Natural Lands Trust
60 Years of Conservation
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Mariton: The Nose Knows

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

The first deer to cross my trail.  Her front feet are literally where I walked to the camera.

These trail camera photos capture the surprise of deer as they came across my trail in a remote part of the Mariton. I normally try to change camera cards just before (or during ) a rain in order  to wash away my scent.  I departed from that in this instance because I wanted to change the card and batteries before a cold spell.  I have to cross the deer trail to get to the camera.  This was the first group of deer to come down the trail after I had been there.  Not only do they “sense” my tracks, but I think they can smell my scent on the camera. They came by the next day and didn’t bat an eye.

They have walked by the camera plenty of times, but this time the smells are different.

Mariton: Snow Can Be Beautiful

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

This was just one of hundreds of decorated Goldenrod heads after a dusting of snow last week.

Stocking up for Winter Storms

by Steve Eisenhauer, Preserve Manager

Every winter storm I check the two Screech Owl nest boxes at Harold N. Peek Preserve. Screech Owls aren’t generally disturbed when their nest boxes are checked during the day. They rarely move, even while lots of photos are being taken a half foot away.

Sometimes the owls cache food in the nest boxes they use for daytime and foul-weather roosting. Perhaps they can sense the approach of a snowstorm. Once I found three dead mice next to a roosting Screech Owl and, when I checked again a couple days later, three regurgitated owl pellets had replaced the rodent carcasses.

On Sunday, January 8th, one of the boxes had a rusty phase Screech Owl using a flying squirrel carcass as a mattress! Or perhaps it just ate the front half of the squirrel for breakfast and was saving the back half for dinner.

Photo by by Steve Eisenhauer, Preserve Manager

2016 NLT Nest Box Review

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

Photo by Carole Mebus

One of my roles, in addition to managing Mariton, is collecting information about nest boxes from the other NLT preserves. Some of the Preserve Managers are very involved in the nest boxes on their preserves.  Other managers utilize volunteers, including the Force of Nature, to manage their nest boxes.

Chickadee in a Mariton nest box by Carole Mebus

We often think of bluebirds when we talk about the nest box program. Bluebirds are important to Natural Lands Trust’s nest box program, but depending on the management goals of a particular preserve, other species also benefit.  For instance, Mariton’s fields are pretty small.  Early in the season it is good habitat for bluebirds, but later in the season it gets a little brushy for them.  Chickadees often do as well as bluebirds in our nest boxes.  Other preserves manage large swaths of grassland which provide a habitat that is quickly disappearing from Pennsylvania’s landscape.  This benefits many bird species, and while bluebirds use the boxes, this type of habitat is ideal for tree swallows.  NLT’s nest boxes provide nest sites for a variety of cavity nesting species, not just bluebirds.

Tree Swallows

In 2016, we had 15 preserves reporting nest box data. Again, a big thank you to volunteers who helped maintain boxes and monitor activity.  There were 298 boxes, and 252 of them showed nesting activity.

Bluebirds nested in 134 of the boxes and produced 407 fledglings.  (45% of boxes showed bluebird activity.)

Tree Swallows nested in 116 boxes (39%) and fledged 395 chicks.

House Wrens nested in 70 boxes and produced 125 fledglings.  Carolina Wrens also produced 6 young from the nest boxes.

Chickadees were in 14 boxes and produced 53 young.

Bluebird chicks

You may have added up the different nests above and realized that it exceeds the 298 nest boxes that were monitored. That is because 87 of our boxes were used more than once during the season.  House Wrens and Tree Swallows nest a little later in the season.  So, it is pretty common for them to use a box that may have been used by Bluebirds earlier.  Bluebirds often rear a second brood, generally using a different box, but sometimes reusing a box if it is cleaned out quickly.  This is a very good reason to remove old nests as soon as the young leave the box.

Mariton: 2016 Precipitation

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

As expected, we ended 2016 with a deficit in precipitation at Mariton. December came in about 1.5 inches below average.   We were already around 10 inches below average at the beginning of December, so the deficit at the end of the year was 11.37 inches.

We ended the year with 40.84 inches of precipitation. That is only a little more moisture than 1997 when I recorded 40.39 for the year.  Since the yearly average is around 52 inches, the 11.37 inch deficit is equivalent to 3 months without rain.  Of course it rained throughout the year – just less.

When looking at the chart below, remember that the average for the last 20 years is around 52 inches per year.

Crow’s Nest – Family hikes

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

It has been a real pleasure over the holidays seeing how many families have been out hiking together at the preserve. The weather has been pretty good and people have had some time off; I’m glad to see that going for a walk in nature is how people chose to spend that time. Many of the local trail clubs offered “First Day” hikes at various places today.

Above is the view where I see people hiking… a spot of color traversing one of the far fields.

