Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monochrome Sky with Winter Trees

When I stepped out of my office last evening on the way home, the sky was really dramatic - overcast, but with a lot of texture in the clouds.  The fading evening light shone through a translucent gauze in places, while other parts of the sky were obscured behind thick clouds. I exclaimed to Kali, "Isn't the sky wonderful right now?  I've got to take some pictures!" to which she replied, "It just looks cold."  (It wasn't cold; we had a record high of near 70 degrees F yesterday.)
I ran to the house and managed to get some shots.  I think the effect was better a minute earlier, but I didn't have my camera with me then, so these will have to do.
I took the last image, below, up into the canopy of the huge, 250-year-old sycamore tree growing directly behind our house.  I think that the camera rendered the sky almost indigo, but it simply was very dim just before all the light went out of the day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What Was I Thinking?

On the brink
The Friday after Thanksgiving (November 27) was sunny and exceptionally warm (mid-60s F), so I persuaded Kali to put on her hiking boots and get in the car.  We drove 1.25 hours north to Lehigh Gorge State Park, a long, linear preserve paralleling the Lehigh River as it cuts it way through the Ridge and Valley section of the Pennsylvania Appalachians.  My destination was a 1-mile (each way) hike/scramble up Glen Onoko, a steep, scenic ravine that boasts four waterfalls along its length.

Glen Onoko was a famous Victorian summer resort with a huge, rambling guest house perched on the bank of the Lehigh River at the mouth of little Glen Onoko Run.  Radiating from the guest house were trails through the woods that allowed visitors from Philadelphia and New York (who arrived by train) to enjoy the magnificent scenery, including the cascades and rapids along the ravine.  An elaborate stone stairway allowed guests to ascend 860 feet from the river to the top of the highest falls with relative ease.

The resort burned down (as did many wooden Victorian resorts) in the early 1900s and was never rebuilt.

I first came upon Glen Onoko in the early 1990s and have hiked there several times.  When I "found" the ravine, it was pretty inaccessible.  I had to drive up to the top of Broad Mountain, and then make my way on rough dirt fire trails to the top of the falls.  From there, I could descend down the ravine and enjoy the serenity.  During those early years, I don't think I ever encountered anyone else on my hikes.

Today, the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks has created a huge parking area at the mouth of the ravine (which also serves whitewater rafters on the Lehigh River in the summer).  But the serenity of the hike is gone.  Hordes of people ascend the trail every day, prominent rocks have been defaced by spraypainted graffiti, and discarded plastic water bottles are common in the undergrowth.  Nevertheless, the hike is still scenic, and the waterfalls impressive.

The biggest problem for Kali was that the trail is extremely steep, rough, and difficult.  Most of the original stone stairway has eroded away, so the "hike" is much more of a scramble up steep, sometimes slippery, rocks.  I didn't have any problems, but Kali is probably the least sure-footed person I know, and the outing was torture for her.  Ascending the ravine was tough enough, but descending was even harder.  At one point, she broke into tears, and several other times fellow hikers helped me to get Kali through particularly difficult sections of trail.
Kali scrambling uphill
I shouldn't have brought her on the hike, but I didn't want to leave her home on a really nice late autumn day.  Once we had returned to the car and shed our hiking boots, we concurred that we had made one another's day miserable.  Kali's got two huge black-and-blue marks on her right buttock and upper right arm to prove it.

One positive feature:  Kali's very slow ascent and descent gave me plenty of time to take pictures. 
Pennsylvania's tilted sedimentary rocks
First falls
Second (and highest) falls - about 60 feet

Cairn cavern just uphill of second falls
Visitors have created a wonderland of cairns in the rock overhang

Third falls
Approach to the fourth falls.  The stone steps are a Victorian-era remnant
Fourth falls through the rhododendron thicket
Fourth (uppermost) falls
Tree roots with moss and lichen garden
Fern and moss rock garden
Most intense color of the day
Next time, I'll do this hike alone.  In fact, the next drainage to the west is a stream called Jean's Run.  I've explored its valley before; it harbors a virgin old-growth forest.  The last time I was there, it was only penetrated by a fisherman's path, and there's one really wonderful and nearly impassible falls near the top of the mountain.  I hope it's still like that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bald Eagle Update

Adult Bald Eagle with chicks (Audubon image)
Yesterday (November 11, 2015), one of my organization's members observed "our" two adult Bald Eagles mating - three times!  Of course, there's no guarantee that the birds will attempt to nest in my preserve again this winter, but it's a good indication that they might.

