Hidden Life of a Toad Cover

Book Review: The Hidden Life of a Toad

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator

Doug Wechsler’s children’s book The Hidden Life of a Toad (Charlesbridge, hardcover, 2017), released just this week, explores what happens in this mysterious process called metamorphosis – from eggs to tadpoles, tadpoles to toads. Amazing photos and descriptions walk you through this phenomenon day-by-day. Doug has witnessed the annual event of toad migration that takes place each spring at the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, across the street from the Schuylkill Center, where they spend the winter in the forest. Each year volunteers gather for Toad Detour, a citizen scientists program to help the toads to safety cross the road, at Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue, to get to their spring breeding grounds. It is not unusual to see Doug on the ground focusing his camera and waiting for the perfect photo of the American Toad as they cross the road. As volunteer coordinator, I’ve spent the past six springs helping toads cross Port Royal Ave – and educating volunteers and the public about this Roxborough phenomenon. Still, I learned lots of things about the American Toad by reading this book!

We always knew some of the basics from watching toads come out of the woods and cross the road to get to the other side, which in this case was the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve. We knew they loved that shallow water in which to lay their eggs. We knew the males would often follow the females toward the breeding ground and sometimes catch a ride along the way by finding the female of their choice before crossing the road. Continue reading

Offshoot trail to Winddance Pond

A Natural Way to Start the Day

By Donna M. Struck, Director of Finance and Administration

In my eight and a half years as a staff member at the Center, I have seen a great deal of positive change.  One of my favorite changes of recent past is the addition of what we call the “Hagy’s Mill Parking Lot.”

Hagys Mill TrailheadThe lot’s primary purpose is to provide parking for visitors during times when the main entrance gate is locked, such as on Sundays when the Visitor Center is closed.  One day soon after the lot was finished, my colleague, Anna Lehr Mueser, suggested that we could park our cars there in the morning and walk the trails for the half-mile stroll to our Visitor Center.  As someone who drives just shy of one hour to get to the Center, I thought this was a brilliant idea!  What better way to decompress from a traffic-ridden commute than to experience the calm and peace of a forest that has only recently woken up for the day.  Hearing the roosters crow at the Urban Girls farm, listening to the sound of your own footsteps on the forest floor, and feeling the crisp winter air in your lungs are just a few of the sensory delights of this stroll.   As someone who loves looking up into the sky, observing the sun through the trees on bright days and the gray clouds above the forest during overcast skies is always a source of inspiration and wonder.  But a personal highlight is inhaling the scent of the Pine Grove as I saunter by.  The Pine Grove is probably my favorite place in our 340 acres; it is peaceful and welcoming and always makes me want to take deep inhales.  What a way to start the day! Continue reading

Bill Botzow

Combating a Natural Enemy

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

P1020138Restoring, protecting, and preserving nature is no small task, and when that land is comprised of worn-out farmland overwhelmed with invasive species, the job becomes even more of a challenge. Artist Bill Botzow realized this when he visited the Schuylkill Center in 2002, stating, “The Center’s commitment to restoring the land while educating the public is impressive and I would like to contribute to support that effort by highlighting some of the Center’s environmental restoration practices and strategies.”

Botzow observed and quickly learned about the main challenge the Center faces; invasive species. He decided to create three wooden structures, titled En, In, Ex-Closure.  Comprised of natural and native materials, each served different ecosystems and addressed this large problem. Continue reading

Wildlife clinic peregrine falcon

Wildlife clinic at 30: 80,000 wild animals later

Baby redtail hawk with parent puppet

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy

In an unassuming building on Port Royal Avenue, our Wildlife Clinic treats over 3,000 animals each year, from hundreds of baby squirrels to injured raptors like peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks. In this building life-saving treatments save opossums, mend broken wings on Canada geese, suture the shells of turtles hit while crossing the road, and nourish tiny mammals brought in when they are too young to feed for themselves. This year, our clinic celebrates its 30th anniversary. Continue reading

Crochet mushroom

Foraging for Art

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar. Calendars are still available, now 50% off – only $10 each!

