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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Invasive Species..what's the big deal?

March 3rd is looming on my calendar as it is the "kickoff" to invasive species week.  Throughout the course of the year, I get various questions about these plants, the questions I get the most are: What are Invasive Species?  and Why do I care?

So what exactly are invasive species?? There is a fairly strict definition of invasive species
as per the executive order signed by Bill Clinton in 1999 an "invasive species" is defined as a species that is:

1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and
2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g., microbes). Human actions are the primary means of invasive species introductions.  

 Why do I care??   Well this to some extent depends on your personal interests, but we are all impacted by invasive species.  If you are a conservation organization or a landowner who strives to create natural habitat on your property for your flora and fauna, then you are always fighting the battle of invasive species to create better habitat. At some point you have to choose your battles and realize that eradication is not something we are going to see in our lifetimes, but perhaps control is something that we can achieve individually.  If you have no interest, or do not care about the "environmental" cost of invasive species, you may care about the economic cost.
Native May Apple

There are many estimates about the economic cost of invasive species, putting the economic cost well into the $100 billion dollar range.  This cost is reflective of loss of production of a native or depended upon species because of an invasive species as well as the cost of actually controlling the species.  The big thing on the new most recently has been the Burmese pythons and the hunt in the Florida Everglades. These snakes are devastating to the fragile ecosystem of the everglades and are causing severe impacts on the area.  There are fish and microorganisms in the Great Lakes area which have resulted in a loss of sport fishing jobs, and there is the most obvious loss of agriculture production.

If I have caught your interest. There are very simple steps that you can do to either help us get ahead of the problem, or at least to keep from contributing to the problem.

  1. Make sure that you are landscaping with plants that are NOT INVASIVE. In Southeastern PA, landscapers love to use Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush), Buddleia spp. (Butterfly Bush); and Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) in their plantings.  Be an aware customer.  Do not let them sell you an invasive plant! If you are not sure, educate yourself using resources.
  2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, "dispose" of an unwanted plant or pet by putting it back into what you believe is it's native habitat!  Even GOLDFISH (shocking I know) are becoming invasive in parts of the country.  Who would have thought those innocent little fish you win at the fair would be a problem.
  3. Educate your neighbors! As I mentioned before, use your resources.  There are wonderful sites online for those of us who live in the U.S.: and I am sure, no matter where you are, there are similar resources available.  Local conservation organizations are another great resource.  The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County holds many programs about plant and invasive identification, and we also are happy to come out to your property to assist you with where to begin.
 If you own a large property, it is easy to get overwhelmed by invasive plants, and feel like the battle will never end.  In this instance it is important to pick your battles.  Start with the "newest" invasion.  Something that you actually have a chance of eradicating from your property.  Then select sensitive areas, or areas that have something that spreads rather voraciously.  It is also important to know about any local or state laws you may have about "weeds" on your property.  In PA, many species of thistle are considered to be noxious weeds, and you can be fined for letting them go to seed on your property.  Make sure that you work on areas that have a definitive beginning and end. You will see a result this way, and make yourself feel accomplished. 

Just remember even if you live on a small property, you can make a difference by planting only non invasive (though I would recommend all native) plants!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Ok, I apologize for the shameless plug for this amazing event.  But if you live in some proximity to West Chester, you should come out to this great events.

 Purchase your TICKETS ONLINE NOW by clicking HERE and join Trail Creek Outfitters as they host the 6th Annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival on Wednesday, February 27 and Thursday, February 28 at the Chester County Historical Society located at 225 North High Street in West Chester PA. 

The event equally benefits The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County and Stroud Water Research Center. 

Doors open at 6:30 for light snacks and beverages and the films begin at 7:30.  There will be different short environmental films showing each evening. 

We hope you'll join us for this great event.  Here's a brief clip of some of the films you will see throughout the event.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crazy about Owls

If you haven't noticed we have had a lot of posts recently about owls, and owls are even hitting the New York Times.  Check out this great and very interesting article:

Sunday, February 24, 2013


In honor of the upcoming Invasive Species Awareness Week from March 3-9th, I wanted to share this fun post from the Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month: They are doing their best to make Invasive Species Awareness fun!!

Just as an aside, and I'll wax more poetic about this in upcoming posts, while it sometimes seems like it is an uphill battle to fight invasive species, and perhaps for the more established species it definitely is, it is very important to be aware of what the invasive species in your area are, and what new invaders are around the corner.  At the very least, you can keep any new infestations from taking over the property you own, manage, or rent.....

Friday, February 22, 2013

Eviction Day at Stateline Woods

I like to refer to bird (and mammal) box cleaning day as eviction day  because you typically end up dislodging some mice who were making their winter home in a bluebird box, a squirrel that was hiding out in an owl box, or some other critter hanging out in the boxes.  I once found a snake curled up in one of the boxes that I was cleaning--I never again went near a box without a 3' pole (or stick). I think I was more horrified than the snake but I can not be sure!!

