Now that you have had time to look at our Stewardship Handbook and you've begun to observe your land in the light of your management goals, I will begin writing about some of the practical aspects of implementing land management projects.
This is information I use in training volunteers and interns and share during my invasive plant management presentations and is based on my 18 years managing preserves.
With summer interns starting next week it is timely to begin with the first thing I tell them when they arrive: Getting the job done is only the third priority here.
First comes personal safety; there is no replacing you or your health or abilities.
The second job is to protect the equipment, because that has a direct relation to the latter and is a necessary part of being efficient at job #3.
Each job you approach must keep these three goals foremost.
Birds are actively proclaiming their territories with song. As you walk along the trails, you will be able to hear where one Wood Thrush's territory ends and another begins. The same is true for Ovenbirds. The Veery is finally filling the woods with its beautiful song. Peewees are also singing now and will continue to sing through most of the summer. Right now, some of the other vocal birds in the forest include the Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Worm-eating Warbler. I heard a Magnolia Warbler this morning while taking a short walk. In the meadows, the Indigo Bunting is singing often, and it is not hard to see this stunning bird. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Field Sparrows are also active in the meadows.
Most woodland wildflowers are putting energy into converting fertilized flowers into seeds for another generation. The Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is one of the few things that is blooming in the forest shade. In the meadows, the hawkweeds and Wild Geraniums are in bloom.
Soon, we will be turning to Butterflies for color in our lives. The Easter Tiger Swallowtails are very active right now visiting Tulip Tree blossoms. Spicebush Swallowtails can be seen in both the forest and meadows. Beginning on June 9, the Tuesday Morning Walks will shift focus to butterflies at Mariton.
I'll be giving an outdoor talk about managing invasive species at Willistown Conservation Trust's Kirkwood Preserve on June 13, cosponsored by the Chester-Ridley-Crum Watersheds Association. (Natural Lands Trust holds the conservation easement on WCT's Kirkwood Preserve, a not-uncommon arrangement that offers the most secure method of conserving land.)
For more information or to register for the event please contact CRC or WCT at the numbers above.
We have phoebes nesting on a light fixture on our porch, as they have the last couple years. Denise took this photo of the chicks yesterday. It's getting crowded up there—they are almost ready to leave the nest. Phoebes eat a lot of insects and the temporary mess they make on the porch is more than made up for by the "job" they do.
I can't say for sure that amelanchier (shadbush, serviceberry) sets the first fruit of the year, but it's the first one that is very obvious. Birds will quickly eat these fruit.
False Solomon's seal is blooming now; you can see some great stands of it along Harmonyville Road. The "regular" Solomon's seal is already finished flowering and in some cases is growing alongside these "false" ones—which have these terminal clusters of flowers instead of hanging bell-shaped flowers in the axils of the leaves.
People don't talk much about holly flowers; it's the fruit that will carry through to next winter that draw attention. But here they are on a female American holly; hollies are dioecious. These buds and flowers will become fruit when pollinated if there is a male tree nearby.
This week we birded a Wy-Hit-Tuk Park, part of the Northampton County park system which connects to the Delaware Canal State Park. (A truly wonderful resource.) Then we walked the Towpath for two miles to where we had staged our shuttle back up to the park. We saw Baltimore Orioles the entire time, and several of their nests. We also saw a few Orchard Orioles. This species is not as common, so it is a treat to see them. (Photo of Orchard Oriole by Carole Mebus.)
We also heard lots of American Redstarts, but we only had a few glimpses of them as they flitted in the dense foliage. We saw a large bird of prey high above Earth, seemingly frozen in air currents. It was too distant to make a positive ID, but could have been an immature Bald Eagle. We also spent some time trying to identify a sandpiper as it fed on an island in the River.
Bill spotted a Bluebird using this natural cavity as a nest. We watched the female land on the broken limb and saw a gaping mouth inside the hole begging for a morsel of food. (Photo by Carole Mebus.) In all we counted 47 species of birds; and we stayed dry despite the weather man's predictions.
Did you ever wonder how much of the preserve is forest, farm field, or meadow? I sure do as it helps me track costs and best management practices.
