Flint Woods Preserve

All posts tagged Flint Woods Preserve

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator and Jared Judy, Flintwoods Preserve Land Manager

The field of warm season grasses on March 29, 2011, just prior to burning. Image by Derek Stoner.

A new type of land managment tool is arriving in the Piedmont of Delaware, and this is one of the most simple techniques with which to revitalize grassland habitats:  Fire!

This past Spring, on March 29, for the first time in known memory a prescribed fire was conducted in the Piedmont region of Delaware.  The challenge of managing a fire and timing it safely so as not to damage surrounding habitats is crucial.  When the right conditions arrived in late March, the call was made for the fire crew to assemble and get to work.

Delaware Nature Society Land Steward Dave Pro lays down a line of fire using a drip torch, igniting the dry grasses behind him. Image by Derek Stoner.

Prescribed fire specialists from the Delaware Forest Service teamed up with staff from Flintwoods Preserve (led by land manager Jared Judy) and Delaware Nature Society Land and Biodiversity staff to conduct a prescribed fire on a 6-acre planted plot of native warm season grasses (Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Indian Grass) at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Immediately after the last flames died out, the field resembles a black landscape of scorched ground. Image by Derek Stoner.

The burn went extremly well, and in less than 20 minutes, 6 acres of dried grasses were reduced to black ashes and a patch of ground that looked empty.  The ashes would help fertilize the growth of grasses from the rootstocks underground, and within just a few days the field would turn green and lush with  new plant life.

The idea for this prescribed fire came from Jared Judy, who brings extensive experience with this managment technique from his time in Texas working as a land manager of  extensive grassland habitat.  Jared writes:

I received my training in prescribed fire along the Gulf Coast of Texas with the Nature Conservancy.  Nationally, the Nature Conservancy has adopted the standards of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) for their prescribed fire operations, allowing them to partner with state and federal agencies to conduct burns.  Land managers and conservation staff within the Texas chapter are encouraged to obtain NWCG certification and training.  When a land manager had units on their preserve ready to burn they would put out the call and the other land managers would travel from around the state to assist with the fire.  It was termed the “fire militia”, as we all had other job responsibilities but understood that if we wanted to burn on our preserve we had to be there to assist others. 

When discussing warm season meadow establishment and management, prescribed fire must be part of the conversation.  The scale of fire will be very different on the Delaware Piedmont than it was from the Texas Coast, but its role in meadow management should remain undiminished.  Without the use of fire in our meadows on the Piedmont, their diversity and usability for wildlife will never reach its full potential. 

Prescribed fire associations, a collection of land managers and property owners interested in using fire as a management tool, are becoming common in many areas of the Midwest.  The establishment of such an association allows for each landowner involved to dip into a collective pool of resources and personnel to accomplish a burn on their property.  Also, grants are available to such associations to build an equipment cache to be shared among the members.  Developing a burn association in the Delaware Piedmont could be an effective way to reintroduce fire into the system on a broad scale.

Enjoy this fascinating video of the whole process of the prescribed fire at Coverdale Farm Preserve– you can hear the fire crackle and almost feel the heat!    And stay tuned for an update of how the field re-generates immediately after the fire.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader

Early spring is hiking time around here.  The winter weather has eased, flowers are blooming, and hiking conditions are ideal.  Meadow grass is green, but not so high you can’t walk through it, and temperatures are not too hot, not too cold.  So, during the past few weeks, I led three of our most popular exclusive day-hikes.  I say exclusive because these walks cross private property where the Delaware Nature Society has permission to lead walks occasionally. 

The Ashland to Coverdale Farm Preserve loop hike is 4 miles through oak-hickory forest, meadows, and involves a wet-foot crossing of Burrows Run.  The Ashland to Bucktoe Creek Preserve hike is 6 miles, and crosses rolling open hills of spectacular piedmont scenery.  Finally, the Flint Woods Preserve to Granogue Estate hike is 3 miles through some of the best old-growth woods in Delaware, and ends atop the Granogue water tower where you can see north to Downingtown, PA and south to Delaware City, DE.  Enjoy the photos of these walks below.

The group of Delaware Nature Society hikers prepares for the Ashland to Coverdale Farm Preserve loop hike. Photo by Tom Davis

The wet-foot crossing of Burrows Run is always a memorable moment. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Some hikers opt to cross Burrows Run without the wet feet. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Hiking from Ashland to Bucktoe Creek Preserve is a commitment of 6 miles, which was a 600-calories hike for one of our participants who had a calorie watch.  This hike features the Delaware Nature Society’s Red Clay Floodplain property, Auburn Heights State Park and Preserve (not open to the public…yet), several private properties, and finally, the 300-acre Bucktoe Creek Preserve (also private).  Luckily, after the hike, we take a van back to Ashland and don’t have to retrace our steps.

The route of the Ashland to Bucktoe hike passes this rock cut, where we are able to examine Piedmont rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The Ashland to Bucktoe hike also passes the 8th PA/DE border marker from 1892. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Finally, the very popular Flint Woods to Granogue hike starts with a gourmet meal prepared by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Program Coordinator.  It ends atop a stone water tower at Granogue, one of the most famous duPont estates.

