Thursday, July 21, 2016

New Hampshire: Day 1. Cotton Valley Rail-Trail

The old Cotton Valley Station
Kali and I visited with a friend and colleague in central New Hampshire during the second week of July.  Neither of us had ever been to New Hampshire (our fifth-last state to check off our list of "states visited").  We had a good four days.

Our friend had to work on the first day of our visit, so she suggested that she could drive us six miles outside town (Wolfeboro) to an access point for the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail, and we could walk back into town.  Perfect.

Kali on the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail
When Wolfeboro created the rail-trail, the town did not remove the tracks.  In places, the trail runs between the tracks (filled with limestone grit), whereas in most other places, the trail runs alongside the tracks on one side or the other.

A swamp alongside the trail
There's a beaver lodge at the lower right of the image

Bunchberry (an herbaceous perennial dogwood; Cornus canadensis) growing along the right-of-way
The day was bright, sunny, and a bit humid, but the trail was level and the walking easy.

Fernald Station - exactly half way along our walk
Fernald Brook.  There's a beaver dam visible in the center rear of the image.
The second half of the walk, closer to town, was less "wild" than the portion further away.  Development encroached up to the trail edge more frequently, and we could hear cars driving on the state route that parallels the trail.  About two miles outside town, the trail passed by a public beach on Lake Wentworth; lots of folks were taking advantage of the great swimming weather.
Public beach at Lake Wentworth
Lake Wentworth - away from the crowds and private storefront developments
When we got back to town, we treated ourselves to ice cream cones.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Chanticleer Redux (2016)

An ornamental variety of redbud (Cercis candaensis)
Kali's brother, Patrick, was in town from San Diego over the Independence Day holiday.  We visited Chanticleer in Wayne, Pennsylvania, a garden we usually tour once a year and about which I have posted in the past.

Patrick and Kali
I took my camera with me, mostly to take pictures of Kali and Patrick, but also in case something caught my eye.  As soon as I took out the camera and started snapping away, Kali asked, "What are you taking pictures of?  We have so many pictures of this place!"

An incredible variety of Echinacea (usually the flowers are dusty purple)
Floating arrangement for the day
Blue hydrangeas and Adirondack chairs
The new Serpentine Walk and Garden
We did not visit Chanticleer last year, the first year after the garden installed a long, long sinuous elevated path called the Serpentine Walk.  The garden is on two levels: an upper level with the mansion and its associated gardens, and a lower level where the water gardens and stream garden are located.  These two "halves" are separated by a steep hill.  Chanticleer invested (heavily) in a long, winding, handicapped-accessible path to link the two halves of the garden.  It's spectacular.

Pink varieties of Queen Anne's-lace (Daucus carota)
Peeling bark on a streamside birch (Betula sp.)
I have yet to come to terms, personally, with the dry garden, perched on a rocky outcrop at the lip of the hill.  Every time I visit, I express my disappointment to Kali about how "sorry" the garden looks.  This year, I was not disappointed; the garden has finally come into its own.  I think that the garden was developing over the years, and I was just impatient.
The dry garden in its summer glory
Kali, in a wistful moment

I know that I haven't been posting much lately.  Frankly, Kali and I haven't been doing much that has been worth writing about.  Hopefully, that will change.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Unabashed Anthropomorphizing

Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) (Audubon image)
I have begun my annual census of the birds breeding in the heart of the largest, oldest and densest forest in my preserve.  I always begin the census on or around May 20.  This date is a compromise.  For early-breeding resident species like Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and the woodpeckers (i.e., Northern Flickers and the Red-bellied, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers), they've already fledged their young, which accompany their parents begging to be fed and learning how to take care of themselves.  On the other hand, later breeding migratory species like Wood Thrushes, Veerys and Scarlet Tanagers are still establishing their territories on May 20, making counts this early in the season unreliable.  In fact, most ornithologists caution that migrants in southeastern Pennsylvania should not be tallied until they've settled down into territories beginning in June.

Each year, there are always a few late and errant migrants in my earliest counts.  This year, for example, I heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler on my first foray into the woods on May 19.  Black-throated Blues breed in the Appalachian highlands, New England, and southeastern Canada - they won't stay the summer in our humid lowland woods.  Sure enough, the bird was nowhere to be heard two days later; it had moved on north.

However, on my first counting day, I also heard a Hooded Warbler singing in the forest.  This bird is a furtive wraith rarely observed but much more often heard.  Its call is distinctive and unmistakable: wheeta-wheeta-WHEET-see'o, repeated loudly and incessantly from the dense forest understory where the bird is lurking.  Unlike most other warblers that breed further north and at higher elevations, the Hooded Warbler does breed in southeastern Pennsylvania, though it is rare.  I have only documented breeding pairs in two other years during the 24 years I have been censusing birds in the forest.

This spring's Hooded Warbler stood its ground, singing for 30 minutes while I conducted the census where it had staked out its territory.

Then, when I returned to the woods two days later, the warbler was still present, but it had moved its singing perch over the crest of a ridge and about a half-kilometer deeper into the forest.

All of which got me thinking.  (I have plenty of time to ruminate when I'm conducting the census.)

