ExtremeTerrain makes gift to Schuylkill Center

ExtremeTerrain’s Clean Trail Initiative program was launched in 2015.  This program seeks to reward local clubs and organizations with small, project-specific, grants to be used for trail maintenance and restoration. In the approximately 4 years since it started, the program has given out $21,650 in trail project grant funds.  The Schuylkill Center is very grateful to ExtremTerrain for their support.  Click here to learn more about their initiative. 5XWMuX-A

Jo Ann Desper: Clinic Volunteer, RDC President

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

desper

 

Jo Ann is our hero, demonstrating a level of leadership and dedication that is uncommon in volunteerism.

James Harry Calamia, RDC Executive Director

Jo Ann Desper lives in the Wissahickon section of Roxborough, not far from that mystical hermit’s cave off Hermit Lane. The retired marketing executive is deeply rooted in our community: having lived in Roxborough-Manayunk for more than 30 years, she now wears two very important hats. Not only is she one of the fabulous volunteers at the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, helping return injured, sick, and orphaned animals into the wild, but she is president of the Roxborough Development Corporation, the group charged with enlivening our business district. 

“As a volunteer for the RDC,” says James Harry Calamia, the RDC’s executive director, “Jo Ann is our hero, demonstrating a level of leadership and dedication that is uncommon in volunteerism. The contributions of nonprofit volunteers like Jo Ann embody the best in our community.” We at the Schuylkill Center second that emotion.

Volunteering at the Wildlife Clinic “is something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” she told me recently. She’s been there for most of this year, starting when the clinic held its wildlife-themed festival on Groundhog’s Day in February. After beginning with laundry and food preparation, she said, “I’ve learned how to feed baby birds, squirrels, all kinds of creatures. She likes the birds in general, “but the squirrels are adorable.” She’s especially attached to one she calls a “teenager,” soon ready for release.

And she’s had the pleasure of releasing three squirrels recently near hermit’s cave, former patients who have been sent back into the wild.

“Jo Ann is a much appreciated and essential part of our volunteer team,” said the clinic’s director, Rebececa Michelin. “She not only takes special care with the animals, she also gives her time to orient new volunteers and train them on daily tasks. It’s wonderful having such a compassionate person working with us to achieve our mission.”

An animal person, “one of my first jobs out of high school was as a veterinary assistant in a small vet hospital.” After a long career in what she calls “a Fortune Five healthcare company,” she laughs that she is “starting and ending my career with animals.” While she used to own five cats and a dog at her home, “I’m down to one dog and one cat,” so the clinic takes care of her need to be buried in animals.

Volunteering at the clinic “is hard work but very rewarding. It’s a way to help heal the earth– most of the animals we see are there because of some interaction with humans,” like birds currently at the clinic there because they were migrating south and struck glazed windows, unable to see the glass. “We owe it to them to get them back where they belong,” she offered.

She’s been on the board of the Roxborough Development Corporation for the last seven years, three as president, where the board oversees staff management of the Business Improvement District. “James and his staff do a lot to make the Ridge a place to shop, have fun, and be safe.” In the fun department, RDC has been the lead on the still-new pocket park on Ridge Avenue, which also smartly contributes to stormwater management. That fun is being kicked up a notch as a brewery, New Ridge, will soon open a brewpub alongside the park– this writer at least is greatly looking forward to tasting a New Ridge beer.

“We need more nighttime businesses,” Jo Ann continued, “to enliven the Ridge.” Manayunk has a very different nightlife than Roxborough, as Roxborough’s restaurants tend to attract locals to dine, but Manayunk is a destination for people across the region. While Roxborough might never be Manayunk– that’s a high hurdle– it has been taking some steps in that direction. In addition to New Ridge, Jo Ann noted the recent opening of the White Yak, a Tibetan restaurant, and the Philadelphia Folksong Socety’s move to the Ridge as well.

The RDC board is “all volunteers; we try to draw from the community: business owners, builders, realtors, residents like me, so all areas are represented.”

She also noted that the RDC is coming to the end of its Roxborough 2020 five-year plan, where residents filled out a questionnaire asking for their vision of Roxborough. When they tabulated the results, she said “everybody wanted two things, a Target and a Trader Joe’s. We got the Target,” she laughed, as there is a mini-Target in the old Superfresh at Ridge and Domino Lane. Let’s see if they can score a Trader Joe’s!