What started out as an amateur attempt to forage for mushrooms led to 20 years of exploration, mycology enthusiasm, and art for Philadelphia artist Melissa Maddonni Haims and her husband, Josh Haims.

Josh’s curiosity was initially peaked after noticing mushroom foragers during his early morning bike rides along the Wissahickon when visiting Melissa’s parents in Norristown, while Melissa’s curiosity was sparked after inquiring about a morel mushroom dish at a Manhattan restaurant. Their curiosity grew, and Josh presented the idea of foraging to Melissa. Soon, the two were in Fairmount Park stumbling over rocks and deep into the woods in search of fungi.

Josh began stopping on his bike rides to photograph the mushrooms, and developed quite a collection of fungi photos over time. Blending her creative crocheting with an interest in biomimicry, Melissa was inspired to crochet made-to-scale mushrooms mimicking Josh’s photographs, which were then attached to found wood.

Melissa Maddonni Haims Cold Comfort 1Melissa had previously exhibited at the Schuylkill Center in 2012. Her work, Cold Comfort, involved crocheted yarn-bombed trees along the Widener Trail and main driveway, enlivening the brown and grey winter landscape.  At a visit to the Schuylkill Center in 2015 to discuss a possible biomimicry show, discussions with Director of Environmental Art, Christina Catanese wandered to the morel mushroom and her husband’s collection of mushroom photography, and the concept for The Foragers was born.

Melissa and Josh brought fungi life into the Schuylkill Center in the form of crocheted mushrooms and photographs in their joint exhibition in early 2016. Melissa’s crocheted tableaus were given a setting by Josh’s photographs, creating an overall feel of being immersed in a forest.

The artists chose to focus on local fungi for the show. “These are mushrooms that you could go outside here [at the Schuylkill Center] and anywhere in this area. Something that is amazing about mushrooms is just the sheer diversity of them,” Catanese said in a conversation. “I think what’s great about Melissa’s work is that it’s like these little windows into the forest floor that celebrate this diversity.”

SCEE4813In addition to their work being displayed in the gallery, Melissa tapped back into yarn bombing and expanded her work onto trees along trails at the Schuylkill Center. Visitors could discover 9 crocheted mushrooms on their travels, staged as they might be found along the trail and on trees. In addition to the show, Melissa held a mushroom crocheting workshop, inviting participants to explore the creative and earthly processes.

A show shedding light and celebrating the forest ecosystem, Melissa explained that, like mushrooms, The Foragers exhibit represented just the fruit of something with roots stretching back 20 years.

Tree on Belmont Plateau

Winter 2017 Photography Contest

Tree on Belmont Plateau

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Winter is in full swing in Southeast PA (though it doesn’t always feel like it), and we’re trying our best to get outside every day despite the icy chill in the air. We encourage you to do the same—get out of your home/office/classroom, etc. and take a photograph for our Winter 2017 Photo Contest!

This year, one of my resolutions is to find room in my heart for the wintertime by finding new ways to appreciate nature throughout the cold, dead months. The colors of winter are one of the most striking aesthetic features of the season, with its muted lavender and grey skies, the stark silhouettes of white birch trees in a tangled sea of naked branches and buds. With the warm snow days we’ve been getting (as a consequence of global climate change), I’ve begun to appreciate the big snowflakes these days offer us. If you look real quick before it melts on your chest, you’ll be able to see each flake’s fascinating little pattern fade away.

How do you relish in winter’s gentle light and fierce beauty? Where do you connect with nature when the grass is matted down with snow? Are you desperate to see some more snow on the ground? Bring your camera with you to capture a sliver of the season’s magnificence and submit a photo anytime between now and February 28th! Three winners will be selected by a staff committee.

Guidelines

The rules are simple:

      • The photo must have been taken this January or February
      • The photo must be taken in the Philadelphia area
      • The photo must be outdoors or feature the outdoors
      • The photo must be your own creation and its publication may not violate the rights of any third party
      • Photos must be submitted by 5pm on February 28.