First: Why do we even have eviction day?? In case you were not aware, you should clean out your bird boxes every year to remove the old nests and any diseases or insects that may have remained behind when the birds left . In the case of Bluebird boxes, you do not have to add any nesting material to the cleaned boxes, but typically we do add nesting material (a thin layer of wood chips) to the Wood Duck, and Screech Owl Boxes.  Unfortunately the Bat boxes cannot actually be cleaned but we can check the area around them to see if there are bats in the area.   Though the recent frigid temperatures have not made it seem that way, spring is in the air.  Wood ducks are being spotted on the creeks, I have noticed many bluebirds starting to check out nesting boxes, and Great Horned Owls are sitting on their nests, and the other owls are not far behind.  We like to offer the optimal nest spots to our local avian friends, so we dedicated Thursday, February 21 as eviction day!! 

At Stateline Woods, we have Bird Box Sponsors who have purchased a bird box that hangs at our preserve, and their name is recognized on the side of the box with a sign.  We invited all of our Bird Box Sponsors out for eviction day today and they had a great time checking out what had been living in their box, either by the remnant nesting material or sometimes we find someone taking a nap in one of the boxes. 

Much to the excitement of the crew, this fellow was seen hanging out in one of our screech owl boxes.  We didn't disturb him from his nap, and went on our merry way.  We'll leave his box for another day.  If you look really closely at the box, you will see pellets around his feet which means that this just might be his (or her) spot of contentment.  In case you didn't know, Owl Pellets are the regurgitated bits of the prey that the owls cannot digest.  If you dissect an owl pellet, you can find the skulls of many small rodents (or large depending on the size of the owl). This screech owl would only have small mammals (and frogs) on his diet. 

If you are interested in becoming a Bird Box Sponsor and joining us on Eviction Day: Click HERE for more information.  If you are interested in learning more about Owls, join us for our Owl Prowl on Monday, February 25--there are only a few spots left, so sign up now!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Checking out the works at Stateline

Mr. Fox has been checking out the goings on at Stateline Woods Preserve recently.   Check out the photographs that were taken by our Land Manager while he was out doing some invasive clearing the other day. 

Some fun facts about the red fox:

There are 21 species of Fox, and the Red Fox is the largest.  They hunt alone as adults.  They have an amazing sense of hearing, which allows them to track their prey through underground burrows, thick grass, or deep snow.   It is rather quite amusing to watch a fox hunt in the deep snow.  They will look as though they are stalking along, and then jump straight up in the air, and pounce on some poor unsuspecting critter hanging out in his home.  The first fox kits should be popping up any day now, as mating begins as early as January, and the fox has a 51 day gestation period so typically the cubs are born between late February and mid April. 

If you have never had the experience of watching fox kits hang out around their den.  You really have to attempt to spend some time near a fox den.  If you have a few hours to spare, and a great camera--stake out an area far enough away from a den that you will not disturb anyone, and then sit back and enjoy the show.  This might be the best TV you will watch all year--unless the season finale of Downton is a really kicker!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wildlife in Winter Program takes a turn ...

Saturday marked part II of the Wildlife in Winter Series at Bucktoe Creek Preserve. The program focused on animals that stay active during the winter months and how they survive the elements. Within the spruce forest, we spotted activity by the Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Middens are piles of bare pine cones that accumulate on the ground below a spruce tree due to the red squirrel foraging for seeds.

Tim Zador discovering midden
Midden Pile

One special event in particular occurred on the hike. A red-tailed hawk swooped down into a thick coverage of spruce trees causing quite a commotion with someone else. After a few minutes quietly waiting, a Barred Owl flew out of the spruce woodlands about 20-30 yards away from us and into another patch. It was a magnificent site to see. The group searched around the woodlands for a little longer in hopes to see him again, but weren't lucky enough for a second look. The barred owl has been absent from BCP for 15 years and has returned this past year. One reason for its return could be the recent closure of the Chandler Mill Bridge resulting in less traffic and noise pollution. Hopefully, we'll be able to spot or hear him on Monday's Owl Prowl at BCP from 6-7:30pm. The picture below is a barred owl spotted at Bucktoe Creek Preserve (BCP) and was taken by Timothy Zador. Perhaps, the same barred owl we spotted over the weekend. He doesn't seem to mind showing himself mid-day! 

