Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deadly Embrace

On Saturday morning, I went outside my back door and nearly walked face-first into a caterpillar that had spun a silken thread to descend from the canopy of the huge sycamore tree that grows behind the house.  I was in and our of the house several times over the course of a half hour, and the caterpillar was there each time I went in and out.

Then, I saw that a wasp had discovered the caterpillar and was taking advantage of this juicy morsel that was as large as the wasp.  For several minutes, the wasp clung to the caterpillar.  In the image, it looks as if the wasp may have its mandibles around the caterpillar's neck, but I couldn't get a close look because the caterpillar was swaying in the breeze.

Finally, as I watched, the wasp tried to fly away with its prey, but the silken thread held and the duo just swung back and forth in huge arcs, powered by the wasp's wings.  Finally, the wasp gave up and flew away.  The caterpillar was dead, bent in half.  It had disappeared the next time I went outside, perhaps discovered by a more powerful wasp or a bird.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rail to Trail Reconnoiter

Traversing a trestle spanning my creek at the southern end of my preserve
A suspended railroad right-of-way bisects my preserve, roughly paralleling the creek that also bisects my preserve.  The rail line was built in 1876 with the intention of linking Philadelphia to New York City.  But a second rail line, built two years earlier in 1874, also with the intention of linking Philadelphia to New York City, had the advantage of traversing flatter terrain and allowing for greater speeds.  As a result, the 1874 line (built by the Pennsylvania Railroad) quickly won out, and the line through my preserve (built by the Reading Railroad) was extended northward from Philadelphia only about 30 miles and served local commuters.

The line was carrying passengers until 1984, when the local regional rail authority suspended service because of low ridership.  When service stopped, the rail authority abandoned the right-of-way, which mostly became overgrown with vegetation.  Walkers kept a casual trail open along the right-of-way by wearing a path, but the edges of the rail line became a jungle - which was fine with me.

Then, our county decided that it was going to turn the right-of-way into a trail.  They began by removing the rails and ties along a 2-mile section of the right-of-way that ran through a county park downstream of my preserve.  Now, the county is extending the trail northward through my preserve.  This extension has caused a great deal of consternation among my board members, but the county is moving ahead non-stop, and the trail, whether we like it or not, will be complete by next summer (2015).  We're concerned that mountain bicyclists and dog walkers will ignore the trail use limitations in our preserve and will require considerable patrolling.  On the other hand, the secluded rail corridor had been a site for vandalism, drinking and drug use, so the trial could have some positive impacts, too.

On Wednesday morning, August 27, a group of people from the county, two local municipalities, and our organization walked the length of the new trail route to point out areas where we anticipate there could be problems so that the county could plan accordingly.  I present some images from our walk.
The trail route through the southern end of my preserve
Estimating the width of the final trail
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum slicaria) and rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) along the trail
Approaching the post office/train station in the historic district at the edge of my preserve
My creek just upstream from the post office
Crossing another trestle over my creek (there are three trestles in my preserve).  House on the right is private.
My creek viewed upstream from the trestle, above
A green tunnel
An historic stone-arch road bridge over my creek, now part of our trail system and off limits to traffic.  This is the second-oldest bridge in our county (1840).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Invasives Dystopia

I've been asked to give the keynote address to a regional gathering of Garden Club of America clubs in October.  The theme that the organizers chose for the gathering is "invasive plants," which gives me a lot of leeway for my talk.  I'm going to focus on introduced ornamentals that have escaped and become invasive pests.

One of the organizers wants to create a poster board of "bad actors," and she wants to include Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) among the plants.  I needed to find images of knotweed for her, and on the way back from the grocery store yesterday I saw a perfect patch just begging for a photograph.  So, I parked and walked over to get some shots.

The area is on the floodplain of a small tributary to my creek just upstream of my preserve.  It is - to put it bluntly - an invasives hell.  An ecological nightmare.  A complete write-off.

The floodplain is an impenetrable thicket of Japanese knotweed.  It's 10-feet tall - the tallest knotweed I've ever seen.  But wait, there's more!  The knotweed is being over-topped by porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).  And, just outside the area where the knotweed is so thick, there's a thriving stand of purple loosestrife (Lythra salicaria).  About the only plant I didn't notice was mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata), but it certainly could have been there amid the green chaos.