Please note:

  • No explicit or offensive photos.  The Schuylkill Center reserves the right to determine whether a photo is explicit or offensive.
  • By submitting a photo, you grant the Schuylkill Center non-exclusive rights to reproduce your image.  You maintain copyright and you will be credited.
  • Only 3 submissions per person will be accepted.
  • Winners will be chosen by a panel of Schuylkill Center staff.

How to Submit a Photo:

  • Email your photo to Environmental Art & PR Intern, Jenny, at jenny@schuylkillcenter.org with the subject line “2017 Photo Contest”

We look forward to finding out how you see the cold season, in the city and beyond – submit a photo now!

Featured photo: Stephanie (@Cattandco). 2015.

Northern Red Oak

Field Guide: Fallen Leaves

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art and PR Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike and play in the fall forests. Take in the beauty of crunchy fallen leaves in the city and the forest and easily identify the trees from whence they came.

See other Field Guide posts here.

Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

tuliptree.gifTulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), commonly referred to as Tulip Poplar, are abundant in the forest at the Schuylkill Center, and their mostly-yellow turning leaves roughly resemble the shape of a cat’s head or—as you might have noticed—a tulip! Another mark of a Tulip tree leaf is their glossy texture and symmetry.

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra/Quercus borealis)

Northern Red Oak

Querecus means “beautiful tree,” rubra “red,” and borealis, “north” in Latin. As opposed to white oaks, the lobes of the Red Oak’s leaves are pointed instead of round. Red Oak leaves have 7-11 lobes and extend clearly off the center vein. You can find Red Oaks on the streets of Philadelphia, too, as they are able to resist salty sidewalks in the winter time. If the squirrels or deer haven’t eaten them up yet, you can also find bitter acorns among the crunchy Red Oak leaf piles.

Big-tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

Bigtooth Aspen

Big-tooth Aspen can be identified by their easy-to-spot “teeth” on the edges of their simple and relatively round leaf shape, coming to a point at the top. They are usually yellow in the forests this time of year, like many other native leaves. You know you’ve found an Aspen leaf, though, if its stem (petiole) is flattened and perpendicular to the surface of the leaf (see below). The flat stem makes the leaves quake at even the slightest breeze, hence the name of this leaf’s smooth-edged cousin, Quaking Aspen.

Flat stem of Bigtooth Aspen

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

SCEE6175 Sassafras

Sassafras is a quick one to identify—with their iconic two or three-lobed shape, sometimes they mimic the shape of a mitten, with one lopsided thumblike lobe and a larger one. Either they’re mitten-like, or they resemble something like a three-toed dinosaur footprint, with three distinctly deep lobes. Catch them in any number of their swiftly changing color palettes—from red-brown to yellow-green.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple

I’m not usually one to play favorites, but… this might just be my favorite fall leaf. The colors on the leaves of the Red Maple this time of year could be likened to a paint-splattered canvas, blending gorgeous shades of yellow, rich reds, and orange. Sometimes, they’ll have three gentle lobes and other times, two more will tooth out at the bottom for a more recognizable maple shape. They range about 2 to 4 inches wide and tall, and are quite flexible and soft in texture—great for pressing in a book and saving for a dreary winter day. You might recognize the Red Maple’s silhouette from our Schuylkill Center logo at the top of the page!

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

SCEE6196

Here on the trails at the Schuylkill Center, the biggest leaf you’ll find likely fell from a Sycamore tree. These look a lot like the familiar shape of a maple leaf, with 3-5 lobes, but with bigger teeth around the edges. Although they normally range from 4 to 9 inches long, staff at the Center have found ones much larger than our faces—up to fourteen inches! Their stems are noticeably enlarged at the end, too, which encase the buds when still attached to the mother tree. Sycamores, also commonly known as buttonwood trees, and are proud members of one of the oldest tree families, Platanaceae, which dates back over 100 million years.

Happy crunching!

