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Nature in the Moment

  • Posted on 10/17/2013 09:04 by Dennis Miranda

    What is the most common woodpecker in New Jersey? After the Downy Woodpecker, the second ranked species would have been less certain. Except in recent decades, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has seen its population explode since I was born in 1961. That is when the Red-bellied Woodpecker was confined to Cape May County now, you can see them everywhere from the northernmost corner of the State, Sussex County to Cape May County.  So, in half a century, they have marched the length of the State and today are making inroads in New England.  But they are not the only ones!

  • Posted on 10/11/2013 08:54 by Dennis Miranda

    Have you seen a Monarch Butterfly this summer? Few have. The iconic butterfly and the only one in North America that migrates to the warmer climes of Mexico has been missing, not just here, but literally everywhere! What is going on?

    The cooler than normal spring combined with the months of above normal rain cannot explain their disappearance since they winter in the mountains of Mexico. And while their wintering grounds; high elevation forests of Durango State of Mexico are always under threat, their sudden disappearance of vast areas of North America is not easily answered.

  • Posted on 09/04/2013 09:28 by Dennis Miranda

    Tseet, tseet, tseet”!  A Blackpoll Warbler called his high-pitched song from the treetops above the Four Mills Barn Preserve this May during the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Birdathon. The 5-inch bird, heavily streaked in black and white, rapidly flew from branch to branch in search of food.  This long range flyer migrates between the Caribbean and the northern reaches of United States.  Migrating and nesting warblers benefit Pennsylvania forests by eating large quantities of budworms and insect pests.

  • Posted on 08/14/2013 10:01 by Dennis Miranda

    Eastern Tiger SwallowtailAlighting on a Swamp Milkweed, the Tiger Swallowtail was oblivious to our presence. Nectaring on the tiny pink blooms was its main objective. Soon another Tiger Swallowtail closed in and before you know it, both Tiger Swallowtails were ‘air’ wrestling in a flighty upward spiral over who was going to own that Swamp Milkweed.  During this tussle, a Silver Spotted Skipper occupied the unattended Swamp Milkweed; such is the life cycle of butterflies and the flowers that bloom in early August. Playing out nature’s cycle is the success story of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Crossways Preserve.  

  • Posted on 07/22/2013 09:35 by Dennis Miranda

    In the 57 years since the founding of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, over 1200 hundred acres have been preserved as wildlife habitat. These hardwood forests, wetlands, waterways, pastoral lands and farms have helped create a mosaic of open space that not only allow for wildlife habitat to survive but contribute greatly to the quality of life of the residents and businesses that call the Wissahickon Valley home. Countless hundreds of additional acres have also been preserved such at Fort Washington State Park, Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve and Prophecy Creek Park among others.

    Answering the question of how wildlife is doing in our preserves in 2013 is important to help shape our understanding of how to best manage the lands for nature. The WVWA initiated a series of studies to learn how our fauna and flora are surviving. The first study was of the breeding birds.  Since all birds are territorial and the males guard their territories, once you recognize their song and plumage, identifying them is relatively easy. They are also reliable since they remain close to their nest until the young are old enough to fly. Surveys were conducted at the 55 acre Four Mills Reserve in Upper Dublin, the 109 acre Willow Lake Preserve in Whitemarsh Township, the 68 acre Camp Woods and the 58 acre Armentrout Preserve, both in Whitpain Townships The results of the first WVWA Breeding Bird Survey are encouraging!

  • Posted on 07/01/2013 15:37 by Dennis Miranda

    The dog days of summer are almost here! The current heat wave of 90 degree weather may be typical of the season, but there is another phenomenon that is less known that takes advantage of the summer heat, the blooming flowers native to our region. The natural order that has evolved for over millennia is unfolding now.  For example, the breeding season for our amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds are mostly finished with family groups wandering in our woodlands, wetlands and parks.

    Now comes the real blooming season!  Forget the spring gardening that you did. That is mostly a creature of humans. Nature’s order is altogether different.  Sneezeweed, Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed, Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed and other beneficial ‘weeds’ are the true perennials that are native to the region and grow in the mid to late summer period. Coinciding with this growing season is the pinnacle of the butterfly activity. The greatest occurrence of butterfly species is busily taking advantage of the blooming season.

