Manayunk’s Falcons

Female peregrine falcon eating

Female peregrine falcon eating

Here’s a good news story for these COVID-consumed times.

For Philadelphia’s birding community, spring means many things, especially the return of migrating birds to famous haunts like Carpenters Woods in Mt. Airy. To Roxborough’s Judy Stepenaskie, spring means the return of a pair of peregrine falcons – famously the world’s fastest animal – to the nesting box tucked into the top of the steeple of St. John the Baptist Church, the tallest stone spire in Manayunk’s skyline.

As Judy has become the de facto adopted godmother of the peregrines that nest there, following them assiduously, photographing them, sharing their story with fellow birders, this year’s edition of the peregrine story would prove especially poignant. The pair residing in the steeple had been together since 2011, Judy christening the male “Manny” and the female “Yunk.” Last fall, as I shared in this column, Judy was stunned to learn that Manny was found dead, its leg cleanly severed, possibly in mid-flight. Judy suspected a drone she had seen buzzing the steeple, its owner likely only wanting to film a flyover around Manayunk. But Manny perhaps assumed the drone was another large bird, and being territorial, dove for the drone – and got its leg sliced off, the bird falling to the ground and perishing. This is only a theory, but it sadly reads as logical.

So would Yunk find a new mate? Surprisingly, Judy didn’t have to wait long.

Peregrines on christmas day

Peregrines on christmas day

“In December last year,” Judy told me, “the female was out on the nest box’s ledge every day for most of the day – I guess she was advertising her site.” On Christmas Eve last year, she continued, “I saw a male on the steeple, perched on one of the finials. On Dec. 25, they were sitting at the steeple together.” Such a great Christmas present!

“Both peregrines stayed around during the winter,” she offered. “And I did see them mate once,” she confided, “on one of the electrical towers over the train tracks. They mate multiple times.”

In mid-March, she knew from their behavior that they had laid eggs. Success!

“I saw them do a nest exchange,” she noted, “where the female comes out of the nest box and the male goes in,” taking his turn incubating the eggs, a process that takes a full month or so. “She was out for about an hour and a half, preening herself, as her feathers were all fluffed up.”

Also in mid-March another new male came by, checking out the site and possibly sizing up the male as a competitor.

“He perched on the steeple for quite a while, watching. The female came out and chased it off, and the male went up to the nest box.” The male cleverly let the much larger female – that’s one way Judy can tell the two apart, the female is significantly larger – handle the territorial chores. Our female stayed loyal to her suitor.

She recounted a similar 2015 story from Baltimore where one of the males raised in this nest – one of Manny’s boys – challenged an older male peregrine on a nest box that already had eggs in it.

“He successfully chased off the existing one in Baltimore,” Judy said, “so the female simply pushed the existing eggs off to the side, mated with the new male, and laid a new set of eggs.” They do mate for life, but it seems they are not sentimental.

That didn’t happen here – the newer male was chased off, and presumably is looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Sometime in mid-April, Judy thinks between the 16th and the 21st, the eggs will hatch.

“That’s when I’ll see the female come out on the ledge – she’ll be out a lot, and she’ll sit at the nest box opening while looking back.”

It is a bittersweet ending to the story.

“I’m sad,” Judy volunteered, “because I miss the old male. I’m not sure how the new one is going to perform as a dad, and the old one was great.” Manny did father almost 30 new peregrines over his nine-year reign, including the Baltimore one.

Has she named the new one?

“I was thinking of MM2, short for Manayunk Male 2.” And she has already renamed Yunk, as there is no Manny as her companion anymore. Its new name? “I call her Liz,” Judy said, “as in Elizabeth, because she was hatched from a nest up in Elizabeth, New Jersey.”

While the names Liz and MM2 don’t have quite the cache of Manny and Yunk, it’s great to have a pair of peregrines back atop the steeple at St. John’s, producing more of these extraordinary but still-endangered birds.

Continued thanks to Judy for serving as the loyal falcon godmother, and thanks to the church for so graciously hosting them all these years.

peregrine falcon 3.15.20

 

Written by Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

 

Come See the Flowers Race the Trees

Red trillium, nicknamed wake robin up in New England, is one of the rarest wildflowers at the Schuylkill Center, and grows along the Ravine Loop.  Photo courtesy of Will Terry.

