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.

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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

 

Celebrate Winterfest at the Schuylkill Center

By Mike Weilbacher

This Saturday– Groundhog Day, appropriately enough– the Schuylkill Center celebrates the reopening of our Wildlife Clinic with a family festival marking the day, Winterfest for Wildlife. Held at the Visitor Center on Hagy’s Mill Road and happening from noon to 4 p.m., the event includes nature walks, wildlife talks, face painting, wildlife-themed arts and crafts, storytimes courtesy of the Free Library, a bake sale, and more.

But the event kicks off at noon with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Since the Wildlife Clinic itself is typically closed to the general public as it is a hospital for ill and injured patients that need quiet and rest, the event occurs at the Schuylkill Center’s main building, where we’ll string a ribbon across our auditorium to be cut by clinic friends, marking the reopening of the clinic.

The Master of Ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting will be Kathy O’Connell, the award-winning host of WXPN-FM Philadelphia’s “Kid’s Corner,” one of the very few children’s radio shows in the country. Kathy, a long-time friend of the Schuylkill Center, will stay after the ribbon-cutting to meet and greet friends and engage them in wildlife-related activities.

Rebecca Michelin, our Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, will present a slideshow on urban wildlife, and Ent Natale, an educator on the center’s staff, will lead walks looking for signs of local wildlife. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be on hand to mark the day, as they are a key partner in the Wildlife Clinic. In fact, just this week clinic staff released a Cooper’s hawk brought to the facility by the Game Officer. (Since it was brought to us from the Naval Yard, our staff released it back at the Naval Yard.)

Since there are few patients on hand at the moment, small groups of visitors will be given limited-time tours of the Wildlife Clinic; vans will be shutting people back and forth from the Visitor Center to the clinic on Saturday. At Winterfest, visitors will be able to sign up for a slot on a tour at the event. Chris Strub, the clinic’s Assistant Director, will offer these tours while Rebecca presents wildlife talks at the Visitor Center. This will be the only time of the year when we will conduct this kind of tour at the clinic.

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk brought to the Schuylkill Center for rehabilitation by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. After successfully being rehabbed by the clinic’s skilled staff, the bird– a skilled predator of other flying birds– was rebased this week where it was discovered, at the Naval Yard.

It makes perfect sense for Winterfest for Wildlife to occur on Groundhog Day, the only holiday named for a wild animal. While folk legend holds that groundhogs– also called woodchucks– peek out of their burrows and look around that day; if they see their shadows, they scare back into their holes and we have six more weeks of winter. If the weather is overcast and there is no shadow, guess what: early spring. While scientific studies– yes, someone actually studied this– show no correlation between Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and weather patterns, there is a kernel of science embedded here, as male woodchucks have been spotted coming out of hibernation dens in early February to scout for the dens of females, likely getting an early start on the spring mating season.

With temperatures dropping back down into the single digits this week, let’s all guess that Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Saturday– and winter stays. But who knows?

Speaking of spring and baby animals, this is also why the Wildlife Clinic is holding its public coming-out party in February. Gray squirrels will soon be having babies, and one of the annual rites of spring at wildlife clinics across the country is marking that time when people start bringing in baby animals (or calling us about baby animals)– and baby squirrels typically lead the parade, usually starting around Valentine’s Day (though baby squirrel season seems arrive earlier and earlier in the calendar).

So come to the Schuylkill Center at noon on Saturday, help us cut the ribbon and celebrate the re-booting of this critical area facility, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and one of a very small handful in the entire region. Stay for some baked goodies, enjoy Rebecca talk, take a winter wildlife walk, bring your children or grandchildren for story times and crafts, and enjoy the day.

Then, consider volunteering for the Wildlife Clinic, joining the ever-growing group of great people who will help Rebecca and Chris take care of the thousands of injured, orphaned and baby animals that will soon come pouring into its front door.

Or go to our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, to find the list of items the clinic is seeking to be donated to help it meet the needs of its wild patients: dog and cat foods, blankets, T-shirts, and more. There’s also an Amazon wish list of supplies you can have sent to us directly. It’s all in the wildlife clinic section of the website.

