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Daytrip Discoveries: ChesLen 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.

Field with equestian #2

It is difficult to say a 1,263-acre preserve is “nestled” anywhere. In describing the bountiful landscapes of ChesLen Preserve, one might more fittingly say that it is “draped” across Newlin Township, resting close to Unionville, with the meandering East Branch Brandywine Creek running along its northern border.

The creation of ChesLen Preserve entails a dramatic story of philanthropy, vision, and adept negotiations which appropriately complements it’s remarkable vistas. We suggest you dive into that story on a cloudy day, not one like the lovely fall day on which we were lucky enough to enjoy our visit.

Enticing my friend Diana Rudloff, an avid birder and lover of the out-of-doors, to join me for the day, I rationalized that visiting ChesLen was akin to going to a “venue that only can be seen thoroughly with a three-day pass”. That reality accepted, together we determined that we would choose to explore a couple distinct landscapes: the wet meadow and the serpentine barrens. We parked at the shared Newlin Township building lot and carefully crossed Route #162, Embreeville Road, to enter the preserve.

Trail welcome over Brandywine

We were welcomed into one of the largest private nature preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania. The early fall agricultural fields could not have been more verdant and the trail before us looped around them, hugging a densely wooded stream corridor. Diana was on the lookout for monarch butterflies, a species in decline in our region over recent years.  The prevalence of milkweed gave us hope; this native plant is the larval host plant for monarchs.

Field with milkweed


We were rewarded with nine sighting of the classic orange and black beauty during our visit!


The meadows and stream banks were still in bloom due to moderate temperatures. There was much to enjoy. The green-headed coneflower and bouncing Bet were happy in their sunny landscape.

Green Headed Coneflower

Bouncing Bet-Saponaria Officinalis

Our loop completed, we decided to again cross the Brandywine and jump into the car. (The morning walk left us ravenous for lunch!) We drove over to the Lenfest Center for an outside picnic. The Lenfest Center, built in 2013, is ChesLen Preserve’s management center and home base for the staff and volunteers based there.

Lenfest Center

Our dessert was looking out at the rolling landscape and enjoying the native plantings around the Lenfest Center… lovely food for the soul.


Lenfest Center green plants

The day had passed more quickly than expected, but I wanted to share with Diana a quick visit to the rare serpentine barrens: Natural Lands Trust has been working tirelessly to restore this unique and threatened landscape. Because of the sensitive ecology, the barrens aren’t on the preserve map, but we got the inside scoop from David Castaneda, the preserve manager at ChesLen.

The site might look a bit messy to the uninformed eye but removing the encroaching woodlands is critical to the site’s restoration.

Restoration of the Barrens

A praying mantis seemed to like the setting just fine and utilized his remarkable skills of blending with his scenery to herald his integration with the surroundings.

Praying Mantis

Amazingly, our five-hour trip to ChesLen Preserve had flown by. Diana and I agreed that a return visit was a must! A subsequent trip might focus on birds or allow us to walk around the large, open agricultural fields. Additional woodland trails might capture our attention. Hmmmm… maybe a three-day pass is just not enough to explore the 1,200+ acres of this remarkable natural resource protected by Natural Lands Trust!

The prefect end to the day came with a stop at the Northbrook Market on Unionville Wawaset Road for a yummy apple cider donut. It doesn’t get much better than this.

If you want to plan a trip to ChesLen Preserve, additional information, directions, and a trail map are available here.


Mariton: Fall Colors

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

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I lead a tree walk on Sunday afternoon.  The colors were outstanding, but I kept diverting people’s attention to tree bark instead of the colorful leaves.  Most of us start out learning tree identification by the distinct leaves of the different species.  The problem is that for part of the year many trees don’t have leaves.  So, our group focused on learning to ID several trees by their bark.  They were good.  By the end of the walk, everyone knew several different species by the bark.  They even got the tricky ones.

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The Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) are really getting beautiful in the fields.  This is one of my favorite fall trees because of all the different colors that these leaves turn during the fall.

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And it isn’t all yellows, oranges and reds.  You can find the blues and purples of wild grape (above), pokeberry, and other fruits.  This year there is a bumper crop of fruit for wildlife.  On our walk, we locate many birds by locating the wild grape tangles.   Mariton should be a good place to bird watch this coming winter.

Mariton: Hermit Thrushes are Back

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

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Our Tuesday Nature Walk featured birds again this week.  I have been expecting Hermit Thrushes to move into our area for the winter, and we finally found a couple this morning.  We believe the one pictured above is a juvenile Hermit Thrush.  It took a lot of discussion, but fortunately a bird guide on Sharon’s phone helped us make the call (pun intended).

