Cattail Pond

Restoring Cattail Pond

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

Toad in Cattail PondCattail Pond sits in a serene, sunlit woodland opening at the edge of our forest, just a few quick steps outside our back door.  It is a special place, nestled into one of the few areas on the property that is free from undulating topography, naturally protected by a steep slope uphill from it and surrounding trees.  Taking all of this into consideration, it’s not surprising that there are also ruins of a barn near the pond, part of a former homestead and a reminder of the rich history of this land. Continue reading

5 Reasons Why We Love September

5 Reasons Why We Love September

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

fallen leaves1. Melissa, our Manager of Land Stewardship, loves how in September, the smells change.  The smells of summer start to change into the smells of fall, leaves drying, falling, last flowers blooming, a shift in the tone of the forests and fields..  There’s an earthy smell, as leaves begin to rot, the forest changes subtly, signaling the new season.

September light2. Gift Shop Manager and Volunteer Coordinator Claire enjoys how the brightness of the sun changes.  Leaves are starting to drop and more light filters through the trees, lighting both forests and homes, offering more light even as the days are growing shorter.

golendrod3. Mike, our Executive Director, explains how he loves seeing the blooming goldenrod in September.  Goldenrod, its yellow flowers glowing in meadows and alongside roads, is a kind of “bookend for the year,” a marker for the last hurrah of wildflowers as the growing season winds down.

the favorite season4. September is the beginning of Donna’s favorite season.  Donna, Director of Finance and Administration, describes the excitement of school beginning, something she’s always loved.  “It’s a time of renewal,” she says, noting how the thinner, less humid air is invigorating.

pumpkin flavored everything5. Damien, an Environmental Educator, loves the “70 and sunny almost every day” weather of September and the excellent farmers’ markets this time of year, with everything from tomatoes to apples.  He also enjoys pumpkins and the chance for “pumpkin flavored everything.”

As for me, I love September because it carries with it the first chilly nights of fall, but the days are still (comparatively) long and warm.  In September, it is as though the best of all seasons have gathered for a month.  I love the smell of leaves decomposing, and like Mike, I love watching the goldenrod bloom.  I love going to the farmers’ market in September and cooking with fresh herbs, spinach, cherry tomatoes and potatoes, collards, and winter squash.  It’s a time of year when I can barely stand to be inside.

Gazing upwards to see backwards: A look at local vines and their origins

By LandLab Resident Artists WE THE WEEDS, Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya S. Levy

Vines in parking lotLook up on any summer day and your eyes are bound to come into contact with climbing, clambering vines.  Clinging to treetops and fences, tumbling across buildings, these robust and intrepid climbers adventure always upwards, using structures natural and manmade to achieve great heights and lengths.

On the Schuylkill Center premises alone there are dozens of vine varieties.  Natives include moonseed, wild yam, grape, green briar, and poison ivy.  Even more abundant are the invasives: oriental bittersweet, mile-a-minute, Japanese honeysuckle, porcelain berry, and wisteria.  Where did these travelers come from?  What are they doing here?  What can be done about, or better yet, with them?

Our botanical arts collaboration, WE THE WEEDS (comprised of botanist Zya S. Levy and artist Kaitlin Pomerantz), will explore the answers to these questions during our summer-fall LandLab residency.  We have begun identifying local vines, and our next step will be to research the histories of their global transmigrations– where they came from, how they got here, and why they are thriving.  Later in the summer, we will harvest numerous invasive vines for use in a woven sculpture that communicates our findings.  Our installation will be a visual interpretation of the complex and interwoven migratory trajectories of these trailing plants.

woman with vinesThe relationship between vines and humans extends far beyond Tarzan – throughout history humans have used vines as building, binding, food, and medicinal materials (and much more), and vines have used humans (or human structures, rather) to reach astounding new heights.  Really, unlike many plants that have been displaced by the growth of human industry, vines thrive on it– winding over human infrastructure to advance their main biological imperative: to spend minimal energy investing in support tissue so as to spend more energy on reaching sunlight.  More infrastructure for vines means faster-growing, more abundant vines!  Beyond this, many invasive vine species thrive in disturbed, even toxic soils– indicating that human pollution may be encouraging the propagation of invasives.  This complicated, yet fascinating, relationship, antipathy, and perhaps symbiosis, is what we wish to look into more closely through our research.  We believe that a better understanding of how and why foreign vines got here and how we may have been involved,  could lead to more fruitful interpretations for how to manage, and appreciate, these most scandalous, scandent plants.

Want to get involved?

