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Mariton: Plants and Animals

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus

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One way to talk about the inter-connections between plants and animals is to talk about butterflies.  Many butterflies are dependent on just a few species of plants for egg laying (where the caterpillars will eat).  Remove those plants from the landscape and you can expect repercussions.  Many butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, and in the process pollinate them to provide seeds for another generation (of both plants and butterflies).  So, butterflies are a great way to talk about plants.

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The milkweed seed pods caught the kids’ attention when we got into the meadows. But it is a good walk to reach the meadows and the children asked questions about many of the plants that we saw along the way.  Some of those included common mullein, hawthorne, and grape leaves covered with galls.

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And then there is the sweet birch (Betula lenta).  It doesn’t matter if you are a kid or an old timer.  There is something about the smell and taste of wintergreen in the twigs that mesmerizes people.  While the kids haven’t learned how to recognize the leaves, they have memorized the locations of the trees.  And just like me, they can’t pass by without grabbing a twig and sucking on it.  For me, it is fun to watch the experienced campers show the newbies the locations, how to bite the twig and what to do. Normally, I don’t encourage defoliating trees, but there are many places where I purposely don’t trim back branches overhanging the trails in order to provide easy access to those in the know.  Hopefully, this will inspire someone to learn how to identify trees just so they can find sweet birch to sample.

Mariton: Nature Camp – Day Two

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

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You can’t really give children a good overview of plants without talking about our food.  So, the folks at Trauger’s Farm took some time from their busy day to lead us around the farm and show us everything that they have growing right now, and how they manage the space.  This is a great opportunity to learn about what our food looks like before it gets packaged in the supermarket.  It also gives one a better sense of what is involved in growing the food that we in the United States take for granted.

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There was a chance to smell different things.

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And a chance to eat things fresh from the earth.

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There was also a chance to see how the kids measured up.

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As one famous pig is fond of saying:  “T-t–t-that’s all folks!”

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(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Four

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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Third- and fourth-grade camp has been as much fun as the others. The theme is still art in nature and many of the activities are the same as our other weeks. But the kids exhibited their own style and creativity. Above, white and red-clover fashions inspired by artist Tang Chiew Lin or perhaps Andy Goldsworthy.

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Small group hikes also included botanical drawing, watercolor Impressionism, and nature photography. The denizens of the preserve posed for the camera.

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Aubrey took the kids for a hayride to Pine Creek at the wire bridge.

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The kids built a new set of tree houses, painted them, and played in them. This week also involved tin-can telephones, an aerial text message system—using ropes, buckets, and notepads—and a swing and a hammock. We had plenty of time just to hang out.

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Each week the kids decorated a bower (as if for giant bower birds). It’s on the path to the natural play area, just below the trail from the parking lot to the visitor center barn.

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I enjoyed all of camp—we’ve had a great bunch of kids— but getting to each lunch in a treehouse is pretty special.

 

Mariton: Nature Camp

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

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Nature Camp started at Mariton, and we have a bright group of children attending.  We are focusing on plants this year.  Virginia is seen here giving an overview of how plants fit into the order of life, along with the things that make plants special.

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After Virginia talked, we took a walk where we could find out more about plants.  We took a look at galls on the Hackberry.  It is a neat adaptation where an insect injects a plant hormone while laying its egg, thus causing the plant to grow a protective structure that protects the egg and larva.

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Above are examples of moss and lichen side by side.  These are two very special types of plants.  On our walk, we also examined tree roots that had been exposed by storms, poison ivy, leaf miner tracks and other plants.  The kids are asking really excellent questions this year, so we are looking forward to the rest of the week.

Mariton: Morning Kayak Trip

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

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If I cancelled programs every time the weather people said I should…  Well, I would end up doing  fewer programs.  Still, deciding to run or cancel a program is one thing that gives me great anxiety.  Sunday morning all of the forecasters talked about the bad thunderstorms that would hit mid-morning, but I just couldn’t see anything in the data, or on the weather maps that indicated their concern.  I had a kayak trip scheduled on Lake Nockamixon for early that morning, and some of the people were traveling over an hour to get there.  So, after a little hand wringing I emailed everyone and said the trip was a go.

Wading in Haycock Run

Wow, were the weather forecasters wrong.  We had wonderful weather all day.  It was a little muggy at first, but we soon had a refreshing breeze in our faces.  Then we took a break and waded in the cool waters of one of the feeder streams.

And wildlife.  We saw 3 ospreys, and heard another talking in the tree line.  We figured there were two adults and two young.  One of the adults had a fish in its talons and perched in a tree as we paddled nearby.  We saw lots of Great-blue Herons.  Some loafing along the shore.  Some perched in trees.  We also saw the smaller Green Herons.

It was great morning on the water.  Everyone had expected it to be cancelled when they awoke, because they had heard the forecast too.  It was such a great trip that everyone was very happy we did it in spite of the forecast.

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Three

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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The first and second graders came to Crow’s Nest last week for two half-day sessions each day. The program is simple: take a hayride to our Pine Creek campsite and have fun!

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The kids (re)built their dam on Pine Creek and we rigged up a bucket “shower.” We’d end each day going down to the “deep spot.” Kids also got to challenge themselves crossing the creek on the wire bridge.

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This camp is the kids’ introduction to Crow’s Nest. We want them to be comfortable with nature and have fun outdoors. There will be many years ahead to learn more about the preserve and nature, and we hope they all come back!

