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Wetlands and WetLand in the city

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Often, when I fly into Philadelphia International Airport, I imagine what a bird’s eye view of the area must have looked like back before Philadelphia became the bustling metropolis it is today.  If I squint just the right way, I can almost see how the flat expanse of skyscrapers and rowhomes transforms to green, how South Philly and even the airport itself melt into the freshwater tidal wetlands that were once in their place (the last remnant of which is still visible at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge). Continue reading

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From tailess to tail in a matter of hours…

“Imping” a Cooper’s hawk’s damaged tail

Last week the staff of the wildlife clinic did something remarkable, especially for those of us who make our living working at a desk.  They rebuilt a bird’s tail.

The bird in question, a Cooper’s hawk, was brought into the clinic in February with multiple injuries, including head trauma and a severely damaged tail.  The clinic nursed the bird for several weeks as it recovered from a concussion and regained its strength.  The bird’s tail feathers, however, were still in tatters, preventing proper flight.  As I learned from our clinic director, Rick Schubert, “a bird’s tail is its steering and its brakes. Without it, there’s no control.”

Waiting for new feathers to grow in could have necessitated months of captivity, putting an unhealthy amount of stress on the bird.  So instead, the clinic decided to fix the tail and send the hawk on his way.

Using a millennia-old falconer’s technique known as imping, the clinic grafted new tail feathers onto the hawk’s badly damaged tail. According to rehabber Michele Wellard, it’s not unusual to replace one or two feathers this way.  The wonder of this operation was its scope: the bird’s tail was practically destroyed, requiring a dozen new feathers.

Imping is an intricate procedure, as each replacement feather must match the original in size, type and placement, as well as the angle and positioning of the feather.  Before beginning work on the live bird, clinic staffers carefully examined, sorted and laid out all the donor feathers with labels indicating their designated position on the bird’s tail.

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replacement feathers are sorted and labeled

Next, the tips are cut off of the donor feathers and patient’s torn feathers are cut down almost to the base, exposing the hollow interior of each feather.

Finally, Rick used small bamboo skewers and epoxy to attach the new feathers to the old. For each feather, one end of the skewer is glued into the donor feather; the other end is then slid into the base of the existing feather until the two feather tips meet.   When done correctly, the skewer is completely hidden inside the hollow feathers and everything works as good as new.

completed tail

a new tail

The hawk was sedated and hooded during the procedure, to reduce its stress.  Afterwards, “it looked a little confused at first,” says Michele, but it soon took to its new tail.  After a few days of practice flights, the hawk was successfully released back into the wild.

For the whole story, check out this piece from WHYY’s NewsWorks: Roxborough’s Schuylkill Center helps injured hawk take flight.

Naomi Leach, Marketing and PR Coordinator

A ‘Grate’ Day: Steel & The Schuylkill Center

Last week, I got to do something few people are given the opportunity to do. I got to see the guts of a steel plant up close and personal! Our friends at ArcelorMittal provided us with a  guided tour of the international corporation’s Conshohocken facility – just down river from our own organization. I was there with two similarly giddy co-workers, our Director of Land & Facilities and his Assistant, to pick up a custom machined well cover from the plant’s fabrication shop.

What in the world, you ask, does ArcelorMittal and the international steel industry have to do with the Schuylkill Center? As it turns out, an awful lot!

ArcelorMittal has been a recent, loyal donor of ours. As part of its commitment to supporting conservation and environmental education in operating communities like Conshohocken, it has donated over $12,000 in grants to us in the last two years. What’s more: local employees at the plant have also contributed their time at volunteer Land Restoration events, which they’ve attended with their children and grandchildren!

Last week, ArcelorMittal responded to our need for a cover for an old, 19thcentury well on our property in just a day’s time! (For those unfamiliar, we have lots of reminders of the land’s early history still peppering the woods. Some are old wells, some are the ruins of barns, buildings, and pump houses designed to bring water up to farms that used to dot Ridge Road. (That’s right!)) Yesterday, we were able to safely cover the well through a generous in-kind contribution orchestrated by Ian Mair, the plant’s Environmental Manager, and Lee, a Fabricator who made the grate.

Lee explains how he fabricated the well cover.

During our tour of the plant, on the way to pick up the well cover, we toured the cavernous buildings that make up America’s largest supplier of steel plate to our military, and the biggest steel producer on the globe. Hard-hatted and be-safety-spectacled, we saw raw steel from ArcelorMittal’s nearby Coatesville facility heat forged, cooled from over a thousand degrees by water on massive conveyors that appeared to be football fields long:

Red Hot Steel

Here’s a photo of the water evaporating from the surface of the steel:

Water cools Steel Plate heated to over 1,000 degrees.

 We also saw the inspection floor, where the steel is painted for use by the military and industry, and the yard where steel coil is set to cool for three days after being tempered. In a word: it was awesome.

The visit made me realize, like most relationship-building moments, why our mission is so important to our stakeholders like ArcelorMittal – and why it’s vital to support Environmental Education in general.

On our field trip, I learned not just about the unique material properties of steel (sometimes it’s magnetized, sometimes it’s not), but also about the ways that the plant uses and works to save energy, as well as precious water. Like many other corporations, ArcelorMittal works to model sustainable practices in a resource-intensive, but also necessary, industry. Water used in the process of making steel undergoes a rigorous purification and filtration process that exceeds industry requirements and re-uses the resource. The steel sludge filtered from water used in the tempering process is an asphalt extender.

Utilizing natural resources with minimal environmental impact is both necessary and challenging. And the ability to do both is predicated on a student’s ability to first grasp basic scientific concepts – the kind we begin to touch upon when we discuss water ecology at the Schuylkill Center, for example. We happen to undertake those investigations in unimpaired streams that feed the Schuylkill River – the same big blue ribbon of water that ArcelorMittal calls home.

The employees at ArcelorMittal understand this. It’s why they choose to support our work. We’re connected through philanthropy, but also through an understanding that it takes exposure to new ideas and experiences in nature to put a child on the path of caring for the environment – or a career in a STEM field that also works to protect the environment. They value the resource we protect: the largest remaining privately owned open space in Philadelphia.

If you or someone you know wants to make a difference, come visit us! We’ve got a couple of ways you could help. We won’t be able to show you how steel is made, but we can show you the end product sitting on top of our historic stone well – and we’ve got some young minds we’re intent on forging, too.

A very special thanks to our friends at ArcelorMittal!

Mike, Ian, Sean, and Joanne stand safely atop the well.

Warmly,

Emily, Director of Resource Development