“We’re also trying to promote the green spaces,” she said, and noted that in their beautiful full-color folder the RDC hands out to new residents and businesses is a two-page spread denoting the open space attractions of Roxborough, including the River Trail, Andorra Meadows, the Wissahickon Valley Park, the Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, and yes, the Schuylkill Center. “So many people who move to Roxborough talk about the green spaces,” she said, an important commodity that disappears almost daily due to subdivision and development.

She’s also hoping the Roxborough Historic District will “help maintain the character of the neighborhood. We want a small-town vibe in the big city.”

The Schuylkill Center thanks Jo Ann for joining the core of volunteers who support our critical mission of wildlife rehabilitation. If you’d like to join Jo Ann on the wildlife crew, please email the clinic’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator Chris Strub at chris@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Helping an injured bird

By Rebecca Michelin, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation

WEB-WarblerYou may have heard the devastating news- a study published this month in the journal Science reports that the total breeding bird population in the continental U.S. and Canada has dropped by 29 percent since 1970.

While there are numerous factors contributing to this decline, human-made alterations to the landscape have certainly played a significant role, and we see the results of this clearly at the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center. Since mid-August, the wildlife clinic has treated nearly two dozen birds, from mourning doves and woodpeckers to warblers and vireos, all suffering injuries as a result of collisions with buildings and windows.

The number of window collisions increases drastically in late summer and early fall as many migratory birds make their way down the East coast from their summer breeding grounds.

Exhausted from long miles of travel, birds looking for a safe place to roost can become confused and disoriented by brightly lit buildings, complex city skylines, and clear glass windows. Fledgling and juvenile birds who are just learning to fly are also susceptible to striking windows as they have no prior experience with the many dangers they face.

Glass is just as invisible to humans as it is to birds, but humans have learned to recognize visual cues indicating the presence of glass such as certain shapes, frames, and even dirt or smudges. This is why young children can often be seen bumping into pane glass doors they haven’t yet recognized those cues. These symbols aren’t helpful to birds, however, who don’t recognize glass as a barrier – for many birds, their first encounter with glass is often fatal as they collide head first at full flight speed. If the impact is not immediately deadly, birds will often suffer severe head and spinal trauma or fractures of the neck and shoulders, injuries which they may not be able to recover from, even with treatment.

To help limit bird collisions with windows at your home or business, there are a variety of options available:

• Panels of fine mesh or screen placed over the window helps increase visibility and acts as a cushion to prevent birds hitting the glass.

• Creating patterns on the outside of glass ensures they are visible even with highly reflective windows. Reflective tape or glass paint markers can be used to create horizontal lines no more than 2” apart, or vertical lines a maximum of 4” apart

• UV films and decals can be applied to windows or reflective surfaces which are nearly invisible to humans but are clearly seen by birds

If you see an adult bird sitting on the ground or sidewalk and they do not move when approached, they may have struck a window and be stunned or injured. If the bird appears to be having trouble breathing (gasping, visible chest movement), has a wing or leg held out from the body, is squinting their eyes, or has other visible signs of injury, that bird should be brought to a rehabilitation facility immediately. You can use a small towel or t-shirt to drop over the bird and gently place them in a cardboard box or other secure container. Do not offer food or water, just keep the bird warm, covered, and away from loud noises or other stressors until they can be brought to the nearest rehabber.

Many times, injuries from a window collision may not be immediately visible. In some cases, the bird may appear fine and even be able to flutter a short distance. If in doubt, call the wildlife clinic hotline (215-482-7300 x option 2) or contain the bird as instructed above and bring them to the clinic. Rehabilitators are trained to look for signs of injury that may not be obvious, and we can help ensure that the birds are fully recovered before continuing on their migration journey.

LandLab Dream Journal

LandLab Dream Journal 

Guest post by LandLab Artist Kate Farquhar

 

Editor’s Note: LandLab is the Schuylkill Center’s environmental art residency program. Kate Farquhar was named a resident artist in 2017 and recently wrapped up her project, titled Synestates. She installed a series of three sculptures on the Schuylkill Center’s trails – come visit us to see them. This blog post is Kate’s reflection on time at the Schuylkill Center and a peek into her creative process.

