goal of maintaining and expanding suitable habitat for rare species.

Mariton: American Beech

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

American Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are really remarkable trees (but then I think all native trees are remarkable).  Their seeds can germinate in extremely low light, so Beech is a species that can move into old forests.  Because their roots sucker, they can form dense stands.  Beech leaves aren’t particularly big, but they are thick and numerous.  That means that they provide a lot of shade.  The shade makes it hard for other trees to get started once they move into a corner of forest.  Their seeds (Beech Nuts) are loved by lots of birds including Turkeys, Ruffed Grouse, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Chickadees, ducks and woodpeckers.  Mammals like bear, deer, fox, raccoons and squirrels also relish the sweet nuts.  The smooth bark is very unique.  (And I love that it is a homophone.)

Beech leaves in April

Beech leaves in April

American Beech is one of the deciduous trees that holds its leaves longer than most. Here it is mid-April and the trees are still holding their leaves from last fall.  Amazing.

American Beech is the only native member of the Fagus genera, but the Beech Family (Fagaceae) is huge, including the Chestnuts (Castanea), Oaks (Quercus), Chinkapins (Castanopsis), and Tanoaks (Lithocarpus) Genera.  Trees in the Beech Family are known for providing for wildlife.  The seeds/nuts, flowers, leaves and bark all provide food and shelter for a variety of insects and thus birds and other animals.

Crow’s Nest: Spring 2016 Nature Clubs

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through our spring sessions of nature clubs. 

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The kids have been exploring different parts of the preserve. Last week we found logs, mud, and hidden trails through a thicket. To paraphrase Environmental Educator Molly Smyrl, if you’re clean at the end of the day, you didn’t play hard enough.

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