A New Lens on Nature: Community photos in “Citizen’s Eye”

It almost could be another tree, except for the ears. Look a little closer and you realize it’s a deer, stock-still and staring at you through the morning mist. As autumn leaves rustle, its silent appraisal reminds you: you are not alone. These woods are a shared space.

This encounter is captured in a photo by Peter DeStefano, one he submitted to the upcoming community show, “Citizen’s Eye — A Kaleidoscope of Nature.” More than 400 photos taken by over 200 people—Schuylkill Center staff, members, volunteers, neighbors, friends—document surprising encounters with nature from the past 10 months. Every photo is included in the exhibition, making for a truly kaleidoscopic display.

Photo by Peter DeStefano, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Director of Environmental Art Tina Plokarz and her team have been sorting through these images, arranging them in our gallery, while looking for patterns. Some photos show structures of bridges and buildings; many are close-ups of animals or plants. They all come from a heightened sense of awareness to our natural surroundings and a willingness to stop and focus on smaller things. Taking such a photograph of nature requires that you not just move through the world but slow down enough to notice it. That you become a reciprocal part of it and live in it.

While each image reflects its photographer’s interest, collectively they begin to tell a story, one that begins with people going out to find nature—whether for peace, solitude, or recreation—and discovering that it’s always right beside them. Nature with a capital ‘N’ may conjure up romantic notions of sublime landscapes in National Parks, grand mountains, and expansive deserts. But nature with a lowercase ‘n’ encompasses everything around us. It’s “the small things we’re experiencing every day,” Tina says. “It’s not only about blooming flowers, it is also about the little weed on the sidewalk.” 

A number of photos feature kids and adults outside—playing, building, exploring, living. Some are posed; some are candid; one is a silhouette. “When we really think about ‘nature’ and where this term comes from,” Tina says, “we quickly see that it’s not only the ‘natural world’—it’s also our world context, it’s also our body, it’s our human interaction with the environment. And I think that’s what I was really interested in seeing through other people’s eyes.”

Photo by Walther Vera, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Nature is also around us, inevitably, in death. One particularly striking photo is of a funeral with masked mourners holding big red umbrellas and carrying a casket down the street. At first, it may seem like it doesn’t belong in a show of nature photography. But it made Tina consider how other nature photos capture death and decay. Several images, for instance, show mushrooms sprouting from dying trees. The rotting wood provides the nutrients necessary to grow a network of fungi that spreads throughout the forest—itself an offering to trees and a vital connection between them. “It’s this circle of life,” she says, “and death is part of our lives.” 

Photo by Peter Handler, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

That topic of death is “hard to grapple with as it relates to the pandemic,” Tina says. But that’s why offering a place for people to share their experiences with nature is so powerful. “I think it allows us a space for grief, and for thinking how, when a tree is dying, it is not dying, it is just transforming into something else.”

Ultimately everything in nature is interconnected, everything shared. “Citizen’s Eye” reflects this in its community display, ready to welcome you in and transform your own encounters with nature.

 

“Citizen’s Eye —A Kaleidoscope of Nature” will be available to view in person in our gallery and online from January 21– March 21, 2021. Join us for a virtual opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 pm for a conversation with mythologist and social practice artist Li Sumpter Ph.D., John Heinz National Wildlife refuge manager Lamar Gore, and designer CJ Walsh, moderated by Tina Plokarz. For more information and to register, visit: https://www.schuylkillcenter.org/blog/event/citizens-eye-a-kaleidoscope-of-nature/

 

—By Emily Sorensen

 

News Flash: Beavers in Roxborough!

One of the feel-good stories on the environmental scene is the rewilding of large cities like Philadelphia, where suddenly peregrine falcons nest in church steeples and on Delaware River bridges, bald eagles pull large fish out of the Schuylkill River, and coyotes amble down Domino Lane.

In that vein, members of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy were somewhat startled to discover that the restoration plantings they’ve doggedly placed along the Schuylkill River have been devoured by…beavers! Wait, beavers in Roxborough?

Once extirpated—a fancy word meaning locally extinct—across Pennsylvania, hunted because their fur was remarkably valuable and because we did not appreciate their ability to rearrange landscapes to their own ends. But beavers have been returning to our state over the last century, and have been seen along Tacony and Pennypack Creeks since about 2008. And now they have taken up residence in the Schuylkill River and Manayunk Canal around Flat Rock Dam.

“I first noticed beavers and their lodge in the winter of 2018,” observed Suzanne Hagner, Roxborough resident and member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, “as I rode out the Schuylkill River Trail towards Shawmont. I could see where they had worn down a path into the woods on the far side of the trail and I guessed that was where they were going for food.” The lodge was near Flat Rock Dam, and they have been spotted—and photographed—as far down as Lock Street and as far up as past Shawmont Avenue, both in the canal and along the river.

