Protecting the Rutgers Ecological Preserve

Article and photos by Daniel Cohen, Rutgers University junior

As a lifelong resident of Highland Park, and currently a student at Rutgers I have greatly enjoyed hiking throughout the university’s Ecological Preserve, a relatively pristine area located on the Livingston Campus. The Rutgers Preserve was established in 1976 as an ecological resource. Its purpose is to serve as an aesthetic, educational, and recreational area for the Rutgers community as well as for the residents of New Jersey. This 360-acre Eco-Preserve is the habitat of numerous creatures including migrant songbirds (warblers and towhees). It is also the home of the white-tailed deer. The Preserve is the site of native plants such as Spring Ephemerals and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, as well as Ash, Beech, Hickory, and Red Oak trees.

Anyone concerned with environmental matters in the Lower Raritan Watershed should be aware of the proposed Rutgers “Innovation Park” (IP) plan – an infrastructure project to be constructed adjacent to the Rutgers Eco-Preserve site. Rutgers has requested that the New Jersey Commission of Budgeting and Planning allocate $4.75 billion for infrastructure projects on its campuses as part of a Master Plan. Included in this proposal is funding for IP, a major project to be built on the edge of the Preserve. According to the Rutgers publication Business Plan and Implementation Strategy (2016), its purpose is to “promote research collaborations, technology transfer and commercialization, job creation, and public-private partnerships.” IP, an inter-disciplinary learning site with a goal of furthering environmentalism is well-intentioned.

However, a project whose mission is environmental may nevertheless be harmful to the Preserve’s ecosystem. A major building project occurring just outside the Eco Preserve’s borders may well threaten fauna and flora within the Preserve itself. The project will result in pollutants from trucks and construction machinery as well as in greater noise levels. Fossil fuel emissions, the primary cause of climate change, have already caused the destruction of species of animals and plants worldwide. Excessive construction noise is harmful to the well-being of animals and plants as fossil fuel emissions and increased decibel levels will not stop at the Preserve’s periphery. The essential question is to what degree, the site will be impacted.

If it has not yet done so, Rutgers must conduct a thorough environmental review of the effects of this infrastructure project. Although in the Rutgers publication there is an environmental assessment of the IP site itself, there is no reference to its impact on the adjacent Eco-Preserve. There should be a comprehensive environmental assessment regarding how the IP project will impact this area. Residents of Central New Jersey and beyond, including members of the Rutgers community who care about protecting this vital habitat, must be given the opportunity to interact with those involved with this project.

May I List You as an Entrée Today?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The food chain is not a one way street, as a turtle whose kin may feed on baby ducks, gets picked on by a bald eagle

It is unthinkable to imagine a restaurant where the diners are often listed as menu items. Though when seated at nature’s dinner table, the catch of the day takes on a whole new meaning as predators and prey freely alternate position. The dietary choices are also a surprise as the variety of delectable meals is often at odds with expectations.

Sorting through my library of photos, I was perplexed trying to categorize some images showing two species in close contact. Obviously notable was the reversal of who was eating who.

The first image which prompted these thoughts was captured as I launched my canoe. Here was a very young painted water snake, brilliant colored markings, with a fish sticking out its mouth. Comparing the size of the snake to the fish, I wondered if the snake ‘bit off more than he could chew’, as they say. The fish was wider than the snake and it didn’t look like much progress was being made in the attempt to swallow it. I couldn’t identify the species of fish but thought it a moment of karma as small mouth bass which inhabit the river are well known to forage on anything that swims or crawls in the waters of the south branch. A small snake would hardly be ignored by a hungry bass.

Another image shows a larger painted water snake suspended on o vertical river bank holding onto the tail of a gold colored catfish. As the snake was in an awkward position and didn’t want to go into the water, it was a standoff with the advantage going to the snake. The fish would struggle and then lay still. Eventually the fish broke free. I then remembered a series of images documenting another struggle where a snapping turtle grabbed a painted water snake by the tail. As I paddled along, I saw a water snake swimming across the river and as it neared the opposite bank it suddenly reared up and began to thrash about. Mystery solved as a snapping turtle soon surfaced holding on tight, as the snake now alternated struggling and lying still. As I drifted closer, the turtle was intimidated into releasing its grip and the snake swam off.

