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Monday, January 28, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count...

So you may wonder why I've been showing you pictures of the birds in my backyard.  In addition to just sharing with you some of the things that I am seeing in my backyard--or at least able to photograph, of course all of the great birds that I have seen over the last year in my yard have eluded all photographs, I wanted to get everyone thinking about what birds might be living in their backyard.  

The Great Backyard Bird Count will be taking place February 15-February 18th and this is a great opportunity to play citizen scientist and help us to learn what birds are living in your backyard.  All you need is to create an account at: and then have your binoculars, bird book, and camera handy for a little bird counting throughout that weekend.  

**The camera is a great tool if you aren't entirely sure of the birds that you are identifying, I'm sure you have a friend that can help if you have a photograph!!  No matter where you live in the country, you can help out conservation organizations like The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County just by spending some time observing the wildlife that you find in your own backyard.  This can help us to learn about habitat fragmentation, conservation issues, and can help you to engage your family in the wonder of our natural resources.  If you live in Chester County, we encourage you to come out to some of our education programs throughout the year to learn more about bird identifications, amphibians, or all the other living things that we share our space with!! Check out our programs HERE

Wildlife in Winter

The winter weather took a minor break for Sunday's Wildlife in Winter Series. The shinning sun kept us slightly warm while walking through Bucktoe Creek Preserve's meadows and forests in search of wildlife habitats.

Hibernation was the topic of focus during part I of the series, and is a unique strategy that many different types of species (insects included) have adopted. During this process, animals increase their eating in the fall to store the excess fat over the winter. In order to store this food and energy for the entire winter, they must make significant changes to their metabolism by lowering their body temperature and decreasing their heart rate and breathing rate.

Most of Pennsylvania's wildlife residents act as partial hibernators; often sleeping for days/weeks at a time, then foraging around the area for a few days to restock and refuel. The groundhog is one of the few that will remain in hibernation mode throughout the winter.

While out for a walk last Thursday morning, I stumbled upon an open groundhog den, which I later showed to the group on Sunday. However, between Thursday and Sunday, someone had decided to evacuate or barricade themselves in the den. Perhaps, my footsteps around the hole on Thursday morning prompted a warning to close the entrance; or, the den was empty and someone new decided to move in and rearrange things.

Although foxes don't hibernate, we came across a cool fox den with three separate entrances all covered up with leaves and debris. During part II of the series, we will focus on animals that remain active during the winter.

Investigating the Red Fox Den

Certain insects also have their own type of hibernation during the winter: lay eggs and die. Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) lay noticeably large egg cases on twigs, sticks and posts over the winter. Two species present at Bucktoe Creek Preserve are the Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) and European Mantid (Mantis religiosa), which are differentiated by the shape of their egg case. Carolina's are elongated and rectangular, and often times are found fully attached to the post, twig or stick. Europeans on the other hand take on a circular shape and are only attached at the tips. The cases contain 100-200 eggs, all of which hatch according to the length of warm weather. Sometimes it can take 8 weeks of warm weather for the eggs to hatch.

Checking out the Carolina Praying Mantis

Two unknown dens that were dug out in a pile of wood clippings were also discovered. Both dens were about 100 yards apart, the holes were facing opposite directions, and each one was the same size and length. Both were too large for a vole or field mouse, and too shallow for a fox or groundhog. The general consensus was ... someone was out foraging and couldn't make it back to their den due to inclement weather and needed a one-night stay. Perhaps they dug two holes facing different ways because of the direction of the wind/rain/snow entering the hole. A few other theories were ruled out, but comment below if you would like to add your thoughts!

Unknown Den

Stay tuned for part II: camouflage on February 16th and part III: migration on March 9th! Click here to sign up! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Last one for a while....

So my guess on the last post is a House Sparrow.  House sparrows are an introduced species that are very prevalent in cities, farms, and human-disturbed areas.  These birds compete with our native birds for the same food sources, and they can clear out a feeder as quickly as you can fill it.  I'll give you some recommendations that I have heard (but as you can tell, haven't yet tried) for keeping House Sparrows from invading your feeder. 

I realize that this picture is hard to decipher, and I'm not asking about the Junco (slate colored bird) in the back of the photo, but the bird in the forefront.  This is another sparrow, I'll give you that much, but what sparrow is it?? I have a few guesses, and I think I know which one is correct, but I'll take your guesses on this one as well.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

I need your help for this one!

