Saturday, May 2, 2015

PA: Nottingham Serpentine Barrens, Chester Co.

It's been a long week, so I took a long walk. Late in the day on Saturday I made a four mile loop around Nottingham Serpentine Barrens County Park in Chester County, PA - about forty minutes from where I live. I love serpentine barrens and I've done a post or two about them. There are many conservations lands within a short drive of here that protect them. Soldier's Delight, Goat Hill, and many others. They are rare habitats that contain only those plants that can tolerate heavy metal soils - toxic to most plants in the Mid-Atlantic.

One of many views over the serpentine hills at Nottingham.

Like many serpentine areas, this place too was once heavily mined for  chromite for the making of munitions during WWI. It was a busy place and the landscape was heavily scarred and altered.  There are the remains of a reduction site near one of the big quarry lakes for history buffs, and plenty of placer mines, quarry pits, and old roads that date to the war years 1914-1919.

Quarry lake - very very deep and fenced off.

The main section of the park is beautifully laid out with scenic places to picnic, several small pavilions for parties and reunions, playgrounds, a really nice small lake, and a pretty little pollinator garden. This park has always been a jewel in the Chester County parks system. It's worth a whole day to really explore. But today I did three hours before sunset and just enjoyed the natural company of the insects, birds, deer, and even a few red bats.

Box elder flowers aflame over little Victory Run that cuts through the park.

The deciduous trees are all well on their way to having leaves and are in one stage or another of budburst, flower, and new leafy growth. Black cherry trees already have their burstings of Eastern Tent caterpillar and I stopped to watch them wriggle and congregate outside their silky shelters. 

Eastern Tent Caterpillar on black cherry.

The predominate trees at Nottingham Barrens are the pitch pines that grow across vast open plains of serpentine soils. In most places the metallic rock is just at the surface and soils are only a few inches deep where soils exist. 

A hunk of weathered serpentine broken open to see the raw chromite inside.

A tiny marsh of reed in a wet hollow.
A wind twisted pitch pine above a barrens prairie.

Sap was running from this sapsucker's recent work.

A whitetail deer (doe) on Doe Trail. Go figure.

There are many trails to explore and I suggest picking up one of the full color maps at the office or at a stocked kiosk. I did a four mile loop on Doe, Buck, and Feldspar Trails, then walked the gravel roads from end to end in the developed section. Because I came late there were only a few dog walkers and a few botanists. They pointed out some of the trailside flowers like this moss phlox which was blooming in profusion.

Moss Phlox.

I'll stop back in a month or so to see the progression of the prairie grasses and composite flowers. But for now the hills are still brown and open. All we need is a herd of buffalo and we're good to go. But there is a little research going on...

As the sun set behind the hills of pitch pine I came across this Morning Cloak butterfly chillin' on a knotty dead pine limb. These butterflies are only observed in early spring so it was nice to have such a good long look at it before heading out. I'll be back in a few weeks and capture the green-up in a very difficult place to live and grow! 


Websites for the park and its conservation partners - 

Chester County Parks

Nature Conservancy - Nottingham

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