A painted water snake has a catfish by the tail. The snake is barely holding on to the vertical bank , using a tuft of grass to secure its precarious position. the catfish would struggle mighily and then rest. After several tries the catfish appeared dead and lay still for quite some time. Suddenly the catfish came to life and broke free. Again, the scene was captured from a canoe.

A painted water snakes has the tables turned on it as a snapping turtle reached up to grab the snake swimming across the river.

Turtles are not immune from the proverbial soup bowl as they are prey to many birds and animals that share the same habitat. Even large water snakes will easily swallow a turtle hatchling seeking cover in the water, as will great blue herons, mink, fox, skunk, raccoon and birds of prey.

In a twist of fate, the turtle that killed baby ducks in a farm pond yesterday could very well be on a larger bird’s menu today.

Such was the case when I spotted a bald eagle standing on a log near shore, intently pulling and tearing away at what was probably a deer carcass or white sucker. The eagle would occasionally look up and certainly it saw me from two hundred yards away, apparently not at all intimidated. As I closed the distance, a bright yellow object was clearly visible and the focus of the eagle’s rapt attention. I began to take photos, drifting ever closer and as I started to pass the eagle, it flew off. It was then I realized the eagle was dining on a painted turtle!

Across the land where rivers flow, the lines between predator and prey begin to blur. Don’t be surprised when a squirrel is seen carry a baby crow or a muskrat is swimming underwater holding a baby blue jay or a blue jay is flying off with a dead vole. If you can’t imagine it, it is happening somewhere along our wild rivers.

Muskrat with a bluejay swims into its den’s underwater entrance. Mystery for sure.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Garden & Afield: Week of October 8, 2017

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

A bit of a strange scene in my backyard: forsythia blooming among the fall foliage changing of colors.

SPRING IN THE FALL: Years ago, I recall seeing sheep laurel, “Kalmia angustifolia,” a spring bloomer, flowering in the fall in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. Twice this week, I noticed a bird or birds singing away, seemingly a springtime song; And a red-bellied woodpecker, “Melanerpes carolinus,” drummed against my house. Also, this week, I noticed another spring bloomer in flower – forsythia. It flowered in my backyard. I normally see forsythia blooming for the first time of the season in early March to mid-April. What does it all mean? I just think the fall conditions are replicating spring conditions, especially the summerlike temperatures.

The backyard forsythia in bloom.

THE PINE BARRENS “FALL FOLIAGE” PEAK: The Pine Barrens’s name is a misnomer, neither a place of all pines nor barren lands. And it is a great place to see the changing colors of the fall foliage – the deciduous vegetation changes, with blueberry bushes turning flaming red, and contrasts with the greens of pines, cedars, and laurels. Normally, I look for the fall foliage color peak in the Pine Barrens on October 13 in the wetlands and October 20 in the uplands. This year, that schedule is running behind. The woods around Helmetta are still quite green. (“Fall foliage” is a misnomer, too. In the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, one can observe the changing colors beginning in about mid- to late July.)

The colors are changing at Helmetta Pond October 13, Friday, but not yet peaking

An October 12, Thursday, map from the Fall Foliage Network.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, PHEASANT: I just happened to be reading about ring-necked pheasants, “Phasianus colchicus,” the other day. Then, I saw one between the Applegarth and Wyckoff Mills section of Monroe, Middlesex County, the first time I recall seeing one afield in maybe 20 or 25 years. These are non-native – introduced to America from Asia in the 1880s, according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website, allaboutbirds.org. Now, they are naturalized in the United States. This one could have been a naturalized bird or one released for hunting.

This is a rather blurry photograph, because I came across this ring-necked pheasant unexpectedly while I was driving and had to quickly crank off a photograph before it fled. I am using this photo because it shows a full view of the bird. Also, I did not crop out the roadside litter, to illustrate how wildlife competes with human carelessness.

