Print this page


Crow’s Nest Camp Week Five

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Photos by Molly Smyrl, Educator

The seventh and eighth graders rounded out the summer’s weeks of camp. All are returning campers from previous years and are very familiar with Crow’s Nest. So we explore how Crow’s Nest is part of a larger conservation effort Natural Lands Trust undertakes in our region.

camp photos by Molly Smyrl

That means we see how land is interconnected, including by water that passes through it. Campers kayaked on Scott’s Run Lake in French Creek State Park, part of the Hopewell Big Woods that also includes Crow’s Nest Preserve and is the last large unbroken forest in southeastern Pennsylvania.

camp photos by Molly Smyrl

Then we kayaked on the Schuylkill River, the watershed that ties many of our preserve lands together. Natural Lands Trust has a small preserve that is an island near Phoenixville.

camp photos by Molly Smyrl

On another day the kids went to visit our ChesLen Preserve which is developing its own kids’ play area and becoming a community resource as well as regionally-significant open space.

camp photos by Molly Smyrl

Upon returning to Crow’s Nest the campers “gave back” to the preserve in the form of a service project addressing some of the problem areas that have developed on the Creek Trail. An eroded incision in the treadway they filled with gravel which required a bucket brigade to get the gravel from the edge of the woods to where it was needed. And they added a second board to a boardwalk over a gully that was getting more difficult to cross as it got wider and more muddy.

camp photos by Molly Smyrl

We are grateful for the kids who have made this summer’s camps so memorable and fun!


Crow’s Nest: New steers

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


If you read the Crow’s Nest Facebook page you already know about this: We’ve added a couple new steers at Crow’s Nest to do additional prescribed grazing. They’re still getting bottle fed but soon will be employed to clear brush for habitat improvement at specific parts of the preserve.


Meanwhile, we moved the big steers to the larger habitat improvement area. And we moved Duffy the goat to be with the little steers.

Crow’s Nest: Glorious summer

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


We’ve had glorious weather over the last couple weeks and visitors have enjoyed our peak of summer blooms.


Until today, it’s been dry. Rain will likely hasten some of the flowers to seed.


Above, Joe-Pye weed; below, Jerusalem artichoke in the barnyard.


The meadow planting volunteers worked on this spring is starting to show. That’s the guardrail of Harmonyville Road in the background.


The planting is mostly warm-season grasses like little bluestem, below, but there are also wildflowers to support pollinators and for additional beauty (and to send the unspoken message that this isn’t a patch of weeds but a deliberate meadow).


Finally two photos of phlox; these are growing along Piersol Road, are long-blooming, and brighten my day.



Mariton: “August” Beginnings

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manger

Four Fledlings

These Bluebirds left their box a few days after this photo was taken.  I am seeing them flying around the yard and in other places at Mariton.  We had a good nest box season.  In all, 12 bluebirds, 10 Chickadees, and 5 Tree Swallows fledged out.

I am seeing more butterflies in the fields and woods.  The Monarda and Butterflyweed are still blooming.  The goldenrods are starting to show some color.  The Goldfinches are loving the Woodland Sunflower that is blooming one of the fields.  So even though it is summer, there are a lot of things in the woods and fields to see and hear on your next trip to Mariton.

Recharging the Batteries

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager.  Photos by Tim and Maureen Burris

So, where does a Preserve Manager who has a the best job in the world and lives on a wonderful preserve go on vacation?  To a another slice of heaven where he (or she) doesn’t have to think about its management and upkeep.  Maureen and I went to the Adirondacks where we attended the Adirondack Canoe Symposium in mid-July.  I taught a couple classes and she took a class.  It was pretty plush camping for us with nice bathroom facilities at the campground.  Since we were there for the week, we took our big tent with lots of room to spread out.  We shared meals in a dining tent with the other folks attending the Symposium, and sat around campfires at night.  We knew most everyone there from attending symposiums over the years.  While the folks are far flung, many are my close friends.

Stoney Brook

Whenever we had a couple of hours off, we would load canoes on cars and visit new waterways with friends.

Moose Pond

The absolute best part of the trip was our last afternoon.  Just the two of us went to Little Clear Pond to canoe for a few hours.  We ate lunch sitting on the beach at the canoe access.  Only 40 yards out from shore was a pair of Loons with two little ones. With binoculars we could see the parents feeding the babies small fish.  A family of Belted Kingfishers flew back and forth along the shore in front of us.  Then a Bald Eagle flew over head.  (The loons didn’t like the appearance of a potential predator, and became  quite vocal.)