After last year's pair of eaglets fledged on June 16, 2015, we occasionally observed the adults and the immature birds throughout the spring and summer.  The fact that they stayed in the area was another good indication of their intent to attempt to nest again, but we couldn't be sure.  After all, Bald Eagles nested at the mouth of my creek along the Delaware River for several years and then abandoned that location, so they could have done the same here in the preserve.

Now, we just have to make sure that we have a sufficient number of roadkilled deer to sustain them through the winter.  Fortunately for the eagles, but unfortunately for the staff and the deer, retrieving enough roadkilled deer is not usually a problem.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mariton Redux

Mariton woods in October
The colorful portion of autumn in the northern Piedmont is rapidly coming to an end, so I Shanghaied Kali on Saturday afternoon and drove her to the Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary I had visited two weeks ago.  We first stopped for a really good lunch at the Fig Tree Cafe in Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, just outside the sanctuary. (We shared a proscuitto and fontina panini with fig-honey jam, a spring mix salad, and a bowl of baked potato soup).  Then, it was off for a walk.
Walking stick on a trail marker
As soon as we got to the trailhead, we came across a walking stick posed motionless on the trail marker.

I told Kali I wanted to walk to the Delaware River overlook, a destination I had not visited two weeks ago.
Delaware River view (upstream [north]).  New Jersey is on the right bank.
The overlook is perched at the edge of a sheer, rocky cliff, but the view of the Delaware is somewhat obscured by trees.

The one-way trail to the overlook was mostly downhill.  Kali, who is terribly out of shape, had to rest frequently on the way back up, giving me plenty of opportunities to capture some images.
Shelf fungi on a fallen branch
Maidenhair fern frond in the shady understory
Tussock moth caterpillar
Unlike my suburban preserve where deer have eaten much of the native understory vegetation, Mariton is located in a more rural location so there's hunting within - and all around - the sanctuary.  Hunting keeps the deer numbers low.  As a result, the native shrub layer is more diverse than it is in my preserve.  Maple-leaf viburnum is particularly common.
Maple-leaf viburnum
Fallen red maple leaves
We climbed to the highest point in the sanctuary (744 feet), then headed back down to the parking lot via the long, sinuous Squeeze Trail.
Black haw viburnum drupes
Kali in the autumn meadow
Kali's not good on rocky, steep trails, so she didn't much enjoy our walk.  We would have had a better afternoon if we had walked along the Delaware Canal towpath just outside the Fig Tree Cafe in Riegelsville.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Arboreal and Spiritual Rescue

Protecting a tree sapling in a wire cage
We've had perfect autumn weather this year in the northern Piedmont, and today was no exception.  So, I decided to "fly the coop" for an hour or so this morning to take care of two trees in serious need of attention.

I've got five guys on my stewardship (i.e., maintenance) staff who should be doing this kind of job. However, because the weather was so nice, and because it would have been harder to tell the guys where the trees were located than to just do the job myself, I went out in the field.

The first tree, a linden (or basswood) with a diameter of about 8 inches, was being rubbed by white-tailed deer bucks almost to death.  When rutting season comes around, the deer rub their antlers against trees they find suitable and, in the process, scrape off the bark.  If they scrape the bark all the way around the tree, it will kill the tree.  For some reason, the deer seem to find basswoods irresistible, and they will savage any specimen that is not adequately protected.  My staff either encloses the trees in wire cages or they wrap large trees with burlap sacks.  In the case of the basswood tree I went out to rescue, the burlap bag had slipped down and the trunk was exposed.  So, I firmly reattached the bag and I enclosed the tree in a wire mesh cage.

The second tree I went to rescue was a red oak sapling whose protective wire cage had been completely overwhelmed by the insidious invasive vine porcelain-berry.  Imagine the tree being planted in the image at the head of the post completely blanketed by a mass of vines and you get the idea.  I cut away and uprooted the vines, replaced the wooden stakes supporting the cage, and generally tidied up the planting spot - I'm an "anal" neat freak.

