Thank You Fieldtrip 2010

The site of the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, NY has recently become the site for another heron venture: the Green Heron Growers. This was the destination of our 2010 Thank You Fieldtrip for Audubon education volunteers.

Julie Rockcastle was our gracious hostess and gave us a tour of the agriculture operation in the morning.  At noon we dined on a lovely potluck lunch.  After lunch we did a little exploring – in particular on the chunk of property that is rather bog-like.

Near the house, Julie and her husband Steve grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.  The egg-laying chickens are raised here, too.

Left: Several varieties of lettuce under shade cloth; Right: garlic grows beside the pond.

Left: We make eggs! Right: We will someday!

Across the street on a certified organic pasture, the meat chickens are raised in moving pens – allowing them to eat fresh grass (along with organic grain) every day.

Notice that the patches directly behind the pen are burned and eaten. In the distance, the grass grows back greener and lusher after just a few days.

We helped move the pen, then feed and water the chickens:

A little further up the hill were the grass-fed beef cattle.

Happy Cows!

Back down to the house, then out to the woods we tromped to see the Shitake Mushroom operation.  To me, this was the most fascinating part of the tour.

But before we could start, the log-flippers gave a quick, impromptu Salamander Lesson.

Rex points out the field marks of a four-toed salamander (which I didn't get a closeup picture of...)

I did get a picture of this two-lined salamander, however...

As part of regular timber stand management, trees with 6- or 8-inch diameter trunks, preferably oak, are cut.  This harvest happens in early spring after the sap is running, but before the leaves are out.  The trunks are cut into lengths approximately 3 feet long and small holes are drilled into the sides.

The holes are filled with Shitake Mushroom “spawn” – living mycelium.  The holes and the ends of each log are sealed with wax to prevent colonization by other fungi.

Drilled, filled, sealed and stacked.

The logs are stacked.  It will take 12-18 months for the mycelium to spread and fully colonize the log.  After a year or more in the stacks, the logs are moved to the fruiting area where they are leaned against “fences” to give the fruiting bodies room to grow.

Working on "fruits."

The Mushroom Farm

Not quite ready for harvest.

Julie and Steve are trying something new:  These copper bands at the base of the logs are intended to keep away slugs…  who apparently don’t like to crawl over copper.

Supposedly, slugs don't like to crawl across copper. Here's hoping it works!

After touring all the agricultural parts of The Heron, we headed back to the house for lunch where we celebrated our college intern’s 20th birthday!

Not a teenager any more.

After lunch, we changed into mud boots and headed down the road to explore a boggy area of the property.  We found sphagnum moss and sun dews and some plants we couldn’t identify, and a few critters… 

Water Pennywort

Sundew and Sphagnum Moss

Elyse: Dragon Hunter

Elyse's Dragon: Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Rex's Beetle. (He also caught at least one snake that I heard of, but alas... I was too far ahead and didn't get a picture...)

After leading fieldtrips for countless school children through May and June it was delightful to go on a fieldtrip of our own. Many thanks to our wonderful (goofy) volunteers (and staff!) who help get us through this intensely busy time of year. We couldn’t do it without you!

Emily, Jeff, Holly, Julie, Nikki, Sarah, Elyse, Rex, Bonnie, Gayle, Joyce

(There are several others who couldn’t make it to the fieldtrip… we thank you, too!)

After the Rain…

It rained this morning. As the clouds thinned, the light became perfect for photography, so I headed down to Audubon to see if the adorable Yellow Warblers were out by the overlook again (and to practice using my 100-400mm lens). They were… taking inchworm after inchworm to a nest that was hidden from view.

Yellow Warbler

I watched for quite a long time and was also treated to a Swamp Sparrow singing his little heart out.