So the last photograph I shared with you was of a male Downy woodpecker. They visit the suet feeder quite often, but would probably like it better if I made my own suet, the suet I currently have they take or leave depending on the day of the week. 

This next visitor to my feeder is one that I'm not quite sure I know the correct answer, so I'm counting on you bloggers who are reading this to help me out!

My best guess is a...oh wait, I guess I should let you guys tell me what you think first.  However, my thought is that this bird in this picture is an "introduced species" which spends a lot of time at feeders in the winter.  Does that ring a bell with anyone??

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Birds at my feeder

The cold weather has brought a plethora of birds to my feeder.  I thought I'd do a little ID fun to see if we can figure out what birds are at my feeder.  This one that I am starting with is one of two woodpeckers who were mentioned in earlier blog posts: Is it a Downy or a Hairy?? One of the distinguishing features is the beak which is impossible to see in this picture, but size is another distinguishing feature when compared to the traditional size suet feeder.  Let me know what you think.  Answer in next blog!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

In honor of MLK Jr. Day

On Sunday January 20th, TLC staff and Eugene Hough of Heritage Guild Works held a Volunteer Restoration Workshop at the Bucktoe Cemetery to continue the ongoing restoration project of the historic site.

Throughout the day, thirteen volunteers laid screenings (quarry dust) around the cemetery plots in order to located and differentiate each grave site, and also filled soil depressions to achieve a even ground level. Some volunteers searched for and marked unknown grave sites in the wooded section of the cemetery, along with removing large branches and trash. A few new possible grave sites were stumbled upon. Back then, rocks were often used to delineate a grave site in place of headstones, so volunteers were on the lookout for unmarked stones.

As this adventure continues, new and exciting information is often discovered, so stay tuned for the next opportunity to get involved in this unique piece of history. An archeological dig of the old church grounds is coming up this spring/summer!

A BIG thanks to all the volunteers on Sunday!!

Bucktoe Cemetery Volunteers

Two large piles of screenings (on right)

Bucktoe Cemetery without Screenings (before)

Both piles are gone after 5 hours! 

Bucktoe Cemetery with screenings (after)! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Making Suet

There are many different ways to make suet, and while it may actually be cheaper to buy suet at the store then to make your own, this can be a fun activity to do with your family.  If you prepare, or search correctly you may be able to get a local butcher to donate some beef suet or leftover fat to your cause.  You can also save up drippings from a bacon pan to add into the fat mixture.  The ingredients that you will need are:

Fat (bacon grease, beef suet, lard--are all acceptable fat choices)
Peanut butter
Dried fruit**
Corn meal
Bird seed**

Use about six cups of rendered (melted) fat and add roughly one cup of each dry ingredient.  The ** ingredients are optional--you can pick just one of the ingredients to add or add all of them, just keep in mind the ratio.  One you have added the dry ingredients to the melted fat, pour it into a pan of some description; I think aluminum pans work well for this project, but keep in mind the size of your suet feeder for the thickness.  Once you have poured the suet into the pan either set it outside (covered) so the birds don't help themselves yet or put it in a freezer for a few hours or until hardened.  Once the mixture has been hardened, you can cut it into smaller pieces that fit into your respective suet feeders.  Make sure that you keep the rest of the suet in a cold place (like your freezer) until you are ready to use it because it may melt on you!

Happy suet making!! If you make it, I assure you the birds LOVE the homemade suet, so its a neat thing to hang during the Nest Watch if you participate--more to come on the Nest Watch in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My first "unusual" ducks of the winter!

A friend of mine has a small pond at their house, and they have raised some mallards which live on the pond.  Occasionally these "domestic" mallards sometimes get visitors.  The last few weeks the visitors have been popping in.  It started with a flock of about eight wild mallards, and then some Canadian Geese stopped by to visit, but today, I saw something much more exciting!

Five male Ring Neck Ducks!! Ring neck ducks nest in the sub-arctic, tundras, boreal forests, and aspen park lands, but in the winter they will migrate towards the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic coast of the U.S.  We get to see them on their way through.  Ring Necks are considered diving ducks and are not quite appropriately named.  They have very distinguishable white rings around their beaks, and the males have a much harder to see chestnut ring around their neck (for which they are named).  The males are quite beautiful with their coloring, and the females closely resemble female Redheads.  