Crow’s Nest: On my winter night table…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I have been reading Silas Chamberlain’s On the Trail: A History of American Hiking (2016: Yale University Press). It’s a thoroughly-researched and entertaining book based around a thesis that there was a fundamental change in how Americans approached hiking during the 20th century.

Walking as a leisure pursuit began in the 19th century when people began to have jobs that were not so physically demanding that they had the time and energy to stroll about the countryside, Chamberlain writes, and in the early 20th century organized trail clubs came into being.

These various clubs promoted walking as good for the health, mind and spirit, and hiking was a communal, social activity. Soon these clubs began building trails to better access the mountains, culminating in places like Vermont’s Long Trail, the  Appalachian Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail. But by the 1960’s and 70’s, Chamberlain argues, hiking shifted from being a group activity to one undertaken alone or as a family. Even as total numbers of hikers exploded, the percentage who belonged to trail clubs plummeted. Hikers switched from creators and maintainers of trails to consumers—of hiking gear and of the trails themselves.

Chamberlain was a trail maintainer on the Adirondack Trail Crew and more recently was Director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, so he has the experience working on trails and knows the local trail clubs—which critically still promote and maintain area trails. But this book also has a national scope and nicely draws together the picturesque pastoral movement of the 1800’s to the history of environmental advocacy among groups like the Sierra Club. This book provides valuable insights into how membership in a social movement has changed, with lessons which might be applied to the future.

Crow’s Nest Preserve 25th Anniversary

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


The first parcels of Crow’s Nest Preserve were donated to Natural Lands Trust in 1991, so this year we’re celebrating our silver anniversary, twenty-five years of careful land stewardship, renovation of historic structures, and connecting people with nature here.


In many ways, the land looks the same. The farm fields are still being farmed, the hedgerows and woods are still there, though the trees are taller and have fewer invasive vines dragging on them. One of the purposes of protecting the property from development is to keep it looking the same: still providing natural habitat, hosting functional plant and animal communities, and protecting the water quality of the local streams. One of the challenges of land stewardship is that if we are doing our job well, it isn’t apparent to the casual observer that we are doing anything.

However, the trails are better than they were a quarter-century ago. New and older, well-maintained boardwalks span muddy spots. New plantings of native species have been added here and there. The meadows are mowed annually, hazard trees removed, bluebird boxes installed and monitored, and signs, brochures, and now even a mobile app help guide visitors around the preserve.

Kids grow up and some of them are now helping run our education programs, now more extensive than ever.

Where the most dramatic differences can be seen on the preserve is in the buildings, which—through generous support from donors—have undergone renovation and adaptive reuse to support our mission.


Above, before-and-after photos of the tenant house at the preserve, and below, the same for the Houck house. Both provide housing for staff.


Here are Steve Holmburg and Bob Johnson in the late 1990’s working on the visitor center barn:


Both are very much still here but unlikely to stand still for a photo, so instead I include below a photo of the same location taken today.


The barn which is our visitor center has undergone first stabilization and then transformation, from this…


…to this.


Similarly, the Jacob barn was restored and made into a maintenance shop and storage for the preserve:


And, not the least—the Jacob house which provides housing for the preserve manager and family, as well as an apartment for each year’s intern:


Above, before. Below, after. The photos don’t convey how much work went into these projects!


Among future projects are renovations at the Hartung farmstead near the middle of the preserve (below). The same level of expertise and care will be applied here.


As I mentioned above, our kids’ programs have been around long enough that many of the kids have grown up and some now help with the programs. Fortunately, the staff and volunteers haven’t aged a bit in that time…


How do we sum up 25 years in one weblog post? I can’t. I can say that we have been fortunate to be surrounded by the very best of staff, volunteers, visitors, and supporters during that time.


We’re excited about what the next quarter century will look like at Crow’s Nest Preserve! The best part is that you can come out and enjoy our seven miles of hiking trails, natural habitats, and historic landscapes today!

Crow’s Nest: Beavers on French Creek

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


The other day the Roamers Club came for a hike here and we found this freshly-chewed ash tree along the Creek Trail. Beavers come and go in this stream valley and so this is not entirely a rare sight. In fact, we’ve caged some of the trees we planted along the creek—and many others that were already growing there—so that beavers can’t gain access to them. Over the years we have lived with varying degrees of their activity here, from flooding that lasted a couple years, and a lodge, and a few dead trees. Overall the wetlands they produce make excellent habitat for many other species.

Green Hills: Force of Nature Cleans Up

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Last weekend volunteers at Green Hills cleaned up this old shed and everything that was in it (sinks, lawnmower, lots of unidentified stuff) and returned this spot to its natural appearance. We also gathered some tires and plastic trash elsewhere on the preserve. This location is not yet accessible from any trails but as we add to the trail system it likely will be.

Thank you all for the good work!


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