Spring is coming, in spite of this week’s freezing weather, and the Wildlife Clinic will be heating up along with the weather. We’d love your help in making this happen, by volunteering, by donating, or simply by coming to Winterfest to see what all the excitement is about.

Hope to see you here.

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

Halloween Hikes and Hayrides

At nighttime, we go to bed. (That’s what I tell the kids, at least). We are diurnal mammals, awake only during the day. The Schuylkill Center’s annual Halloween Hikes & Hayrides on October 26 & 27 gives us a chance to be nocturnal, if only for a moment, and to give children the thrill of exploring their senses in what my son calls, “the deep, dark forest”. While we’re there, we learn animal facts from friendly creatures (our own environmental educators dressed up in handmade costumes) and take a hayride to admire the moon. All of the “treats” given are the non-edible variety (like stickers and erasers), but at the end of the evening, there’s always a chance to roast a marshmallow, relax by the fire, and bite into an oozy s’more.

Celebrate the season with us!

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Family Camping

While spending time in nature helps us to unplug and rejuvenate, finding the time to do so while surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city can often be a challenge. If you’re looking to get away, there are great spots around Philadelphia to relax and refresh with the family. In addition to checking out these great spots, make sure to join us June 23–24 for the 14th annual Great American Backyard Campout, which is held in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation. Spend the night under the stars, hike through the forest, and tell stories around the campfire… all while within city limits. Call 215-482-7300 x 137 to register. Check out these amazing spots within a short drive of city limits.

French Creek State Park (1 hour 10 minutes)
Located in Berks and Chester counties, French Creek State Park is the largest block of continuous forest located between New York City and Washington, D.C. Its options for sleeping arrangementseverything from cabins to cottages to yurts to traditional tentsmake it a great spot for both experienced and beginning campers alike.

Ricketts Glen State Park (2 hours 30 minutes)

Ricketts Glen is home to the Glens Natural Areaa National Natural Landmark. The park has 26 miles of trails. The most popular is the Falls Trail (a 7.2 mile loop), where visitors can view 21 waterfalls. There are shorter trail options with waterfall vistas as well.

Cape Henlopen State Park (2 hours 15 minutes)

Cape Henlopen offers a variety of recreational options. Climb to the top of the World War II observation tower, take the Seaside or Pinelands nature trails to explore coastal habitats, enjoy a game of disc golf, or spend the day relaxing on the beach.

Wharton State Forest (45 minutes)
Nestled within the Pine Barrens, the Atsion Recreation Area is at the heart of the forest. Named after the Atsion Mansion, the recreation area is situated on a 100-acre lake perfect for kayaking and canoeing.

 

 

 

An Invitation to the Nesting Bird Census

By Mike Weilbacher

Join us on June 16th for coffee, donuts, and peak birding! The annual Nesting Bird Census is one of the many opportunities to engage in citizen science at the Schuylkill Center. 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, by Chris Petrak

In early May, a small group of us spent a morning walking the Grey Fox loop, the long trail that ventures through diverse habitats meadows—Pine Grove, farms, a stream, and Wind Dance Pondsearching for birds that were then migrating through the Schuylkill Center’s extensive forest. There is a narrow window of opportunity to see themand our group jumped through that window in style.

In a highly organized effort, birdwatchers fanned out across Pennsylvania to count migrating birds. For the first time in a few years, this effort included Philadelphia. While Roxborough was well represented in the count (other teams counted along River Road and the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve), our group looked for which birds were using the Schuylkill Center as a migration stop.

Four hours and almost 300 birds and 52 species later, we submitted our census.

We counted plenty of year-round residents that you’d see if in December, or if you had bird feeders in your yard: the robin, cardinal, crow, and blue jay.

