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First (belated) prescribed fire of the year…

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Finally the weather cooperated and was within prescription for a burn on a Natural Lands Trust preserve. Today we burned an 18-acre warm-season grass meadow at Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve. Usually by this date in spring we’re all finished, but spring has arrived late this year. In the photo below the point of ignition is at the upper right, and one crew is working right to left across the top of the field and our crew is working toward me (I was staffing the truck-mounted water pump so was on standby). The wind was the reverse of what we usually experience at this site, so we just burned from the opposite corner so that we could have a backing fire creeping back into the wind.


The end result: habitat managed for wildlife and native plants. Prescribed fire mimics a natural process, creates the conditions where  desirable grassland species thrive.


We have a great crew of well-trained, reliable staff that comes together for these burns. We’ve been doing these for almost 20 years (so I don’t have digital photography that goes back that far).

Crow’s Nest: Spring WebWalkers, WebWanderers, WebWigglers

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


Our spring nature clubs are underway. The kids are exploring the preserve as it awakens from winter. Each week this spring the preserve will be a bit different; new discoveries await.


Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program registration open

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

The Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program is accepting applications for its fall semester 2014. Modeled a bit on the Cooperative Extension Master Gardening Program, Master Naturalists receive training in return for volunteer time they give back.

Participants gain training in natural history and nature interpretation and give back to the community by volunteering as educators or by undertaking restoration projects. Training will be held in Bucks, Chester, and Lancaster Counties this fall.

Schuylkill River Sojourn in June

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Registration is open for the 16th annual Schuylkill River Sojourn June 7 – 13, sponsored by the Schuylkill National and State Heritage Area.

I always mention that paddling along a river through an otherwise familiar landscape is a different and wonderful way of seeing a place. The Sojourn website also states the not-so-obvious but obvious: the river itself is different each year. The route is the same but river changes.

Crow’s Nest: Why is this man smiling?

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

volunteer day

A few Force of Nature volunteers braved the beautiful weather and multiflora rose thorns to cut invasives at Crow’s Nest this weekend. It’s not easy work, but very satisfying, and a huge help to us at the preserve. We made great progress along a hedgerow, cutting multiflora rose,   bittersweet, and a little bit of shrub honeysuckle, privet, and winged euonymous. All of these are starting to leaf out now and cutting them will give the native species a bit more of a chance, and make our efforts to manage this hedgerow easier all year.

Our gang enjoys being very thorough and takes pride in their work. Volunteer Don Miller is smiling because he is satisfied with work well done. Thank you all!

Nature Photography Workshop!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

I attended the Natural Lands Trust photography workshop with professional photographer and nature adventure guide Kevin Loughlin at Hildacy Farm this weekend. I gained a lot of information in a short time.  The workshop was small enough that each of us had time to ask him questions about our camera and address individual needs. Kevin solved at least three technical questions I had about my camera, confirmed a couple things I was doing right, and gave me lots of ideas to improve my photos.

We spent some time wandering around the wetland at Hildacy as Kevin made suggestions for subjects, camera settings, lighting and angles. All the criticism was constructive. Now I really see the value of workshops like these; this is the first one I ever attended.

Here are my favorite photos from the day. Please note that Kevin didn’t choose or critique these.

The spillway above the springhouse:

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

Sedges emerging from the wetland:

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

River birch bark… backlit instead of straight-on:

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

The barn, reflected in the wetland:

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

Japanese pachysandra growing in the stream (who knew it could do that?):

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

Sycamore tree and shadow on the meadow:

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

Next time one of these workshops is held—sign up. It was a bargain and very worthwhile.

Crow’s Nest: What’s blooming?

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Hildacy photography workshop Kevin Loughlin

I was at our Hildacy Preserve yesterday and found the season to be advanced compared to Crow’s Nest. We’re usually 5 – 10 days behind. At Crow’s Nest the red maples are blooming (above). On Friday I saw some bloodroot blooming here; that usually is our first widely visible spring ephemeral wildflower. But that means the round-lobed hepatica is also out; that requires more searching in our Deep Woods.

