At our most recent free lunch & learn at the Rushton Conservation Center, Meagan Hopkins-Doerr provided a wealth of useful information about the invasive and destructive Spotted Lanternfly (SLF). Meagan is Coordinator for the Master Gardeners of Chester County and Master Watershed Stewards of Chester & Delaware Counties, and she travels the area providing informative sessions like this one on a variety of topics.
SLF is an invasive species that was discovered in Berks County back in 2014. With few natural predators, it has spread and threatens the Pennsylvania economy. It is critical to manage this pest now. SLF was also introduced in South Korea, which is similar in size to Pennsylvania.
So, here are some of the highlights of actions you can take now:
Destroy the Eggs
The SLF adults have now died from the cold, but have left behind their egg masses. Here’s a photo of what they look like.
Females will lay eggs on virtually any outdoor surface. In addition to trees you may find them on:
- Fence posts
- Lawn furniture
- Outdoor seating cushions
- Exterior walls (siding, brick, stone)
- Flower boxes
- Bird feeders
Careful inspection of your property for the egg masses is an important step in controlling the spread of the SLF. Each egg mass can contain, on average, 37 eggs. Therefore it’s important to destroy any you see. When you see one, here’s what you do:
- Scrape the egg mass into a jar or similar container
- Soak the eggs in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
- Dispose of the container
You can also smash the egg masses, or burn them if you have a fire pit.
Limit the Spread
Willistown Conservation Trust’s program area is within the quarantine zone. At all stages of growth, SLF are very efficient hitchhikers. There are some things you can do to limit the spread of the SLF:
- Check your car (wheel wells, grille) and any trailers and remove all SLF before departing. This is important ESPECIALLY before driving out of the quarantine zone.
- Don’t park under infested trees
- Do not transport firewood
- Inspect any material stored outdoors before transporting it elsewhere
Remove Tree of Heaven
If you use landscapers or arborists, ask if they have received an SLF permit from the PA Department of Agriculture. For more information about the permit visit: https://extension.psu.edu/does-your-business-need-a-spotted-lanternfly-permit
Though the SLF will feed on other plants, the Tree of Heaven is one of its preferred hosts. If you have Tree of Heaven, it is important to remove them. You MUST use an appropriate herbicide to treat the tree before cutting it down or it will multiply.
Get Ready for Hatching
Banding. When the SLF eggs hatch in the spring, the nymphs will begin to forage. By banding trees they prefer, you can help to capture them. Bands should be checked regularly and replaced as needed. Excluder cages should be used to keep other animals away from the bands. Read more about use of traps here: https://extension.psu.edu/using-traps-for-spotted-lanternfly-management
Insecticides. If you have an infestation, it may be necessary to use insecticides. There are a variety of systemic and contact insecticides with varying degrees of efficacy against the SLF. Always read and follow the label before applying any insecticide. Additional information can be found here: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-management-and-pesticide-safety
See the Penn State Extension website for instructions on how to band trees and for selection and use of insecticides.
Report. Report. Report.
Researchers need data. By reporting sightings of SLF you will help researchers understand how the SLF are moving. To report SLF you can go online to extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly or call 1-888-4BADFLY.
You can download a variety of helpful information at the PSU Extension website. The Trust also has some print materials left over from the lunch & learn. You’re welcome to stop by our office and pick up some while supplies last. We also have a small supply of scraper cards, which also have helpful information on them including the number to call to report SLF.
Watch for more informative lunch & learns coming up.
The map of permanently conserved land in the Willistown area just got a little greener, thanks to Lawrie Harris. Lawrie donated a Legacy Conservation Easement to the Trust on November 11, 2019, protecting her 12.7 acres on Twinbrook Road from development forever. Located on Twinbrook Road in Easttown Township, in what is known as the Leopard Tract, the gently sloping site is primarily wooded and features a small tributary to Crum Creek named Grubb Mill Run. Several acres of open meadow area surrounds Lawrie’s home and garage, the only structures on the property.
The easement will limit further subdivision of the property and will protect its natural features that serve as important wildlife habitat, support the surrounding ecosystem and contribute to scenic views along Twinbrook Road. The easement defines most of the property as Sensitive Riparian Area, which include wetlands, hydric soils and floodplain, and limits the amount of disturbance allowed in these areas.