In addition, we saw two predatory birds. A red-tailed hawk rested in a large tree only a stone’s throw from Hagy’s Mill Road, oblivious to the traffic right below. Its rust-colored tail is a easy giveaway, but it also is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania. We also glimpsed a black vulture flying overhead. This soaring, thick-winged bird is a specialist in eating already-dead animals; call them nature’s garbage collectors.

What we were all secretly after were warblers, small jewel-like birds, most of whom migrate through Pennsylvania on their way to northern nesting grounds. Obsessive birdwatchers are out a lot this time of year, bending backwards staring high into trees, fighting off “warbler neck” to get a good view. For me, the Holy Grail is the Blackburnian warbler, its head a complicated and stunning helmet of orange-and-black striping. I have only seen a handful in a lifetime of birding, and none showed Saturday. Still, we did great in the warbler department.

Then there was the catch of the day: a large pileated woodpecker, the crow-sized songbird upon which Woody Woodpecker was modeled, a blackish bird with startling red crest, armed with a chisel-like beak that breaks off huge chunks of dead wood. Not seen easily or often, this one was focused like a laser beam on the ground around a dead tree trunkpossibly a colony of ants was warranting its attention. Two of the group were skilled photographers, and we made sure they got good shots.

There is a higher conservation purpose to all this. Between climate change and habitat loss, outdoor house cats prowling and too many shiny windows to fly into, bird populations are reeling. While Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring worried that pesticides like the now-banned DDT would remove birdsong from our experience of spring, other issues have arisen to take its place. As noted here last week, migrating birds like those warblers heading between nest sites in Canada and overwintering grounds in South America need protected habitats both in the north and in the south, not to mention in migration corridors along the way. 

The Schuylkill Center was proud to participate in a conservation effort to document which migrating birds were passing through the region when. Over time, and with years of data, conservation scientists will be able to monitor trends.

While we were doing important science, we had the pleasure and honor to be in the presence of some pretty amazing creatures.

On June 16th, at the ungodly but very bird-appropriate hour of 6:30 a.m., fueled by coffee and donuts, we’ll fan out across the Schuylkill Center again, this time looking for nesting birds, as the migrants have moved on. We’ve been counting nesting birds for almost 50 years. Come help us continue this crucial citizen science effort and we’ll introduce you to some pretty cool creatures.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Naturepalooza Blog

Beautiful weather, hands-on activities, and plenty of exploration marked this year’s annual Earth Day celebration at the Schuylkill Center. Every year, Naturepalooza is held as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival’s Science in the Park event. This year those that came to Naturepalooza enjoyed everything from fort building in our pine tree forest, to interactive environmental science and art activities provided by partner organizations and artists, to hikes and pond explorations. Thanks our many partners that made it such a successful day! If you came to Naturepalooza, we also want to thank you for choosing to celebrate Earth Day with us and hope you left with a smile, new knowledge, and some nature-inspired memories. Comment below with your favorite moments.

Here at the Center, we celebrate Earth Day throughout the year with our education programs, land stewardship efforts, and through the environmental art department. With the start of our busy season right around the corner, there are many opportunities for you to continue to celebrate Earth Day with us as well—whether it be through our summer camp programs, by helping out at our Community Gardens Day on June 16, or by visiting our summer gallery exhibition, Wet Lab. We hope to see you soon.

Moving Field Guides: Learning through Dance at Naturepalooza

“The Moving Field Guide  relies on discovery and observation, which are important skills across all disciplines. It allows nearly all age groups to participate, it promotes critical thinking, it encourages participants to engage their environment, and allows for creative expression.” Jessie L Scott III, Boston Urban Connections Coordinator, USDA Forest Service

 

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Cassie Meador is thrilled to be returning to Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as part of Naturepalooza, the Center’s Family Earth Day Celebration. As part the festivities, families will get outdoors to learn about local ecology and the ways in which water shapes our lives through a series of movement activities in Cassie Meador’s Moving Field Guide program. Cassie will partner with the Schuylkill Center’s very own environmental educator Eduardo Duenas on two Moving Field Guides during the celebrationat 11am and 12:30 pm. Join them on these interactive nature walk to learn, move, and make new connections to the outdoors and each other through dance.