Sorghastrum nutans4

Field Guide: Fall in Bloom

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art and Public Relations Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike, and play in the fall meadows. See other Field Guide posts here.

Flat-top goldenrod (Solidage graminifolia)

Solidago graminifoliaFlat-top goldenrod provides nectar for many types of pollinators such as butterflies, wasps, both long- and short-tongue bees, flies, moths and beetles. One particularly interested beetle is named after the plant itself—the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle! Many people mistakenly believe they’re allergic to goldenrod , but in fact, what little pollen it has is too sticky to be blown around by the wind! Wherever you are, it is likely you will be able to find a few different kinds of goldenrod in the fall, all of which are suitable for medicinal purposes. After the Boston Tea Party, goldenrod tea replaced black tea in the States– “liberty tea,” and was used  to boost the immune system before the  winter months.

 Yellow indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)

Sorghastrum nutans4

More commonly known as yellow indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans is a tall native grass that can be identified by its blue-green blades and the almost metallic yellow-gold sheen of its flowering heads. Standing at about three to five feet tall, Indiangrass is an excellent snack for deer, birds and other wildlife.

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Jewelweed

Spotted jewelweed is an annual flowering plant that can be found growing along creek banks, and lives right along the edge of the Schuylkill Center’s own Springhouse Pond. One can easily identify this plant by submerging its leaves in the surface of a nearby water body—if they shimmer with a silvery dust, it’s jewelweed! Despite their misleading nickname— touch-me-not— the innards of jewelweed’s succulent stems can be used to treat poison ivy, bug bites, or other skin irritations on the trail. Jewelweed is also known as touch-me-not because, if the seed pods are ripe when touched, the seeds will pop out of their dangling pendant pods. You’re safe to touch these pretty creekside blooms, but be wary of their common neighbors, stinging nettle and poison ivy!

Roundleaf thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium)

Eupatorium rotun.2

If you get out on the trails soon, you’ll still be able to catch the beautiful white blooms of roundleaf thoroughwort, a perennial plant with bundles of delicate white flowers. A member of the aster family, roundleaf thoroughwort has many porcelain flowers in each of the small floral heads. Eupatorium rotundifolium stands at about three to four feet tall this time of year, fully matured before it crawls back to the soil in wintertime.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Panicum virgatum

Much like Indiangrass above, switchgrass is another important native tallgrass, reaching up to five feet tall. Generally, Switchgrass is not quite as tall as Indiangrass, but due to its rhizomatic root structure, its roots can extend up to 10 feet underground! It can be found in dry soils, in prairies, open woods, or growing by train tracks in large clumps. Switchgrass is known for its particularly sturdy vertical growth structure, and is also referred to as panic grass, thatchgrass, and wild redtop, due to the pinkish tinge of their tufted panicle blooms.

tree trunk

Reading Under the Bark

dead treeBy guest contributor Jim Frazer

I’ve been trying to remember what led me to photograph the engraved tracks of bark beetles. I believe that really it was just curiosity about looking for lines and patterns in nature which first drew my attention to the etched pathways of the beetle larvae. Once I became aware of them, they seemed to be everywhere in the woods. In an effort to understand what I was looking at, I did some research, and found out that the beetles’ increased range and activity was due to warming.

Since climate change seemed to come on us slowly at first, it was easy for many people to not notice. We may ask ourselves, what was the first thing that we personally noticed that could be attributed to climate change? Not a prediction from scientists, but something we personally saw or experienced. Not a cause, but a result. For me, the beetle tracks were like this. Of course, we all experience unusual weather, but since, like many people, I’m not living in the place where I grew up, I don’t have a feel for what is really normal for the area. Having someone tell you that last summer was the hottest ever doesn’t mean much if you don’t have memories to compare it to. Seeing something concrete right in front of you is different.

