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Mariton: Looking at Fall

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

Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory

The last Tuesday Nature Walk of the season. It was a little breezy, but no gnats.  We knew it would be a good day for watching raptors in the fields on top of the hill, but we decided spend more time in the woods.  Right now, the various hickories have a golden glow.  The spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a kodachrome yellow.  The Tuliptree leaves on the trail “echo” the color with a little more orange.  Even on a cloudy day it is like “walking on sunshine.”

Tupelo Tree

Tupelo Tree

I have trouble identifying Tupelo, or Black Gum, (Nyssa sylvatica) by its bark, but at this time of the year its brilliant red is apparent from a distance.   I didn’t realize how much Tupelo was growing at Mariton until I started looking for it in the fall.

Witch Hazel Blossom

Witch Hazel Blossom

Right now is when the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) begins to bloom.  This delicate yellow flower is a highlight of fall for me.  This sub-canopy, gracefully arching tree is often overlooked until this time of year.

Tuliptree seed pod

Tuliptree Seed Pod


Crow’s Nest: Moving-in Day

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Yesterday was our official move-in day to the new addition to our visitor center barn at Crow’s Nest. Above, the conference room is looking great.

The addition also contains two offices for staff, a public restroom, a washer-dryer for cleaning the kids’ clothing we lend out during nature club programs, and storage space for education supplies.

Most of the construction was performed by Natural Lands Trust Building Stewardship Staff, mainly Steve Holmburg, Scott DiBerardinis and Luke DiBerardinis. (The roofing and heating were done by some top-notch contractors.) The project lasted just under a year and a half and was funded by a private donor.

We are very excited to have the additional (and beautiful) space!

Mariton: Elusive Bird

By Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Marilyn Hessinger.

Marilyn joined our Tuesday Walks four years ago. She is an avid gardener and I enjoy when she talks about the things she sees in nature that have technical terms in garden designs.  Over the years, she has become an enthusiastic birder.  One bird that has eluded her is a Pileated Woodpecker. Not that we haven’t seen them while on the bird walks, it was just that she hadn’t seen them.  There is a list of reasons she missed a sighting, and she has been a good sport laughing at her frustration.  She even poked fun at herself and took the above photo of a stuffed toy in her garden.

Marilyn's first real sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker!

Marilyn’s first real sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker!

This fall, we finally had a Pileated Woodpecker that Marilyn got to view for several minutes. I know she had great satisfaction in the sighting, but it was a huge thrill for me and the other birders to be able to share the sighting with her.

Crow’s Nest: Fall Color Alert

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


It’s alway difficult to predict exactly when “peak” fall color will occur, but things are looking pretty nice right now. Red maples, sugar maples, sassafras and poison ivy look spectacular right now. Oaks will come along a bit later. I would have thought that the extraordinarily dry conditions might affect color—and insofar as some trees have died it has—but there is still a lot of color out there.

This weekend should be a great time to get out and see nature in autumn’s glory.


Mariton: Laying the Foundation for Spring Color

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

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

In the coming weeks, many people will be removing leaves from their yard. This is a good time to remember that a few leaf piles around your yard are beneficial for butterflies and other insects.  Eastern Commas and Mourning Cloak butterflies are two species that overwinter as adults.  These are some of the first butterflies to emerge.  I’ve seen them on mild February days, but they get active in April, and lay eggs for the next generation.

Eastern Comma underside.  See the comma?

Eastern Comma underside. See the comma?

Leaf piles are a favorite place for them to winter, so it is easy to inadvertently destroy these butterflies in a zealous removal of every leaf from the yard. I always leave some banks of leaves along the building foundations and in flower beds.  There are also piles along the wood’s edge of the yard.  These small piles are beneficial to the beds, as well as butterflies, and can be easily removed during the spring yard work.

A Mourning Cloak in April.

An April Mourning Cloak.

Right now the leaves are filling our lives with colors.  So, it is easy to forget how much we yearn for color at the end of winter.  By leaving some leaf piles around your yard you will be providing winter shelter for our earliest butterflies.  This is one instance where being lazy has a nice benefit.

Crow’s Nest: OJR Field Ecology Class Study

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager  Photographs by Jo-An Rechtin and Greg George

A field ecology class taught by Laura George at Owen J. Roberts Senior High has made use of the preserve to teach students scientific survey techniques, using a point-quadrat system in our woods.