Notice the white, forming the ring around its neck.

CLOUDS: This week’s spectacular cloud scene was in Middlesex County, at North Brunswick, looking toward Milltown. I stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant for breakfast, looked at the sky, and there they were.

Clouds over North Brunswick, Middlesex County.

VOICES FROM (FAR) AFIELD, JUDY AUER SHAW: Judy Auer Shaw, author of “The Raritan River, Our Landscape, Our Legacy,” checked in from Ohio, reminded by a suggestion in a previous “Garden and Afield” to wear blaze orange in the woods in hunting areas: “I have a story from my teaching years in Michigan. I organized a nature hike for my kids (7th graders) and we all wore browns, grays and greens. As we approached the hiking trail, we were behind a carload of guys wearing orange. It finally dawned on me that we were going out on the first day of hunting season — in complete camouflage. Yikes! Needless to say, we were fine, but I was one worried den mother that day!”

Judy Auer Shaw’s 2014 book.

The pumpkin patch at Giamarese Farm on Fresh Ponds Road, East Brunswick, Middlesex County

YARD AND GARDEN: I planted five “false cypress,” or Crippsii,” I picked up at Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, Middlesex County. The Knock Out roses and zinnias continue blooming – the zinnias being visited by such butterflies as the painted lady, “Vanessa virginiensis,” and cabbage white, “Pieris rapae.” Despite blooming, the zinnias are losing their luster, covered with powdery mildew, “Golovinomyces cichoracearum,” and a leaf spot disease. I also found my first raspberry on some bushes planted earlier this year.

Five “false cypress,” or Crippsii, have been added to my yard.

A raspberry fruiting in my backyard garden.

FARMING PERILS IN THE MIDLANDS: I was visiting Krygier’s Nursery, owned by husband and wife Jimmy Krygier, in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and two perils were obvious – encroaching development and damage caused by browsing deer, “Odocoileus virginianus.” The nursery, a Krygier family business for three generations of about 100 years, is on Route 535, also known as Cranbury-South River Road, Cranbury Road, and South River Road. What was adjoining cornfield up to months ago is now a warehouse property, for example. And one only has to see how the deer have shaped the arbor vitae trees through their browsing. (Krygier’s Nursery is at the corner of Route 535 and Dunham’s Corner Road, South Brunswick, near the Middlesex County Fair Grounds).

Development encroaches Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Notice the odd shape to the arbor vitae. It is caused by deer nibbling on the trees.

DEER DOCUMENTARY: “The Deer Stand” is a documentary about deer over-population in the Jersey Midlands. See the movie at https://vimeo.com/233572156.

In fall of 2016, Anna Luiten, an ecologist with the Monmouth County Park System, stands in a Thompson Park forest area over-browsed by deer. The fenced area contains a lush understory, because it is protected from deer.

SNOWBIRDS: Anybody seeing dark-eyed juncos, or “snowbirds,” yet? The birds, “Junco hyemalis,” come down to our area from as far away as Canada during the cold-weather months. I normally begin seeing them in my yard around Halloween. Their color pattern of slate gray on their backs and white on their fronts suggests, “Dark skies above, snow below.”

A “snowbird” in the snow in my yard in early 2017.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 67 degrees to 69 degrees during the October 14-15 weekend.
SUNRISE/SUNSET: For October 15, Sunday, to October 21, Saturday, the sun will rise from about 7:10 to 7:15 a.m. and set about 6:10 to 6:15 p.m. For October 22, Sunday, to October 28, Saturday, the sun will rise about 7:20 a.m. and set about 6 a.m. to 6:05 a.m. We switch to Daylight Savings Time November 5, Sunday, at 2 a.m., the clocks moving back to 1 a.m.
THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Frost Moon on the November 3-4 overnight.
WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.
UPCOMING: 2017, October 28, Saturday, 1 p.m. book signing and 2 p.m. lecture with Marta McDowell, author of “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” at Jamesburg Presbyterian Church, 175 Gatzmer Ave, Jamesburg. $30 at the door. More information is available from the Earth Center Conservancy (of Middlesex County), www.ecc-nj.com. Beatrix Potter, born in 1866 and died in 1943, was a children’s writer and illustrator. She wrote and illustrated “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” 1901.