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The White-throated Sparrows have been back for a couple weeks now.  This is one of the species that cheers us on winter mornings with its song.  Our eyes are immediately attracted to the yellow lore spot near the eye and the throat patch, but I try to get people to look at the coloring on the wings and back of sparrows.  The shadings of browns, black and white are intricate and stunning.  Check out the photo below that Carole took in the bird blind last December.

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We didn’t see it, but we heard a Common Raven.  In the last few years this species has been expanding its range southward.  There are reports of them nesting in our area.  (Perhaps they will nest at Mariton in the future.)  I am used to seeing and hearing them when I go to Lycoming County.  I always associated this species with mountains and high latitudes, but I suppose their habitat needs are a little more complex than that.

Most of our time was checking out migrating raptors in the sky.  Sharp-shinned Hawks were the most numerous, but we saw a Cooper’s Hawk (and some unidentified accipiters), as well as Red-tails, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures.

Daytrip Discoveries: Willisbrook 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.

Bluebird Box

October is a great time to enjoy the out-of-doors. “HHH” (hot, humid, and hazy) summer days are in the rear-view mirror and the energizing crispness of fall is beginning to sneak into our morning and afternoon sojourns. The gloriously clear blue October skies have always been my favorite!

My traveling companion for this afternoon, Phoebe Driscoll, Natural Lands Trust President’s Council member, was running late. Starting out behind schedule on a gray afternoon with dwindling light, a bit of disappointment crept into my first fall excursion. Wouldn’t Willisbrook Preserve, near Malvern borough, be ever-so-much lovelier with bright sunshine lighting our way? How wrong I was!

Recognizing you are at Willisbrook Preserve is a bit of a surprise, as the entrance is tucked in between manicured fields of the Greater Chester Soccer Association and a growing residential complex next to Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation. But do not lose hope… surprises are ahead.

Serpentine in the parking lot

Walking through the parking lot, the first surprise of the day emerged. Greenish serpentine rock could be seen below the gravel, as if a sleeping dinosaur was welcoming us to Willisbrook Preserve. Twenty acres of serpentine barrens on the property provide rare habitat for many plant species of special concern in Pennsylvania.

Preserve tryptick sign

Walking to the end of the parking area the Natural Lands Trust sign provided information about Willisbrook Preserve and guidance for choices from trail system. An entrance pathway took me from parking, soccer, and suburbia into a diverse meadow and woodland experience. Crickets chirped, birds chattered. Even without skillful help in identifying the names of the lovely creatures sharing the visit with me, the experience quickly became a delight.

Flagged study area

Hostle Soil sign

An area green-flagged for Serpentine Barrens study was a reminder that unique plants and animals are hosted preserves in the barrens. The stewardship of these special lands provides a unique opportunity for study.

Meadow path

Fall meadows mature with a profusion of color! The mix of trees and peek-a-boo grasslands is balanced at Willisbrook to provide a varied experience over the 120 acres and four miles of trails.

Pony Cart from the front

Thanks to a trail map and cell phone, my friend was able easily find me on the preserve and we walked on together. In minutes, we crossed paths with other visitors, two-footed and four-footed, enjoying the trails and afternoon breezes.

Phoebe & acorn

Oak & acorn

Phoebe and I were impressed with the mature forest with its plethora of oak trees. She tried to give me a bit of a tree-ID tutorial by looking at the leaf shape, bark, and acorns to help with identification. I’ll need to work on this after “class.” This exceptionally showy tree is a post oak, often found on Serpentine Barrens.


After several looping walks we headed for our cars. We passed one more pastoral meadow view. The light was dimming and the sky remained gray. The milkweed in the field reminded us of the continuing importance and measurable challenges of land protection in a suburban landscape. Development may continue, but we are all-the-more appreciative that wonderful places like Willisbrook Preserve are protected and nearby for us to experience.

Plan your own visit to Willisbrook before the fall color vanishes!


Mariton: Tree Walk On Sunday

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

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(Photo by Carole Mebus)

I look forward to the Tree Walk on Sunday.  The fall colors won’t be peak, but they are beautiful.  Besides enjoying a walk in the woods, I plan to show people the clues that I use to identify trees.  Besides leaves, you can identify trees using bark, shapes and whole array of things.