No matter what natural resource is being studied, researchers need to know the plant community in which the observations are being made. One technique to determine that is to assess tree species and size along a random transect through the woods. Every 20 meters students stop and measure and name the closest tree species in each of four quadrants.


The students performed this rapid ecological assessment in two different sections of woods here. They also happened to see a bald eagle on their walk back, and then enjoyed a hayride. We are excited for the opportunity this partnership represents—and to introduce new students to the preserve. The class will be back for a couple more sessions this school year.


Mariton: Some Inspiration

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager


There is an area along the Woods Trail that has captured my attention since I started working at Mariton. It is a section of forest that is almost entirely Tulip trees (Lireodendron tulipifera).  I have watched how the light moves through it at in all seasons, and at all times of the day.  I commented to someone once that it reminds me of a cathedral, and he informed me that indeed the designers of European cathedrals took inspiration from similar forests.  Whether that is true or not doesn’t matter.  Other visitors have told me that they get the same impression.  There are tall narrow windows letting shafts of light in amongst the columns.

Mariton: Fall Nature Walks

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

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod with a visitor.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod with a visitor.

Our Fall Nature Walks started on Tuesday, and will continue through October. It was a little overcast, but there was no rain.  Right away we came upon small patches of Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) along the trails.  This is one of my favorite fall wildflowers.  It brightens up the forest with its brilliant yellow blossoms, especially on a cloud day.  (And it catches the attention of pollinators like this bumble bee.)

New York Aster

New York Aster

The New York Asters (Aster novi-belgii) brightened up the meadow trails.  While 99% of the tree leaves are still green, there are hints of the coming autumn.  These Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) leaves are among the few that have turned color.

Sassafras leaves beginning to turn.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Anne noticed a dark “blob” in the trees and we found this Black Vulture waiting for the thermals to heat up. Once we reached the meadows, we saw several Cooper’s Hawks overhead and marveled at their flight.  Two airplane pilots were on the walk.  As they explained the intricacies of flight it made the hawks’ maneuvers even more amazing.

Green Hills: New kestrel boxes!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


This weekend Jim Moffett, Brett Gundy and I installed two kestrel boxes that Jim had made, using a post design that Jim developed.

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) belongs to the family of birds known as falcons, and is the smallest and most colorful American raptor. Kestrels will hunt small mammals as well as toads and lizards—they need to supplement their diets with these small mammals during the winter months when insects are not available. On occasion, they may take a small bird if the opportunity presents itself.

Kestrels build their nests in cavities—usually trees hollowed out by woodpeckers or other birds—but adapt well to man-made nest boxes. Though the most abundant falcon in North American, their numbers are in decline as nesting habitat is lost to development. So man-made boxes like these are important to the species’ breeding.

The boxes are held about 19′ above the meadow but can be brought down to the ground for cleaning and maintenance.


Installing them in in the fall gives the kestrels plenty of time to check them out before next year’s breeding season.


In this last photo below, the kestrel box is dwarfed in the distance by the power line tower, but the nesting box location in the newly-planted grasslands should make for great habitat for the birds.


The kestrel boxes at Green Hills are just the two newest to be installed across our network of nature preserves. We also have successful (birds have successfully reared young in them) at Mariton, Stroud, Summerhill, and Gwynedd.

Crow’s Nest: Welcome, Riley!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


We welcome Riley Clark-Long to Crow’s Nest as our long-term intern in Land Stewardship and Environmental Education. He’ll work here through four seasons including summer camp next year. Riley comes to us with a degrees in Environmental Studies and Anthropology and experience working on invasive plants at a nature center, working for a state farmland preservation program, staffing summer camps, and also researching horticultural history at Fort Ticonderoga.

Riley is settled in at the preserve and has seen almost every square foot of Crow’s Nest, and has already been working with our kids’ programs for a couple weeks. We’re fortunate to have his help, and hope you’ll welcome him here!

In other news, the cable bridge Riley is pictured on above, is no longer gracing Pine Creek. About two weeks after this photo was taken, a nearby tree that was clinging to an undercut stream bank fell on the wires, breaking two of the three. We don’t plan to replace the cables at this location, since one of the anchor trees chosen many years ago is ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica), and we know that Emerald Ash Borer, an accidentally-introduced insect pest sweeping across Pennsylvania—and now present in counties around us—will be killing most of the ash trees in our region. The cable bridge would only have had a couple more years left at most anyway.

So this post is both a welcome and a goodbye. The preserve is ever changing!


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