“City Nature Challenge” Nature Kit: At-Home Version

This weekend’s Nature Kit is all about the City Nature Challenge taking place right now, in Philadelphia and cities across the U.S. Every Saturday, Nature Kits are given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 10:00 am–12:00 pm. Nature Kits focus on a different theme each week and are meant to be done along our trails and given back once completed. If you can’t make it out to the Center to pick up a kit, make sure to check our blog each week for ways to get in some nature exploration at home.

What is the 2021 City Nature Challenge?

An international event that takes place every spring, this friendly competition between participating cities is a way to get people outside to document plants and wildlife in their cities. From April 30 – May 3, all pictures of wildlife uploaded to iNaturalist in the Philadelphia region will be documented for the purpose of this challenge, with the goal being to record the largest number of species in our city. To participate, you can simply head outside and start taking pictures of all the wildlife species you see! (Don’t forget about those plants!)

To participate using the FREE iNaturalist app:

  • Download iNaturalist from your app store or by visiting inaturalist.org.
  • Create an account.
  • Begin making observations! 
    • Tap the “+” sign in the bottom right corner. 
    • Select “take photo” and take your picture.
    • Tap the “what did you see” button and select the picture that looks the most similar to what you saw.
    • Hit the green check mark at the bottom.
  • If you do not wish to download the app, you may still participate by using the observation cards below to record any wildlife observations!

 

Optional Wildlife Observation Cards (print as many as you’d like):

—Rebecca Deegan, Environmental Educator

Hopping and Hoping: Toads on the road

Why did hundreds of toads cross the road on a rainy Wednesday night? 

As ever, to get to the other side; migration season is in full swing. 

Every year in late March and early April, the amphibians wake from hibernation to mate and lay eggs, and they begin the treacherous journey from Schuylkill Center forests to the Roxborough reservoirs and back. The most treacherous part? Crossing Port Royal Avenue, often during evening rush hour. The toads mostly move in dusk and darkness to avoid animal predators—but that method doesn’t work so well for cars.  

by Kevin Kissling

Sixteen years ago, a group of volunteers set out to give these toads safe passage across the road, by erecting barricades and redirecting traffic around Port Royal Avenue. The Schuylkill Center took over this program three years in and has been running it ever since, under the affectionate name “Toad Detour.” It’s the largest volunteer operation we have, and folks come back year after year to participate.

It’s a great opportunity to have fun, learn more about amphibians and save the future, so to speak,” says Paulina Le, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Schuylkill Center.Toad Detour makes people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.” They come for nights full of the camaraderie of shared purpose, and for quiet, excited observation of the toads’ epic undertaking. As volunteer Sandy Brubaker describes it, she “Really enjoy[s] hearing them first, usually leaves rustling on the side of the road, and then seeing that first one!” Longtime volunteer leader Ed Wickham agrees, saying “I never tire seeing and hearing the toads, frogs and toadlets every year. They are my first sign of spring like the cherry blossoms or snow geese.”

How do they know when toads may make an appearance? First the weather has to be warm enough—the ground temperature needs to be consistently around 55°F—and ideally a bit wet or rainy. But the most telling sign: the male toads will begin their mating call, a high pitched trill that sounds through the night. This is a cue for volunteers to take to the streets. 

A male and female toad in “amplexus,” or their mating position, as they cross the road. Photo by Kevin Kissling

On the evening of Wednesday, March 31, no fewer than 543 live toads crossed the road, assiduously counted by our volunteers. (A few pickerel frogs also showed up to the party.) Counting the toads helps us track the size and health of local toad populations—which in turn indicates the health of the entire habitat. The numbers also make an online tool created by a long-time volunteer, the “Toad Predictor,” more accurate. While we don’t yet submit the numbers formally to a database as you might for migrating birds or butterflies, documenting the toads supports the necessity for road barriers.

And this is only part one of the journey: The eggs laid in the reservoirs will hatch three to 12 days later, and once the tadpoles mature into toadlets (tiny toads the size of your fingernail), they cross the road once more to get back to their terrestrial home territory. “They have tough lives,” Wickham says. “Only a very small percent of toads born become adults. To have a big female toad survive against all odds then be killed by a car is tragic.” So he has one final plea for you: “Please volunteer. Please volunteer often. Volunteers that show up many times a year every year are so valuable. They rescue more toads than anyone else.”