I will admit that bees were enjoying the scene - and not just non-native honeybees, but native bumblebees, too, so I guess the site is not a complete write-off.
Invasive Gulch
Knotweed in flower
Porecelain-berry is rapidly engulfing the trees in the background
The land is owned and managed by the municipal wastewater authority.  Although the site is at the intersection of two fairly significant roads, the wastewater authority doesn't do much to maintain the property.  They probably don't know what to do (repeated herbicide applications would be appropriate), but they do try to mow it down occasionally.  I've tried to talk to them about management, but they're in the wastewater treatment business, not invasive plant control, and I've gotten nowhere with them.
Knotweed (background) and purple loosestrife
Purple loosestrife (mostly) with a little porcelain-berry in the foreground
Of course, since the stream is a tributary to my creek and is upstream of my preserve, all of the propagules produced by these noxious weeds flow downstream and end up you-know-where.
The knotweed in the foreground is being over-topped by porcelain-berry

Thursday, August 14, 2014


The creek in the county park downstream of my preserve
Our land trust is partnering with the watershed association that champions the environmental quality of the stream that drains the land to our southwest.  Last evening, our two organizations convened a joint training session for prospective stream monitoring volunteers at the county park downstream of my preserve.
Classroom training
About 20 people showed up for the training, which began with a PowerPoint introduction to the monitoring protocol.
Choosing a monitoring site
Then the volunteers split up between the two watersheds to choose their monitoring sites.
Creekside fieldwork.  The prominent outcrop in the background is called Council Rock.
Finally, we moved to the bank of the creek to apply the concepts introduced in the PowerPoint presentation to the "real world."  By then, the sun had started to set.

The volunteers were asked to pledge to monitor their section of the creek once a month - a two-hour commitment.  Everyone who attended was enthusiastic and seemed willing to commit more than two hours each month.
A riffle at sunset

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Light in the Woods

I came across this image while I was perusing a Tumblr site and it brought back a vivid memory from four decades ago that I thought I'd share.

When I was a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I lived in the Honors College dormitory.  This dorm (along with nine other newly constructed dormitories) had been completed just one year earlier, so they were highly prized places to live on campus.  Instead of sharing a room with a roommate in an old, brick dorm, the Honors College dorm rooms were singles arranged in modules, with six private rooms opening onto a central common living/socializing space with a shared bathroom.

Though the dorm's amenities were new and posh, the real draw for me was that the dormitories had been built on (what was then) the edge of campus.  Furthermore, they were located on the floodplain of the Hocking River, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had recently diverted into a deep, new rip-rapped channel designed to move floodwaters away from Athens as quickly as possible.  Nevertheless, the dorm builders recognized that the river inevitably would flood, so all of the dorms were on stilts, and were connected to one another by walkways raised 20 feet off the ground.
The new Hocking River channel
My dorm room faced the river channel and the dark, forested hills on the opposite bank.  Getting over to those hills to explore required either (1) driving a car (which I didn't have at the time) or my bike about two miles upstream, crossing a bridge, and then driving down the road at the base of the hills on the opposite side of the river, or (2) fording the newly completed river channel, which most of the time was shallow enough to wade, though the bottom was sucking mud - really great fun, actually!  I used to love to go exploring the woods on the opposite side of the river.

One night, I was in my dorm room looking out the window and thought I noticed a small, dim light in the woods across the river.  The light disappeared, then reappeared.  This sequence occurred several times. I was entranced and decided to investigate.  I couldn't wade the river in the dark (even I'm not that stupid), so I made the long trek across the bridge to the other side of the river, keeping my eye on the dim light all the while.  I finally got to a point where I could leave the road and head into the woods.

There, in a small clearing, was a scruffy young man with a ratty backpack huddled over a tiny fire.  He probably wasn't much younger than I (who was 20 years old at the time).   I'm certain that I must have surprised and startled him as I appeared out of the gloom.  To this day, I don't recall anything about this young man, though I'm sure he was either hitchhiking or homeless. In any case, I invited this kid to come back to my dorm room with me and to sleep on my floor for the night, and he assented.  When I woke up in the morning, he was gone - and he didn't take a single thing from my room.

Nowadays, I wouldn't even consider doing such a thing - and I probably shouldn't have back then, either.  At the very least, he could have robbed me (but how much money could a lower-middle-class student have to steal?) and or/beaten me up.  Foolish, naive, innocent youth.