Daytrip Discoveries: Bear Creek Preserve

By Dulcie Flaharty, Vice President of Community Partnerships

Dulcie’s “Daytrip Discoveries” represent her quest to visit all 17 of Natural Lands Trust’s publicly accessible nature preserves within one year–an adventure she hopes will inspire others to do the same! Dulcie was the Executive Director of Montgomery County Lands Trust, which merged with Natural Lands Trust in 2012.

Because of its size and growing trail network (nearly 20 miles have been readied for visitors since the property was acquired by Natural Lands Trust) the 3,412-acre Bear Creek Preserve, in the Pocono Mountains, rose immediately to the top of my list for a daytrip adventure.

Being able to tag along with a group of avid birders for a late-spring walk provided the enticement I needed to venture north on RT #476 (about an hour from the Quakertown toll plaza) to see why birding has gone epidemic among colleagues and friends.

On the trip north, the flyover of a Pileated Woodpecker and a Common Raven set the tone for good birding, according to my trip buddy for the day Debbie Beer, engagement manager for Natural Lands Trust.

The magic of Bear Creek Preserve enveloped us as we pulled off the road and onto the winding, gravel drive. The recently constructed Management Center provided a great trail-head and information resource. Opening the car door, we were greeted by sweet-smelling breezes and a cacophony of bird song.

Debbie and the other birders I was traveling with readied for our walk by sharing information on local winged visitors and residents.

The first great surprise of the day came when I learned that bird watching is more often bird listening. Tackling the use of binoculars and schooling my ears in support of my eyes brought additional senses to the ready.

Checking Birding Book Looking for birds

As our walk continued, I found myself routinely distracted from birding by the abundant wildflowers and darting butterflies and insects. Pink mountain laurel and fly poison plant (Native Americans mixed it with sugar to control insects) could be spotted close by.

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The new, simple bridge built recently by Preserve Manager Joe Vinton made crossing a small creek less of a challenge. The sound of moving water added another dimension to our multi-sensory hike.

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A family with young children along for the walk enjoyed helping scout out an American toad and a salamander, which elicited ooooos and aaahhs from the young naturalists.

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The geology of Bear Creek Preserve is as fascinating and beautiful as its flora and fauna.

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Ambling back to the Management Center, we had time for a quick visit inside to see the newly completed facility, which is warm and welcoming. I loved the “feather paintings” created by Force of Nature volunteer Paula Fell!

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Four of the five senses—smell, sight, touch, and hearing—were engaged during our morning walk at Bear Creek Preserve. As midday had already passed, it was time to satisfy the fifth sense with a picnic at the nearby Francis E. Walter Dam Park. (Many local eateries are closed on Sundays, the day of our visit.) Next visit we might try to schedule a stop at the Bear Creek Café, which looked very quaint and had a nice menu.

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Our three-hour hike yielded 27 bird species for the avid birders in the group. For all others who take pleasure just from the multitude of sensory experience in being outdoors, there were a myriad of other natural delights to keep us smiling.

Want to plan your own visit? Preserve details and highlights can be found here.

 

The Explore NLT app!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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This cannot pretend to be an unbiased review—let’s just say I love it. This mobile-device app is available for free on iTunes now and will be available for Android devices soon (click the link above or when you’re in the iTunes store search on “Explore NLT”).

It is a guide to our preserves—where to find them (with directions), what to expect when you get here, and a map showing you where you are on our trails as you traverse them. It even tells you the current weather conditions, upcoming events, and what facilities are available.

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Let’s note for a minute what it is not: it is not a field guide to the plants and animals of each preserve. That’s a dream (and somebody’s master’s thesis?) yet to be realized. Also, this app has some functionality even if your device does not have a cellular connection, but to show your position superimposed on an aerial photograph of the preserve while walking the trails, you do need a cellular connection for data (most of our preserves have coverage).

But as I have found while monitoring conservation easements, there is nothing better than having a device showing where you are with respect to the trails and other features of the land. Older consumer GPS devices showed where you are, but not property boundaries, aerial photographs, or trails (this app does all of these). Professional-grade GPS machines may do all this but at a cost and size that don’t make sense except for professional-level data collection (and even in that, mobile devices have played a significant role in democratizing information technologies—think how citizen science has changed in the last five years).

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Trust me, we thought long and hard about introducing a device that serves as an intermediary between you and your direct experience of nature. Personally I prefer my experiences to be first hand, without a smartphone between me and the world. But this is a tool, one that can be used and then turned off and put away. At the same time, it also makes access to the preserves easier for a greater number of people, so it has the capability of informing and sharing nature with more people who can come to appreciate the experiences.

And the information is easy to update quickly and inexpensively. If you look closely at the map above, you’ll see an addition we created to the  red “Deep Woods” trail behind our visitor center that will not show up on our paper trail maps until their next reprinting, maybe next year.

I hope you give the app a try, and that you find it rewarding!

Crow’s Nest: The sounds of summer

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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The cicadas started calling  around July 8. Before that, we might have had summer temperatures, and the calendar said summer was here, but it really isn’t summer until we hear them. I call it “high summer,” even as the days have already started getting shorter. When I was young I remember going to scout camp in the Poconos in summer and it was quiet at home when I left, and not so quiet a week later when I returned. A bit earlier in my life I used to make armies of the dried exoskeletons after their emergence from them.

I don’t find them is such numbers at the preserve today, usually just one at a time. I don’t know if they are more common in the concrete and split-level home suburbs of my youth, or whether their numbers have dwindled over time.

This one was hanging on the chicken coop this morning waiting for the sun to get a little higher.

 

Mariton: Bluebird Babies

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

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The Bluebird babies are doing fine.  I still have two different broods of four birds each.  I think they will be in the nest boxes for another week.  Perhaps the kids at Nature Camp will be able to see them next week when we go to the fields.

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