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Houston Meadow

Houston Meadow
Houston Meadow

My naturalist training group went to the Houston Meadow (also called Cathedral Meadow). The meadow is near Houston Playground between Cathedral Road and Bell’s Mill Road in the Andorra section of the city.

The land in this section of the city is upland forest and riverine forest with natural patches of meadows where trees fall and open the forest canopy.

The land that Philadelphia is in, is a patchwork of forests, meadows and wetlands. And more survives then most people think and less than what would be ideal.

Indigo Dogbane Beetle on Dogbane
Indigo Dogbane Beetle on Dogbane

To find this natural meadow in the city of Philadelphia was a shock and a joy. We spotted a rare beetle, the Indigo Dogbane Beetle on Dogbane. The beetle is rare because the Dogbane plant is rare. And the beetle feeds on no other plant.

American Kestrel Box
American Kestrel Box

A nesting Box for an American Kestrel was placed in the meadow. This raptor needs open areas such as meadows to hunt in. I suspect if a Kestrel is nesting there that the meadow provides plenty of small mammals and insects to feed its young. If we had seen a Kestrel it would have been the perfect way to cap off the visit.

Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)
Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) - North American native

The meadow had many native grasses, flowers, native fruits and nuts. And Butterflies and Moths. Including Eastern Tent Caterpillar in the nearby forest, Silver Spotted Skipper, Cabbage White and Eastern Swallowtails in the Meadow. The butterflies certainly need the Meadow to survive and reproduce.

Houston Meadow has been a natural meadow for several hundred years. The Fairmount Park Commission removed many invasive and alien tree, shrub and plant species when it cleared and renovated the meadow this past spring. The meadow was expanded from about 15 acres to 47 acres. Good move. The species that require sunlight and open areas would not be able to survive in a shaded forest. This means no American Kestrels nesting in the city and less butterflies.

Baptistia tinctoria
Baptistia tinctoria

Visiting Houston Meadow is a great nature-centered “Thing to do in Philadelphia”.

I really look forward to leading groups and showing residents and visitors the natural wonders that lie within the city limits.  I look forward to the day Philadelphia is visited not just for the historic human-centered places, but also for the fascinating natural places.

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Wissahickon Valley Park

Forbidden Drive, Wissahickon Valley Park
Forbidden Drive, Wissahickon Valley Park

I started my volunteer naturalist training, yesterday. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to learn about the land that I live in. Here in Philadelphia, in school, we don’t extensively study the land that we live in. We make sure our kids learn about Shakespeare and the Ancient Greeks, but not the ground beneath their feet. This I am sure, is because of our arrogance.

Sunday, we learned about the geology of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. We traveled to Wissahickon Valley Park, in the far northwest section of the city. The valley is about 1 billion years old.

In the lush brilliant spring green of the forest, large metamorphic rock outcroppings push up through the soil all over this part of Philadelphia. This is the Piedmont Region of Philadelphia, 300-400 feet above sea level.  This hilly forest is the highest point in Philadelphia, pushing into the sky. It reaches far higher than the center of the city which is a mere 20-30 feet above sea level.

The talk on the region’s geology was fascinating, but I was distracted by the birds that visited the feeders behind the Park’s treehouse. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy or Downy Woodpeckers, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Robins landed on a tall Black Walnut tree.

Bracket fungi
Bracket fungi

Monday, my naturalist training continues.

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Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary

Skunk Cabbage
Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary sign
Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary sign
Saturday, 28 March 2010 – Jenkintown, PA

Weather: 7:30 am – cool, clear, sunny. Location: Crosswicks Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.

Purpose: bird walk and cleanup.

Crosswicks Habitat

Habitat: Piedmont upland woodland of 13 mostly wooded acres with several small streams. The sanctuary is a small second or even third-growth woodland. The canopy trees are tall, many over 150 feet at least. These are so thin, they can’t be that old.

But they are thin trees. It seems trees shoot up in height and then the rest of their long lives concentrate on gaining girth. And the trunks widen until they are massive giants that humans can barely wrap their arms around.

Understory trees are beginning to leaf out. The Red Maple has a fuzzy head of red flowers. The Spice Bush is full of yellow-green flowers and small leaves are sprouting on shrubs. It is the hostplant of the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.
flowers_skunk cabbage
Skunk cabbage about to bloom. 

The woods are criss-crossed by several streams. The streams run clear and swiftly in the cool morning air.

The woodland was wet and in some places, muddy. At least after all the rain and snow we have had over the winter. From January through March 25th, the Philadelphia had 12.78 inches of precipitation. That is 4.84 inches more than normal.

skunk cabbage
Skunk Cabbage at Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary

Skunk Cabbage is beginning to bloom.

Birds: On our bird walk we saw and heard: Golden-crowned kinglet-2, White-breasted Nuthatch -2, Red-bellied Woodpecker-1, Crow-1, Bluejay-1, Flicker-1, Turkey Vulture-1, White-Throated Sparrow-1, Starling-1 and House Sparrow-1.

We watched a Turkey Vulture rise up and fly in tight, smooth circles high above the tree canopy. It must have been feeding on carrion or even creating a nest. I know they nest early, at least by April.

Crosswicks Wildlife Sanctuary sign. 

 

Lesser Celandine covers the woodland floor in spots. It is an invasive species hard to eradicate in Delaware Valley forests.

flowers_Lesser Celandine
Flowers of the Lesser Celandine

Fresh green moss is alive and well on a rotting log.

Moss on a log
Moss on a log

 

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