Fortunately we have pretty good data. Mike McGeehin has walked the pastures and prescribed fire units (meadows we occasionally burn) with a GPS unit so we have very accurate numbers for these; I've rounded them off for our purposes here. He's also estimated the other meadows using a GIS (Geographic Information System) map. We have farm field information from the Soil Conservation Plan. I've estimated the lawn areas around barns and houses on the preserve. We have two successional areas I've subtracted from the Conservation Plan, and the rest is forest. An acre is about the size of a football field.
Meadows: about 30 acres, as follows:
Exclusively mowed (once a year): 9.5 acres
Managed with prescribed fire (every 3 - 5 years, mowed in alternate years): 10.7
Grazed: 9.6 acres
Successional areas: old fields now longer farmed or mowed: ~4 acres
Farmed: ~183 acres
Lawns: around four homesteads and barns & visitor center & parking lot, some areas mowed only occasionally: ~12 acres
That leaves the forested lands at Crow's Nest at about 370 acres. This includes some hedgerows and also some small flooded wetland openings in the forest.
Mike Bertram with the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association has been walking the preserve and nearby State Game Lands to map every detail of the land over the last year. Eventually this organization will publish a map as detailed as the ones available for French Creek State Park (four maps that cover the 8,000 acres of park are for sale at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site).
There have been many new blooms opening at the preserve. Forget-me-nots and common buttercups have been showing up here and there. The tuliptree has been blooming and now the flowers are beginning to fall.
Blue-eyed grass is blooming in the northern meadows and false Solomon's seal in the woods and in the hedgerows along Harmonyville Road.
Black cherry trees are also blooming, covered with small spikes of white flower clusters.
We didn't get our tomatoes and peppers planted in the garden yet. It's just as well since we had a frost last week, later than the official May 15 last frost date. The sensitive fern—sensitive to frost—has turned black where it grows in open wet meadows. In more sheltered locations it came through unscathed. The affected plants should resprout new fronds.
Many people asked me about learning bird songs this past spring. It is an important tool for me, especially after leaf-out when it is difficult to find birds in the tree tops. There are a lot of different ways to learn bird songs, and finding the one that works best for you is a bit of experimentation. There is also a lot of new technology that can help. I think it is helpful to bird a lot in the spring, hear a lot of songs, and try to figure out who is singing. The harder you work to identify a songster, the easier it is to remember the song.
Baby steps. If you learn 5 or 6 songs every year, in a few years you will have quite a mental library. (I still have to reacquaint myself with a few songs every spring. And I still try to learn a few new ones each year.) Start with the birds in your backyard. You will get more practice, and more enjoyment from your new knowledge. Birds like the Cardinal, Robin, House Wren, Song Sparrow and Goldfinch are a good place to start. The Tufted Titmouse has many different songs, and I still get confused by them. Blue Jays are another bird with a giant repertoire that confuses beginners and pros. As your repertoire builds, you will not only be able to identify songs, but also rule out others as you discover new sounds in your travels.
I used the Peterson record (back when there was vinyl and turntables), but now I keep the CD version on my desk. If I hear a call in the woods that I don't recognize, I will work out a description or some mnemonic to help me remember the song, and then listen to the CD when I return. The iPhone has an app that I am very impressed with. (Some of the birders in our group have it and it has proved to be a powerful tool.) The Cornell website is another great resource. Finally, birding with others helps. Mnemonics work, but different people hear the same thing differently. What one person may hear as witchity-witchity-witchity (Common Yellowthroat), another hears as something completely different. Finding the mnemonic that helps you remember a song is easier if you bird with a variety of folks.
And remember, birds don't always sound like the recording. They have local accents and dialects. Rufous-sided Towhees are known for their Drink your tee-e-e-e-e-e song. Sometimes they juxtapose the notes, and often you will only hear DRINK! At Jacobsburg this week, we had a Field Sparrow that had us totally flummoxed. If we hadn't watched it sing the notes we were hearing, we still wouldn't believe it. It improvised the leading notes, and then seemed to try to imitate a Chipping Sparrow with its trill. Remember, baby steps. You don't learn how to play Shostakovich before you learn Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
The four baby bluebirds in the yard have fledged out. You should be able to see some of them flying around the yard on your next visit to Mariton. We also have a pair of Tree Swallows nesting in a box along the driveway.
In the fields, 4 baby Bluebirds have hatched. Another Bluebird nest has four eggs. A Chickadee nest now has 5 eggs. A Tree Swallow nest has 2 eggs. The Tufted Titmouse is guarding her brood, so I can't count how many young she has, or how much they have developed.