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Daytrip Discoveries: Bear Creek Preserve

By Dulcie Flaharty, formerly Executive Director of Montgomery County Lands Trust (which merged with Natural Lands Trust in 2012)

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!

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.

Mountain Laurel pink

Fly Poison plant

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.

Bear Creek new bridge

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.

American Toad back

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

Rock table with mossy coverlet

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!

Feather Art

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.

Debbie at reservoir picnic

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

NLT app photos

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.

NLT app photos

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).

NLT app photos

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


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

Nest box 8

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.

Nest box H-3

Mariton: Remember This?

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

MEBUS EntranceToNatureCenter0217

Since we are in the middle of summer, I thought I’d post a few photos from last winter.  Brrrrr.  These photos were taken on February 17, after the Nor’easter.   I ran into Carole Mebus this day on the trails and she shared her photos.  Her photo above of Mariton’s entrance is a classic.  There are only so many places to put the snow that has to be shoveled from the sidewalks.  Her photo below of the bench along the Main Trail looks pretty funny now in July.  This was at the point of the winter when the snow was the deepest.

 MEBUS BenchAlongMainTrailMariton0217

I took the photo below of one of the (3 foot tall) trail markers, just barely poking above the snow.

Trail Marker in Snow

Here is a photo of a Sassafras tree near the Main Trail.  I like the mantle of snow perched on the twisted trunk, and the shadow from the tree.

Snowy tree and shadow

I like all of the seasons.  There are interesting things to discover in each one, and I can always find a reason to venture outside no mater what the weather is like.  Now is the perfect time to remember how fine it was to take a walk in the brisk winter air and read a book in the evening beside the woodstove.

Crow’s Nest: Camp Week Two

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


We had another delightful week of camp, this time for fourth and fifth graders. The kids built new tree houses in the woods. In addition to creating spaces to hang out in this group added a tin-can telephones between the five tree houses and rudimentary “text messaging”—pencil and pad of paper carried through the air between the trees in baskets on rope and pulleys.


We had time to go to the stream each day.


On small group hikes we made ephemeral natural art, painted water colors, sketched botanical drawings, and did photography. And of course, we visited the steers and Duffy the goat.


The barn was again transformed into an art gallery and an opening was held of Friday afternoon for the families of the artists.


IMG_7336 (1)

Crow’s Nest: The Extraordinary Ordinary

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


In the everyday, is the extraordinary. Above, broadleaf or bitter dock (Rumex obtusifolius), a common weed of croplands and disturbed field edges, is nonetheless beautiful. It was introduced from Europe.


Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) have nested in our cattle shed, just at head level as I am mucking out the bedding. Each juvenile appears to have its own personality in this photograph. (Can you see the fourth?) Again, common, yet extraordinary.

Finally, one that is either common or perhaps less so… I am not the one to say. This is either a banded hairstreak (Satyrium calanus) or perhaps a hickory hairstreak (Satyrium caryaevorum). It’s tiny, about the size of my pinky fingernail, and is perched here on the diamondplate tailgate of the truck. By the way if you Google “banded hairstreak vs. hickory hairstreak Pennsylvania” one of the hits is this Natural Lands Trust weblog, an entry by Tim Burris on  June 17, 2011. Tim discusses the slight differences in their identification and if he is left in doubt then so am I. Nonetheless a spectacular sight.


Paunacussing Preserve

Diabase Farm Preserve

Mariton: More Bluebird Eggs

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Four Bluebird Eggs

I believe the Bluebirds have finished laying their eggs and will begin incubating.  Both nests hold 4 eggs.  I think Bluebirds laying later in the season have better weather and food resources when the chicks hatch.  There are definitely drawbacks to late nests.  I have more problems with ants in the boxes and there are probably more predators out there waiting for the chicks to leave the box.  Another question would be if the young are developed enough by the time fall rolls around to make a short migration and fend for themselves.  All in all, I am pleased that these two pairs are trying to raise broods.  We didn’t get much activity earlier this year in Mariton’s nest boxes, so this is a welcome surprise.