Part of what artists do is to call attention to things that have been overlooked, and do so in a way that causes people to start noticing on their own. We hear many debates in which the opinions of experts are hurled back and forth, but in order for change to happen, people need to be convinced through their personal experience. So I would like to encourage people looking at my work to notice small things they see around them and investigate how they relate to the larger world. I see the beetle tracks as calligraphic characters from an unknown language, hence the title Glyphs. Of course, they don’t have individual, specific meanings, like, say, a Chinese character might have. They are meant to suggest the idea that if we notice our surroundings – our environment – it will speak to us and tell us important things. In this case, the message is the awareness that climate change is causing a different relationship between these insects and the forest, to the detriment of the trees.

Here are both the original picture of a tree trunk and the finished artwork for one of my works in the exhibit. Like a scientist exploring ancient inscriptions, I trace the patterns, first manually, then digitally. The resulting outlines are printed on very thin tissue. Then, just as the beetle larva takes many small bites, I use a paper drill to create a repetitive lace pattern of holes surrounding the outlines. Finally, metallic mica powder is applied inside the outlines, adhered with gilding sizing.

head shotJim Frazer was, in 1981, the first photographer to have a solo exhibit at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and his hand-colored photographs of Southern landscapes were widely collected and exhibited both regionally and nationally. In 1999, he moved with his family to Salt Lake City and branched out from photography to a diverse practice that focused on mixed media works and collaborative installations. His newest work, though not appearing photographic at first glance, is nevertheless photo based, deriving from images of details taken from the natural world.

cook forest moss (1)

Bryophilia: A Moss Love Story

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

I’ve had a moss fascination as long as I can remember. Friends find me difficult to hike with, as I’m often hanging back crouched down over a mossy growth. I have taken more photos of moss than most people would probably find reasonable. In college, I did a research project on the ‘moss line’ in a montane stream – the bright line I observed where moss stopped growing on the creekside rocks. I own more than one piece of moss jewelry.

Moss on stones of river, Puerto Rico

Why moss? I think I’m fascinated by how often overlooked these life forms are, and the unique niche they occupy. I love their scale – tiny, yet complex. I relish encountering patches of moss that feel like entire, tiny little worlds in themselves.

Moss on stone in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Forest floor moss in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Moss between rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains, photo by Christina Catanese

Emboldened with a newly acquired moss field guide, last fall I started gathering my own samples and trying to get into the identification. I’ll tell you, it isn’t easy to do as a wannabe bryologist. Pleurocarp or acrocarp – are they large or small? (They are all small). Leaves – are they hair-like, lance, ovate, sickle or tongue shaped? (You call those tiny things leaves?). Do the leaves have a midrib? (Yikes). Growing on a rock, log, or bare soil? (Shoot…where did this specimen come from again?).

Examining moss in the Great Smoky Mountains

Our summer gallery show, Bryophilia, has given me a wonderful excuse to immerse myself even more in the world of moss.   We’re thrilled to present a gallery show of artist Marion Wilson’s stunning photographs of microscopically enlarged mosses. Wilson prints intricate and lush photographs of tiny sprigs of moss on treated mylar sheets, hundreds of times the normal size. From afar, these magnificently scaled up prints appear to be alien forms; they invite a closer look to interpret their curious shapes and structures. We’ll even have some real, live moss growing in the gallery.

Moss on rock photograph by Marion Wilson

I’ve also been reading Gathering Moss, by renowned bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, professor of environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and collaborator of Wilson’s. It’s a beautiful natural history read even for those not involved in a mossy love affair. Kimmerer blends botanical, scientific knowledge with her indigenous heritage, encouraging discussion of diverse ways of knowing; this is on full display in a recent podcast through On Being, a terrific listen.

Having my moss antennae up, I’ve started to see moss everywhere: cracks in the city sidewalk become an opportunity to notice nature thriving in unexpected contexts. What most would call unkempt roof shingles become a de facto green roof, with moss left to do its own, slow thing.  As I tell friends about our upcoming gallery show, closet moss lovers are coming out of the woodwork, sharing their own cherished moss facts.

When you look small, the world gets large.

Heart shaped by moss, photo by Christina Catanese

Bryophilia opens at the Schuylkill Center in the gallery with a reception on Saturday, June 11 from 4-6 pm.