Barred Owl

If you haven't yet attended the Wildlife in Winter Series, the final part on migration will be Saturday March 9 from 10:00-12:00pm at Bucktoe Creek Preserve. This will be led by birder, Holly Merker!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Visitor to the Pond

A friend had this unique visitor to their pond, and he's actually still hanging out there as we speak.  This swan is a Mute Swan which is actually not a native species to the United States.  These swans were introduced to North America for their beauty.  They are fairly aggressive, and their behavior can threaten native waterfowl.  You cannot dispute that they are quite beautiful and graceful to watch swim around the pond. 

We're not sure how long this one will stay, but it would be great if it was replaced by our native, Trumpeter Swans which have been spotted throughout Chester County, recently. The Mute Swan has a orange bill with a black "face" whereas the Trumpeter Swan has an all black bill and face.  The Tundra Swan also has a black bill, but has yellow spots behind the bill on their "face."   Sometimes these swans get caught up traveling with the Snow Geese, so keep your eyes to the skies, because you just might come across some swans.  If you would like to see large flocks of Tundra Swans, there were over 3,000 reported at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area over the weekend.  You can keep up to date on the species being seen at Middle Creek by checking out this website:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Catching Some Air

This Red Tail was hanging out catching some air on the beautiful day at Stateline Woods. Keep your eyes to the skies because there have been many sightings of eagles in the area, and nothing quite brightens  your day like seeing a bald eagle soaring by.  I caught a glimpse of one out of my office window last week!!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

St. Valentine's Snow

The nice dusting of snow this morning, made for some fresh tracks during my morning activities.  I was pleased to find this track along a creek.  

It belongs to an American Mink, a species that I personally have seen rebound over the last five or six years.  I very rarely saw them, and then in 2010, i started to notice them more often.  During the winter of 2011, a deer hunter remarked on the two noisy "ferrets" he heard and saw fighting along the creek.  They weren't ferrets, but American Mink and at least now you have a vague picture of what they look like.  A mink has a long sleek body, that is about 2 feet in length and their fur can range in color from black to light brown.  The tail is very long, approximately 1/3 of the length of the animal.  They are found along forested rivers and streams.  They can dive to depths of 16' and they are very territorial.  The males will loudly fight for territory (as the hunter found out).  To learn more about mink, and other animals that reside in our neighborhood join us on Saturday for our Wildlife in Winter Series.  Click HERE for more information. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The "Barking" of the Geese

Yesterday, I heard the tell tale sign of "barking" coming from the sky and looked up to see the first large flock of snow geese I have seen fly overhead.

Snow Goose PhotoThese birds breed in the north but will over-winter along the inner coasts and are heading south to stay a little bit warmer over the winter months.  A great spot to catch the snow geese in full migration is Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area which is owned and maintained by the PA Game Commission.

You can check the migration numbers through this site to find out how the migration counts look, but typically the best time to visit Middle Creek is in late winter around early to mid March. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Who Cooks For You??

I'm not actually interested in finding out who makes dinner at your house, but merely mimicking the call of an owl that is becoming more of a fixture throughout southern Chester County.  The Barred Owl is an owl whose call goes something like: Who Cooks for You? Who Cooks for You All? They are nocturnal owls that nest in cavities of evergreen and deciduous trees.  They can most often be found near water.  They like to hunt for rodents at night, and are typically drawn to hunting rodents on minimally traveled roadways along creeks. 

The first time I ever saw or heard a Barred Owl was on a Breeding Bird survey nine years ago.  We were stopped along a road that was "closed" and followed a portion of the Brandywine.  This vocal owl called back to the recording, and came in closer for a better look. We had great views of him, and saw him every year after and found that there was a nesting pair!!  About two years later, a friend who lived along another minimally traveled road along a creek started telling me about this odd owl she kept hearing.  I came over to get a better handle on the situation, and sure enough we heard a Barred Owl calling in the night.  That owl has been heard frequently since that time. 

Bucktoe Creek Preserve (TLC's sister preserve on which we hold programs and assist with the management) had housed a Barred Owl at one point, but it seemed to have moved on.  However, a road adjacent to Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Chandler Mill Bridge was closed and within the first year of that bridge closing, we have heard and seen a Barred Owl--we think there may be a pair.  In fact, much to the delight of our Owl Prowl participants, we got one to call on our owl prowl in November.  Register for our February Owl Prowl to see if you will get to hear or see a Barred Owl. 

If you are out driving around some quiet country roads through woodlands along a creek--keep your eyes and ears open, you might be able to find Who Cooks For You All in the woods--or out on a hunting foray!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Garlic Mustard Control Now???

I realize it's February, and we are perhaps on the brink of getting the snow storm that some of us have been wishing for all year (not I!) but if the ground is not snow covered, Monday is supposed to be 50 degree day (in F for those of you Celsius people reading this). 
That is the perfect temperature combined with the perfect time of the year to control Alliaria petiolata or Garlic Mustard.  This invasive is a biennial plant that has a first year leaf that looks like the picture shown here.  Typically this pesky invasive plant out-competes all of our native spring ephemerals because it it said to have allelopathic tendencies (it will emit a chemical into the soil that will inhibit the growth of other plants).  