Red trillium, nicknamed wake robin up in New England, is one of the rarest wildflowers at the Schuylkill Center, and grows along the Ravine Loop.
Photo courtesy of Will Terry.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Like all forests around us, the Schuylkill Center is in full bloom right now. You really have to see it to believe it. In fact, you can, if you simply walk down our Ravine Loop.

Like the red trillium in the accompanying photograph, an elusive and rare plant that New Englanders dubbed “wake robin,” as it bloomed there about when robins return north from their migrations (robins are year-round residents here in Roxborough). 

Or the Virginia bluebells in the other photo– one of everyone’s favorites, as it is taller than many of the spring ephemerals and one of the bluest of them all. You can find it on our Ravine Loop and elsewhere across the property, and is happily one of our harder-to-miss wildflowers. I love its pink buds that open to blue flowers– two colors for the price of one.

In our Wildflower Loop near our small Pollywog Pond, Virginia bluebells grow profusely.  Photo courtesy of Anna Lehr Mueser

In our Wildflower Loop near our small Pollywog Pond, Virginia bluebells grow profusely.
Photo courtesy of Anna Lehr Mueser

But that’s just the beginning of the parade. There are bright yellow trout lilies, named for the spotting on their mottled leaves that resembles a trout’s back. And shooting stars, white flowers blazing across the forest floor. Jacob’s ladder, a complicated lilac-colored flower with ladder-ish leaves. Jack-in-the-pulpit, poking through the forest floor, Jack dutifully staying inside what looks like his mottled purple lectern. Solomon’s seal, named for the Biblical king, its delicate bell-like flowers dangling from zig-zags of leaves. Spring beauties, each petal a tiny white surfboard with a pink racing stripe down its middle. 

And that’s just a start.

What’s amazing about these plants is the narrow window of time through which they slide. A forest in spring features trees without yet any leaves, so sunlight shines through and caresses the forest floor. Warmed by the sun, long-dormant roots and rhizomes suddenly come alive and send sprigs of growth up above the ground. These leaves photosynthesize– remember that from high school biology?– using sunlight to make sugars and send starches down into the rootstocks so they grow larger. When those rootstocks are large enough and have the resources, the plants send flowers into the world, often brightly colored to dazzle pollinating bees and butterflies.

And they coincidentally dazzle us too. 

But the flowers are in a race against time– and the trees. As trees leaf out, those leaves block sunlight, form a sun-proof umbrella across the forest, and block those flowers from growing. So there is a small window of opportunity for the flowers to warm up, grow, make leaves, make flowers, get pollinated, drop seeds– and disappear for another year– before the trees leaf out.

We’ve already missed the earliest bloomers like bloodroot and skunk cabbage. But every day or every week you visit, new and different flowers will appear.

While our Visitor Center is closed, our forest is still open– park in the Hagy’s Mill parking lot if there is room (if not, park at the ballfields and walk in). Hike past our Visitor Center and head downhill through the butterfly meadow, following Ravine Loop until it curves at Smith Run; the best wildflowers are on the section of trail that parallels the stream.

When we reopen (please, God, soon!), we’ll be selling these plants for you to place in your own yard. My yard, I am happy to report, is beginning to fill with both bluebells and Solomon’s seal, and a healthy stand of May apple– it looks like a little bright green umbrella– is spreading happily. These flowers require little water or chemicals, come back stronger every year, and provide vital pollen, nectar, and food for the small critters that hold up the world, especially those pollinators you read so much about.

Spring wildflowers are racing the trees right now– come walk down our Ravine Loop, while of course practicing the required physical distancing, and see them for yourself.

 

The Schuylkill Center’s Forest is Open for Business!

Photo Credit: Jerome Eno

Photo Credit: Jerome Eno

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Like almost every institution in the region and every school in the state, the Schuylkill Center closed our Visitor Center last week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Nature Preschool closed for two weeks, and we canceled all programming through the end of the month.

Our Wildlife Clinic on Port Royal Avenue, however, remains open, taking your injured, orphaned and sick creatures. Our staff there, some of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet, are practicing social distancing and enhanced sanitizing to keep both you and them safe and healthy.

And while the Visitor Center is closed and most staff working remotely, staff will be there, taking care of mail and monitoring the facility.

But in these challenging times, we’d like to offer an important service: our forest is open for business. Simply park on the small Hagy’s Mill Road parking lot, and walk into our trails–a large map greets you as you walk in.