Cassie, Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange, and a creative team from Dance Exchange will return to the Schuylkill Center this June as part of the LandLab artist residency program. The residency will culminate in September 2018 with an invitation to families and other local folks in the region to join in the creation of a performance and an environmental art installation, reflecting on the ways water shapes, moves, and sustains our lives.

Through the LandLab residency, Cassie Meador will collaborate with Jame McCray, an interdisciplinary ecologist, and Zeke Leonard, an artist who mobilizes community-based sustainability efforts through interactive musical objects and installations. The creative team will use interdisciplinary artmaking approaches to move people from a place of observation to participation to active stewardship.

 

Image credits: Jori Ketton and Schuylkill Center LandLab collection.

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DANCE EXCHANGE

Founded in 1976 by Liz Lerman and under the artistic direction of Cassie Meador since 2011, Dance Exchange is a non-profit dance organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland. Dance Exchange’s innovative local, national, and international performance projects engage communities and partners across a wide range of disciplines. Dance Exchange ignites inquiry, inspires change, and connects people of all ages more deeply to the questions at the heart of our lives through dancemaking and creative practices by collaborating across generations, disciplines and communities to channel the power of performance as a means for dialogue, a source of critical reflection, and a creative engine for thought and action.Blog image 5

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.

 

Naturalist’s Notebook: Native Plants, Harbingers of Spring

Skunk Cabbage2
The end is near! The world? No, just the winter season. And what bears such glad tidings you wonder? Our native plant friends. In February, the Schuylkill Center staff took its monthly nature walk down Ravine Loop hunting for the first tell of spring, skunk cabbage (above). I’m happy to report that we found it on February 9th in a particularly wet area just above Smith Run where the little stone bridge crosses a semi-perennial tributary. Just barely visible was its little purplish hood, the forbearer of the true flower. The first source of pollen in late winter, skunk cabbage attracts bees and other hungry pollinators looking for their first taste of spring.
Continue reading

Roxborough’s Toad Rage

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator & Administrative Assistant

closeup toadIt’s early spring, just around sunset, and the conditions are just right—55 degrees and humid. A high-pitched trilling rings out in the distance. The shallow water of the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve stirs with excitement. The toads of Roxborough are ready to run—and ready to attract a mate.

On some evenings, as many as two hundred toads can be seen heading from the Schuylkill Center’s forest to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve in a period of just two hours. The steady stream of traffic at the intersection of Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue (that separates the forest from the preserve) presents a huge obstacle to the toads as they cross the road in preparation for their springtime mating ritual. Continue reading

LARN with artists

Getting to know rivers through art

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

An underwater video of the Brandywine River underwater, from Dylan Gauthier's highwatermarks: six ways of sensing the river, a micro level investigation of environmental issues that affect rivers and streams throughout the world

An underwater video still of the Brandywine River, from Dylan Gauthier’s highwatermarks: six ways of sensing the river, a micro level investigation of environmental issues that affect rivers and streams throughout the world

What’s in a name? It’s one of the first things we ask someone, but can be quickly forgotten. It’s often given to us by others, yet is expected to serve as a distillation of our identity. Who gets to decide a name is a question layered with power dynamics, whether it be people, places, organisms, or ecosystems.

Despite these complexities, in a 2017 New York Times op-ed, Akiko Busch wrote, “Giving something a name is the first step in taking care of it.” Thinking of bodies of water, a name is an opening, a prelude, a microcosm, a way to be knowna first step on the pathway to meaningful connections between people and nature.

This winter, the Schuylkill Center will open Learn a River’s Namea new exhibition in our art gallery. It’s a group of seven projects guided by this question: how can art help us to know a river’s name, to not only value it but know it, and therefore to seek to steward it?  With a focus on water bodies in the Mid-Atlantic region, seven artists explore rivers and streams within driving distance of the Schuylkill Center—the Schuylkill, Delaware, Brandywine, and Hudson Rivers. Continue reading