Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Three...and Counting

Sea oats in snow
The snowstorm that dumped on the East Coast yesterday left us with eight inches of light, fluffy snow.  This storm set a new record: the first winter since records have been kept (beginning in 1874) that the area has suffered through three storms delivering six inches of snow or more before February.   In addition, we're just two inches below the total average annual snowfall for the region.

And, except for a brief period on Saturday afternoon, the temperature is forecast to remain below freezing for the next five days.  It just gets better and better.

I know I've had enough.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day of Service to the Forest

For the second year in a row, my organization sponsored a Day of Service on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  Like they did last year, the 15 volunteers who came out to work readied an area for reforestation in the spring by gathering large woody debris into a central location.
Woody debris is important in the forest ecosystem, but our degraded woodlands are under siege by invasive plants, and the branches, limbs and logs on the forest floor prevent the land stewardship staff from gaining access to new planting sites.  New plantings need to be kept clear of non-native plants - especially vines.
The former owner of this land planted non-native pachysandra; it's visible in the background as a green "blanket"
So, we've weighed our management options and have made the decision to remove the maintenance obstacles.
Besides, there's always more wood falling from the canopy as the mature trees shed limbs and topple over during storms.  The forest floor won't remain "clear" for long.

Monday, January 20, 2014

At the Edge

Kali and I are having our 25-year-old couches reupholstered and have been working with a fabric and upholstery store located near the mouth of "my" creek.  On Saturday, we went to pick up the finished upholstery, and took a walk along 'my" creek while we were there.

The creek flows south out of my preserve, enters a county park, then crosses the line into the city of Philadelphia where it flows within municipal parkland all the way to its mouth at the Delaware River.  About two miles upstream of its mouth, the creek falls off the hard edge of North America and flows onto sediments deposited on the shallow continental shelf - the Coastal Plain.  The transition from the hard, ancient Piedmont rock to the sandy Coastal Plain - the fall line - is dramatic.
The fall line
The creek rushes over resistant bedrock and creates a series of rapids at the fall line.  Early European colonists took full advantage of the transition by building a dam on top of the rapids and harnessing the water power for a mill - the most southerly (downstream) of the 28 mills that at one time operated along my creek.  In the image above, the rocky ruins of the massive dam are still in place on the opposite side of the creek, and some of the ruins of the mill are visible as a stone wall in the background.

The Piedmont bedrock at the fall line displays graphic evidence of the repeated stresses experienced by the rock at the edge of the continent.  North America and Africa have collided with one another on at least two occasions, and the bedrock, composed  mostly of dull, gray metamorphic gneiss, is twisted and bent like taffy.  In addition, other types of rock have gotten caught-up in the collisions and been incorporated into the cooled "taffy" like the quartzite in the image above, and the granite in the image below.

A stone studded with mica
Silvery flakes of mica are abundant in some of the rocks.  In the sunlight, the rock above glistened hypnotically.  If I'd been much younger and in an acquisitive (rather than de-acquisitive stage in my life), I would have brought the rock back with me.  The image hardly does it justice.
Fish ladder
A few hundred feet upstream of the fall line, state agencies have constructed a fish ladder in the creek.  My creek once was spawning ground for anadromous shad that returned from the ocean to spawn, just like salmon.  With the construction of colonial dams for water power, the shad were excluded from their historic spawning streams and their populations plummeted.  There's an effort to remove dams and restore shad runs in some of their historic streams, including my creek.  This fish ladder was created to allow the shad to swim over a sanitary sewer line partially buried in the streambed; the sewer pipes formed enough of a barrier that the fish could not ascend beyond them, so our Fish and Boat Commission built this series of riffles and pools.  In addition, they released many thousand hatchery-raised fingerling Hickory Shad into the creek in the hopes that some will return to spawn.
The pools created by this fish ladder have become very popular swimming holes with members of the Hispanic community in the neighborhood.  On warm summer weekends, extended families bring barbeque picnics to the edge of the creek to enjoy the water.  Although swimming is prohibited, and the creek is far too "impaired" for safe contact, it doesn't stop the kids from cooling off.  Fortunately, if the shad begin to use the creek for spawning again, they would return in March and not have to contend with crowds of kids.

Requisite sycamore-against-blue sky image
Just a few hundred feet downstream of the fall line, the creek is spanned by the oldest extant bridge in the United States: the King's Highway Bridge, built in 1797.  The King's Highway, constructed during the English colonial period, connected Philadelphia and New York City, and ran approximately along the fall line.  The highway replaced a Native American pathway that traced the same route.  The bridge is a National Engineering Landmark.
The fall line's a pretty "happening" place!

Friday, January 3, 2014

It's Much Worse in New England!

Our back yard Friday morning, January 3
6-1/2", measured on the picnic table in the back yard
Kali and I live on Edge Hill Road - aptly named, since the road follows the crest of a ridge for seven miles or so.  The entrance to our drive from Edge Hill Road is directly opposite a 40-acre field used  for an annual fund-raising carnival and horse show.  The wind blowing from the northwest roars across the open field, then rises up to Edge Hill Road.  On cold, snowy, windy days like today, the wind chill (and the snow drifting across Edge Hill Road) is unbelievable.  Our municipality usually erects snow fencing along Edge Hill Road to minimize the drifting, but they didn't do it this year, with predictable results.
The house in which we live is set back from the crest of Edge Hill Road a distance of 0.1-mile.  Because we're back from the crest, and because a previous owner of the property installed a large evergreen plantation between Edge Hill Road and the house, we are somewhat protected from the worst of the wind.  The birds that crowd our feeder certainly appreciate the windbreak.
Snowy trail leading into the native grasslands