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Crow’s Nest: A Hike of their Own, Part 1

This spring we had a group of 6th graders in our Thursday morning nature clubs who collectively have many years of experience at Crow’s Nest. They know the preserve well, and have routinely impressed us with how responsible they are, so we decided to give them a new challenge before they aged out of nature clubs at the end of the spring season: to go on a hike without any adults!

In the early part of the spring we did a little bit of planning for the hike each week: picking a destination and route; deciding what the kids needed to bring with them; reviewing how to use a compass; discussing what to do in an emergency. By the second-to-last week of the season they were ready, so we sent them off on their hike.

Below is a description of the hike written by the kids, the first installment of the story, to be continued in future entries.

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We were leaving for our 6th grade hike. We got a walkie-talkie (which we couldn’t believe Molly let us have!) and a camera. Lily took about ten pictures before five seconds of our hike were even up. We told Molly over the radio when we got on the road. I could have just said that without the radio, because she was following us. [Editor’s Note: I was seeing them off, not “following” them.] We reported where we were all along the path through the fields and when we crossed Northside Road and all the way to the edge of the Deep Woods. We stopped for a drink a few times (yes, we were smart enough to bring water.)

When we got to the top of the hill and were ready to go into the woods, the exciting part happened: we radioed Molly to tell her where we were, and she said back, “Don’t forget to crackel pop vumvum.

Nina said, “What?” and no reply came back.

[To be continued]

 

Crow’s Nest Preserve: Signs of Spring—Wood ducklings

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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A female wood duck leads her ducklings along French Creek at Crow’s Nest Preserve while a Canada goose looks on… we are lucky to have forested creek sections that provide wood ducks’ habitat.

Crow’s Nest Volunteer Cleanup Success

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager. Photo by Jim Moffett

Well, I suppose the volunteers cleaned themselves up pretty well afterwards. But I can tell you they did a great job cleaning up part of an old dump at the preserve on Sunday!

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We collected two pick-up truck loads of cans, bottles, broken dishes and toys on a recently-acquired parcel of land. We’ll head back to this spot in the fall or early winter when it’s cooler and the vegetation has died back. We made a big dent in the pile this time. And we sure got dirty ourselves!

 

Green Hills Hike

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager. Photo by Lisha Rowe

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We had beautiful weather for a hike at Green Hills last Saturday, and an hour and a half was the right amount of time to cover the roughly two miles of trails.

Here I’m pointing out the damage weevils (Rhinoncomimus latipes) are doing to invasive mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) seedlings. The weevils were introduced in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to slow the spread of mile-a-minute; the weevil is native to Asia where it feeds only on mile-a-minute, a member of the buckwheat family. Researchers looking for a biological control of mile-a-minute chose this weevil because it only feeds on this annual vine that is so invasive in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The feeding on the leaves by adults weevils doesn’t have as much effect as when they lay eggs and the larvae burrows through the stem. We have observed a later flowering start—mid-July instead of late June, and therefore fewer seeds overall (since it flowers continuously until frost). And a shorter internodal length (the length of the stem between leaves). So perhaps it’s no longer mile-a-minute, just a half-mile-a-minute.

The hike wasn’t all about weeds though. Kelsey Boyd, a Planning Assistant in our Conservation Services Department, talked about the development of a management plan for Green Hills Preserve. This document is nearly finished and will help us prioritize projects over the next few years there.

And our Volunteer and Engagement Manager, Debbie Beer, also pointed out all of the birds she was observing along the way. You can see the list on eBird here.

Nature Revisited: You can go home again

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Back on February 9 in a Crow’s Nest blog entry I mentioned in passing that there was a park I visited as a small child where my friend and I were allowed to play in the woods and stream while his dad sat nearby with a newspaper and gave us the gift of supervised but unstructured play time in the woods. I couldn’t remember the name of the park and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. I was almost certain it was in Lower Merion Township, not far from where I grew up, but was not in my hometown itself.

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Yesterday I was called to advise a volunteer group, Friends of Wynnewood Valley Park, on goals, objectives and strategies for managing invasive plants in a wooded section of a neighborhood park. I thought this might be the park, or perhaps if I had time I might drive around looking for other parks that might be it. I was delighted to see that this is the park, and that it is thriving and beautiful!

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Most childhood places you revisit as an adult look much smaller than memory. Perhaps because the trees are so much taller now this park looks every bit as large and magical as I remember it.