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I spent a lot of time roaming the woods with my Grandpa when I was a kid.  He was a farmer and a “woodsman”.  I don’t remember the bits of information that he imparted on our rambles, but I surely absorbed some of them.  In my first dendrology class in college, my professor was bowled over that I could identify trees off in the distance just by their shape or some general impression that I noticed.  (Thanks Gramps!)   My professor had studied with Burton Barnes and Ed Voss, two great Michigan botanists, and I tried to absorb everything she told us about trees.  Since then, I have spent time afield with some “really good” tree folks, including Dave Steckel in NLT’s Development Department.  Dave and others have added to my bag of tricks for identifying trees.  I still feel I am the student, but I have learned enough to share with other students.

Leafpeeper alert: Crow’s Nest Preserve peak fall color

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Fall color

We’re pretty close to peak fall color here, and highly recommend everyone come see it in person.

Fall color

Above, an ironwood tree zigzags against the sky.

Fall color

Above, the creek trail where it starts into the woods, and below, looking back from the other end of the boardwalk.

Fall color

Sassafras and tuliptree at the visitor center.

Fall color

Mariton: Birding is still good.

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

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Tufted Titmouse and Poison Ivy berries

Tuesday’s Walk was good for birding.  The gnats are still bothersome, but that probably helps us find some interesting birds.  At the top of the Spruce Trail, we found a flock of several bird species.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were feeding with Golden-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  It was a pleasant surprise to find these species all in one place.  There were also Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downey Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Chickadees.

An immature Bald Eagle flew right over us in one of the meadows.  We figured that it was probably a 3 year old bird, as the head and tail weren’t completely white.  We also saw a Cooper’s Hawk in that meadow.

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Eastern Bluebird female

Along the Turnpike Trail, we ran into another group of birds that included Bluebirds, some Cedar Waxwings, and more Yellow-rumps.

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Cedar Waxwing


Crow’s Nest: Canoemobile fun

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Our Educator Molly Smyrl and I, along with our intern Cody Hudgins on his first day of work, helped staff a station during the Canoemobile’s local trip on Blue Marsh Lake.


The kids were great, the day cool and damp. When they returned from the water we talked about what we do at Natural Lands Trust and did a demonstration of the web of life. The Canoemobile is a program of the nonprofit organization Wilderness Inquiry.


Green Hills joins the “Find Yourself Outside” Challenge

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Green Hills has joined the now 18 preserves to visit to gather “code words” to earn a Natural Lands Trust fleece vest—more preserves now than when I did the challenge!

Visit all 18 preserves, collect the code word that is at the kiosk or parking area, and submit them to us to receive your vest.

Naturally, I’ve blurred out the code word in this photo of the sign at Green Hills Preserve. You’ll just have to go visit the preserve, and while you are there, enjoy the two miles of trails, wildflowers, and scenic vistas.


Mariton: Birds Are Where You Find Them

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

Our Tuesday walk was a great morning for birds.  Right off the bat, we got into a mixed flock with a variety of woodpecker species, including a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Included in the flock were several Eastern Bluebirds, along with Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches.  We got a pretty good look at two Scarlet Tanagers.  Upon reviewing Ed’s photography, we found a scarlet patch on one of the birds that indicated it was a male in its yellow winter plumage.

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Eastern Bluebirds

We had an enjoyable walk to the meadows, but there was very little bird activity.  That was until we headed down the Turnpike Trail and we ran into another mixed flock of birds signaled first by the call of Chickadees.  We saw a flock of Bluebirds that investigated a dead tree.  There were woodpeckers too.  Then Marilyn spotted a small warbler flitting about the leaves.  We got a couple good looks and determined it was a Black-throated Green Warbler.  A pretty good sighting for an October morning.

Ed made the comment:  “ In the Fall, birds are where they are.”  It sounds flippant, but it is true.  One often finds songbirds foraging in groups of several species traveling through the forest or fields in a wave.  Safety in numbers and many eyes.  Usually I hear the Chickadees first, and then go on alert for what else might be with them.  You never know who might be traveling with the group.  I have seen Brown Creepers, thrushes, sparrows, Winter Wrens, kinglets, and other species all in one group.  They may feed all around you for a few minutes, but they are always traveling, and then they are gone.  So, unless you happen to intercept one of these traveling bands, it is really easy to go through a fall morning with very few sightings.  Polly Ivenz, who was Mariton’s Program Director for nearly three decades used to say “Birds are where you find them.”   So, Carole and I smiled when Ed made his comment.

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At the end of the walk we stopped to look at several Eastern Comma butterflies that were feeding on the pawpaws by the parking lot.  This is what they look like with wings closed.  Below with the wings open.  It was an enjoyable walk interspersed with three bursts of activity.

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