 

I’m currently wrapping up my LandLab residency at the Schuylkill Center: a chapter in my relationship to a place that I will always treasure. Ten years ago I visited the Schuylkill Center when I was deciding whether or not to move to Philadelphia. Six years ago I helped with the Schuylkill Center master planning design effort led by Salt Design Studio. I’m excited to begin my next chapter and explore the woods, meadows, water bodies and trails with fresh eyes. Looking for … medicinal plants, bird calls, old friends? Time will tell. 

 

Reflecting on my LandLab residency, there remains a small corner that I’d like to share with you. To guide my work throughout the residency, I’ve filled a watercolor journal with notes and ideas. In my pursuit of habitat, infrastructure and myth, most of the mythical connections seem to live in those pages. The sculptures I built include vine trellis sculptures by the Pine Grove, floating forms in Wind Dance Pond, and pollinator habitat at the River Connector trail. While I built in solitude, I often imagined fictional rituals that could connect people to the sculptures, accessories to environmental play and novel ways to spend the day at the Schuylkill Center. Take a peek at a few pages recording the associations and fantasies that came to me throughout the process, and persist in the dream-lives of these sculptures. 

 

 

Watercolor journal_1Watercolor journal_2Watercolor journal_3Watercolor journal_4Watercolor journal_5Watercolor journal_6

 

About LandLab
LandLab is a unique artist residency program that operates on multiple platforms: artistic creation, ecological restoration and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space on our 340-acre wooded property for visual artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation.

Kate Farquhar’s Synestates: Art, Nature, and Humans

by Communications Intern Charlotte Roach 
20180706_175519
As you wander the trails of the Schuylkill Center, you may notice some objects that look a little out-of-place. What are those chains doing hanging from those tree branches? What are those white geometric shapes on the surface of Wind Dance Pond? Those objects are art installations, part of our LandLab environmental art residency, created by resident artist Kate Farquhar. Kate is a Philadelphia-based environmental artist and landscape architect with a passion for green design. Her series is called Synestates, and its purpose it to explore how human-made building materials can interact with nature.

pvines, located on Pine Grove Loop, is the first of two works Kate has installed so far. The piece is made out of steel chains, intertwined with capillary fabric and sunbursts of plastic straws, draped over the branches of an Amur cork tree. The purpose of pvines is to encourage a native vine, Virginia creeper, to climb up the chains. Capillary fabric has the special property of being able to wick water upwards against gravity. Thus, the fabric provides the vines with a source of water. 

20180706_175451

In landscape design, rain chains are often used as alternatives to downspouts. Capillary fabric can be used in the building of a plant-covered green wall, which can help insulate a building. Green walls and rain chains are functional, decorative, and artistic, and Kate has brought these materials unexpectedly into nature to help create new habitat. The plastic straws in pvines are arranged in an aesthetically appealing way, and have even become homes for various types of insects like spiders and earwigs. 

The second of Kate’s installations is called dolmbale, located on Wind Dance Pond. It is comprised of dense white foam cut into geometric cubes and pyramids. These shapes parallel the molecular structure of nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt. These three substances cause some of the most significant water pollution issues that Pennsylvania faces. An excess of nutrients in the water causes a huge spike in growth for bacteria and algae in a phenomenon known as an algal bloom. The bacteria and algae consume a lot of oxygen, leading to the water becoming depleted of oxygen for other organisms to use. This is known as hypoxia, and it’s lethal for aquatic life. dolmbale’s goal is to raise awareness of nutrient pollution in waterways. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt molecules are far, far too tiny to see, but their effects are massive, and clearly visible to the naked eye. Kate’s work imagines if we could see nutrient molecules themselves in a size that’s proportionate to their impact: huge. 

