Wildlife and nature can be found in every corner of Pennsylvania, sometimes in the most unlikely places. That point was made evident when visiting West Chester, which serves as the County seat of Chester County.
The area, referred to as the Brandywine Valley, is a hotbed of early American history. There is plenty to see and do when it comes to visiting the area. But it may come as a surprise to many when I say, ‘When you’re in the area, be sure to bring your rod and reel.’
If you’re up to the challenge and want to try your luck fishing for muskies, the waters of Marsh Creek State Park are worth wetting a line. Within the 1,727 acres of the state park is where you’ll find Marsh Creek. And this may come as a surprise to many, but this 535 acre lake is rated as one of THE leading Muskie lakes in the state. But there is more.
Trout fishing opportunities can also be found. The Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited has developed partnerships to help insure the protection of Valley Creek. With dedication and diligence coupled with hard work, Valley Creek remains on the life-list of streams where trout anglers will find exceptional opportunities. But there is more.
When it comes to visiting Longwood Gardens, once is not enough.
Longwood Gardens has a rich history reaching back to a time when the native Leni Lenape tribe lived there.
In 1700, George Pierce purchased 402 acres from William Penn’s commissioners and farmed the land.
In 1730, Peirce built a farmhouse which still stands. In 1798, Pierce’s grandsons inherited the farm. In addition to farming, he developed an interest in natural history and began planning an arboretum. A wide variety of wild plants were acquired from the leading botanists of the area.
By 1850 their arboretum held one of the most extensive collections of trees in the area. However in the 19th century Pierre S. du Pont purchased the property and eventually developed the tract of land into a horticultural display garden.
Today Longwood Gardens consists of 1,077 acres of superbly maintained plants that draws in over a million visitors annually.
While walking the pathways of “Longwood”, each turn along the way provides a special kind of beauty that includes magnificent fountains, a Conservatory housing 4,600 different plants and trees, and there is 600-foot Flower Garden Walk. However it is one of the more recent additions to Longwood Gardens that peaked my interest.
In 2014, the Meadow Garden was opened. The 86 acre landscape features a wide variety of native plants. The acreage is home to a number of bluebirds that have taken up residence in nesting boxes that have been erected.
A tour of the Meadow area and a field trip into the meadow was arranged for members and guests of the PA Outdoor Writers Association. Little did we know a portion of our visit would include banding Bluebirds.
Our visit took place in early May when the birds were beginning to lay their eggs. Bluebirds lay an egg a day with a clutch size of 3 to 5 eggs. In the case of the bluebird we banded, the nest had only one egg.
Incubation takes about 14 days to complete. Once the newborns fledge, the nesting process begins again. In fact a pair of bluebirds can nest up to three times within the same year.
Bird banding has been ongoing for close to 100 years. The Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) is an integrated scientific program established in 1920 supporting the collection, archiving, management, and dissemination of information from banded and marked birds in North America.
The information gained is used to monitor the status and trends of resident and migratory bird populations. Because birds are good indicators of the health of the environment, the status and trends of bird populations are critical for identifying and understanding many ecological issues and for developing effective science, management, and conservation practices.
In addition to banding several bluebirds, during our visit additional information about each bird was recorded. Recorded was the bird’s sex and weight. Also a number of physical measurements were taken. By the end of the nesting season, the data would be shared with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Bluebird Society, and additional science based groups.
Right now in the meadow at Longwood Gardens plants that benefit wildlife are readily at hand. And there are a number of wild plants in bloom. One such plant that is in bloom is the Cup-plant. This native plant grows to 8-feet tall and its leaves claps around the stem forming a cup that collects water for insects and birds.
Or how about Hollow Joe-Pye-Weed which is a plant that Native Americans used for medical purposes. These are just two of many native plants to found while touring “the meadow”.
With so much natural beauty to be seen, it’s easy to see why one trip isn’t enough to this fascinating garden.
For more information on Chester County and where to begin your search for additional information, contact Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, 300 Greenwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348 Phone: 484-770-8550 or check out their web site www.brandywinevalley.com
While the extreme south eastern portion of the Commonwealth may seem so urban, it has its own special places where outdoor enthusiasts can readily explore. The trip and what I experienced there turned out to be an unexpected pleasure.
Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net