Sometimes volunteers use buckets to more effectively and safely transport toads across the street, and sometimes they use them to protect toads hopping their way over outside of the barrier zone. Photo by Colleen DiCola

As more and more nature centers throughout the country take up similar toad and amphibian detour operations, some also engineer special wildlife bridges and tunnels. As Paulina says, “Many folks are adapting the principle of living with the environment, not against it.” The toads, after all, “have been here longer than humans have”—and they’re certainly not going to let a road get in their way. 

 

—Emily Sorensen

 

 

Further resources:

Sign up to be a Toad Detour volunteer

Check out our Facebook Group 

What does the toad say? By Clare Morgan 

Watch Doug Wechsler’s Thursday Night L!VE talk on the life of a toad

Read a review of Wechsler’s book The Hidden Life of a Toad (available in our Nature Gift Shop)

Purchase the Toad Detour DVD

MLK Day of Service — Projects from Home

Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality. In his honor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is observed on the third Monday in January. On what is termed “a day on, not off,” we are encouraged to engage in volunteer service to our community. While we can’t meet in person this year, we know that you don’t have to go far to make a difference. You’re invited to join us at 10 am on Monday, January 18 over Zoom to connect with community and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. before setting off on your own. More info and register here

At that meeting, we’ll answer any questions you might have and  encourage you to complete one of the following service projects to help your neighbors, your community, wildlife, and the environment.

Suggested Projects include:

Help the environment

  • Pick Up Litter: Grab a bag and a pair of gloves and set out to beautify your neighborhood or a nearby park, one piece of litter at a time. Try to fill at least one bag of trash.
    • While you’re doing this, reflect on the trash you create and how you might be able to minimize it. Find some suggestions here and here.
  • Write to a Representative: Let your representatives in the House and Senate know how important the health of the environment is to you by writing them a letter urging them to support climate change legislation, or—for younger children—drawing a picture of your favorite nature spot.

Help your community

  • Donate food to a community fridge: Community fridges have popped up across the city since the start of the pandemic. They provide fresh food for those in need.
    • Find a fridge in your area to donate food or donate money. Consider swinging by first to see what’s needed, and then come back with what you can supply.
    • Read more about community fridges here and find Philadelphia locations here.  

Help wildlife

  • Make Window Decals to Prevent Bird Strikes: Window collisions are a leading cause of death in bird populations. Birds fly into windows because the glass reflects the environment around it and therefore, birds do not see it as a barrier. Window decals can help to prevent this. Create some of your own window decals using the recipe below. Make sure to cover the entire window (no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally) when putting them up.
    • Ingredients: 2 tablespoons white glue, 2 drops of dish soap, paintbrush, plastic page protectors or wax paper, food coloring (optional), cookie cutters (optional)
    • Directions:
      • Mix glue, dish soap, and food coloring together in a bowl.
      • Use a paintbrush to paint designs on a plastic page protector or wax paper. If you have one, you can also lay down a cookie cutter and paint inside of that. The number of designs needed will depend on how many windows you have and the size of them.
      • The painted layer should be thick enough that there are no gaps or holes but not too thick or else it won’t dry.
      • Let sit overnight.
      • Peel the decals off and stick to windows in your house, making sure to cover the entire window so that there are no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally.
    • For more details and pictures, visit: https://teachingmama.org/diy-window-clings/
  • For more ideas, check out our article 20 Wonderful Ways to Help Nature.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to tag us @schuylkillcenter in a picture of the MLK project you completed using the #MLKDay!

TreeVitalizing Our Forests

By Drew Rinaldi Subits, Land Stewardship Coordinator

You may have recently noticed a large clearing across the trail from Pine Grove, which has been steadily cleared and then mowed and maintained throughout the Spring and Summer months. If you have been there more recently, you may have noticed fencing and a young grove of trees and shrubs.

This newest planting effort was possible through the collaboration of our Land and Facilities team, a state-funded tree planting grant initiative from TreeVitalize, and a RJ Carbone, a local young man looking to complete his Eagle Scout project.

For the past five years, the Schuylkill Center has been the recipient of one these TreeVitalize grants which is intended to promote and develop sustainable urban forestry programs within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  We have planting sites all over the property, typically marked by black plastic deer fencing, that helps protect the young, relatively fragile trees.  The Land and Facilities team was certainly excited for this particular location as it is one of the most visible and popular sites on the property, just down the trail from the Hagy’s Mill parking lot and across from the well-known Pine Grove.  