Swamp Sparrow

The Red-winged Blackbirds who are also nesting in the shrubs would not pose nicely for pictures. Other wildlife along my path did, however…

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake in one of the Woodpecker Holes in the Dead Elm Tree

Tadpoles in the pond along the maintenance road

And, back at the building:

Eastern Chipmunk
An adorable Eastern Chipmunk in the Bird Garden

Friday at ANP

For the last few years, I have been the designated driver… that is, the person who drives the Audubon van loaded with stuff down to the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage.  It’s not a bad gig.  Once we get the van unloaded in the early morning, I am free to explore the park and take in a program or two before the kids arrive.

This year, my daughter was with me.  We opted for a hike around Black Snake Mountain and the Soil program to fill our Friday.

Black Snake Mountain Trail is in the south part of Allegany State Park.  The trailhead is on ASP 3 – which is also labeled ASP 1 on this google map… Go figure…

We hiked the 3 mile loop stopping at the midway point for lunch. We were serenaded by Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Peewees, and Chestnut-sided Warblers. There was also a bird with a wonderful song that I can’t now remember, but wish I could… Why didn’t I use my camera’s video feature to capture that song?

We saw the following flowers:

Canada Mayflower Canadian Violets Indian Cucumber Root Virginia Waterleaf White Avens Violet Forget-Me-Not Common Wood-sorrel Common Buttercup Common Cinquefoil

When we returned, we took a power nap on the grass, then joined Henri DeMoras for a program on Soil. Now who would think a program about soil could be so fascinating? We started with some introductory comments under the tent at Camp Allegany…


Then we car-pooled up to Thunder Rocks to observe some things in the field.

Soil-Thunder Rocks

We talked about the various agents that work on rock to break it down into components of soil. Biological agents such as trees, lichens, rocks, etc…

Soil-Trees as Biological agents of breakdown
Notice that one of the layers in this rock is actually the roots of a tree!

The rock breaks down and becomes mixed with remnants of parties…

As lichens, moss, and plants grow and die, organic matter is added to the mix. The acids formed during decomposition provide a chemical agent for further breakdown of rock particles.


On the way back down the road toward Camp Allegany, we stopped at several spots to notice how rain and gravity (physical agents) had moved things down the hill and affected the soil profiles…



It’s so amazing to me that I can go on a walk to a location I have visited numerous times in my lifetime and continue to see it in new ways every time… The pilgrimage is like that. You go on a walk with a different person each time and you see the world through yet another lens, expanding your understanding of your place in the world…

Always the weekend after Memorial Day… Join us next year?


Google “osmunda” and the online dictionaries will tell you that the word refers to a genus of ferns. Cobb’s A Field Guide to the Ferns mentions that the name came from Osmunder, the Saxon god of war (os=god, mund=protector).  In other sources, I found that Osmund, the Waterman, once hid his family in a stand of Royal Ferns (Osmuda regalis) during an invasion by Danes.  After ferrying the enemy across the waters, he was able to rescue his wife and daughter from their hiding place.

Another source claims a Latin origin where os=bone and mundare=to cleanse, referring to the herbal use of the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) for treating injuries.

Whatever the etymology, the family Osmundaceae – The Flowering Ferns – contains one genus (Osmunda) with three gorgeous species in our region, all of which can be spotted in the Red Pine Forest at Audubon.

Most plentiful are the Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea).

Cinnamon Fern

At this time of year (mid-late spring), it is easy to spot a Cinnamon Fern by the fertile fronds – which grow separately from the vegetative fronds – in the middle of the clumps and are, when mature, the color of the spice that is their namesake.  These fertile fronds were green when they first appeared before the leaves, and they will whither first, too.  If you come after the fertile fronds have gone, look for clumps where the sterile leaves are mostly erect and where the stems have a slight groove.  (In comparison, the leaves of the Interrupted Fern curve outward and the stem is round.)  Also check the back of the frond.  Cinnamon Ferns will often display little fuzzy tufts at the base of each leaflet.

The fertile fronds of the Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) are, well, interrupted.  At the bottom and top of the frond are sterile, green leaflets.  In the middle are the spore-producing fertile leaflets which start out green in early spring and turn brown as they ripen.