This poor Hooded Warbler, undoubtedly a male singing its heart out seeking a female, probably is out of luck this year unless it moves somewhere else.  This forest in the preserve, while good habitat, is small and surrounded by suburbia.  If there are no female Hooded Warblers in the forest, the chances of this male finding a mate are nil.  It's not as if he could just fly a few hundred feet further along in the forest to another spot in hopes of luring a mate; if he were to fly a few hundred feet, he'd be in the middle of someone's back yard or in a business campus.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for this seemingly desperate bird - so clearly ready to find a mate, searching throughout the forest but unable to locate a female.  If he does find a female, he'll sing most of the summer defending his territory.  More likely, though, he'll go quiet.  If that happens, I'll never know if he flew elsewhere where his prospects might be better, or if he simply sat out the summer to try again next year, here in the preserve or in another woodland.

If he stays, I'll keep you posted.  For my census, the year is young; for a bird trying to find a mate, the clock is ticking.   

Monday, April 11, 2016

Snowy Cleanup

Yours truly with one of my board members, Kathleen
Every year since 1970 when my conservancy was founded, we have sponsored a volunteer cleanup of the banks of the creek flowing through my preserve.  In fact, the cleanup is our organization's largest annual event, usually drawing upwards of 100 volunteers who spend two hours hunting for trash and who then return to the headquarters for lunch.

This year's cleanup was last Saturday, April 9.  As the date approached, the weather forecast quickly began to deteriorate, with calls for a wintry mix of wet snow turning to rain.  Yuck!

When I awoke on Saturday morning, the skies were overcast but there was no precipitation falling.  Would we be spared?  However, 45 minutes before the start of the event, I heard on the radio that snow was falling to our west and, sure enough, when I went out to help prepare, snow had moved into the area.

Nevertheless, we did not call off or postpone the event, and about 60 volunteers reported for duty.  I led my group down to the creek (a 10-minute walk), where we forded the stream to get to an island that is always a hotbed of trash.  This year was no exception.  The creek splits at the head of the island and floodwaters push all sorts of debris up onto the point where the stream divides.  Most of the flotsam is woody, but it also contains all the detritus of modern life - especially plastic bottles and polystyrene.
A "before" picture of trash embedded in woody debris (volunteer at right)
My group's most impressive finds included one natural item (a large, partially decomposed snapping turtle) and one unnatural (a mannequin's arm).

Over the 28 years I've helped with the creek cleanup, it's interesting to note that we hardly ever find aluminum cans any longer (formerly a significant part of the trash collected).  Are more people recycling, or are the cans valuable now?
We decided to call ourselves the Drowned Rats
In any case, though we were wet, all of us had a good, rewarding time despite the weather.  Cleaning up trash is really satisfying.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Turf War

Like so many lawns in the Mid-Atlantic, my back yard has become a war zone - albeit an aesthetically pleasing one.  Some previous occupant of my house planted spring bulbs years ago, and Kali and I continue to enjoy the vernal exuberance of grape hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, and the delicate blue flowers picture above, chionodoxa or glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa siehei).
More recently, the extremely aggressive non-native buttercup lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) managed to get a foothold in the lawn.  Lesser celandine prefers moist riparian areas, but once it gets established, it will grow in just about any situation.  (Naive visitors used to ask me if they could dig up a few plants to add to their garden; I assented, but always warned the folks that the plant would take over anywhere it was planted.  I suspect that most people now recognize the plant's aggressiveness because I almost never get such requests any more.)

It will be interesting to see if one or the other of these plants will win this slow-motion combat.  I once asked Pennsylvania's premier botanist if celandine really does exclude other plants because it is only a obvious player on the ecological stage for about a month, after which it disappears until next spring.  The botanist assured me that celandine definitely excludes other plants.  Perhaps there's an unseen, subsurface front in this war as well. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Falconry at My Preserve

My preserve partners on programs with a nature center three miles away that focuses on children's environment education.  The nature center only has 10 wooded acres in the middle of suburbia, whereas I have 812 acres and a lot of diverse habitat.
A captivated crowd
Last Sunday afternoon, the nature center sponsored a falconry program in my grasslands.  The falconer brought his Northern Goshawk/Harris' Hawk hybrid (Accipiter gentilis x Parabuteo unicinctus) to my preserve for a flight demonstration and question period.  About thirty of the nature center's members enjoyed the show on the most springlike day of the year so far.  The sky was a cloudless blue and temperatures were in the upper 50s.
Preparing to take flight
Caught in mid-flight
The falconer routinely trains and flies his two raptors in my grassland, so his hawk was familiar with the surroundings.  The bird made two 10-minute flights and put on a good show.
Replacing the bird's hood after the first flight

Thursday, February 25, 2016

There's Got to be a Morning After

Here in the northern Piedmont, we had a tremendous storm last night - part of the same system that ravaged the Deep South and East Coast.  Though we were spared a tornado, we had incredible winds that toppled and snapped full-grown trees.  The storm was accompanied by thunder, lightning and torrential rain. 
This morning, when I went out to open the gate of my preserve at sunrise, orange light bathed the tops of the trees in a deep, rich glow  - like they had been dipped in luminous honey.  Then clouds moved back in and ended the show.