Monday, June 20, 2011

The Great American Backyard Campout!

Campfires, stargazing, fireflies...there's nothing more summer-y than a good ol' fashioned campout. Whether it be in a backyard, park, beach, treehouse, or whatever, the feeling of falling asleep under the stars with a slight nighttime breeze and open air is...well, awesome.

With school just ending, and the official start of summer fast approaching (Tuesday June 21st, at 1:15 pm to be exact), there's no better way to appreciate the season in all its glory than by shaking out those old tents and spending a night outdoors. 

Ah, but there's always excuses. The family tent is 3 generations old, and pitching it one more time to shake out the mold might just be the last thing it ever does...the backyard can barely fit the flower garden, let alone a horde of people overnight...the neighbors don't want to be woken up at all hours of the night by excited camping more trip to the store for cooking and s'more supplies is one trip too many...ya, we get it.
Lucky for everyone, there's an opportunity to put all excuses aside and participate in:

The Great American Backyard Campout!

On Saturday, June 25th, all are invited to participate in this event, funded by the National Wildlife Federation. It can be alone in a backyard, or with a community in one of the many sponsored campsites. To find an area - or find out more information, check out the NWF website:

Honey Hollow is a registered campsite, with the fun starting at 7pm. ( Please call ahead to register.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Invasives: coming soon to a habitat near you

Its springtime - time for planting, gardening, weeding, rains, picnics, and insects. But unfortunately, it is also the time for (drumroll) the takeover of habitats by invasive plants!

Invasive plants: aka non-native species that flourish and out-compete natives in a region.
Potential problems: changing the pH of soil, blocking sunlight and resources to the understory of native plants, reducing biodiversity, and consequently reducing the amount of food sources and habitat for wildlife (including birds).

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), there are 60 known invasive plant species in Pennsylvania, and no region is excluded. They are present in the form of trees, shrubs, vines, and aquatics, successfully taking over in fields, forests, and waterways. These species include (but are not limited to) Water Chestnut, Norway Maple, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Dames Rocket, and Mile-a-Minute Weed. For full listings and removal techniques, check out the DCNR website at:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coffee! Shade-grown and bird-friendly?

Eco-conscious, sustainable, new-age hippies have been preaching the benefits of shade grown coffee for a while now, enjoying their Starbucks "organic shade grown Mexico" blend (,
and protesting "sun-grown" mainstream brews such as Folgers and Dunkin Donuts.

But it's not just the earth saving activists that should be concerned...

It's also the birders. Shade-grown coffee (among other benefits which include long term sustainability, land conservation, increased biodiversity, soil protection, carbon sequestration, etc) also produces a haven for migratory and tropical birds by protecting and creating habitat. A recent article in Audubon takes an in-depth look at small shade-grown coffee farms (also called fincas) in Nicaragua, and notes the positive impact these farms are having on populations of Golden-winged warblers (a Federal Species of Special Concern in the U.S., due primarily to habitat loss and degradation). And it's not just one warbler that's being impacted; it's half the global population of warblers, who winter in coffee growing regions of Nicaragua. It's also 100s of other songbirds who use regions of Central and South America as critical wintering habitat. In fact, Audubon found that "coffee plantations with a diverse canopy cover of greater than forty percent are 2nd, only to undisturbed forest, in terms of bird species richness." One finca alone counted over 280 different bird species, 7 of which are globally threatened.

With increased habitat comes increased birds, but also increased local tourism and a more stable economy for the regions involved. All the interested birders and scientists, ornithologists and volunteers, flock to see the biodiversity located in these shade-grown coffee farms. This creates opportunities for ecotourism, and for a source of steady local income not provided to traditional coffee growers.

To find shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee, check for labels of Rainforest Alliance or Bird Friendly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Rains

(This blog has temporarily been taken over by a summer intern. Please bear with the change in pace)

Welcome to the middle of May where yes, it's raining. Again. In fact, the forecast for the next ten days = more scattered showers and thunderstorms.

But this hasn't deterred the folks at Honey Hollow, nor the awesome school groups who have been visiting daily. This week so far has seen students from 3 different schools, with ages ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, who partake in educational programs and enjoy the outdoors here in Bucks County.