  • Posted on 06/04/2013 18:05 by Dennis Miranda

    Somewhere in the Wissahickon Creek Watershed, a pair of Bald Eagles are nesting and raising two young. Occasionally, their long silhouette is captured by the sun’s rays as they glide silently over the creek by the Four Mills Barn. The fact that our National Symbol can be breeding within the shadows of the fifth largest city in the United States is a testimony to the federal Endangered Species Act.  Celebrating its 40 anniversary since its passage, it is very difficult to imagine that the Bald Eagle could have survived without it!

  • Posted on 05/29/2013 21:31 by Dennis Miranda

    Four Mills Nature ReserveIn the month of May, the 55-acre nature sanctuary that is the Four Mills Nature Reserve is getting some much needed attention. Scientists with the Morris Arboretum pored over the lush of plants found in our floodplain forest. Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association staff is conducting a breeding bird survey to determine how many species of nesting birds call this area home.  Stewardship planted hundreds of understory native shrubs, trees and flowers to increase the diversity of species that is part of this ecosystem.

  • Posted on 05/15/2013 14:10 by Dennis Miranda

    At 6:00 AM the Staccato song of a Wilson’s Warbler erupted as I stepped out of the car at the Four Mills Barn.  Within seconds a buzzy, “zur,zur,zurree” was blurted from a Black-throated Blue Warbler just beyond the gurgling Wissahickon Creek. I smiled, knowing this was going to be a special day!

    This annual ritual is the 19th Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Birdathon which took place on Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, 2013. The 62 square mile watershed located in southeast Montgomery County and the City of Philadelphia was the center of great avian activity. The event attracted birding teams from throughout the region to count the number of species of birds that are seen or heard. Each team of four to eight birdwatchers visited the parks, preserves and protected open space in the region counting the birds and gained pledges in a friendly competition.

  • Posted on 04/30/2013 15:10 by Dennis Miranda

    On Saturday, April 27, volunteers from First Niagara Bank collected man-made refuse from the shores of the Wissahickon Creek amid the roar of traffic from Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Further down the Creek, employees of Dow Chemical and Russell Roofing collected trash from both sides of the Wissahickon as it flows through Fort Washington State Park.  They were some of the hundreds of volunteers who participated in the 43rd annual Creek Clean Up sponsored by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and the Friends of the Wissahickon.  During a picnic lunch in Fort Washington State Park the proud volunteers exchanged war stories in the name of Earth Day.

  • Posted on 04/17/2013 12:55 by Dennis MIranda

    Canada Serviceberry. Virginia Sweetspire. Possumhaw Viburnum.  Virginia Rose. Highbush Cranberry. What do they have in common?  They are all Critically Imperiled in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program PNHP. Their ranking, S1, translates their occurrence to five or less locations in the entire Commonwealth.  According to the same database, Flame Azalea, an elegant shrub with the largest flower of any azalea, is already extirpated. But not to worry, these species are all globally secure according to the same database, which means that they are located in sufficient numbers in other states that more than offset their disappearing act in the Quaker State.

  • Posted on 04/03/2013 14:00 by Dennis Miranda

    One winter day at the Four Mills Reserve, I was stumbling between the slippery stones, muddy ground and remnant snow, when a clump of swordlike blades of grass peered amid the winter terrain, Carex pennsylvanica, Pennsylvania Sedge. Low key and pedestrian, this tough resilient grass almost never dries up in winter, withstands drought, flourishes in summer and you never have to mow it! The Eurpoean lawn grass species we commonly water, fertilize and worship, are not native to our flora, hence the special treatment they need just to be green!

  • Posted on 03/13/2013 15:55 by Dennis Miranda

    Nature is on the move! Yellow rumped Warblers, Pine Warblers, Phoebe and Woodcocks are leaving the Florida panhandle and heading north. Trees are budding throughout the southern portion of South Carolina and temperatures are flirting with 60 degrees. Yet, a whole range of plants found in the depths of our forest, meadows and wetlands are poised to sprout and go through their entire life cycle before our trees unfurl their first leaves!

  • Posted on 02/19/2013 14:05 by Dennis Miranda

    “Teakettle! Teakettle! Teakettle!”, announced a Carolina Wren flitting on a bare branch of the Arrowwood Viburnum adjacent to the WVWA parking lot. The midday sun was unusually warm for February 15 but inviting!  Lured by the balmy weather I decided to explore the Wissahickon Creek during my lunch time.