Keep your eyes open, because now is the time that we will start to see the Common Mergansers (and if you are really lucky the Hooded Mergansers!)  Sorry for the slightly grainy photos!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spoon Billed Sandpipers

A recent email blast from the Cornell Lab for Ornithology included an amazing video that was shot of Spoon Billed Sandpipers taking their first steps.  Spoon Billed Sandpipers are among the most threatened birds on the planet, and there are many conservation efforts to help protect this bird from becoming extinct.  The birds breed in the far east arctic tundra's of Russia and then migrate almost 8,000 km to Bangladash and Myanmar to their wintering grounds.  One of the reasons for the population decline seems to be trapping on the wintering grounds.  There is a reasonably high survival of nestlings who leave the breeding grounds to overwinter in Bangladash, but a very low percentage actually return. 

Education to stop the trapping of the birds and conservation breeding are two efforts that are currently in place to keep these birds from becoming extinct.  The video footage shot by the Cornell Lab for Ornithology and is a quite amazing look at these wonderful birds.  This is a video to raise awareness of the plight of the birds! Check it out at this link: and know that where ever you are in the country or world, land preservation and conservation efforts are doing their best to fight extinction of our native flora and fauna.  We hope you'll join the fight in your neck of the woods! If you live in southern Chester County we invite you to stop into our offices at the corners of Rt. 82 and 926, check out our website for upcoming events: or give us a call at 610-347-0347.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Odd Facts About Weeds

The Weed Science Society of America Recently posted some fun facts about weeds, I've added my own thoughts to this but did any of these surprise you?  There were some that I had not learned about!

Odd Facts about Weeds
  •  After a walk, Swiss engineer George de Mestral observed burs from common burdock (Arctium minus) stuck to his wool pants and his dog’s fur. A few years later he patented Velcro, an invention inspired by the weed.   
    • Cleavers or Goosegrass (Gallium Aparine)
    • Another fun plant with a similar sticking ability is: Cleaver or Gallium Aparine which is pictured to the left.  This plant is a little easier to find in some instances, and some of the classes that I have led have really had some fun sticking this plant onto one of their unsuspecting peers.  Cleavers are also very edible (you'll have to attend our upcoming Wild Edible Walks to learn more) and the roots produce dye that was used by Indians.  This plant is known as "weedy or invasive" by many so while i typically err on the side of leave no trace and take only pictures, I will let the eating/picking of invasive plants go...

  •  Scientists have discovered that earthworms contribute to the spread of giant ragweed by systematically collecting and burying its seeds in their burrows.
  • Cows that graze on garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) or other mustard weeds produce milk with a garlic flavor. Similarly, wild garlic (Allium vineale) can “flavor” wheat crops and reduce their market value. It’s NOT the best way to make garlic bread!
    • Garlic Mustard is invasive and another "edible plant" there are some great recipes for garlic mustard pesto--I am actually going to try one this garlic mustard season, I'll let you know how it turns out!! 
  • Ancient Egyptians wrapped their dead in the leaves of the giant reed (Arundo donax), now one of the worst riparian weeds in the U.S.
  • Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is said to have helped win a battle. Norsemen came ashore planning to surprise sleeping Scottish forces and removed their boots for a quieter assault. A prickly patch of thistle growing between the two armies is said to have saved the day and became the Scottish National Flower.  
    • This is a great fact that I had not known.  Could you imagine?? I would never want to walk unsuspectingly into a tract of thistles!! 
The complete fact sheet about weeds can be found at:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sneak Peek

Even thought it's a little chilly outside, don't forget about all the winter programs going on from January through March! This upcoming weekend (Sunday, January 13th) TLC is holding a Winter Tree Identification program at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve. Although trees may appear identical and slightly lifeless in the winter, they are secretly thriving with unique characteristics that set them apart from each other.

Lets take a White Oak for example since we have wonderful pictures of the enormous and beautiful one located on TLC's Stateline Woods Preserve.
The White Oak (Quercus alba) is easily distinguishable from other oaks in the winter due to its flaky, light gray colored bark. After observing the bark, hone in on the top of the tree to see if the twigs and branches are alternating or opposite. A White Oak will have an alternate arrangement (the branches are NOT across from each other) as seen in the picture below..

The terminal buds (largest bud at the very end of the twig) of a White Oak are clustered, blunt and tend to be a red(ish) brown color, as opposed to Black Oaks (which also have flaky-like bark) that have sharp and pointed terminal buds.