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Lower Merion Parks has an active volunteer group that is helping with weeding, mulching, and planting in this park.

I identify my time at this park as a major influence for why I chose a career in conservation. I also grew up across from a schoolyard, but that was mainly playing fields, little more than turf grass. (One time a nearby tree fell over, and until it was cleaned up it was our rocket ship and fortress. We also jumped off the bleachers with garbage-bag parachutes. We also played in an abandoned house and overgrown yard in our neighborhood, but my mom reads this blog so I’d better stop there. The point is, it doesn’t take a pristine natural area for a child’s imagination to work.)

In contrast Wynnewood Valley Park offered us a clean stream to build little dams in, a “mountain” to climb to reach the gazebo, all under the watchful eye of a parent (his other eye was reading the paper, remember. That’s important, he didn’t tell us what to do, or for that matter, what not to do). I am grateful for that time and space in my childhood and so glad that the park is still there and under such good stewardship.

Green Hills Hike Saturday!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Join me on a walk this Saturday, 9 – 10:30 to see what’s going on at Green Hills Preserve. We’ll stroll the trails, talk about projects completed and projects planned, and see what there is to see of wildflowers and wildlife.

Wear comfortable closed-toe shoes, bring sunscreen and a hat, and bring binoculars or a camera. The event is free, please register on our website here. Please note that there are no restrooms at the preserve.

 

Crow’s Nest: Volunteer Day Sunday!

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Please join our Force of Nature volunteers this Sunday afternoon at Crow’s Nest for a couple hours of cleaning up an old dump on recently-acquired acres added to the preserve.

We’ll meet at the visitor center barn at 2 pm then shuttle in cars over to the other side of the preserve on Bethesda Road. Wear long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, and bring work gloves and some water to drink. We’ll be filling bags with what is largely household trash, cans and bottles from a couple decades back. We’ve worked on this site a couple times before and have made great progress, but there remains a fair amount to do. Many hands make light work!

We’ll provide trash bags and snacks. We’ll work until about 4 pm so you will still have time to enjoy the day.

You can register to come on our website here, or call and leave a message at 610-286-7955.

See you here!

Mariton: Red What?

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

The Mariton “Bird Club” went to Illick’s Mill in Bethlehem for this week’s walk.  We got some very common looks at species that are often difficult to view.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

I find Red-eyed Vireos to be very tough to see.  They usually perch in the tree top directly overhead.  I mean directly overhead; you usually want to lie on your back to see them.  When you finally locate them way up there, you can’t see any distinguishing marks.  So, we were pleasantly surprised by a very cooperative Red-eye that perched in visible locations and let everyone see it.   Watching a bird sing can really help you remember its song.  This guy cooperated with that too.  Seeing  the red eye is another thing.

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

American Redstarts are usually more cooperative than the vireo, but they can be tough sometimes.  I think their patches are more orange than red, but they are still beautiful.  This male (the female is olive with yellow patches where the male has orange) gave everyone a good show.  Except it would not stay still for Carole when she tried to photograph it.

Female Baltimore Oriole and Nest

Female Baltimore Oriole and Nest

We found this Baltimore Oriole nest, and soon the female showed up.

We had a really good morning with several different species, but what stands out for me was the great views that we had of a couple species.

Crow’s Nest: Goodbye old friends

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

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We have said goodbye to a few trees here this week, the natural outcome of age and the unnatural threat of an imported pest, emerald ash borer (EAB).

Emerald ash borer is now present in the counties around us, and it causes complete mortality of ash trees within the insect’s reach. By the time the insects’ exit holes become obvious, it has already been present a year and it takes only three years to decimate a population of trees—as we have found on other preserves.

We are treating a handful of ash trees that will remain a seed source for the species for the future. But most of the trees in our forests are on their own. If there is some degree of resistance in their genes they will exhibit it. Along roads and near buildings—we are beginning to pre-emptively take down those trees that could become hazards.

The tree in the photo above was probably the largest ash at Crow’s Nest Preserve. But it was also not in great shape; we thought about removing it twenty years ago when the barn was renovated and long before EAB was a threat. With the tree now more in decline and with the threat of an insect that was almost certain to kill it, we decided to take it down before it became a hazard. Two others along roads also were taken down today. We will take down more as we can over the next few years so that when EAB gets here we will be able to handle the work of removing the remaining dead trees near roads and buildings.