While I was working, a man stopped to tell me that there was a sizable snapping turtle alongside the trail about 50 feet away.  I had just walked the trail to get to the tree and hadn't even noticed the turtle, which looked like a big, gray rock when I went up to see it.  Cool!  Then, when I went back to the tree to finish up, a woman walked by and thanked me for saving the tree.

She went on to say that my preserve is the one thing in life that keeps her sane and she didn't know what she would do if she couldn't walk the trails and rejuvenate her psyche.  She knew my name (though I didn't recognize her), and she concluded by thanking me profusely for being the heart and soul of the preserve.  She told me that she had so much gratitude and appreciation for me and and my commitment to the natural world.

Deferential type that I am, I sorta' gave her an "Aw, shucks" response.  But, you know what?  She really did lift my spirits.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary

On Wednesday, October 21, I visited the Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary, one of 42 preserves in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey protected by the Natural Lands Trust (NLT), a regional land conservancy.  The visit was a special treat for members of NLT's White Oak Society; anyone who has been a NLT member for 10 years or more continuously is automatically enrolled.
Mariton Sanctuary manager Tim Burris (center, with binoculars)
The Mariton Sanctuary is managed by NLT employee Tim Burris.  Tim used to be the head naturalist for my organization, but he moved on one year after I took my job here in 1988.  (Do you think it was something I said...?)  Tim and I have remained friends and colleagues since he left, but I hadn't seen him in quite a few years.  We gave each other big bear hugs when we got reacquainted.
Trail to the Delaware River Overlook
The Mariton Sanctuary is located in extreme southeast Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, right along the Delaware River, about 1.25 hours north of my preserve.  The eastern boundary of the sanctuary drops precipitously to the river road paralleling the Delaware. 
Tim addressing the members of the White Oak Society
"Mariton" is a contraction of the names Mary and Tony, the first names of the couple who owned the property and set it aside for conservation.  Tony and Mary originally bought 38 acres of overgrown agricultural fields and kept adding land as it became available until, by the time they died, they had accumulated 200 acres.  The surrounding countryside is more developed than it was when Tony and Mary owned the land, but now it would be fair to characterize it as exurban - a refuge caught between the sprawl of Philadelphia and the former industrial cities of the Lehigh River valley (i.e., Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, Pennsylvania).  
Stone wall in the woods
The sanctuary is perched on the top and eastern flank of a Brougher Hill, a very rocky knob.  Much of the land had been cleared for agriculture, and stone walls constructed of the stones removed from the fields criss-cross the property.
American chestnut leaves
American chestnuts, both naturally occurring as well as some planted by Tony, occur throughout the property.  Tim told us that one technique that early chestnut restorationists tried to prevent chestnuts from dying of the chestnut blight fungus was irradiating chestnuts before planting them, hoping that the zap of radiation would protect the trees.  Of course, the irradiation didn't work (since the fungus is in the soil, not on the chestnuts).  But, some of the irradiated nuts that Tony planted have grown into 25-foot-tall trees that are producing abundant nut crops.

Ann Rhoads, probably Pennsylvania's premier botanist (retired) on right with blue backpack
Tim manages much of the sanctuary in fields and brushy young shrub habitat.  Sassafras trees are abundant in these brushy patches.
Sassafras produce four leaf shapes on the same plant

The day was almost perfect - low humidity, clear blue skies, good fall color.  If I had any complaint, it was that it was a bit too warm; we had temperatures above normal in the mid-70s.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Poem for Autumn


This poem by H.L. Hix entitled "Will My Word Grow into a Tree While I Water It Every Day with Silence?" appears in the summer 2015 edition of Colorado Review.  For me, it evokes a fall scene in the Tibetan Himalayas.

It offers its gold leaves, the ginkgo,
half to the monastery and half
to the mountainside.  The kept leaves blow,
if not on their way down, soon enough
against the wall.  The given leaves know
their way, or need not, achieve, as if
bidden by it, the stream they follow
toward neither solace nor relief.
Downhill the given gather, mingle
with others equally stream-bidden,
but dwarf maple, and red, in a pool
where, still, they mimic meditation,
whisper nothing, nothing at all,
to any passerby who'll listen.