Interrupted Fern

Not all of the fronds are interrupted in this way.  So check the stem to see if it is round, rather than grooved.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Royal Fern (Osumunda regalis) – the one that looks (to me) least like a fern.

Royal Fern

With Royal Fern, the fertile leaflets appear at the top of the frond and, as with the others, they start out green, but turn brown as they ripen.

In all three of these species of the Osmundaceae family, the spores themselves are green and capable of photosynthesis.  They are short-lived and must germinate within a few days to be viable.

Fascinating to me is the life cycle of ferns…  Spores do not produce ferns…  well, not directly.  A spore grows into a gametophyte which contains both egg and sperm producing parts.  According to Associate Professor Raymond Milewski of East Stroudsberg University in Pennsylvania, the sperm will “swim across a surface film of water” to reach the egg.  SWIM?  Whoa…  (Click –> here for a You-Tube video!)  A proper fern will develop from a fertilized egg.


If I have ever seen a gametophyte, I didn’t know it at the time.  Now I want to see one…  Hmm…  I wonder how big they are…  Could I find one in the woods?

Learn More:


Audubon has an indoor, glass-walled demonstration bee hive.

Demonstration Bee hive.

It’s pretty cool. You can watch the worker bees tending the hive, doing the waggle dance, living their lives. Sometimes you can find the Queen and watch her lay eggs.

Demonstration Bee Hive - closer

You can see the honey stores they build up to help them survive through the winter.

There is a tunnel that goes through the wall to the outside, so the workers can go out to get nectar and pollen.

Tunnel to the Outside
Tunnel to the Outside

Exit Hole on Outside of Building
Exit Hole on Outside of Building

OK, so that’s the background… Here’s the coolest thing ever: Walt Dahlgren, our beekeeper, told us a week or so ago that our hive was getting very large and that he had identified two queens. When this happens, one queen will leave and about half the workers will go with her… Today was the day! At around lunchtime, a mass exodus from the hive occurred. The bees congregated on branches of the locust tree just outside the building.

Bees congregate on branch of Locust Tree

Bees on Branch of Locust Tree

Bees on Branch of Locust Tree

Jeff called Walt right away but he was not able to come until 3 or 3:30. In the time it took him to get to Audubon, the activity of the bees lessened and the ball became more compact.

More Compact

While we watched the bees, we noticed a few dragonflies coming through. We joked that maybe they were there to eat the bees… not believing it could be true. Then one landed on my sleeve with a bee in its mandibles. We watched it chew… I tried to get a shot with my camera… but the lens I had on was not great for this close range! (Hopefully one of Jeff’s pictures came out better.)

Dragonfly chewing on Bee

Jeff's photo of the bee-eater on my Sleeve
Jeff’s photo of the bee-eating dragonfly on my sleeve!

Most fascinating of all was when Walt arrived and set up a shop vac to suck the bees into an empty hive.

Vacuuming the Bees
Vacuuming the Bees

Vaccuming the Bees - Closeup
Vaccuming the Bees – Closeup

For the most part, the bees were quite calm and put up with this process with no agitation. Toward the end, though, one found me and decided I was a threat. I got stung twice on my face, and Jeff got stung once. But it was so fascinating, it was all worth it.

Caterpillars and Flies

No one attending the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage this year could have escaped without noticing hundreds and hundreds of Eastern Tent Caterpillars AND hundreds and hundreds of very large and rather attractive (if annoying) flies called Friendly Flies.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Fly

A fellow naturalist mentioned that there is a correlation between these two… but didn’t have the exact details, or we got interrupted before he could finish his explanation…  so, I googled it… (Have I mentioned how much I love the internet?)

It turns out that the Friendly Fly lays its eggs on the pupa of the Tent Caterpillar which the fly’s larva will eat.  While you may find Tent Caterpillars in the woods every year, the population gets very high in cycles of about 10 to 15 years.  When their population is high, so is the population of Friendly Flies.

There’s an explanation for everything, I guess!

Read more by clicking –> here.