Another simple way to identify trees during the winter is by looking at the ground cover; what types of leaves surround the tree? It may be hard to tell in the middle of a forest, but if the tree stands alone, only its leaves will be on the ground below. For example, White Oaks can be confused with Swamp White Oaks; but, the difference lies in the leaves covering the ground. Swamp White Oaks don't have deeply lobed leaves like White Oaks posses.

Swamp White Oak

White Oak

If you find this information interesting and/or helpful, sign up for the Winter Tree Identification THIS WEEKEND! You can register by clicking HERE. Share your tips for identifying white oak trees in the comment section below!

Monday, January 7, 2013

More Hummingbirds

TLC collaborates with the Delaware Nature Society (DNS) on various educational programs held at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  We must all be thinking alike because they recently posted a blog about hummingbirds in January that I thought would be of interest to those of you who just read our blog about Hummingbirds in January.  A DNS Board Member who happens to be a wonderful photographer, and whose link to photographs was shared in our last blog post gave his take on his January Hummingbird Experiences complete with amazing photography!

This is definitely worth checking out:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hummingbirds in January??

This may be surprising, but local birders have reported and photographed many Hummingbirds that at this point seem to have past being "late" migrants and may be over-wintering in our area.  

Here is a link to some wonderful Hummingbird photos taken on January 3:!i=2303236947&k=87PZ6Kr

So why are there some hummingbirds that are overwintering in our area? There are many different answers, and not one that is touted as the exact science, we also have an influx of Western Hummingbirds that are typically not seen in the area.  Here are a few theories:

  • The "internal compass" of a western hummingbird leads it to overwinter in West Virginia in 2012, and then this hummingbird goes back out west to breed, it's young will now have that same internal compass that will make it continue to travel back to that same area in the winter.
  • The landscape has been altered by hardier blooming plants that seem to provide hummingbirds with food through the winter months. 

If you are interested in seeing whether or not a hummingbird is still hanging around your house the first thing to do is make sure that you are consistently providing fresh nectar in your feeder, it can be difficult to keep the feeder from freezing.  Some tips on keeping the feeder from freezing in the winter months are: 

  • Make a "feeder cozy" using wool socks, scarves, or some other fabric--if it is large enough, insert the foot warmer packs between the feeder and the cozy.
  • Invert your sugars to lower the freezing point of the solution: To invert ordinary table sugar, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water, adding 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to speed up the reaction. Heat the solution to a low boil on the stovetop in a heavy saucepan, washing down the sides of the pan with a little additional water to dissolve any stray sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, which will rise above the boiling point of water as the water in it boils away. Once it reaches 230° F., remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, then pour it into a clean jar, pop on the lid, and store in the refrigerator. Substitute invert syrup for no more than half of the sugar in your feeder solution and reduce the water slightly (by about 2 tablespoons per cup) to compensate for the water in the syrup.
  • Use Christmas lights, or LED lights to wrap around the feeder to add heat.

Good luck with watching Hummingbirds in the winter! Also it is key to remember that our most common Hummingbird is the Ruby Throated Hummingbird, you will see other hummingbirds so attempt to photograph them or take careful note to help with ID.  Hummingbirds are sometimes difficult to ID without being caught and banded, but taking clear photographs and sending them along to very experienced birders is a good way to start.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Answer is:

Fagus grandifolia or American Beech was the tree that was pictured in our last post.  This tree has one of the most discernible bark types with the smooth grey bark.  This tree is fairly common throughout woodlands in southeastern PA.  The American Beech flowers in early spring just when the leaves are unfolding.  The flowers will then form an edible fruit the "beech nut" which is eaten by a variety of mammals and birds.   This tree is fairly shade tolerant and has a tendency to send up root sprouts around a mature beech. 

This tree typically is subject to carvings because of the smooth bark This temptation should be avoided because cuts in the bark make the tree more susceptible to fungi or other diseases.  If it is cut too deeply, you can actually "girdle" the tree by cutting off its food source.  We should just enjoy the natural beauty of the tree and not try to make our initials last for hundreds of years in the forest. 

Learn  more about tree identification at our walk on January 12 at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  Check out our website: for more details.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Identify Trees without Their Leaves

Can you tell the type of tree below by just the bark??  Some easy hints for you.  This tree is fairly dominant in our woodlands as an early successional tree.  It is not typically browsed by deer, and the bark is said to look like an elephant's leg or perhaps even a sandy beach (BIG hint here..)