“You can see their work from Lock to Cotton streets,” added Kay Sykora, another key Conservancy member, “particularly in the Cotton Street area; look for the damage on the banks and trees.” She offered that there was a “small dam in the wetlands near the upper locks” but that may have been damaged by heavy storms. Tom Landsmann, president of the Conservancy, offers that “the very best place to see the beaver or signs of the beaver’s visits is from the river. Take a kayak or paddle board and look for the damaged bark or the lodges. Look just above the flat rock dam on the Philly side, but on the Lower Merion side and up river as well. Can’t miss it.”

They famously cut down saplings and trees with their chisel-like teeth, building dams and lodges with the branches, chewing the inner bark of trees as their favored food source. That tree-cutting, of course, can sometimes interfere with our own good work.

“Beavers have good taste in trees,” Tom added, tongue in cheek. “They ate over 60 trees we planted along the canal last year. But we adjusted. Last spring, we painted the uneaten trees with latex paint mixed with a lot of sand,” the grit distasteful to the large rodents. “Many of the damaged trees grew out again this summer,” he continued. “We wrapped those trees in cages this fall. We installed 130 cages along the canal near both sides of Fountain Street.”

Bernard “Billy” Brown, author of Grid magazine’s Urban Naturalist column, told me that, in addition to the cages, Riverfront North, a group doing restoration work along Pennypack Creek, “has planted species that can rebound well after being cut down by beavers, like willow species in particular.”

The Conservancy recently hosted a walk-through of the area with a self-described “beaver believer” they brought in from central PA, and their takeaway was similar. “The other approach which I believe we will have to do,” continued Kay, “is to rethink our plantings. We need to put in more herbaceous plants on the impacted banks and see if we can add things like willows to the upper wetland areas to keep them in that area, which is better suited for them and for us.”

Suzanne Hagner agrees. “There are plants, several species of low growing willow that beavers eat that we can plant and hopefully, if we get them planted soon, we can entice the beavers to move further out the trail” and away from their restoration plantings.

Billy Brown has been writing about the beaver’s return to Philadelphia for a while now. “As a reaction, I’ll say that beavers and their return to Philadelphia show the importance of waterways in connecting urban habitat with the surrounding landscape. I think most people under-appreciate how severely our system of roads isolates habitat, an issue the Schuylkill Center contends with the Toad Detour project, for example. Waterways and the green corridors around them are exceptions to the fragmentation of habitat in urban landscapes. The ability of beavers to quickly disperse through the city shows that. It’s both tantalizing and frustrating to imagine how different our urban ecosystems would be if we could more broady connect to the surrounding landscape.”

Suzanne Hagner has been reading up on beaver, passing books along to Conservancy members. “They are amazingly skilled at creating waterways and irrigation systems that lead to ecological health,” she said. “Our consultant offered that the return of the beavers was a very good sign in our area, as the beaver is an ecological system in itself. I had lived in Washington state, and had heard that beavers were being reintroduced in eastern Washington to help curb the arid areas that are prone to wildfires.”

“The return of the beaver,” notes Kay Sykora, “along with a wide range of wildlife like herons and turtles underscores the health of our river area, once one of the most damaged and polluted rivers in the country. Beaver were virtually trapped out of existence for their fur, and there was no understanding of the role they played in the environmental balance of nature. They are key to the health of our wetland areas and the range of wildlife that needs those areas to survive.”

Go for a walk along the Schuylkill River Trail, and find for yourself the pointed chiseled ends of tree trunks along the canal and river. It’s evidence of Roxborough’s newest neighbor, the beaver.

 

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Photo/Video by Linda Lee McGinnis

Fall Bird Migration

By Jasmine Lee, Communications Intern

Fall migration, the large-scale movement of birds from their summer breeding homes to their winter grounds is part of an annual cycle that is undertaken by more than half of all the birds in North America. Unfortunately, it is estimated that in the U.S. alone, one billion birds die each year as a result of collisions with glass windows, walls, and other structures, with numbers typically spiking during migration months. At the Schuylkill Center and the Wildlife Clinic, warblers of all kinds, flycatchers, woodcocks, and even hummingbirds are passing through as they make their way down south for the winter. 

As a student at the University of Pennsylvania obtaining my Masters in Environmental Studies, I have a special interest in birdwatching and ornithology, in addition to my career interests in conservation science. Back in March, I moved from West Philly back to my parents suburban New Jersey home due to the pandemic, and I was excited to spend some time closer to nature, as opposed to the bustling city streets. Using a recycled glass beer bottle, I fashioned a homemade bird feeder to attract some feathered friends for the spring.

Homemade bird feeder: birdseed comes out from the bottle and into the tray.

Attaching it to the trees in our yard posed a problem, as the squirrels had easy access to the birdseed tray and would often scare off any potential bird visitors. I decided to use an old patio umbrella frame to secure the bird feeder so it was away from any branches where the squirrels could jump onto it.

Feeder attached to umbrella frame. Bag of finch food hanging off to the side. 

Within hours of setting up the frame and feeder, we saw a cardinal munching from the food tray. I stayed at our kitchen table all morning so I could watch the feeder through the window.