Of course skunk cabbage is still blooming but the foliage is now up in places. Alder catkins are dangling, though the pollen may not yet be releasing.

Things are ready to burst; the flowers will come fast now.

Screech Owl pair

By Mike Coll, Preserve Manager

Two days after my first ever sighting of a red morph Screech Owl I was pleased to see both the grey and red morph owls together in the box.  It is now my view that the red morph is a female and the grey morph is likely the same male owl that has been roosting in the box throughout the winter.

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You can see in this picture that the head of the lighter colored owl (red morph) is slightly larger than the grey owl, again suggesting that it is a female.

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The pair stayed in the box all day yesterday, alternately preening the other’s feathers.  Today only the female owl has returned to the box, but I think that is still a hopeful sign.



Mariton: Woodpecker Revelation

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

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(Pileated Woodpecker)

Woodpeckers are making their presence known at Mariton.  The males are getting randy and loudly proclaiming territory with “songs”, calls and drumming.  I spent a lot of time thinking about woodpeckers as I took a walk through the forest this morning.  I ended up with six species (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Pileated, Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker).  It was on my walk that I had the revelation that woodpeckers are an excellent entry into the world of birding for a number of reasons.

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(Hairy Woodpecker)

1)      They visit feeders.  Downy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers commonly visit feeders in people’s yards.  (I also see Hairys, Flickers and Sapsuckers at Mariton’s feeders.)  By watching them in your yard you can learn things like movement patterns, silhouettes, and even some calls.  It is easy to start with woodpeckers because there are only a few species in our area.

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(Northern Flicker)

2)      They are noisy.  As noted above, males are making a lot of noise right now.  That makes this group of birds ideal for learning ear-hand-eye coordination.  What I mean by that is that if you can locate the sound, then you can more easily locate the bird with your eyes.  Then it is the matter of practicing bringing you binoculars up to where you are looking without losing the bird from view.  Because the trees are bare of leaves right now, there are fewer obstructions.

MEBUS YellowBelliedSapsuckerOnPearTree1107

(Yellow-bellied Sapsucker)

3)      They are the right size.  While they are still huge compared to Warblers, they are smaller than a lot of birds like Robins, Mourning Doves and Blue Jays.  That makes finding them with binoculars a little more challenging (and more rewarding when you are successful).  Their movements are easier to follow with binoculars than some of the smaller, faster moving species.  So, again they help people learn how to use binoculars.

 MEBUS DownyWoodpeckerFemaleMaritonBirdBlind1215

(Downy Woodpecker)

4)      They are interesting.  The fact that they bang their bills against trees is amazing enough, but they are fun to watch.  Observing a Downy Woodpecker inspect tree bark for food is fascinating.  Watching a Red-bellied woodpecker excavate a nest cavity is awesome.

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(Red-bellied Woodpecker)

5)      Stepping stones.  If you are studying woodpeckers in early spring you are likely to bump into other interesting bird species.  This morning on my walk I was also entertained by Chickadees, Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and Yellow-rumped Warblers.



Crow’s Nest: Volunteer Day this Sunday, April 13

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

The Force of Nature volunteers will be out on Sunday, 1 – 4. So if you’re not planning to go to the Philly Farm and Food Fest (below) come on out and help us cut vines and clean up a new addition to the preserve! We’ve added 8.7 acres to Crow’s Nest this year and this Sunday be the first glimpse of this land for many. We’ll be working on invasive plants and cleaning up some trash.

Unless it’s a downpour we’ll be out, and it looks like it will be warm on Sunday. We’ll meet at the visitor center (201 Piersol Road) at 1 pm and then carpool over to the far side of the preserve where we’ll be working. Bring gloves, pruners or loppers if you have them. We’ll also have some to share.

It’s fun to work with the Force of Nature volunteers, so if you’d like to see what it’s like come on by.