690A7677

To accompany the Styrofoam shapes, Kate collected water quality data on Smith Run (one of two streams on the Schuylkill Center property) as part of a larger citizen science initiative to gather information about water pollution in Pennsylvania. Under smaller versions of her floating cubes, Kate installed leaf packs, which gathered a community of aquatic macroinvertebrates over time. (Aquatic macroinvertebrates = little critters living in the water that you can see unaided, without a microscope). Then, Kate observed, counted, and identified the organisms she caught in the leaf packs. The basis of the method is that some little bugs are more pollution-tolerant than others. For example, leeches can handle just about anything. You may find leeches in filthy, heavily-polluted water, but also in clean water, so the presence of leeches doesn’t definitively indicate clean or dirty water. On the other side of the spectrum, mayflies are delicate little guys, and they need pure, clean water to survive. If you find mayfly larvae in your water, that’s a sure sign the water is relatively free of pollutants. This method is practically universal and can be used to compare pollution levels across regions. It’s not precise, but it’s far more accessible to citizen scientists than expensive machinery. All you need is a body of water, a net, and a key to identify critters. 

The data Kate gathered at the Schuylkill Center can be seen here if you zoom into Philadelphia on the interactive map: https://leafpacknetwork.org/data/ Happily, Smith Run received Good or Excellent scores at all three of her sample sites. Check out Stroud Water Research Center’s Leaf Pack Network to learn more about how you can set up your own leaf pack experiment.

Kate’s third Synestates piece, called urlog, will be installed in late summer 2019. urlog will be “a heap of undead wood manipulated to host new seedlings and native pollinators side-by-side”, in Kate’s words. Look forward to seeing urlog in a few weeks, and in the meantime, come observe pvines on Pine Grove Loop and dolmbale on Wind Dance Pond! Ponder the significance of humans and our by-products in the natural world as you enjoy lovely art and scenery. Also, check out this post for some concept art and behind-the-scenes of Synestates as well as some of Kate’s past work, including a spectacular green roof for Urban Outfitters’ Philly HQ! 

The Buzz on Lanternflies

By Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

A pair of concerned homeowners walked into the Schuylkill Center early last week in a bit of a panic. “We have lanternflies everywhere,” they told Steve Goin, our Director of Land and Facilities. “What do we do?” And many others have been calling our front desk with the same question.

What do we do indeed. Allow me to tell you.

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

The newest invasive creature in our backyards, spotted lanternflies were accidentally imported into Berks County from their native southeast Asia in 2014. And in the five years since, with no enemies, they have spread, decimating trees in a wide swath of southeastern Pennsylvania. Blessed with a hypodermic needle for a mouth, they suck the sap out of many different kinds of plants, including apple trees, grapevines, and hops, so farmers, brewers, and vintners, among others, are incredibly worried.

And it’s now that the adults have emerged from the cast-off skins of their baby selves, as insects do, the striking inch-long adults now sporting gray wings with black spots, and bright red underwings hiding beneath, easily seen when they fly—or typically hop—off.

So people are only noticing them now, and as they are still new to our yards, they are receiving a ton of attention. But what should you know about them?

First, they won’t harm you, as they don’t bite or sting.

Next, their host plant—the one they especially like to lay their eggs on, and upon which the flightless young stage pierces with its mouthparts to suck the sap from—is nicknamed “tree-of-heaven,” a fast-growing, widespread, and invasive tree introduced to the US from China in the 1700s; it is the title tree of  “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Caitlyn Johnstone wrote on that group’s website last year, “the plant’s presence creates a welcoming environment for the spread of the invasive bug.”

Here at the Schuylkill Center, we are seeing tree-of-heavens covered in lanternflies, thousands sucking out the sap, all the while excreting drops of “honeydew” from their rear ends, a very sweetened waste product (which can cover our cars, by the way). This honeydew then grows black sooty mold, the mold compromising the trees, which for us is actually doing something of a favor, killing the host plant. 

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

Photo credit: Shawn Riley

“All of our tree-of-heavens are covered in them,” says Andrew Kirkpatrick, our Center’s Manager of Land Stewardship. “These trees are all going to die.”

But if you have a tree-of-heaven in your yard, this might not be a good thing. Some, like the state, recommend killing the critters as you find them. Andrew worried that might be a waste of your time. “If you take the time to kill the ones in your backyard,” he told me, “they’ll soon be replaced by more from your neighbors’ yards.”

Instead, he continued, “if you have a tree-of-heaven in your yard, and you’re concerned about the lanternfly, the best thing to do is to have it removed, because the tree is going to become a hazard. And if you see a lanternfly sucking on a desirable species like oak, maple, or beech,” as the adults to do after they leave their tree-of-heaven home, “then it may be worth having the tree injected with a pesticide that will kill the lanternfly when it tries to feed.”