Tomorrow I will count the rings of this beauty, when I have my reading glasses and the sawdust has settled. No tree should be cut down without acknowledging the respect that it deserves for its years and majesty.

I’ve written before, and will again: the forest of the future is not going to look exactly like the forest of the past. There will be species absent, and others in their place. Gone are the mighty chestnuts, elms, and now likely ash. Other species fill in, endure, persist. Let’s hope the habitat they create is as rich as what was here before.

 

 

Red Knots Return

By Kirsten Werner, Director of Communications

Red Knots at Raybins Beach Photo: Brian Johnson, preserve manager

Red Knots at Raybins Beach
Photo: Brian Johnson, preserve manager

In the 1920s, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd made aviation history with his flights over both the North and South Poles, earning him medals and accolades. But a different bird—one weighing less than an iPhone—is the real master of long-distance flight. With one of the longest migration paths in the animal kingdom, the Red Knot flies nearly pole to pole and back every year of its life.

Red Knots are migratory shorebirds in the sandpiper family. They spend their winters in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of South America, wading along the tidal beaches to forage for clams and other mollusks. But when February arrives, these birds embark on a journey to their spring breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle. Traveling in flocks of thousands, the Robin-sized birds fly more than 9,300 miles to lay their eggs in shallow nests built on the sparsely vegetated tundra.

About halfway along their spring trek, the Red Knots make a critical stopover to Delaware Bay—including Raybins Beach at our Glades Wildlife Refuge—to refuel before continuing on. In fact, an estimated 90 percent of the entire species population can be found on the Bay in a single day. The birds arrive near emaciation and spend about two weeks feeding, gaining up to 10 percent of their body weight each day, until they are able to resume their trip to the Arctic.

A key component of the Red Knot diet is the eggs of Atlantic horseshoe crabs and Delaware Bay is home to the largest population of these prehistoric creatures. Every May and June, in a coincidence of timing that only nature could orchestrate, hundreds-of-thousands of horseshoe crabs leave the ocean depths to spawn on the moonlit beaches. The eggs, full of fat and protein, are the ideal fuel for hungry Red Knots, which have lost up to half their body weight by the time they arrive at the Delaware Bay.

Spawning horseshoe crabs at Raybins Beach Photo: Bill Moses, volunteer

Spawning horseshoe crabs at Raybins Beach
Photo: Bill Moses, volunteer

Most of the eggs the birds consume have been damaged or disturbed by waves and storms, so their ravenous feeding does not have a significant adverse affect on the breeding success of the crabs. These remarkable creatures—more related to scorpions or ticks than crabs—have evolved little over the last 250 million years. Yet they have survived thanks in part to their hard, curved shells, which make it difficult for predators to overturn them and expose their vulnerable underbellies, their tolerance of extremes in water temperature and salinity, and their ability to go more than a year without eating.

However, the population of horseshoe crabs has declined. Over the last hundred years, millions of these animals have been harvested: used for fertilizer and hog fodder; as bait for eel, conch, and whelk; or for biomedical research. And loss of spawning habitat as coastlines are developed has also taken its toll on the species. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of horseshoe crabs plummeted by nearly 90 percent, leaving migrating Red Knots without enough food to survive their journey north.

States began regulating horseshoe crab harvests in the late 1990s. But it wasn’t until a connection was made between the crabs’ decline and a concurrent drop in Red Knot numbers that legislation was enacted. Currently, there is a harvest moratorium in place in New Jersey and tight restrictions on annual harvests in the state of Delaware. Volunteer surveys indicate that the population of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay has stopped declining, but only time will tell if this action was taken in time for the remarkable birds that depend on them. The Red Knot is listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a Bird of Conservation Concern and considered a Continentally Threatened Species. Recently, it has been named as a “Candidate” for the Endangered Species List.

Raybins Beach, located within Natural Lands Trust’s Glades Wildlife Refuge, is one of the best locations for spotting these birds and spawning horseshoe crabs. Please do not walk on the beach when shorebirds are present and, as always, keep dogs on a leash. You are welcome to study them from a distance with binoculars or a spotting scope.

Glades Wildlife Refuge is an expanse of diverse landscapes: vast tidal marshes, wooded wetlands and uplands, beaches along the Delaware Bay, and a remarkable old-growth forest. By preserving this 6,765-acre property, Natural Lands Trust is, in-turn, helping to protect horseshoe crabs, Red Knots, and other species that rely on its special habitats for their survival. 

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