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Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Time Invasive Window

Garlic Mustard First year leaf
Typically there is a golden window of opportunity for spring time invasive plant management, but this year, the slow cool start to spring has drastically reduced the window for being able to control invasive plants while not harming any native plants. This year the invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) are leafing out at the same time as the native spring ephemerals: Spring Beauty and Trout Lily.  This means that control efforts must be much more localized in order to prevent any residual effects on our native plants.

Garlic Mustard Second year with flower
Garlic Mustard is most easily controlled by pulling it up from the roots, and either laying the plant on a heavily traveled trail (the foot traffic will prevent it from re-sprouting), placing it on a nearby rock, or taking the younger garlic mustard leaves home to make pesto.  Click HERE for the recipe.  This plant is a bi-annual, the first year it will only produce leaves and the second year it produces seeds before it dies back.  The best way to prevent spread of this plant is by pulling it before it produces the seeds.

Lesser Celandine Flower and Tubers
Lesser Celandine has a pretty yellow flower and spreads usually through rain events.  With all of the heavy rains of late, this plant is happily spreading downstream leaving a pretty but unhealthy monoculture of yellow flowers in its path.  The plant has numerous tubers, and if you decide to hand pull this plant, you must remove all of the bits of tubers or it will continue to grow.  This is a very difficult and tedious control method for large populations. The other way to control this plant but not harming any surrounding plants is to individually plant each leaf with an aquatic approved non-dilute solution of glyphosate herbicide.  If you have a blanket of celandine as shown in the photo--this can be a daunting task, but one that will be rewarded when you end up with a blanket of native spring ephemerals instead!  If you live along a creek, it is important to collaborate with your neighbors.  Celebrate Earth Month in April by having a celandine work party.  I am not sure if this plant is edible, let us know if you come up with a recipe. 
Lesser Celandine Monoculture

If you are interested in learning more about invasive tips for your property, schedule a Landscape Visionaries session.  We'll come out to your property and talk about all of the ways that you can control invasive plants.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A First...

Aralia elata
On a recent Landscape Visionaries visit, we noticed a peculiar plant that was seemingly quite invasive.  The landowner mentioned that they had a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus Altissima) removed from their property a few years ago, and from afar the structure of this plant looked like offspring from that plant . However, after closer inspection, we noticed thorns on the side of the plant--which is NOT a characteristic of Tree-Of-Heaven.  The plant resembled Aralia spinosa or (Devil's Walkingstick) but we had never seen that plant exhibit invasive tendencies.  

After a little due diligence, we found that there is an invasive Aralia: Aralia elata or (Japanese Angelica Tree).  The two are very similar, and one of the best ways to tell the native from the invasive apart is by waiting until it flowers (which of course can wreck havoc on your control efforts).  The flowers of the invasive plant tend to be surrounded by the leaves, and have no distinct central axis whereas the flowers of the native plant have the base elevated above the leaves, and does have a distinct central axis.  All other characteristics are variable and are not always useful in determining species.  Based on the invasive tendencies shown by the plant on our walk, we are secure in identifying it as the invasive Aralia elata.  

Based on its tendency to spread through its roots and seed source, similarly to Ailanthus Altissima, similar control techniques should work well on the plant.  Smaller populations can be hand pulled, but the larger plant should be cut and the stump should be immediately painted with a non-dilute solution of glyphosate in the "cut-stump" method.  The larger trees can be treated by drilling holes throughout the bark and filling the holes with the non-dilute solution of glyphosate.

Given the prominence of the Aralia elata throughout the landowner's property, we predict that the original plant that was identified as Tree Of Heaven was probably this invasive: Aralia elata.  Hopefully this first encounter with the plant in Chester County, will be the last--but at least now we know what we are looking for, and will try to control it before it becomes more of an issue.

Have questions about plants on your property?  Schedule your own Landscape Visionaries session today! There's an option that will fit your needs! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Celebrating Spring

TLC celebrated the arrival of spring in a few different ways. The spring equinox marks the arrival of TLC's Conservation Matters Newsletter to your home. This covers featured happenings from 2013, important news in the conservation world, and previews of what's in store for TLC in 2014. If you are interested in receiving our bi-annual newsletter on the spring and fall equinoxes you can click here for more information.

We also celebrated the slow changing of seasons at Bucktoe Creek Preserve over the weekend. If you're an early bird, you had the option to join us Leopold Saturday: Bucktoe Restoration Hike. The Bucktoe Creek Preserve crew led a group through meadows, woodlands, and up and down the Bucktoe and Red Clay Creeks to talk about the history, restoration efforts, and future goals of Bucktoe Creek Preserve. As a part of the Community Read Initiative, we highlighted the connection between Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic and Bucktoe.