Join WE THE WEEDS for a hands-on vine identification and harvesting workshop on Saturday, July 12 from 10 am to 12 pm, highlighting the characteristics, uses, and lore surrounding different local and invasive vines on the SCEE premises.  Please wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing.

Zya on site at the Schuylkill CenterAbout WE THE WEEDS

WE THE WEEDS is a botanical arts and outreach initiative aimed at raising awareness about urban ecology, headed by artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya Levy.  Past projects include ethnobotanical tours, art installations, plant identification workshops and visualizations, culinary and sensory plant experiences, participatory science experiments, school and public outreach— all aimed at highlighting the presence of the natural world within the manmade landscape, and illuminating the uses, historical and cultural significances of spontaneous wild urban flora.

Kaitlin Pomerantz is a Philadelphia artist whose practice spans a variety of media and materials to explore the relationship between art and sustainability.  She has worked in farming, aquaculture (oyster farming) and Quaker and urban education.  Her most recent projects were completed with the support of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and RAIR – Recycled Artist in Residency.

Zya S. Levy, a field botanist with the USDA, has over ten years of experience working with flora of North America.  In love with plants since her earliest recollection, she is inspired by the resiliency and beauty of nature within the city ecosystem.  Zya is the founder of the Collecting Collective and the Philadelphia Investigative Institute of the Wild which hosts plant walks, identification workshops, botanical cocktail parties, urban research projects, and herbal study groups.

Mountain mint

Summer is the season of meadows

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

Mountain mintTo me, summer has always been the season of meadows.  While in spring the light fills the forest, bringing flowers, ferns, and understory plants to life; by summer, the forest is a cool, dim respite, a darker, more peaceful place to escape the burning heat of the sun.  So it is the meadow that seems to properly represent this season of blazing hot days: steaming humid afternoons, rain storms that blast out of the late afternoon and early evening to drench the world and leave things glistening and green.  Meadows this time of year are bursting with life.

You sit down, lie down, fall back into the grass and above, see only sky, bits of grasses and shrubs just coloring the edges of your vision.  Looking up, a few clouds float past, perhaps a hawk or a vulture circles high above, the horizon expanded by the lack of trees.  In the meadow, the world is all waist-high.  Continue reading

Blue Jay, after week 2 (1)

Clinic Case Study: Raising a Baby Blue Jay

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator

On May 13, this baby blue jay, likely having fallen from his nest, was brought into the Wildlife Clinic. The people who found him couldn’t locate the nest to return him, and so they brought him to the clinic. Over the last few weeks, this little blue jay has had many people involved in his care, from dedicated volunteers to our wildlife rehabilitators. Raising a songbird baby can be a real challenge, with a particular diet, a special nest to ensure his legs grow straight, and regular feedings until he’s old enough to feed himself. At the clinic we are careful to make sure the blue jay does not become tame or imprinted, so he can be released into the wild once he’s old enough.

BLue Jay, week 1 (1)These photos show the little blue jay, just two or three days old, upon admission to the clinic. Songbirds like him are born naked, blind, and helpless, and with a strong urge to “gape” (i.e. beg for food). How did we know he was a bluejay? There are several clues. His dark skin is different from other baby birds, who are often more pink. He has absolutely no fuzz on him, whereas other songbird hatchlings sometimes do. The color around his beak is pink – many songbird babies have yellow “lips” called the gape flange. The gape flange, together with the beak color inside the bird’s mouth indicate to the parents exactly where to deposit the food.

By the second week of his life, you can see many changes starting to the blue jay’s appearance, as he grows at a rapid rate. He is fed every half an hour from sun up to sundown by clinic staff and volunteers, just as his parents would. He is fed insects, a mush called “songbird diet” and some berries. You’ll see that he has become “fuzzy” in places (right), and his wing feathers are starting to develop. At this point they are still “blood feathers” (they have a blood supply to nourish the developing feather) and look like little sticks. Tiny spurts of the beginnings of feathers are beginning to emerge from his head. He has almost doubled in weight and has gotten much bigger.

After the second week, our little patient is starting to look more like a bird, particularly a blue jay. He has gotten some real feathers and is looking distinctively fluffy. He can hold his head upright when at rest, and those blood feathers are starting to sheath of the coating and open up at the tips. He’s also starting to get the beginning of that famous jaunty blue jay crest.

By the third week, our little bird is becoming unmistakably a blue jay.  His wing feathers are opening more, showing a variety of white and blue. The feathers on his face are also coming in, creating his distinctive facial markings. At this stage he is still a “nestling,” too young to leave the nest.  However, he is starting to have an urge to open his wings and flap a bit.  He can’t perch yet, but should be doing so soon. Then he will be moved to a small mesh cage, with a training perch to strengthen his feet and leg muscles and give him experience perching and hopping.