Previously this planting site had been a grove of the equally infamous Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia elata), one of the more common, pesky, and aggressive invasive tree stands in our region.  These ecosystem dominators thrive by using rhizome root structures which means the roots continually spread and rapidly create new tree shoots underground in all directions.  In areas such as this, they quickly become the only species left standing, and totally outgrow, outcompete, and out-resource all other species, especially eco-precious natives.

These tree planting efforts came together on a beautiful September morning when Boy Scout Troop 177 of Wyndmoor, PA supported RJ in completing his Eagle Scout project.  There were a total of 51 people throughout the day, logging a total of 221 volunteer hours, to plant and mulch 100 native trees and 40 shrubs.  The team also constructed a deer fence around the perimeter of the entire planting site to give the young trees a fighting chance in this disrupted urban forest environment.

The planting was a great success, thanks to the efforts of all those involved, the Land and Facilities team, RJ’s planning, execution, and general leadership of a large group of eager helpers from Troop 177, and of course the crucial financial support of the TreeVitalize program.  It is these continued efforts that will make the difference and go a long way to ensure the slow and steady reforestation and next generation of forest canopy and native local ecosystems.  Many thanks to all involved, and here’s to the future forest!

 

Wildlife Clinic April update

Virtual happy hour for Wildlife Clinic staff and volunteers to stay in touch during the lockdown.

Virtual happy hour for Wildlife Clinic staff and volunteers to stay in touch during the lockdown.

While human society undergoes rapid changes and we all make necessary adjustments to our daily routines, local wildlife have been going about their usual spring activities of breeding and nesting. The important work of the Wildlife Clinic must go on and our staff are adapting to our new “normal” as best we can under the challenging current circumstances. 

“We are still coming in everyday to not only provide treatment for the animals that we already had in care when this all started, but we are also taking in more injured wildlife daily,” says rehab assistant Liz Ellmann. 

We are answering calls on our 24-hour wildlife hotline, and we are grateful for everyone that calls in looking for help with injured animals.

It’s true that the wildlife hotline has been ringing non-stop with regular calls about injured and orphaned wildlife, and staff have been doing everything they can to provide accurate and timely responses. We have seen some noticeable changes in the demographics of calls we have received lately; for example, we’ve gotten more than the usual number of reports of nests of squirrels and mice in cars that are sitting idle in driveways. At the same time, the number of baby opossums brought to the clinic that have been orphaned from mothers being struck by vehicles has gone down significantly from previous years since there are fewer cars on the roads as people work more from home.

With social distancing rules in place, the Wildlife Clinic has had to ask our dedicated volunteers to stay home, and only our staff members have been coming in to care for our patients. 

The clinic has had to significantly reduce the number of patients we can accept to ensure we are providing the highest quality of care for as many animals as we can.

We are staying in touch with our volunteers and supporters through social media and online meetings, because we know how much their work at the clinic means to our volunteers- they miss the feeling of contribution and their important connections with the animals.

“We understand that this is hard for everyone, and I personally want to thank everyone that has been so understanding and so willing to do whatever it takes to make sure all the injured and orphaned wildlife get the chance that they deserve.” Liz continued. Assistant director Chris Strub adds, “We have been so grateful for finders who can help us reunite mothers with their babies.  Not only does that help us reduce our numbers so that we can focus on animals who are truly in need, but mother animals know how to raise their babies best, so reuniting is always the first and best option for most young animals.”

The clinic is continuing to look forward, always keeping in mind that spring baby season has only just begun and we have several more months of increased intakes of baby birds and mammals to come. Like many organizations, we are turning to online interactions to substitute in-person activities. While we clearly can’t feed baby squirrels through an online meeting platform, we are producing virtual teaching modules and orientations for volunteers so that when we are given the go-ahead to reopen, we will have an eager crew of helpers ready and able to take on the important tasks of feeding many hungry little mouths.

 As daily life returns to normal, whatever and whenever that may be, one thing will always stay the same- there will be injured, orphaned, and sick wildlife that need our help. And with the continued support of our community, dedicated volunteers, and incredible staff, the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center will be there to provide professional, life-saving care to those in need.