Author Marta McDowell will sign books and speak in Jamesburg, Middlesex County, October 28, Saturday.

Gray squirrels, “Sciurus carolinensis,” appear to be active, burying acorns, preparing for winter. This one was at Rutgers University’s College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Imagine a Day Without Water…

Thursday October 12 is “Imagine a Day Without Water” Day. Can you even begin to imagine a day without water? It isn’t just your personal use of water – brushing your teeth, flushing your toilet, taking a shower – though those rituals are vital. Water is also essential to a functioning economy. What is a college campus or a hotel supposed to do if there is no water? They close. How can a restaurant, coffee shop, or brewery serve customers without water to cook, make coffee and beer, or wash the dishes? They can’t. And what about manufacturers – from pharmaceuticals to automobiles – that rely on water? They would grind to a halt too. An economic study released by the Value of Water Campaign earlier this year found that a single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk.

Imagine a Day Without Water is an annual day of awareness that highlights the importance of safe, affordable water to all facets of everyday life. In recognition of the 2017 Imagine A Day Without Water, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is unveiling our new “Community Resources for Water Quality” tool developed to improve the accessibility of information about preserving water quality for folks in the Lower Raritan Watershed. The “Community Resources for Water Quality” tool lists and describes publications and other types of materials available through the Rutgers-New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) specific to maintaining or improving water condition in our communities. The tool is designed to assist Environmental Commissions, Green Teams and/or other interested residents to improve, preserve and restore stream areas and watersheds. We think it’s pretty neat!

Water is a public health issue, it is an economic issue. No community can thrive without water, and everyone deserves a safe, reliable, accessible water supply. Our new tool highlights things that every one of us can do to preserve and improve our water resources to make sure that no one ever has to imagine a day without water again. Please check out the tool, and let us know how it inspires you to preserve or restore our water resources!

With thanks to Rutgers-NJAES and Joan Kaplan with the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for their assistance in developing this tool.

Perth Amboy Green Infrastructure Update

Article by Billy Kurzenberger, Program Coordinator at City of Perth Amboy, Office of Economic and Community Development

The City of Perth Amboy, in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and with funding provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), has launched several new projects in its community-based green infrastructure initiative, Perth Amboy SWIM (Stormwater Infrastructure Management).

Washington Park is the site of a new rain garden designed to redirect and absorb rainwater while beautifying the park. The park’s parking lot is now resurfaced in porous pavement designed to allow rain water to pass through the surface and seep into the ground instead of running off into our stormwater sewers.

Perth Amboy SWIM rain garden installation, Sept 7/2017. Photo credit: Perth Amboy Mayor Diaz

In addition to the projects at Washington Park, the same partnership is responsible for the installation of two other porous pavement parking lots at municipal parking lot C on Jefferson Street and municipal parking lot RDH on Madison Street. All of these efforts will help us protect our local waterways from nonpoint source pollution, reduce flooding around the City and serve as excellent educational tools for the community.

A Perth Amboy SWIM porous/pervious pavement Green Infrastructure project at Washington Park. October 9/2017 was the first rain. Rain water is allowed to pass through the asphalt & soak into the soil rather than flood the neighborhood. Photo Credit: Raritan Riverkeeper.

Perth Amboy SWIM meets on the third Thursday of every month at 10am and always welcomes new members! Meetings are held in the Brighton Avenue Community Center (56 Brighton Avenue, Perth Amboy, NJ). For more information, please contact Billy Kurzenberger at wkurzenberger@perthamboynj.org

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of September 24

Article and photos by Joe Sapia (except as noted)

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Gray clouds over Monroe farmland, looking toward the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. Beautiful cloudy skies have presented themselves in recent years over my hometown of Monroe.

FALL HAS ARRIVED: Despite the summer-like temperatures the Jersey Midlands have been experiencing, fall is here. The calendar proclaims the beginning of fall at the September equinox – this year, September 22, when the day’s light and dark are generally equal. However, I regard fall beginning September 1 and running through October and November.