If you, like me, shy away from pesticides, some suggest attaching sticky bands to the tree bark, the glue grabbing the insects as they walk up the tree to become adults. But Rebecca Michelin, the Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation for our Wildlife Clinic, cautions you here. “We have gotten seven birds [coming to the clinic] from glue traps, the most recent a downy woodpecker. None of the birds survived more than 24 hours. Along with injuries like skin tears and fractures, the enormous stress the birds are subjected to when they are trapped often overwhelms them, despite being provided with supportive care when they are admitted.

“The important thing,” she noted, “is to reduce the chance of bycatch as much as possible by decreasing the surface area of the bands and using mesh or fencing to keep larger animals out. Penn State has a good guide on their website for doing this—but there’s always the risk you will catch something you didn’t intend.” In fact, the extension website shows a photo of the sticky band having caught a ring of young lanternflies, along with a host of other good insects stuck on the glue as well. Even if you avoid catching birds or reptiles, it’s not without risks to other animals. 

Last week, the Schuylkill Center’s summer camp held a new contest, a prize for the camp group that caught the most lanternflies. The winners—the Fantastic Foxes, by the way—caught 76 of the hoppers. In all, our kids caught and killed 120 of them.

The potential economic impact of this insect is still being assessed as it spreads into New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and surrounding states. Stay tuned. But there is yet another new invasive creature in our yards. And yet another ecological worry—as it there weren’t enough already. 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Hotter, Wetter, Weirder: Philadelphia’s Already-Changing Climate

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Climate change remains in the headlines, as wildfires, flooding, heat waves, ice cap melting, and more dominate the news. But what will happen here in Philly? How will we fare in a rapidly heating world?
As the city’s Office of Sustainability notes in “Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia,” we have weathered “the snowiest winter, the two warmest summers, the wettest day, the two wettest years, as well as two hurricanes and a derecho” since 2010, the latter an unusual, high-energy storm system. Climate change is teaching us new language.
Graph_2 (2)
And we’re getting hotter. Climate Central reports that Philadelphia’s average annual temperature has increased more than 3° since 1970, higher than the state as a whole (2.4°) or even the U.S. (2.5°). Since 2000, Philadelphia has suffered 58 record high temperatures, but only five record lows. A 2018 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that our temperatures rarely hit 90° more than 40 times in one year (this happened only twice prior to 1987). But between 1987 and 2017, these severe heat spikes happened seven times and in 2010, the thermometer hit the 90° mark an astonishing 55 times. Climate Central’s data indicates Philadelphia now has 16.8 days of above-normal summer temps. By 2050, our weather will resemble Richmond. By 2100, Brownsville, Texas.
Graph_1 (1)
And wetter. Philadelphia has also seen a 360 percent spike in heavy downpours since 1950. The city received over 61 inches in 2018 and 2019 is already absurdly wet, with a downpour almost daily.
Climate has changed winter, too. Climate Central reports that winters have warmed an average of four degrees since 1970, putting the average winter temperature at about 37°, the highest in our history. Our four largest snowfalls since we began keeping weather records have all been since 1999, including that year’s record 30.7-inch avalanche.
 Graph_3
Five of the largest 10 snowfalls have been in that span as well. A warming climate means more evaporation and with more water in the atmosphere, it sometimes drops as snow.
This warming, weirding climate will impact our health. A 10-day heat wave in 1993 resulted in 118 deaths in our city. Extreme heat is now responsible for more deaths in Pennsylvania than all other natural disasters combined. An average of 50 Pennsylvanians already die annually from the effects of extreme heat, a number that will only increase in a climate-challenged world.
Older adults are especially susceptible to heat waves, as are very young children and low-income people without access to air conditioning. In an aging city with a high poverty rate, heat-related deaths will impact these populations more than the rest.
The Office of Sustainability reports, “hot weather encourages the formation of ground-level ozone, which reduces air quality and poses risks to individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma. In 2010, nearly a quarter of children in Philadelphia had asthma, among the highest rates in the nation.” Our children will have a harder time breathing in a hotter world.
The crime rate climbs with heat, as does the murder rate—and the suicide rate. A 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change measured the suicide rate against temperature, noting that “unmitigated climate change” could cause between 9,000 and 40,000 additional suicides in the United States by 2050.
Airport_1
Then there is flooding. The tidal Delaware River has already been rising 0.11 inches per year since 1900. So conservative estimates say that with moderate cutting back of greenhouse gases, the city will see an increase in sea levels of two feet by 2050 and four feet by 2100. With so much of the city built around two rising rivers—the airport, the stadiums, Penn’s Landing, Fishtown, and so much more—a projected rise of four feet essentially drowns all of this.
Changing climate has already impacted our quality of life. As we continue debating long-established facts, we lose something invaluable: time. We continue doing so at our peril.
Port Royal flooded at low point3