Root mass

After lunch, we got in the canoes and just took our time poking along the shore.  The water was clear and the dead trees and root masses along shore and in the lake were extremely interesting.  The stump in the photo below reminded both of us of a Great-blue Heron.

Heron stump

As we paddled around, two otters poked their heads out of the water then disappeared.  I heard White-throated Sparrows, Phoebes, Hermit Thrush, and watched at Northern Waterthrush poking along the shore.  We saw more loons as we paddled around the lake.  At one point we were just drifting and watching two nearby loons.  An immature Bald Eagle flew over and we got to hear the loons’ full repertoire as they warned the other loons on the lake.  It is a song that resonates at a primal level.  What a great way to conclude a wonderful week.

Watching Loons

So, what is the point of my busman’s holiday report?  Southeastern Pennsylvania will never be a wild playground like the Adirondacks, but I am pretty proud that NLT has made the region much more livable because of the land that has been protected.  Sometimes you just have to step back to see the bigger picture.

Mariton: July Precipitation

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

In July, we experienced 7.22 inches of rain at Mariton.  The average is 5.48 inches, so we continue to add to our surplus.  We had a couple gully washers which is characteristic of the month.  Based on my records, we are now over 8 inches above average for this point in the year.  For reference the driest July was 1999 when I recoreded 0.40 inches.  The wettest was 2004 with 12.27 inches.

Mariton: Camp’s Friday Night Program

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

One of the neat things about our camp is that we end Friday night with a family potluck and special program.  This was something that Polly Ivenz, our longtime program director, started many years ago.  It gives kids a chance to show their parents and siblings what they did during the week.  Carole posts all the photos she has taken during the week up on the walls of the Nature Center.  The kid’s get to narrate the photos for their parents, which I think helps reinforce the things they have learned.

Following dinner we have our program.  We have featured Kathy and Eric Uhler of Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center as the speakers for several years.  They present a fantastic educational program using live animals.  For instance Flame pictured below is a female red-phase Screech Owl.  She can’t be released into the wild, but she has served as a foster mother to many Screech Owls.  Being raised by an actual owl is a better education for an owlet, and they have a better chance of survival when they get released back to the wild.


Is there a better way to learn to learn about why Opossums have a pouch?  Opossums give birth (in human terms) to pre-mature babies and the pouch serves as an incubator where the young continue to develop.  When a female is killed by a car, sometimes her babies in the pouch can be saved and released back into the wild.  (As was the case with this female baby.)


This porcupine was a hit with everyone.  Since they live in northern Pennsylvania, we don’t see them here.  While no one got to touch, it was interesting to see one up close.


And the goal is releasing wild animals back into the wild.  Kathy and Eric brought a Great-horned Owl that they released.  We watched as it flew to the pine trees, and then disappeared in the darkness.  What a great experience for everyone.

3943-GreatHornedOwlReleaseAtMaritonByPWRC0801-2 (2)


Mariton: Trees and Shrubs

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

Friday at Nature Camp we concluded our series on plants with the trees and shrubs.  We talked about compound leaves and simple leaves.


We talked about bark.


Here the kids point at Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the forest after learning how to identify the whole tree, not just the leaves.


While walking we chanced upon this Downy Woodpecker working on a Common Mullein stalk (Verbascum thapsus).  This is a plant that the children learned earlier in the week, so it was neat for them to watch wildlife utilizing the plant.


It was a great week in camp, and the children had fun and learned a few things also.


Mariton: Field and Lab Scientists

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus


Today we visited a little unnamed tributary of the Delaware River.  Jim Wilson of the Northampton County Conservation District met us there and talked to the children about how plants protect the water quality in our streams.  He talked about riparian buffers which help filter run off and limit stream bank erosion.  Trees along stream banks also provide shade which cools the water and provides higher oxygen levels.


Bob Schmidt, of Fry’s Run Watershed Association,  talked about the aquatic invertebrates (stream critters) living in the stream.  Then the kids were let loose to collect.


We used a kick net for the macro-invertebrates.  The kids also looked under rocks and along the streams edge for crayfish, salamanders and dace (a type of small fish).  Then they studied them under the microscope or the field lenses.


Every kid got to do a titration to determine the amount of carbon dioxide in the water.


At the end we tallied up what we had found.  Using the stream sampling calculator we arrived at a score of 21, which gave us very good water quality.  Jim and Bob were fantastic, and the kids had a lot of fun doing the sampling.  They were real aquatic scientists for the morning.  Plus what kid doesn’t like to splash in the water?

Mariton: Plants and Animals

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus


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.


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.


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.