Lawrie shares her late husband Jay’s passion for the environment, and wants to conserve the land to ensure it will stay just as it is today, so both people and wildlife can enjoy it forever. Her decision to donate the easement was prompted, in part, by neighbors Kate and Ben Etherington’s recent decision to do the same. We are grateful to Lawrie for her foresight and generosity.
“I want to be absolutely certain that future owners will keep this property intact and take care of the stream and woodland. We don’t have many places like this left and we need to preserve them,” said Lawrie. “And the process of working with the Trust has been easy and enjoyable. Willistown Conservation Trust has a 40-year legacy of protecting land in our area.”
When you look at a the Trust’s protected lands map, you see a mosaic of open space comprising preserved parcels of all sizes – from hundreds of acres to just a few. And in an era when conserving habitat, protecting the quality of our water supply, and offsetting the impact of human activity is so vital, every acre counts.
We developed Legacy Easements, like the one that protects Lawrie’s land, specifically so owners of smaller parcels of land could protect their land in perpetuity. Legacy Easements are generally less complicated than traditional ones and can be tailored to protect features of an owner’s property that are personally and/or environmentally significant.
Thank you Lawrie, another hero of our countryside!
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Ode to a Bander’s Autumnal World by Blake Goll
As the ardent air of autumn eclipses the weary haze of summer’s last breath,
The wind whispers to the wild wings that it is time.
Oh how the northern trees must weep as they somberly settle into winter solitude
And yearn for the intimate avian romance that enchants their days of green.
By most of mankind, the birds’ desperate southern voyage goes unseen.
But to the fortunate few, like you and me, this is the splendor we have feverishly awaited!
As if a million precious gems of a giant royal chest were catapulted south,
We scramble frantically to touch as many as we can before they continue spilling past,
Each jewel in hand more exquisite and exciting than the last.
Like secretive spiders faithfully tending their dewy webs by dawn’s dim light,
We raise our mist nets in hopes of gently snaring a few denizens of the sky;
A small silver ring upon the ankle, a reverent study of intricate feathers, then the rapturous release that leaves us breathless in awe,
Each lovely feathered captive feeds our hunger to understand
The storied lives of the heavenly birds with whom we share the land.
Fall songbird banding is well underway, and the season is off to a spectacular start. We’ve had a couple 80-bird days, largely composed of gregarious Gray Catbirds with a smattering of thrushes, sparrows and wood warblers mixed into the palette. Some of our handsome migrants are pictured below:
The highlight so far this fall was our first foreign banded songbird (or passerine) in 6 years: an adult female American Redstart! According to banding records from the Bird Banding Lab, she was originally banded in South Carolina last year on August 24th as a young bird hatched that year. That August, this redstart may have been getting a headstart on her first epic voyage to her wintering grounds in Central or South America. Alternatively, she could have hatched in South Carolina. Either way, she must have spent her first breeding season this year in Pennsylvania or points north. If she does indeed hail from South Carolina, she must have decided she didn’t want to be a southerner this year! As a neo-tropical migrant not bound to the earth, she has the liberty of these kinds of choices.
Even though information-rich foreign recaptures like these are rare, bird banding is important for understanding bird populations and how they change from year to year. Click here to learn more about the importance of our bird banding efforts in our spread in County Lines Magazine: “Meet The Birds of Rushton; Live the Banded Life”.
Bring a friend or the family and stop by the bird banding station at Rushton Farm tomorrow, September 19, anytime between the operating hours of 6 am and 11am to observe the fascinating science of bird banding and see gorgeous migrant birds up close. These lovely creatures depend on ecologically healthy places like Rushton to fuel up and rest on their arduous journeys south.
We’re also open to the public every Tuesday and Thursday until the first week of November. Nets are open from 6am-11am when it’s not raining. Early bird gets the worm.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,
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The height of summer is upon us. Amidst the heavy haze the happy green hum of life reverberates throughout the fields, meadows and forest. Wildflowers, at their peak under the solar spotlight, are tended by busy bumblebees, honeybees, tiger swallowtails, spangled fritillaries and red admirals. Hummingbirds join the dance as they flit about like garden sprites. Cicadas lend an appropriately incessant voice to the heat; they are the chorus of summer’s daytime song. The lazy, undulating “per-chik-oree” call of the sweet goldfinches and the begging calls of their young signal the close of the avian nesting season.