Because open spaces and nature are restorative to our souls, inhaling just one breath of the pine scent in our Pine Grove, one of the first features you’ll meet when you walk our trails from Hagy’s Mill Road, lowers your blood pressure. Literally. Numerous studies show that pinene, the chemical that gives pine its characteristic odor, is calming for us. In fact, the Japanese practice “forest bathing,” visiting especially evergreen forests to sit quietly and drink in the healing scents. You can too.

But seeing green does this to us as well, and the very first buds of spring are now popping open revealing very small leaves cloaked in an impossibly bright green, my favorite green of all time.

Bird song, amazingly, is calming too, say those studies, and our 300-acre forest is overflowing with birds, many returning from a winter’s migration south. Robins, blue jays, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, mourning doves, crows and more are flying through our forest and can easily be seen in the bird feeders at our bird blind at the end of the paved Widener Trail.

Spring’s first turtles were seen last week on the edges of Fire Pond near our Visitor Center’s front door, awakened from their winter hibernation. The first woodchucks were seen chugging along our trails last week, also freshly awake. A fox was spotted too by our staff, but it was active all winter, hunting the many small animals that inhabit our forest.

And the very first American toads that famously cross Port Royal Avenue on warm rainy nights in spring started last week too. (We’re not asking Toad Detour volunteers to gather this year to help them cross–watch the Toad Detour facebook page for more updates.)

Our forest is expansive enough and our trails numerous enough that you can easily practice the 6-foot distancing you need between you and other people.

And the times are stressful enough that you need some relief, and with many restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters closed, there are only so many Netflix specials you can stream.

Greenspaces elevate our mood, alleviate anxiety, lower depression while lowering blood pressure, and even offer a good cardio workout. Our Visitor Center was carefully perched atop our land’s highest spot, so all trails ultimately lead to an uphill walk to the Visitor Center. There’s  one, the Jubilee Grove trail, that I’ve nicknamed the Stairmaster–that one gets your heart going.

We expect to reopen the Visitor Center and Nature Preschool on Monday, March 30, resuming all of our programming then–depending on the arc of the pandemic. Frequent updates will be available on our website, www.SchuylkillCenter.org, and via social media. We will be watching the situation very closely, and adjusting the March 30 reopening if needed.

We will also watch advisories regarding the Wildlife Clinic, even consider closing that site of course if it protects our staff and its visitors. Given this is the only such facility in Philadelphia and one of only a handful in the region, we will strive to keep it open.

 

Year of Action: Join us in Taking Action

By Mike Weilbacher

contratsting planet (1)The New Year 2020 promises to be pivotal on a number of fronts, but especially the environment. The increasing urgency of the climate crisis has sparked higher levels of activism by new, youth-led groups like the Sunrise Movement. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s lonely 2018 climates strike in front of the Swedish parliament have blossomed into climate strikes of millions of kids skipping school across the world.

The presidential election near the year’s end promises to be not only loud, but will have an out sized impact on environmental policy, with major implications for how America, and thus the world, responds to climate change.

But 2020 also marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Philadelphia was center stage for Earth Days in 1970 and 1990, and the global holiday is now credited with launching the environmental movement. Celebrated by over a billion people each year, this April’s Earth Day promises to be huge.

In recognition of all of the above, the Schuylkill Center declares 2020 as our Year of Action and will flavor much of our programming– including our own Earth Day festival– around this concept. Nature Preschoolers will take relevant actions; our Art Department will join in the fun too. So will Land and Facilities, and many programs coming from our Education team.

We’re also asking you to take personal actions at home and in your workplace. 

How can you personally assist in cooling the climate and preserving species?

We assume as a member and friend of our Center, you likely recycle and conserve water and electricity, probably try to create less waste. So what next? Say you’d like to step up in our Year of Action– thank you! What might you do?

Share your plans at scee@schuylkillcenter.org

 

 

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.

Reflecting on Remembering Water’s Way: Artist Guest post

By Cassie Meador, Choreographer/Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange

Editor’s note: The LandLab resident artists of 2017-2018 (including this Dance Exchange project along with Kate Farquhar and Jan Mun) will be featured in a gallery exhibition at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, opening with a reception on January 10, 2019. More information at: https://www.cfeva.org/events/cfeva-exhibitions/landlab2019

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Over this past year, I have been working with the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency program to address an environmental challenge through dancemaking and community participation.

On our first research walk at the center, I noticed several large bundles of sticks being used to slow waters movement across the land and to collect debris that might otherwise end up in the Schuylkill River. We learned that these curious bundles are called fascines. I was struck by the fact that each stick individually does very little on its own; it is the aggregate of them that holds the strength and ability to slow and divert the powerful force of water.