Northern Cardinal

Brown-headed cowbird on feeder, American goldfinch on finch food bag

We did continue to fight the squirrels on occasion, when they tried to climb the umbrella pole. Eventually, we removed the bottle because it encouraged them to to climb up and gorge themselves.  Now, my dad puts out a handful of seeds for the birds each day, but not enough to tempt the squirrels.

Now that it is October, the feeder is less busy, although we do still see the occasional fall migrant passing through. We are looking forward to springtime next year, when the migratory songbirds return. 

As part of our #YearOfActionChallenge, the Schuylkill Center encourages you to take some actions to help protect our travelling feathery friends. 

  1. Urge your senators to co-sponsor the Bird-Safe Buildings Act requiring public buildings to incorporate bird-friendly building designs and materials.
  2. Apply decals, window guards, uv-coverings or other collision preventing materials to windows to make glass more visible to birds and reduce the chances of flying into them.

3. Turn off the lights! Many birds migrate at night, and can become disorientated by bright artificial lights, increasing the chances they will collide with a window. Whenever possible turn off excess exterior lights and reduce interior lights at night, especially those on higher floors or in building atriums. Visit Lights Out- Audubon to learn more.

Kindergarteners reboot their relationship with nature

“To Cattail Pond! To Cattail Pond!” several of the kindergarteners shout as they skip towards the Schuylkill Center’s serene, sunlit woodland opening at the edge of our forest, just a few quick steps outside our back door.  This is one of our most active sites on the property in the late winter and early spring when water is abundant and vegetation is emerging.

For our 5- and 6-year-old kindergarteners, it’s an ideal place to set the outdoor classroom scene. Given the overwhelming evidence of the many health benefits of learning outdoors, especially in the context of the current health crisis, the Schuylkill Center kindergarten is shifting to all outdoor classes.  This fall Ann Ward, a 30-year veteran in the field of early childhood education, will lead the class.

As a nature preschool, one that uses nature as the primary context for learning, research confirms that being outdoors improves physical, mental, and emotional health and development in children. 

Ann, and her co-teachers, embrace an emergent (child-led) curriculum rooted in the outdoors with the intent to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion while instilling a love for the environment.  A typical day includes child-led play in the understory of the woodlands or a hike along the banks of the ponds or streams that traverse our space here.  We bring materials with us on the trails including, writing paper, art tools, books, magnifying lenses and bug boxes, journals and  cameras; all with the intent to collect documentation of our day’s adventures. All of our “natural” learning is interwoven with the Pennsylvania kindergarten standards.

As Teacher Ann well knows, these “mindful adventure seekers are becoming lifelong stewards of the earth propelled by an innate curiosity.”  In this organic way, we enable these young minds the ability to build an intimate understanding of the natural world, one element at a time.  

Nature Preschool has honored the relationship between children and nature as the core of our mission since its founding.

According to Interim Director of Nature Preschool, Marilyn Tinari, “in both the preschool and kindergarten classes, the children are offered the gift of developing their emerging skills – in literacy, in learning, and socially and emotionally – through engagement with the natural environment on the grounds of the 340-acre Schuylkill Center.”  

Teacher Ann observes that “the majority of other schools have indoor programs where they need to take the student outdoors to learn or they take them on short field trips. What we’re doing here is essentially flipping that and our children will be spending all of their time outdoors this coming year.”  We incorporate all of the Pennsylvania standards into those activities so our children are growing physically and cognitively.

In terms of their sensory integration, playing and learning in nature is helping them develop fine and gross motor skills in a very organic way.  When they’re outside, children naturally encounter different types of surfaces as they’re hiking. At the Schuylkill Center, they navigate over logs, rocks and up and down hills; they adapt to changes in the environment, across different weather systems, and different seasonal experiences so their bodies are constantly engaged in vastly different ways.  

Our graduates of our state-licensed Kindergarten are raised to be stewards of the environment and how to find their place in it.  Ann observes, “they know how to engage with the outdoors without destruction, without conquest, without overpowering, and therefore their mark on the world is sustainable.” 

Our outdoor programming offers a rich and healthful alternative to traditional early childhood education, something that is essential now more than ever.

In the midst of natural and social crises, we have the opportunity to reboot and, reenvision our relationship with Nature and one another, starting with the education of our youngest citizens.

The Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool and Kindergarten will offer on-site programming outdoors for the 2020-2021 school year.  We will be following all required safety procedures as described in our COVID-19 plan (required by the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning, one of our regulatory agencies).  Masks will be required for children (over 2 years of age) and adults, cleaning and sanitizing, monitoring health (of children and staff)  and, as much as possible, social distancing.  Additionally, in order to reduce exposure, we will be working to create “pods,” small consistent groupings of 6 children with one teacher.

For more information about the Schuylkill Center’s Nature Preschool, contact Marilyn Tinari at marilyn@schuylkillcenter.org

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.