That’s right! Acorns are dropping, blackbirds are flocking and fall songbird migration is just around the corner. In fact, beginning in September the Rushton bird banding station will be open Tuesday and Thursday mornings for public visitation between the hours of sunrise and 11am. Fall migration extends through the first week of November.
The Rushton banding crew just packed it in for the summer MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) season. The final week in July marked the last of the eight summer banding sessions required each year for this banding project, the aim of which is to understand the breeding birds of Rushton and how their population changes from year to year. This year was our fifth MAPS year and it turned out to be the best! We processed 249 birds —7 more birds than our 2011 record of 242. In each of the three years in between, we didn’t make it to 200 birds.
We couldn’t have been more thrilled with this season’s catch. All summer long the forest rang with abundant, ethereal songs of Wood Thrush and Veery, and baby birds abounded! Breeding species included Ovenbird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush, Carolina Wren, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Veery and Common Yellowthroat to name a few. Below are some mug shots:
The Gray Catbird—named for it’s mewing call— always makes up the bulk of our catch, so we call it our “bread and butter” bird. Without it, sometimes we feel we’d be “out of business”!
It’s easy to take this common backyard bird for granted, but it is actually quite a fascinating little bird. Catbirds are a widespread species nesting in 46 of the lower 48 states as well as southern Canada. Some winter in the Gulf Coast and Florida with others traveling farther south to Mexico, the Carribean and Central America where they share the forest with jaguars, toucans and pit viper snakes! The Catbird is one of the few well-traveled birds that will nest in a shrub in your yard rather than requiring a remote woodland like many other neotropical migrants that just pass through.
Catbirds are also one of the few species that can learn to recognize and eject speckled brown cowbird eggs from their nest of beautiful turquoise eggs. The Brown-headed Cowbird is a parasitic species that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, thus avoiding all parental care! It can be a real problem for the nesting success of some already threatened species like Wood Thrush (65% population decline since 1968) that don’t recognize and eject cowbird eggs. Cowbird babies often out-compete the thrush chicks. This is one of the reasons why unfragmented expanses of forest are so important; deep woods give Wood Thrush a bigger buffer zone against shady cowbirds that prefer edge habitat.
Studies have shown about a 60 percent annual survival rate for catbirds, but if they do survive the winter and migration, chances are the same wily catbird will return to your yard. (Many songbirds exhibit this site fidelity). The oldest catbird was almost 18 years old, banded as a chick in Maryland and recaptured that many years later by bird banders in New Jersey!
During MAPS this summer we were surprised to recapture one of our banded Gray Catbirds that was originally banded by us in 2010 as an after-hatching-year bird, meaning it was at least in its second year back then. That means this bird is at least 7 years old now! It’s marvelous to think that this migrant has been so successful and made it back to Rushton Woods every summer. This is especially significant to us because most of Rushton’s Gray Catbirds are young and inexperienced. Hopefully, he’s teaching ’em a thing or two!
If you recall, this spring was very cold and long. All of the trees and flowers were running a couple weeks late, and allergy season lasted longer as well. This weird weather did not make for an exceptional spring migration. We banded 344 birds of 49 species (compared to 449 birds the previous spring).
Interestingly, we actually still had migrants, like a Gray-cheeked Thrush, roaming the woods of Rushton during the first week of MAPS banding at the end of May when Rushton’s breeders were kicking off their nesting season. The Gray-cheeked Thrush is a reclusive bird that nests in dense stands of spruce and balsalm fir in cool boreal forests of Canada (the nursery of an estimated 3 billion North American songbirds of over 300 species). As one of the most northern nesting species that visits Rushton during migration, we shook our heads in awe thinking about the many miles the thrush had yet to go. Click here to learn more about the importance of and threats facing our boreal songbird nursery.
Anyway, not all of our birds were gray this spring. Even though overall numbers were slightly down, the species diversity was satisfying and some species had increased. Orioles, including Baltimore and Orchard, were more abundant this year than ever before—a tribute to the flourishing farm edge habitat that orioles love. Such enticing border trees may not have been spared on a typical large-scale, conventional farm.