Hiking through Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

"The Land Ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively; the land." - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

Bucktoe Creek Preserve, along with TLC's other nature preserves, emphasize the land-community interaction in the form of education, research sites, and stewardship/management of the land. If you are interested in learning more about the restoration projects going on at Bucktoe Creek Preserve, please contact

Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, if you're a night owl, you had the option to join us for a tour of the night sky with the Chester County Astronomical Society. From 8pm - 9:30pm we saw constellations from the "winter diamond" to the "seven sisters." Jupiter was also visible Saturday night, and some of the younger kids were even able to spot the surrounding moons!
Sunset at Bucktoe Creek Preserve.
A big thanks to the Chester County Astronomical Society for leading an interesting engaging and informative tour of the night sky. If you missed this time, keep an eye out for our next Sky Tour at Bucktoe Creek Preserve or contact for more information.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Home-Owner Association Clinics come to a close

In addition to the complete demolition of my March Madness bracket (I only have 4 of the Sweet Sixteen), Sunday also brought the last in a series of clinics for a local Home-Owners-Association.  Over the past 12 months, our Landscape Visionaries team has conducted clinics with their trail club ranging from erosion control on the trails, invasive species management to general plant identification. 

All hands were on deck at the clinic!
It has been a pleasure to work with an engaged group of individuals who are interested in seeing the open space in their HOA become better habitat.  Our last clinic focused on clearing some of the winter debris off of the trail, pulling up Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), cutting down some of the invasive plants that were encroaching on the trail (Amur Honeysuckle: Lonicera maackii; Multi-flora Rose: Rosa Multiflora; Oriental Bittersweet: Celastrus orbiculatus) , and finding the first few native spring ephemerals.  We did not see any native plants in bloom, but I was able to find my least favorite spring flower in full bloom: Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).  

Barred Owls--Not taken on Sunday--our camera's
weren't quick enough. These are from Bucktoe Creek Preserve!
The biggest excitement of the day came when we heard some crows making a ruckus in the nearby pines.  I explained that in all likelihood the crows were busy harassing an owl somewhere in the boughs of the pines.  We briefly looked through the pines, but could not catch a glimpse so we continued along the trail.  An hour or so later, as we headed back to the beginning of the trail a mob of crows flew over our head in hot pursuit of a Barred Owl.  Almost everyone on the trail was able to get a great glimpse of the Barred Owl! We then made our way out to the pond in time to scare off a few pair of Ring Necked Ducks--though two remained behind so everyone could view them.  

If your HOA is interested in gaining the tools needed to maintain your open space, contact TLC's Landscape Visionaries team to schedule your clinics today by email: or phone: 610-347-0347 x 103.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bird Box Spring Cleaning

One morning last month upon arriving to our Stateline Woods Preserve a rambunctious blue bird perched himself on my side view mirror.  A brighter omen to the day I imagined given the below freezing temperatures.  Though, as I inevitably scared him off as I opened the car door he promptly returned to take another look at himself in the mirror.  I decided then that it would soon be time to clean out our nesting boxes to make way for new or returned birds. 

Blue Bird box at Stateline Woods

Just last week TLC staff headed out with a map, ladder, gloves, camera, and bucket of soft leaf litter to inspect all nesting boxes at Stateline Woods.  This bucket of leaf litter helped create a soft nesting area for the screech owl and kestrel boxes after we cleaned them out of any old debris.  . Our expedition meandered along meadow edges checking Eastern Blue Bird boxes and American Kestrel boxes then headed towards the forest interior to check on our many Eastern Screech Owl boxes, a few Wood Duck boxes dotted the stream.  In lieu of long dimensional lumber as posts we try to use 'snags' or standing pieces of a dead or dying tree.  Some of the snags along the way were rather weathered and couldn't support our ladder meaning the box would be left in its current state until it comes tumbling down in the next wind storm.

Screech Owl nest with pellets
Our search found a few field mice inhabiting the blue bird boxes, a surprised squirrel taking residence in one screech owl box, and evidence of target species namely blue bird feathers and a few screech owl pellets.  Blue birds will typically nest a few times a year so a mid summer cleaning will be necessary as well.  If this doesn't happen blue birds will build a new nest over the old.
If you are interested in helping us supply nesting boxes on our preserves please visit: TLC's Bird Box Sponsorship Program for more info.  Happy Spring Equinox!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hooded Merganser Sighting!

This shot is far away, but this is what first caught my eye.
It has been a while since I've posted about clogging up traffic because of a bird sighting, but it happened once again.   TLC staff was just returning from "eviction day" (cleaning out nest boxes to get ready for our spring/summer residents--more to come in a later blog) driving along Creek Road, when a flash of white caught my eye.  At first glance I assumed it was a Common Merganser--pretty cool but....after stopping (on a busy road with no shoulders) I saw it was actually a Hooded Merganser PAIR! 

