Thursday, April 30, 2015

Springtime in My Preserve

Virginia bluebells and violets on a fence line
The Bald Eaglets nesting in my preserve have hatched two chicks.  Both of the eaglets seem to be doing well.  The parents have switched from feeding on roadkilled deer to fish taken from my creek - most likely hatchery-raised trout that our Fish and Boat Commission stocks for anglers.

There's a camera that takes still images every two minutes trained on the nest; the camera is about 500 feet from the nest, so the image resolution isn't always great, but some of the images clearly show two rapidly developing eaglets.  These are the first eagles nesting along our section of the creek in at least 160 years (other eagles have nested at the mouth of the creek adjacent to the Delaware River over the last few years, but they aren't nesting there this year).  If you enlarge the image below, you'll see the female to the left of the upright trunk and one of her offspring to the right. 
Bald Eagle mother and one of the eaglets

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Weird Stuff (x3)

Now that I've got your attention with a provocative title and an image of the crocuses (finally!) blooming outside my back door, I must confess that this post has nothing to do with the natural world.  Read on if you dare.

Weird Thing #1.  A week ago, our neighborhood was stunned to learn about a murder-suicide committed by a local earthmoving contractor.  On Tuesday afternoon, news helicopters and police cars appeared at the home of the contractor, Chris, who had worked with our organization frequently over the past two decades.  Chris was a pleasant, cooperative, and agreeable 48-year-old who had gone out of his way on many occasions to help our land trust.  A few weeks before the killings, I had spoken with him over coffee as we waited for a plumber to finish a job so that Chris could backfill a trench.  I was teasing Chris about letting his membership to our organization lapse, and he replied, "Scott, you have no idea what I'm going through at home!" whereupon he told me the whole sordid story of his messy, rancorous divorce.  The weird thing about an otherwise all-too-common but no-less-tragic occurrence:  Chris strangled his ex-wife, stabbed her repeatedly in the neck, and then mutilated her body with a chain saw - after which he used the chain saw to cut off his right leg so that he bled to death.

Weird Thing #2.  Yesterday (April 6) was the first day we had temperatures above 70 degrees F here this year, and the skies were crystal blue.  Kali was off work for Easter Monday, so she did some volunteer land stewardship work around the preserve to get out and enjoy the perfect spring day.  After I finished working for the day and suggested we go for a walk, she informed me that she had been out all afternoon and was tired; she suggested I walk by myself.  Rather than just go for a walk alone, I decided to do a "power walk" to get my heart rate up to aerobic levels. (I can't run any more because of my "bum" right knee, but strenuous walking seems to be okay.)  So, I got out my iPod, my noise cancelling headphones, and I queued-up some of my favorite Scissor Sisters dance music for aural motivation.  Normally, I'm a pretty mild-mannered, self-effacing guy, but when I get into my power walk backed up by the Scissor Sisters (or the Pet Shop Boys), I feel like I could take on the world.  The weird thing is that the loud, rhythmic music coupled with a gait that I adjust to match the beat of the music transforms me into another person - someone I hardly recognize.  I'm energized, ready to tackle any challenge.  A bicyclist using a wrong trail or a dog walkers allowing her/his dog to roam untethered had best steer clear of me when I'm pumped up because I'll bite their head off.   It's tribal, hypnotic, empowering - and more than a little bit scary. 

Weird Thing #3.  This morning, Kali sent me an email with a link to an article in the Washington Post about Frank Sinatra: "Ol' Blue Eyes Still Sparkles".  The article begins, "Frank Sinatra would have been 100 years old on December 12, 2015, and already the commemorations have begun - an exhibition at the New York Public Library, a two-part documentary on HBO, and the reissue of several books.  The music endures, but so does the dirt."  In the article, the Frank Sinatra is quoted as having once said "All men are lonely."  In her email to me, Kali wrote, "I like the line that 'all men are lonely.' You seem like that at times."  Maybe it's not weird, but it really took me aback; I think we'll have something to talk about over dinner tonight.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Field Trip Sampler

U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist with a rare bird
Last weekend (March 26-28), I attended the Society for Ecological Restoration Mid-Atlantic Chapter's 10th Annual Conference at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.  (For those not "in the know," never pronounce Newark, Delaware like Newark, New Jersey.  The New Jersey city is pronounced NEW-erk, whereas the Delaware city is pronounced new-WARK.)  Following a Thursday evening dinner at which I and eight colleagues were feted as founders of the chapter, the group re-convened the following morning for a day of formal presentations.  On Saturday, I participated in a field trip of three restoration sites within a half-hour's drive of the university.

Saturday was mostly cloudy, cold (high of 40 degrees F in the afternoon) and windy.  As we waited for the bus to depart, the group endured snow squalls.

Northern Delaware is DuPont territory.  Many of the wealthy heirs of the DuPont chemical fortune established expansive estates in the rolling hills of Delaware's Piedmont west of Wilmington, and some of these were sites we visited.  Our first stop was Mt. Cuba, a 500-acre estate that has been turned into a botanic garden featuring plants native to the Piedmont.  The 50 acres surrounding the mansion are a horticultural showplace and are beautifully maintained, but the remainder of the property (the part our group visited) faces the same challenges I face at my preserve: overabundant deer, invasive plants, and stream flooding. 
Nathan Shampine, Mt. Cuba's natural lands manager, indicating that deer could gain access to this fenced exclosure
The golden rolling hills of northern Delaware's Piedmont in early spring
A Red-winged Blackbird's epaulet (Agelaius phoeniceus) found on the ground

Our second stop was the Delaware Nature Society's Coverdale Farm and Burrow's Run preserves.  At Coverdale Farm, we explored a wetland restoration project in which a wet cattle pasture formerly drained by terracotta tile pipes had been reflooded (by removing and breaking the pipes) in order to provide habitat for federally endangered bog turtles (Clemmys muhlenbergii).
The wetland created by re-flooding the field--a sedge hammock marsh
The re-engineered outlet from the marsh (still a bit raw)

Our group continued walking to the adjacent Burrow's Run Preserve, where the Delaware Nature Society has been converting pastures to native grasslands for grassland-nesting birds.  I literally was in awe and very jealous of their best fields, pictured below.  These fields support moderate growth of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) interspersed with dozens of species of forbs (i.e., wildflowers) - exactly the type of habitat meadow-nesting birds are seeking.  The grasses provide cover and the forbs attract insects for the birds to eat.  The fields at my preserve, in contract, are almost exclusively grassy with few forbs, which is why we haven't had luck attracting birds to my fields.
Beautiful native meadows
Queen Anne's Lace (not native) against gray skies
Our last stop was the Flintwoods Preserve, a 157-acre private (DuPont heir) estate whose claim to fame is a stand of ancient forest.  Our group, however, toured the native grassland restoration projects underway in the old agricultural fields on the property.

A renovated barn on the Flintwoods estate
We parked our bus next to a renovated barn on the estate.  The barn is full of vintage baroque harpsichords that Peter Flint is in the process of restoring.  The Flints host sold-out baroque music concerts in the barn several times each year.

Flintwoods' land manager explaining how he intends to modify his management plan for his grasslands this year
A humorous aside: as we were returning to the university following the field trip, driving through the northern Delaware countryside sprinkled with DuPont properties, one of the fellows on the bus quipped, "I keep looking at all these houses and imagining sexually-charged wrestling matches going on in each one." (a reference to last year's film Foxcatcher).  Of course, after he said that, I couldn't look at the places the same way myself!