The Science Behind Shooting Stars & S’mores

by Charlotte Roach, Communications Intern

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular annual events for amateur stargazers and serious astronomy enthusiasts alike. During its peak, tens of shooting stars blaze across the sky each hour, wowing skywatchers as they gaze up into the heavens. We are actually watching bits of comet debris burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, but if you indulge your imagination, it looks like stars are falling to Earth. This astronomical event is truly awe-inspiring, and you would be remiss not to step outside and look up in the wee hours of August 9th, 10th, and/or 11th.

o_QZ9Ma_73tC2UwfsJUzgHdCDrnJYz-GivSZzeFxJHDF8v2q1hwiZQTZBvE1l1a8VT86yQ=s2048

By definition, meteors are pieces of rock or dust that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and become incandescent as a result of friction. The Perseids are caused by Comet Swift-Tuttle, the largest object known to pass close to Earth repeatedly. In 1992, this comet passed close to Earth, leaving behind a trail of debris. As the Earth passes through this debris every year, bits of dust collide with our atmosphere and burn up in a brilliant flare of light. 

Image Credit: American Meteorological Society

Image Credit: American Meteorological Society

Unfortunately, August’s moon cycle is not ideally calibrated for meteor viewing. The peak of the shower is August 12th, but the light of the nearly-full moon will render most meteors invisible to human eyes. So, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, via space.com, recommends having a viewing party on August 9th or 10th. There will still be plenty of meteors and relatively less moonlight to wash them out. He also recommends to drive to the darkest place you can find, away from any source of light pollution, and give your eyes 30 minutes to fully adjust. 

Image Credit: Sky & Telescope Magazine

Image Credit: Sky & Telescope Magazine

Interested in watching the meteor shower but don’t have the time to drive halfway to Harrisburg? The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education will be hosting Shooting Stars and S’mores on August 9th and 10th, and we would love for you to join us. The Schuylkill Center’s 340-acre property is free of sources of light pollution, making it the most ideal meteor shower viewing spot within Philadelphia city limits. Shooting Stars and S’mores will also feature an educational lecture from Renee Stein and Dave Walker of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society and of course, delicious campfire treats. We look forward to seeing you!

Source for meteor facts: Lewin, Sarah. “Perseid Meteor Shower 2019: When, Where & How to See It.” Space.com. Future US, Inc. 8 January 2019. https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html

 

Blue Jay

2019 Bird Census Results

by Ben Vizzachero, Environmental Educator

On the morning of June 1st, staff and volunteers completed the Schuylkill Center’s Nesting Bird Survey. Birders of all experience levels come out to participate in this annual citizen science project. Birding is one of the most popular ways to engage with the natural world. Read this article by Jack Connor to learn more about why birding is so great (warning: you may shed a tear).

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

To complete the count, participants break up into five groups and walk through all major areas of the Schuylkill Center’s property. As they go, they count all birds they can identify by sounds or sight. This year, participants also decided to begin recording notes about breeding behavior, using a standardized set of breeding codes. Each code refers to a specific categorized observation and can indicate confirmed breeding activity (such as finding a nest with eggs), probably breeding activity (such as breeding displays or territorial behavior), or potential breeding behavior (such as a singing male). All this information is entered into ebird.org, which makes it available to the public and researchers studying population and migration trends. Years of Schuylkill Center bird surveys allow us to recognize long term changes in abundance.

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

This year, participants detected many declining migratory songbirds, including Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Veery, American Redstart, and Eastern Towhee. They confirmed breeding activity for 14 species including Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, House Finch, Field Sparrow, Common Grackle, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

House Finch

House Finch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One volunteer detected a possible Red-tailed Hawk nest location on the north side of Meigs run. Other highlights including a singing Warbling Vireo, a pair of Willow Flycatchers, a Prairie Warbler, and a pair of flyover Greater Black-backed Gulls.

Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

Unfortunately, participants did not detect a number of expected migrants, including Eastern Phoebe, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. These absences may be indicative of widespread migratory songbird declines.

Overall, this year’s Bird Survey was a success: we compiled an admirable amount of data, and had fun in the process! Birding is both a great recreational pastime and an important avenue for citizen science. We encourage you to go outside and look up at the sky today–you may be surprised by how many birds you see, and how much diversity!

Illuminating the Plastic Crisis: Art from Waste at the Schuylkill Center

By: Christina Catanese

 

Recently, plastic has been the object of much attention – environmental news feels saturated with increasing calls for bans on plastic straws and grocery bags; images of dead albatrosses on beaches with stomachs full of bottle caps and other small pieces of plastics mistaken for food; an unfolding crisis in the recycling industry triggered by China’s ban on imports on many recyclables, where most of America’s waste had been shipped for years; and the resultant environmental justice crisis in Chester, where Philadelphia’s recycling was being burned for a time this year. Statistics like “8 million tons of plastics enter the ocean each year” or “240,000 plastic bags are used globally every ten seconds” or “only 10% of all plastics ever produced have been recycled to date” feel utterly overwhelming, and it can feel difficult to know what to do with or about this information.

What if there was a different way to think about plastic – through beauty, and through celebrating rather than lamenting its durability? If we saw this material as precious and valuable, rather than disposable, would we reduce how much plastic we are using and throwing away? This is part of the message of the artist behind the Schuylkill Center’s summer exhibition.

Aglow features artworks created by Aurora Robson from industrial plastic debris, illuminated from within by LED lights. Along with the immersive installation in our environmental art gallery, Robson presents three outdoor sculptures around the Visitor Center.

Intercepting her materials from the waste stream, Robson transforms discarded plastic into mesmerizing, bold sculptures that disguise and transcend their material. Drawing attention to the global challenge of single-use waste, Robson seeks to imbue these often overlooked materials with care and intention, encouraging a viewer to consider their own relationship with waste and the waterways where it so often is discarded.

“People are so confused about plastic,” says Robson. “They think of it as disposable when it is precisely the opposite.” Plastic’s resistance to weathering and decay means it can last hundreds to thousands of years in the environment. This quality, along with the extreme volume of our current consumption and disposal of plastic, makes it a nightmare for the planet, but at the same time an untapped resource for artists. Along with other valuable qualities for sculpture like translucence and pliability, it is durable and almost automatically archival – an art conservator’s dream material.

Robson is a leading voice advocating for artists to be more conscious of the environmental footprint left by their art making. Besides shipping, her work is close to carbon neutral, made only from discarded or difficult-to-recycle materials. Her inquiry into the potential of plastic as art material has extended beyond her own art practice; she also offers courses and workshops on safety and best practices in low-impact artwork, as well as leads stream clean up efforts to source materials for sculpture out of local waterways and shorelines.

Many of the works in this exhibition are made from decommissioned highway safety drums and industrial detergent barrels, which are almost always sent to a landfill after their use, but which Robson here has cleaned, cut, welded, and transformed. Though the warm-toned organic shapes are abstract, they call to mind creatures of the ocean, some of the most impacted organisms of the plastic crisis.

 

Robson’s work presents a way of looking at plastic that goes beyond simply recycling more. It is activist work, in that it is an active response to a global challenge which activates our imaginations around creative solutions. The work in Aglow (literally) illuminates and alerts, but also plays its part to stem the tide of plastic waste streaming into the environment, where it will stay for centuries, threatening our health, choking ecosystems, contributing to climate change, and marking our human presence in the geologic record.

Aglow is on view in the Schuylkill Center’s art gallery and trails now through August 27, 2019. Join us on June 6 from 7-9pm for a reception with the artist and a guided tour of the exhibition at dusk. This exhibition is supported by the Joseph Robert Foundation.

Christina Catanese directs the Schuylkill Center’s Environmental Art program and can be reached at christina@schulkillcenter.org. For more information on the environmental art program, visit www.schuylkillcenter.org.