On May 29, the blue jay took his first flight, fluttering for a few seconds before landing on the ground.  He’s learning to perch in his small mesh indoor aviary. He will go into an outdoor aviary in early June, and be released in late June.

Blue Jay, June 12By June 12, the blue jay has moved to a larger indoor aviary.  He’s sharing space with several slightly younger blue jays now, enabling them to for social bonds and care for each other.  He’s also beginning to chase crickets and meal worms.

toads in a hand - Alaina Mabaso_20130603_1359727442

Just how small is a toadlet?

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

Just what size are these tiny toad babies that make their way, by the thousands, from the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve to the Schuylkill Center each June?

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Baby starling

Four sounds from early May

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

This week the forests and fields are alive with sounds, all manner of animals calling out and leafy trees rustling in the breeze.  This is also the time of year when our Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic is brimming with baby animals of all sorts. So, here are four samples of what May sounds like at the Schuylkill Center.

blossoms beside the pondToads, singing in afternoon sunlight.  A basin in this field fills with water most of the year, creating a nice habitat for toads and other amphibians.  Around the field and basin are vines, grasses, and flowering trees.


Baby starling

At the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, baby starlings call out for their meal.  This time of year, the clinic is teeming with baby animals – sparrows, catbirds, owls, squirrels.



In the forest around our main building, songbirds call through the trees.  There are lots of birds in this recording, can you name any of them?



Black-eyed susan seedlingsMelissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship, transplants tiny Rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan seedlings in the Native Plant Nursery.  These seedlings were grown from seeds collected here at the Schuylkill Center.

Bloodroot patch

First blooming

By Anna Lehr Mueser

I walk through the forest in the afternoon, listening to the rustle of a light breeze in the treetops and the distant hum of the city, reminding me that I am both immersed in the forest, and still in the city of Philadelphia.  At this time of year, I love to watch the woods transform from their winter quiet to the stampede of color and growth that is springtime.  This time last year, it seemed everything was blooming, but today, just the first green things, the first buds, the first butterflies, appear.  The long winter has given us this: a slow spring in which we can contemplate and appreciate each stage of transformation.

Today, I look at patches of skunk cabbage, leaves unfurling, alongside the streams.  I notice one patch of trillium, just forming buds; this native flower will bloom for a short time, red and white, before vanishing into the undergrowth.  I stop to look at a hillside of Virginia bluebells: purple leaves warm against last fall’s debris and blue buds about to open.

I find a few precious trout lily leaves.  Trout lily is a patient plant that can wait seven or eight years, each spring sending up just one freckled leaf, before blooming.

And my favorite: dozens of native bloodroot, appearing alongside the trail, gathering below a fallen log, climbing the hillside.  The sun, ducking in and out of clouds, lights the forest and these delicate white flowers glow.

The Sixth Extinction, Book Review

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Book review for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a print version of this review appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, March 30, 2014.

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth KolbertWe inhabit an extraordinary planet overflowing with an abundance of life: massive coral reefs built by billions of tiny invertebrates, rain forests teeming with uncountable plants and animals, frogs and toads singing in vernal ponds, bats flitting over summer meadows.

But we also live at an extraordinary moment when all of the creatures named above, and millions more, might disappear in our lifetime. And while climate change gets all the attention as an environmental game-changer, the loss of biological diversity, the burning of the Tree of Life, has too quietly slipped below the cultural radar screen.

Until now. Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of the acclaimed Field Notes From a Catastrophe about climate change, has just published the definitive book on the biodiversity crisis. It is a must-read for every citizen of this planet. Continue reading

Baby Squirrels eating from syringe

Baby Squirrels in November: Unusual Wildlife at the Clinic

By Rick Schubert, Director of Rehabilitation, the Wildlife Clinic

Baby Squirrels eating

Anyone who has worked on a farm in a temperate climate knows that winter is no time to take a break; wintertime is a race against the clock, reorganizing, repairing, cleaning, planning, and preparing for the upcoming busy season.  Wildlife rehabilitation is no different.  Although we take in injured adult wild animals 12 months a year, our business spikes in the spring, summer, and fall with the addition of orphaned and displaced neonates.  Usually, winter is a slower time for wildlife patient intakes, but it’s a critical period to spend getting ready for the onslaught that spring will bring.

In recent years, this trend has been shifting at the Schuylkill Center.  We’ve noticed an uptick in the number of patients we get between November and March, as well as more unusual cases overall.  It seems clear that, as weather patterns change, seasonal disruptions emerge in our wildlife populations.

Continue reading