Michele Wales describes the food she has prepared for participants of the walk at the Flint Woods Preserve. Gourmet and yummy! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Dave Pro, Ashland Property Manager, finds an old pot at a historic dump along the walk. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our goal is in sight. The Granogue Water Tower. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Looking north from the tower, we gaze up the Brandywine Valley to Downingtown, PA. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

If you are more interested in the short version of these hikes, register for the Evening Walk Series which features 6 hikes at many of the above locations on Thursday evenings, May through July.  More information on these hikes can be found here.

By Sally O’Byrne, Teacher Naturalist

Even though much of the snow has melted and what is left are gray and black piles in parking lots, a Wednesday walk at the Delaware Nature Society’s Flint Woods Preserve revealed the beauty of winter and a few hints at spring.

A view of the Delaware Nature Society's Flint Woods Preserve. Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

It was obvious that animals were finding food – we found evidence of eating and the eaten.  A crabapple tree had the remnants of eaten fruits and discarded seeds beneath – the birds had been busy.

At the edge of a field we found where a fox had been digging into the snow.   A fairly deep hole made us wonder if the fox had chased a rodent or maybe smelled it through the snow.  Did he catch it?  You bet.   We found the guts of the little guy close by.  Why did it leave that part behind?

A fox was busy digging for a meal. Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

A small gut pile was next to the hole dug by the fox. We wondered why it didn't eat this part. Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

We hear about squirrels burying nuts, but a pile of nut shells let us know that one squirrel had dug through the snow to find them.  Bill the Land Manager has an active bird feeder.  A Carolina Wren was sitting beneath the feeder and must have been hungry since he let us get quite close. 

A Carolina Wren is reluctant to flush from below a bird feeder, even though we approached closely. Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

The sun came out and the we were struck by the beauty of the woods, even if most folks are getting sick of the white stuff.   The melting was obvious and many wet areas were exposed which held one of the first flowers of the year, a skunk cabbage, which was in bloom.

A skunk cabbage in bloom. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We also found a few invertebrates that were active on this winter day.  We ran into a web that had an active spider.  The spider moved onto the web when we brushed it.  We also found an insect that flew and looked like a mosquito, but turned out to be a Winter Crane Fly.  I chased it down until it landed on the snow.

A Winter Crane Fly was out and about on our walk. Photo by Sally O'Byrne

The ground was so wet that several mature trees that seemed perfectly healthy had fallen over – their roots were not deep enough to hold them.  With upcoming storms and remaining winter winds, how many more might fall?  One beauty – a tuliptree (liriodendrum tulipifera) – looked stable and very grand – a giant in this forest.

Bill stands next to a tuliptree in the Flint Woods Preserve. Photo by Sally O'Byrne.

With corn stubble poking through the snow, the landscape still looked in the grip of winter.  The calendar tells us that spring is less than a month away.  The changes will be coming soon….. promise!

Flint Woods bird surveys take place each Wednesday morning and are free.  If you are interested in helping, please call (302) 239-2334 ext. 115.  The preserve is closed to the public except for guided walks such as this.

Register for the Spring Migration Birding Series, which will include a visit to the Delaware Nature Society’s Flint Woods Preserve.  The series begins on March 12 and includes 6 walks in March and April.  For more information, click here.

By Sally O’Byrne, Teacher-Naturalist

Last Wednesday, I attended the weekly bird survey at the Delaware Nature Society’s Flint Woods Preserve near Centreville.  Mike Weaver, a Land Manager who works there, joined me on the walk.  We were impressed with the amount of water that had seeped into the ground with this year’s excessive precipitation.

Mike Weaver stands by a small stream at the Flint Woods Preserve.

Mike Weaver stands by a small stream at the Flint Woods Preserve.

Another unusual feature was how last night’s ice formed in areas with saturated soil that didn’t have standing water.  Along a path that was damp, the leaves were pushed up by the ice.  Looking closely, we saw that the ice was in the form of miniature columns. 

The ice column was as tall as my pen above ground!

The ice column was as tall as my pen above ground!

When we plucked an ice column from the mud, it was obvious that the ice had formed from the ground up and had “leached” mud from the dirt into the columns by some sort of capillary action.  Some of the columns were 6 to 8 inches high.  This was a new find for both Mike and I.

We plucked an ice column from the ground for a close examination.

We plucked an ice column from the ground for a close examination.

An ice column measure against Mike's arm.

An ice column measure against Mike's arm.

Epilogue (By Joe Sebastiani): What Sally and Mike found was a form of Frost Heave.  This usually happens in moist, fine grained soil, like silt, and it is not just simply due to freezing and the associated volume expansion of water turning to ice.  Vertical displacement of soil from Frost Heave is far greater than the volume expansion associated with water freezing, which is about 9%.  Why does this Frost Heave occur then?  Simply put, the column of ice is drawing in liquid water trapped in surrounding  small pores of soil.  This happens as the ice purges itself of tiny foreign particles, raising the ice upwards while it sucks in surrounding water from the soil.  This liquid water is added to the column as more ice.  So, the ice moves upwards and grows at the same time.  (This is according to Wikipedia, so you can look it up yourself if you really want the dirt, uh, ice on this phenomenon). 

Frost Heave occurs when you have the following conditions…freezing temperatures, a supply of water, and soil that has the ability to conduct water, a high affinity for it, and is saturated.  Clay soils are not very water conductive and sandy soils have a low affinity for water.  Silty soils are the middle ground (no pun intended), and tend to be where Frost Heave occurs.

Now, go out there and see if you have some Frost Heave where you live.  Watch out!  Frost Heave can damage plant roots, cause erosion on steep slopes, and even crack concrete as it pushes up the soil!