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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Perfect Early Autumn Walk

Walkers stopped to appreciate our newly renovated 1817 stone arch bridge
Yesterday was a perfect autumn afternoon--temperatures in the low 70s, low humidity, and crystal clear blue skies.  I had an opportunity to lead a 2-mile walk through my preserve for about 50 of my members and supporters of a statewide environmental advocacy group named PennEnvironment.  

I was approached by PennEnvironment because the organization wanted to highlight the importance of the EPA's new Clean Water Rule that protects small headwater streams.  So, my comments along the way focused on my organization's efforts to safeguard upland drainages through open space acquisition and habitat restoration.
PennEnvironment's David Masur (with child on his shoulders) addressing the group
The executive director of PennEnvironment brought his wife and two young children to the preserve for the walk.  Near the end, on a stone bridge spanning one of our headwater streams, he thanked the walkers for coming and encouraged them to advocate for clean water.
Walkers listening to David Masur just before walking up a long, steep hill out of the valley
It was a really fine walk, and the participants all seemed to enjoy themselves.  Plus, I earned 2-1/2 hours of comp time for working on a Sunday!  However, 50 people is too many for a really satisfying walk; fortunately, Kali helped by herding the stragglers at the rear.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thousand Acre Marsh, Delaware

View north across the marsh.  Bridge at far right bears Del. Rte. 9 over the C&D Canal
I attended the Third Annual Delaware River Watershed Forum at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware over the last two days.  The first day's activities included a field trip to one of five sites along the Delaware Estuary to see conservation and restoration projects. I chose to visit Thousand Acre Marsh.  This extensive freshwater wetland is a well-known birding destination that is at risk for a wide range of impacts due to sea level rise.

The marsh is a freshwater impoundment located in the southwest corner of the intersection of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and the Delaware Bay.  The northern levee of the marsh (along the canal) was created when the C&D Canal was dug, and the eastern levee (along Delaware Bay) was created to protect the right-of-way of Delaware Route 9, which hugs the bay shore. 
A ship eastbound from the Chesapeake to the Delaware Bay in the C&D Canal
Representatives from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control informed our group about the efforts of a multi-agency partnership to expand habitat and bolster ecotourism while addressing the failing bay shore levee and combating the expansion of invasive phragmites reeds. 
Tour group at the water level control structure on the failing bay shore levee
Best feature of the tour:  I added a new bird to my life list, a Little Blue Heron!  In addition, there were more Bald Eagles flying here than I have seen anywhere else except in Alaska; most were immature.

Salem Nuclear Power Plant in Salem, NJ directly across Delaware Bay