At the moment, garlic mustard has a greenish tint to it's leaf while the spring ephemerals have not yet started to surface.  You can spray the garlic mustard with a dilute solution of a glyphosate herbicide without fear of harming any of the other native plants.  I realize that there are many people who do not subscribe to using herbicides for invasive control, and I understand and support your decision.  However, for those of you who do choose to use herbicides as part of your invasive management plan, spraying invasives that are green in the winter with a glyphosate based herbicide is a great way to minimize any residual killing of a valuable native plant.  If you do choose to use herbicides, you should be sure to read and understand the label before any application.   It will take longer for the effects of the herbicide to show after you have sprayed the plant, so be patient with the results. 

Two manual methods of control are to actually pull the plant up by its roots in mid to late April when the second year plants are beginning to flower, but before anything sets seed.  The other option is to cut off the flowering heads to prevent it from setting seed, though sometimes this may result in an second sprouting by the flowering head.  It should be noted that if you try the manual pulling method you should think about minimal soil disturbance.  Disturbed soil is an invitation for some other seed to start grown, and unfortunately it is typically an invasive that takes first advantage.  

As a biennial, you need to prevent it from setting seed in order to control the plant which makes it easier to control than some of the invasive perennials, but is still an issue that should be addressed on your property using the method of your choice.  

Invasive plant awareness week begins on March 3, so look for some tips on other invasive species management to appear leading up to that week.  Our Landscape Visionaries team is happy to come out to your property to do an Invasive Species Consultation visit.  Go HERE for more information. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wilmington's Peregrine Falcon's

Peregrine Falcon's are the prized bird of any falcon hunter and have been used in falcon hunting for century's. This tradition was helpful when the  Peregrine's faced near eradication in the mid-20th century due to pesticide poisoning.  Working together, conservationists and falconers were able to reestablish populations of these amazing birds.  They have one of the longest migrations of any bird, and can fly up to speeds of 112 mph in pursuit of prey (I wouldn't want to be their snack would you?) and in their hunting swoop can reach speeds of 320 mph--much to the relief of everyone reading this, even my car can't reach those speeds!!

A Peregrine Falcon was first spotted in Wilmington, DE in 1991, and a group of people working with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife put up a nesting box.  Over the years they have kept track of these falcons and the breeding cycles, and have an amazing webcam on their nest as we speak.  Check out the webcam to see what these falcons are up to: and be sure to check out the history and all things about the Wilmington Peregrine falcons at:

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Juvenile Red Tail

This guy was sitting in a tree as I was driving by, and I couldn't help but stop and take his picture.  He looked fairly cold hanging out looking for an unsuspecting mouse or vole to show themselves.  

The white chest is a great way to identify these birds from afar--and the red tail of course which was seen when he traded views for another tree.  

And in case you are wondering..i was stopped in the middle of the road, near a curve while taking his picture.  In my defense it was a quiet back road, and I had my flashers on!!! 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tracks in the Snow

TLC is hoping for a light dusting of snow on February 16th for the second part of our Wildlife in Winter series: Camouflage because snow is a great time to observe what animals might be hanging out around your house (or nature preserve).  

Over the years, I have found great tracks from mink, raccoon's (easily my favorite), fox, and once even a coyote....the snow is a fun way to see what is out and about in your area.  Keep your fingers crossed for a light dusting of snow so you can find tracks at Bucktoe Creek Preserve for our Wildlife In Winter Series, and click HERE to sign up. 

Here's a track that I came across the last light dusting of snow that we had.  Any guesses???

I'll give you a hint--Peter Cottentail would like hanging out with this small mammal....

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ground Hog Day..

Since tomorrow is February 2, that seems to be the pressing question, at least to those of us who have heard of Puxsutawny Phil.  What exactly is Groundhog Day, and what does it really mean?

Is it just that movie about the day that never ends?? Sometimes every day feels like Groundhog Day to me, but that's a story for another time entirely...

Well it turns out that the Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early.   I thought this was quite interesting, and a little different from what I always believed which was:  "if the groundhog sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if he doesn't, spring is six weeks away." Hey according to what I thought the theory was, he's always right.  

I believe that the statisticians give our Phil a 39% accuracy rating, they aren't very good betting odds.   

Our recent cold snaps, and my wearing multiple layers to walk outside has me wondering what he is going to be predicting....

If this sky is any indication, I think more cold days are ahead--but I'm not the ground hog on the gauntlet (at least I don't think I am!)

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