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As part of the walking and performance tours we shared at the Schuylkill Center, we built a loom with designer Zeke Leonard to create large weavings of sticks and native plants. These were then rolled, bundled, and carried on our shoulders as audiences followed us in and through the woods. We placed the fascines in areas impacted by increased storm occurrences due to the warming climate; they will help slow the water that is cutting through and eroding the land.

DSC_0234-925x614The fascine has been useful to consider as we reflect on the times we live in, and our response to a changing planet. We know that strength can be found in the the ways we come together, that this will require us to slow down at times, and that our collective action can move us in directions that offer resilience and strength to each other and our communities.

As you view the fascines in the CFEVA gallery or on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds (along the Fox Glen Trail), we invite you to reflect on a moment in your own experience when the coming together of many has offered the resilience and strength to move in new directions.  

"Dance Exchange  has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It's a powerful combination". --Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

“Dance Exchange has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It’s a powerful combination”. –Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

Remembering Water’s Way was the culmination of a year of research and art making with Dance Exchange and communities connected to the Schuylkill Center as part of the LandLab residency.  The artists led a series of animated hikes on our trails that connect participants to local ecology and reflect on the ways that water shapes our lives. These hour-long experiences wove together performance, installation, science engagements, and other opportunities, surfacing concerns and questions about the Schuylkill River and local waterways, and contributing to our understandings about the impacts of climate change on the region. The project was led by choreographer Cassie Meador in collaboration with Christina Catanese, Elizabeth Johnson, Zeke Leonard, Marcie Mamura, Sarah Marks Mininsohn, Talia Mason, Jamē McCray, and Kelly Mitchell. Watch a video documenting the project here.

About the author: Cassie Meador is a choreographer, performer, educator, writer and Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange. Her works have tackled numerous social and environmental issues, like How To Lose a Mountain, which reflects on a 500-mile walk Meador took from Washington, DC to a mountaintop removal mining site in West Virginia to trace the impacts of the energy that fuel her home. Meador’s Moving Field Guides, an interactive outdoor experience led by artists, naturalists and regional experts in ecology, is being implemented nationwide in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. Meador has taught and created dances in communities throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, England, Ireland, and Guyana. She has worked with the Girl Scouts to enhance environmental curricula through the arts. Her work with Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment has influenced educators and students to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education.

Bodies of Water: Dance at the Schuylkill Center

By Christina Catanese

 

This weekend, the Schuylkill Center will be presenting Remembering Water’s Way by Dance Exchange, the first site-specific dance event that the Center has commissioned in over a decade.

Dance Exchange is a DC-area arts organization that has been one of the Schuylkill Center’s LandLab artists in residence over the past year.  The goal of the LandLab residency is for artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation. So we tasked these performers to also create art-based installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage, and it’s exciting to see how they have responded to the challenge.

Dance Exchange’s work engaging individuals and communities in dancemaking and creative practices is driven by these four questions:

Who gets to dance? Where is the dance happening? What is the dancing about? Why does it matter?

When Dance Exchange was selected for this residency, I was excited to discover what the answers to these questions might be in the context of our work connecting people with nature.

The culmination of Dance Exchange’s research and artmaking will take place on October 13th and 14th with animated hikes through our grounds that follow the story of water. Exploring ponds, streams, erosion-prevention efforts, and impacts from recent storm events, these hour-long experiences will weave together performance, installation, science engagements, and more. Think guided nature walk punctuated by performed dance in the landscape, with led opportunities to interpret information (both scientific and sensory) into your own body and in collaboration with others.

One of Dance Exchange’s core beliefs is that anybody can and should dance, which is why the dancers not only perform for the audience, but get everyone moving. (Even those who claim to have two left feet.) The artists guide us through ways to embody the scientific concepts that we’re learning about. They also value intergenerational exchangeso all ages are welcome! This walk will give people across generations the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding ofand connection totheir local environment and community. Through this immersive experience, participants will activate their senses and observation skills through an artistic and ecological approach to discovery. Activities are designed to move participants along a path of recognition, appreciation, and stewardship of the environment. There will even be ways in which the performers will contribute to our land restoration work through the performance.

The title, Remembering Water’s Way, comes from a recognition that the land has a memory of how water has flowed through it, and an acknowledgement of how we can reconsider our relationship to the land to be guided by water rather than trying to fight it. Over the course of the walk, many stories of water will be explored (locally on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds as well as in the context of our regional watershed), including the impact of recent rains and ever-more intense storms that our region has experienced this summer.