The weather also hasn't deterred the Canada Geese; one pair of which welcomed a small group of students yesterday with a brand-new nest of goslings. They are located besides Audobon Pond - within relatavely close range of the Visitors Center. Watch out though, the parents are mighty protective of their newborns, so feel free to have a look, but keep a distance.

The rains still provide many opportunities for critter-watching, hiking, and education, which are continuing at Honey Hollow in full force during the end-of-school-year. Looking foward, the next few months should bring even more exciting educational events. But in the meantime, enjoy the week, enjoy the storms, and look for more updates coming soon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Time for Spring Cleaning!

Did you know that most song birds will not re-use a box that has an old nest in it?  It is not certain why this is, but it may have to do with parasite and/or disease control.  Now is a good time to get outside and clean out your bluebird or other nest boxes.  If you were monitoring your boxes last spring, you probably know which species called your box home, but if you did not monitor you can tell by the type of nest they left behind.  Bluebirds make a nest 1 - 4 inches tall built of fine grasses with a relatively deep cup.  Tree swallows also use grass, but it is more coarse and the nest cup is not as deep. It may contain feathers or bits of paper.  House wrens make a nest of sticks that will nearly fill the box. The nest will have a deep cup lined with feathers or fine plant fibers.  They are less likely to use a box if it is 200 feet from wooded or brushy areas.  House sparrow are an undesirable, non-native species that should be discouraged.  Their build a tall nest of coarse grasses, often with pieces of scrap paper, cellophane, or other garbage. The nest forms a canopy with a tunnel-like entrance.  If your box had a house sparrow, you should consider removing it.

Remove the old nest material and discard it in your compost or just toss it into the woods.  If the box contains mouse droppings or looks un-appetizing due to mildew or other issues, it can be wiped out with a weak (10%) bleach solution and air-dried.  This is also a good time to complete any repairs: replace broken boards, tighten screws and nails, make sure closures are tight and so on. 

While you are cleaning and repairing, you may be pleasantly surprised by an unexpected occupant!  visit our Facebook page to see what Jen B. of Reading found in her wood duck box...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring's First Wildflower

Do you recognize this flower?  This is one of the first signs of spring in our area, appearing before the plant's leaves.  The mottled purple "hood" is called the spathe and the stalk inside, studded with tiny yellow flowers is called the spadix.  This plant is capable of generating its own heat - enough to melt the surrounding snow; the inside of the spathe can reach more than 20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air.  You can find them now in the wet woodlands of Honey Hollow, it is of course the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus Foetidus).  Its common name comes from the smell that emanates from its damaged leaves, this plant is pollinated by flies that are attracted to the flower's smell and the heat that emanates from it.  Common in most parts of eastern North America, it can be found in wetland areas from Nova Scotia and Quebec west to Minnesota and south to the northern border of South Carolina.  It is endangered in Tennessee.  The leaves emerge rolled up like a scroll later in March and can be as long as 2 feet.  Later in the year, around mid September, you may find its egg-shaped fruit with its convoluted surface looking like an alien brain:

Inside the periphery of this fruit are 10 - 14 globular shaped seeds that can fall into the mud or be carried off by animals to help spread the plant.  Interestingly, skunk cabbage has contractile roots that pull the plant down into the soil after its growing period.  This effectively makes the plant grow down instead of up and makes the oldest plants nearly impossible to dig up.
Photo Credits
Flower picture:
William C. Taylor @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1989. Midwest wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. Midwest National Technical Center, Lincoln.
Fruit picture:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count - Last Day!

On Saturday we had a great time counting birds, and trying not to fly away ourselves in the 60 mph wind gusts!  On a one hour hike our four participants logged 16 species including some early arrivals like a red-winged blackbird.  Complete tally follows.  Its not too late to count for the birds, the GBBC continues through today.  Go to for all the details!

We also had a unique visitor at the bird blind ... check the photo!

Chickadee sp (3); Canada goose (28); Mourning dove (1); Red-winged blackbird (1); American robin (1); Tufted titmouse (1); Blue jay (1); Goldfinch (1); American crow (1); Eastern bluebird (1); Whitebreasted nuthatch (1); Downy woodpecker (1); Common grackle (1); Dark-eyed junco (1); Turkey vulture (2)