Thursday, September 22, 2016


Kali dispersing common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds
On Sunday afternoon, September 18, Kali and I joined about 20 other guests at a natural area called the Paunacussing Preserve owned by the Natural Lands Trust (NLT), the largest regional land trust in eastern Pennsylvania.  This guided walk was for long-term NLT supporters and was led by Preserve Manager Preston Wilson supported by another NLT staff member and a volunteer.  Sunday afternoon was very warm, humid, and cloudy with thunderstorms in the forecast, but the very much-needed rain held off until Monday morning.

The 100-acre Paunacussing (named for the creek that rises on the land) contains active agriculture, farmland converted to native meadows, meadows undergoing active afforestation, woodlots, and a large pond.  Topographically, it is fairly level and walking was easy. 

We set off on paths cut through native goldenrod meadows in full bloom.

Old fence post festooned with Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Cooperative azure damselfly perched in the meadow
Thistle gone to seed exposing its silvery underbelly
All afternoon long, the sky was full of vultures.  The light wasn't good, the birds weren't close enough for me to get a good "naked eye" view, and I hadn't brought my binoculars, so I couldn't tell if they were Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) (the more likely) or Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus).

From the meadows, we moved to the pond on the property.  When the preserve was privately owned and used as both a weekend retreat and as a farm, the owners maintained a fairly sizable pond fed by four springs.  When NLT acquired the property, the land managers decided to reduce the size of the pond and to begin to accelerate its inevitable transition to freshwater marsh.  (Ponds constructed at the headwaters of small streams are ecologically damaging since they create large expanses of water exposed to the sun.  The water discharged from such ponds is much warmer than water in streams should be, altering the entire ecosystem downstream.)
The pond
The land managers excavated through the berm that was damming the creek and lowered the water level considerably.  This exposed large areas of mud that were quickly colonized by emergent aquatic vegetation.  The remaining pond is only about four feet deep.

Beavers have colonized the pond.  Preston explained that he didn't want beavers in the pond because they were cutting down trees and because they were blocking up the outlet channel and the agri-drain system that NLT installed to allow land managers to manipulate the water level.  He said that he had been in contact with the Pennsylvania Game Commission about removing the beavers.  Kali and I do not believe he made a compelling case for removing the beavers.
A beaver's handiwork at the edge of the pond
Cattails (Typha spp.)
Cattails and green-headed (or cut-leaf) Coneflowers (Rudbeckia laciniata)
A moss-softened path
From the pond, we ventured into a small woodlot where NLT had erected several fenced exclosures to demonstrate the impact of white-tailed deer.  The enclosures were too new to show much difference in vegetation between areas accessible to and protected from deer browsing.
Preserve manager Preston Wilson (light shirt) explaining the deer exclosure
When we emerged from the woods, I found that I had acquired a new arthropod companion on my lower leg.  I gently coaxed the caterpillar onto a Southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) leaf.
Note the dense auburn hairs plus the much longer, less-dense lighter hairs
The last part of the tour wound through meadows under active afforestation.  NLT plants tree seedlings in plastic tree shelters.  Over the last few years, they have planted nearly 3,100 trees in the preserve in an effort to join woodlots into large blocks of forest.
Afforestation area with an Eastern Bluebird nesting box
Finally, as we neared the end of the walk, we came across a view of this tree (below) sporting a dozen resting vultures.


robin andrea said...

That looks like a really nice place for a walk. I like the work and efforts by the NLT there. The beaver-chewed tree is such a fine image. I hope the beavers are protected rather than removed.

Scott said...

Alas, I believe the beavers are going to go unless there's some other intervention. One of the things that puzzled me was that he planned to have the Game Commission capture them in the winter. maybe that's when they're holed-up in their lodge and easy to catch. But, it seems to me that it would be impossible to relocate them successfully in the winter when they have no food reserves in a new location. It makes me suspicious that perhaps they're not going to be relocated...