An American Woodcock—also grateful for the respect of our sustainable farm on the surrounding thicket habitat— graced our nets this spring with its alien eyes, prehensile bill and giant shorebird feet!
Some other favorites of this spring’s catch included a pair of no-neck, aerodynamic, bug-gulping Barn Swallows and a handful of spectacularly handsome Blue-winged Warblers, a species that we haven’t caught since 2010. In fact, we think we might have had some Blue-winged Warblers nesting at Rushton this year because we heard their “bee-buzz” song well into June. A bird of old fields and shrublands, it should find a happy home in Rushton. Another bird with similar nesting habitat requirements, the Prairie Warbler, was also heard singing off and on from the fields this spring and summer, possibly indicating nest activity. These could be two new breeding species for Rushton; it’s a good neighborhood and the word is getting out!
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were omnipresent this spring, and quite a few of the little things ended up in our nets. At only 5-7 grams, they can construct their nests with delicate materials that hummingbirds use, like spiderwebs and lichen.
A little disconcerting was the absence of a wood warbler that is usually one of Rushton’s most common warblers during migration: the Black -throated Blue Warbler. We normally band 10 of these each season, but only one checked into the station this spring. Could this indicate a problem like habitat loss or a weather event on the wintering grounds in the Carribean?
We couldn’t have known what a productive summer this would be by simply looking at the results of this year’s sub-par spring banding season. We might have had a better idea if we’d known about habitat conditions for our birds where they overwintered. Studies of migratory connectivity are now illuminating the importance of the wintering or nonbreeding grounds in determining the success and behavior of a bird on its breeding grounds.
For example, if a female bird overwinters in poor habitat, she may be underweight and have to delay migration. Delayed migration means getting to the breeding grounds after all the best males are taken (with the best territories). Now left with the dregs, she may have a low- success breeding season or be forced to seek extra-mate copulations with higher quality males to make up for her losses.
Migratory connectivity is the annual movement of birds between summer and winter locations, including stopover sites—those habitats of plentiful food and shelter that are critical for resting and refueling. Knowing what’s going on in the entire year in the life of a bird is fundamental to being able to understand and protect it in the long-run. For this reason many scientists are now combining traditional banding with modern tracking technology like satellite transmitters and light-level geolocators in order to better understand avian movements.
This combined approach has recently revealed that our backyard catbirds— the mid-Atlantic and New England breeders—are Catbirds of the Carribean! They also may overwinter in Florida, whereas the Midwest population overwinters in Central America.
The strength of migratory connectivity varies from species to species, which has important conservation implications. For example, a species exhibiting strong migratory connectivity means most of the population may overwinter in one small area rather than spreading out though a larger range. These species may be more susceptible to climate change or habitat loss.
Take a virtual walk in the woods with an ornithologist in New Hampshire to learn about the migratory connectivity of a small songbird that also breeds in the woods of Rushton; click here to watch the 3- minute video by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center of the recapture of an Ovenbird with a GPS tag! GPS tags have only recently become lightweight enough to be used on small songbirds. They have more accuracy than geolocators because they collect data from satellites rather than measuring light levels to estimate location.
Radio transmitter tags are also emerging on the cutting edge of wildlife tracking because they are lightweight and relatively inexpensive compared to GPS. The animal does not have to be recaptured to retrieve the location data; it just needs to pass by a receiving tower. This spring 36 Gray-cheeked Thrushes were tagged with radio transmitters in Colombia, many of which were soon detected by towers in North America! One awe-inspiring individual flew 2,019 miles from Colombia to Indiana in 3.3 days, which means it flew 3 days straight with only an hour or two of rest! Click here to see the map of this astounding feat.
Technology, bird banding and passionate field scientists are unraveling the mysteries of migratory connectivity, thus making conservation of our declining feathered Earthlings that much more tangible. Could such technology be coming to a banding station near you in the future?
If you can’t wait to get out to Rushton to see the bird banding, watch this video to get up-close looks at beautiful songbirds at a banding station similar to Rushton, on the coast of Texas. You will be moved by their take on migratory connectivity and the faces of the local school children getting to release these inter-continental creatures.
There’s a lot going on in the woods,