As a dancer and choreographer myself, I’m excited by how we can use our bodies in nature to reframe and activate a site. By positioning human bodies in the landscape and experiencing it with all senses, perhaps we can start to see and feel ourselves as slightly more connected to nature, rather than separate.

So, my answers to the Dance Exchange questions so far are 1) everyone; 2) anywhere; 3) information from many realms outside of dance; and 4) because it helps bring us closer to that content, and to each other. But you may have your own answers (and more questions) after experiencing their work.

Please join us for Remembering Water’s Way this weekend. The walk will be offered four times over the course of the weekend, at 11am and 2pm on both Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14. The guided walk will descend some elevation; good walking shoes are recommended. Keep an eye on the Schuylkill Center’s website and social media for any weather-related changes.

Thinking Like A Butterfly

By Mike Weilbacher

It’s high summer, which brings with it erratic weather patterns, fierce storms, rising tides, raging stormwater pouring through our communities, and other climate change concerns. As someone who worries about climate change, I have stumbled upon a powerful way to change the world.

We need to think like butterflies.

Consider the butterfly–born as a humble, often ugly caterpillar. A living weed-whacker, caterpillars plow through living plants, mercilessly devouring leaves, hell-bent on defoliation. Tent caterpillars ravage the Schuylkill Center’s cherry trees every spring; gypsy moths ravage whole landscapes. Last year, I planted a stand of dill to attract black swallowtail caterpillars, since that’s one of its host plants. The plan worked: the dill raised about 15 caterpillars, but was a skeleton when the caterpillars were done. Not one living leaf remained.

The caterpillars crawled away, hung upside down, and transformed into chrysalises–their body parts magically melting inside their shells to rearrange as completely different body parts. And a wickedly different creature emerged, the adult.

 


2018_Butterfly Count

 Monarch butterflies are exquisite botanists, the females laying their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Caterpillars ingest the leaves, using toxic chemicals in the leaf’s milk to make them taste terrible—their protection from predatory birds.  

 

While the caterpillar devoured everything, the butterfly has no mouthparts whatsoever for eating solid food. As if making penance for the sins of its youth, a butterfly drinks its world, using its coiled straw of a mouth to sip nectar. When the butterfly flits from flower to flower, it pollinates each in turn, allowing it to make seeds. That’s the key: while the caterpillar takes from the world the resources it needs for survival, the butterfly gives back, turning flowers into seeds that grow the next generation of flowers. Caterpillars devour, but butterflies pollinate.

And they don’t just pollinate the zinnias in your backyard. They pollinate the native plants that sustain entire ecosystems; there would be no milkweeds without the pollinating work of butterflies. More importantly, pollinating insects like bees and butterflies enable so many flower trees to make fruit. Oranges, cherries, grapefruit, grapes (and therefore raisins and wine), apples, lemons, limes: all are produced by pollinating insects like butterflies.

For millennia, humans have been caterpillars, taking from the world the stuff we need to live: food to eat, water to drink, lumber to build homes, coal and oil to power our lives. Living on a finite planet on limited resources, we’re running out of stuff to devour. For us to live sustainably, it’s time we grew up. Metamorphosed. Transformed into butterflies, giving back to the resources that sustain us, metaphorically pollinating the world and making seeds.

Thinking like a butterfly means conserving water, switching to renewables, buying electric cars, radically recycling everything, growing our own organic food, protecting biological diversity, cooling the climate, consuming less stuff, ceasing suburban sprawl across whole landscapes, and so on.

Protecting biological diversity means inviting your nonhuman neighbors into your yard: growing milkweed plants to nurture populations of monarch butterflies, installing bat boxes to support troubled bat populations, keeping your cat inside so it doesn’t kill birds, planting native plants everywhere you can, and more.

Thinking like a butterfly also means getting to know butterflies. They are remarkable, delightfully colorful creatures, extraordinarily adapted—and vanishing. We’ve got a butterfly event happening soon at the Schuylkill Center—come help us count them. And we’ll continue the conversation about thinking like a butterfly.  

 

Annual Butterfly Count

Thursday, July 5, 1 pm, $3/person

Help our staff count the butterflies in our forests and meadows in an annual effort orchestrated by the North American Butterfly Association. To register, call 215-482-7300 ext. 110 or email scee@schuylkillcenter.org.

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.