A fall scene at Griggstown Farm in Franklin, Somerset County.

DEER RUT: The mating season, or rut, for deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” normally peaks from late October to mid-December. Here is Nixle.com-South Brunswick, Middlesex County, advisory:

“The South Brunswick Police Department is reminding motorists to be alert for increased deer activity over the next six weeks. This is typically when we see an increase in car crashes involving deer. The deer can unexpectedly dart onto roads so motorists need to use extra caution. “Motorists are urged to be especially attentive and cautious during morning and evening commutes when visibility may be poor. Deer are involved in thousands of collisions annually in New Jersey, with as many as half coming during the fall mating season, or rutting season…. An adult male deer can weigh 150 pounds or more.
“In the past month there have been a half dozen crashes involving deer in South Brunswick. In past years the majority of crashes have taken place over the next 6 weeks.

“…Deer are most active in the very early morning and around sunset, when visibility conditions can be very difficult. Using caution while driving will become even more important when Daylight Saving Time ends November 6, causing commutes to align with periods when deer are most active. For motorists, low levels of light and sun glare can make it very difficult to see deer that are about to cross the road. Moreover, multiple deer may cross the road at any given moment, usually in a single file.

The following tips can help motorists stay safe during from deer crashes:

-If you see a deer, slow down and pay attention to possible sudden movement. If the deer doesn’t move, don’t go around it. Wait for the deer to pass and the road is clear.
-Pay attention to ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. Slow down when traveling through areas known to have a high concentration of deer so you will have ample time to stop if necessary. If you are traveling after dark, use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic. High beams will be reflected by the eyes of deer on or near roads. If you see one deer, be on guard: others may be in the area. Deer typically move in family groups at this time of year and cross roads single-file. Don’t tailgate. Remember: the driver in front of you might have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a deer.

-Always wear a seatbelt, as required by law. Drive at a safe and sensible speed, considering weather, available lighting, traffic, curves and other road conditions.

-If a collision appears inevitable, do not swerve to avoid impact. The deer may counter-maneuver suddenly. Brake appropriately, but stay in your lane. Collisions are more likely to become fatal when a driver swerves to avoid a deer and instead collides with oncoming traffic or a fixed structure along the road.

-Report any deer-vehicle collision to a local law enforcement agency immediately.

-Obey the state’s hands-free device law or, better yet, avoid any distractions by refraining from using cellular devices while driving.

I encountered these deer near Rutgers University–Douglass College in New Brunswick, Middlesex County. These are city deer, allowing me to get within 30 or so feet of them.

WEARING BLAZE ORANGE: With the popular deer-hunting season underway, it is probably a good time to wear blaze orange in the woods. Actually, a few years ago, I started wearing blaze orange on my knapsack year-round, because it is hard to keep track of hunting. During the last deer-hunting season, I walked under a tree-stand with a hunter, never seeing him until he spoke to me. Fortunately, I wore blaze orange. (The incident showed me, no matter a life spent in the woods, I let down my awareness.)

My blaze orange vest and one of my blaze orange hats.

BALDFACED HORNET NESTS: As we transition from the warm weather season to the cold, baldface hornets, “Dolichovespula maculate,” will abandon their nests. The abandoned nest is not a threat and may make a folksy bringing-of-the-outdoors-inside ornament. I have two hanging, with another waiting to be hung, in my cellar “cabin” area. Scope your nest now, but wait for colder weather to make sure it is fully abandoned. (Even in season, these nests are not a threat, if far-enough away from human activity. See this Pennsylvania State University Extension factsheet, http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/baldfaced-hornet.)

A baldfaced wasp nest on display in my cellar.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: Last week, I mentioned monarch butterflies, “Danaus plexippus,” would be heading on their southern migration to either Florida or, more likely, Mexico. The monarchs we see now are a “super generation,” the great-grandchildren of last fall’s migration and these making the complete trip south, if they survive. This week, I was able to photograph one in my garden as it visited the zinnias.