It is a little blurry--they are fairly quick swimmers, but hopefully you can catch
the neat crest and the coloration of the pair.  The male is the more brightly
colored duck.
I do not know if you have ever had the fortune of seeing these beautiful ducks but they are my absolute favorite to view.   The male is brightly marked in black and white and sports a large crest above his head, but the female is just as neat featuring a rusty red crest above her head.   Similar to Wood Ducks, these are cavity nesters, making their homes in the hole of a tree.  They are diving ducks, and will eat crayfish, aquatic insects, amphibians, mollusks, and vegetation.  Prey be warned--these ducks can actually see under the water! 

I know the pictures from my cell phone are terrible--but remember, I was clogging up a windy road during a busy time of the day.   I challenge you to get better photographs than I by using TLC's Eco Shack which is located at the Marshall Bridge Preserve and faces the Red Clay Creek just a tad further downstream from where I found my Hooded pair.  Mink and beaver sightings have been high this year, so using the Eco Shack is a wonderful way to spend a spring afternoon wildlife watching!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bobwhite Quail

 Special thanks to "guest blogger" Dan Mummert, Wildlife Biologist for the PA Game Commission for his wonderful response to our question about bobwhite quail in PA which arose after my encounter with a quail on my way home from work.  Sorry for the terrible picture--it was twilight and the only camera at my disposal was a phone!

It’s a sad story for our wild bobwhite quail in Pennsylvania. They were once present throughout much of the state and probably reached their highest numbers in the early to mid 1800s when most of PA was recently cut forest and farm fields. Between the late 1800’s through the mid 1900s their range contracted as northern forests of the state grew back and severe winters added to steep declines in more northern parts of the state.  By the 1960s their stronghold was the southern tier of PA, especially Fulton, Franklin, York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties where winters weren’t as cold and there was still a concentration of cropland, grassy fields and brushy cover habitat. Between the mid 1960s through the 1980s studies from the North American Breeding Bird Survey found that bobwhite continued to decline at a rate of 14 percent per year. From the 1980s to present we have learned from the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas that bobwhite have been reduced to extremely sparse levels with no area demonstrating a strong population. Chester County for example only had seven locations where evidence of potentially breeding wild quail were observed during this study which lasted from 2004-2009.  

Conducting surveys of wild bobwhite quail is difficult because of the efforts of both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and sportsmen groups to stock these game birds. In the early part of the 20th century, the PGC attempted to stock quail throughout the state with birds brought in from western and southern states. From 1915 through 1925, almost 60,000 bobwhites were released by the PGC. Stocking efforts were discontinued by the PGC, though many sportsmen groups still raise and release tens of thousands of quail every year.  Whether there are still naturally breeding, sustainable populations of wild bobwhites in the state is a debate. Most evidence suggests that the majority of bobwhites remaining are pen-reared releases and there are no sustainably reproducing populations remaining. What is known is that if we should ever hope to restore bobwhite quail to any region of Pennsylvania it will require an enormous effort of restoring a landscape level ecosystem composed primarily of a mixture of farmland, brushy hedgerows, grassy fields, and woodland edges.

Thanks again to Dan! I hope you were as enlightened as I.   Contact TLC to learn more about ways that you can help to restore habitat here in Chester County through our Landscape Visionaries sessions, and utilize the wonderful resources available through the PA Game Commission.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Through the Eyes of a Naturalist

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
 - Aldo Leopold,
A Sand County Almanac
Observing Tree Rings on a fallen American Beech.

TLC kicked off the Community Read Initiative on February 22nd with a nature hike through the snow-covered grounds of Bucktoe Creek Preserve. This first program was focused on the chapter "February" from A Sand County Almanac.

The chapter begins with the quote stated above and continues with a historical look at the sand counties in Wisconsin from the perspective of a fallen Oak. As Leopold's saw cuts through each tree ring, he reflects on the significance of that year and the idea that, we as humans cannot become disconnected from the land that continues to support and nurture us.

Our hike was focused on telling the story of tree rings at Bucktoe Creek Preserve. By looking at the size of each ring in the sapwood layer, we were able to determine the years of significant hurricanes or droughts from a recently fallen American Beech.

As we described the changes this particular beech tree had seen over the years, we recall what the land has to offer and how the balance between the man and land must proceed in unity. If left unbalanced, we will continue to see the large scale effects of degradation and destruction.

Taking in all the beauty of winter.
Read with us Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac and explore the topics of a Land Ethic. Next up:

Community Read Speaker Series: 
"How the Red Clay Greenway is an Integral Part of the Land Ethic." 
Thursday, March 6th @ 6:30pm at the Bayard Taylor Library. Learn how walk-able communities like the Red Clay Greenway tie into Leopold's Land Ethic. Follow up with the talk by traveling the Red Clay Greenway on Saturday, March 8th from 10am - 12pm to see the growing trail connectivity in Kennett Square. Both the walk & talk will be led by Gwen Lacy, Executive Director of The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County. Free to attend. RSVP by clicking here!

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