A monarch butterfly on the zinnias in my garden. If all goes right, this butterfly will migrate to at least Florida or, more likely, Mexico. Good luck!

ZINNIAS AND LETTUCE: This week, my zinnias went to Teddy’s luncheonette in Cranbury, Middlesex County, and the Hightstown Diner in Hightstown, Mercer County. The fall lettuce crop in my garden is growing nicely.

The fall lettuce crop in my garden.

GARDEN VOICES: Paul Migut, who gardens in South River, Middlesex County, checked in: “(I) pulled out all Rutgers and yellow tomatoes. (I) still have two grape/cherry tomatoes and two bush beans. And, of course, the ‘surprise’ turnips still growing. Enjoy the Fall season.”

Cherry tomatoes and bush beans from Paul Migut’s garden in South River, Middlesex County. (Photograph copyright 2017 by Paul Migut.)

BEAUTIFUL CLOUDS: The beautiful cloud formations continue. This week, among the places I photographed them was “Jamesburg Lake” (properly “Lake Manalapan”) on the Jamesburg-Monroe boundary, Middlesex County.

Clouds over “Jamesburg Lake,” Middlesex County.

The Delaware and Raritan Canal on the boundary of Rocky Hill and Franklin, Somerset County.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 68 degrees to 70 degrees during the weekend of September 30-October 1.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For October 1, Sunday, to October 7, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7 a.m. and set about 6:30 to 6:40 p.m. For October 8, Sunday, to October 14, Saturday, the sun will rise about 7:05 a.m. and set about 6:25 p.m.

THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon Thursday, October 5.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.

UPCOMING: Another “Rally for the Navesink” meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 3, 5:30 p.m., at the Monmouth Boat Club, 31 Union Street, Red Bank. The Rallies are an effort of environmental groups, the community, and municipal, Monmouth County, and state governments to promote improvement of the Navesink River in Monmouth County. The river suffers from high fecal bacteria counts and depleted oxygen levels. More information on the Rally is available from Clean Ocean Action, telephone 732-872-0111, website www.cleanoceanaction.org.

The Navesink River in September, looking downstream from Middletown toward Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

The recent photograph shows Sandy Hook, where the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay meet, from an airplane flight leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Humans, how small we are! (Photograph copyright 2017 by Dan Mulligan, a Long Branch, Monmouth County, kid who, now, lives in Cranbury, where he is on the Township Committee and has served as mayor.)

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

NJDEP rollbacks on soil contaminant remediation

On September 18, 2017, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued a Notice of Administrative Change impacting the soil remediation standards for 19 contaminants. The standards have been updated to reflect U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revisions to the toxicity data for the affected compounds, as listed in the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System database. The updated standards became effective immediately upon issuance of the Notice.

The soil standard changes include less stringent residential and non-residential standards for several so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), typically found in historic fill here in New Jersey, including benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene and benzo(b)fluoranthene. For the compounds known as chlorinated volatile organics (CVOCs), notable changes include less stringent residential and non-residential soil standards for tetrachloroethene (PCE) and more stringent residential and non-residential standards for tricholorethene (TCE).

Public Health Statement for PAHs
https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=120&tid=25

CDC statement on tetrachloroethene (PCE), most commonly used in dry-cleaning

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/idlh/127184.html

A Notice of Administrative Correction to the Notice of Administrative Change was also published for two of the compounds, hexachloroethane and 1,1,1-trichloroethane.

October update from the LRWP President

Dear Friends of the Lower Raritan Watershed –

Five years ago Superstorm Sandy came ashore, causing widespread destruction throughout our region. Now our thoughts go out to Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico as they recover from this season’s ruinous Hurricanes. How would our Lower Raritan Watershed fare if drenched with similar rainfall to that which Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston? Every one of our watershed communities would be devastated. And if a Hurricane like Maria hit Raritan Bay the storm surge would level Sayreville, South River, South Amboy and much of Perth Amboy. Although rainfall amounts akin to Harvey are extremely unlikely in our region, global climate change is increasing the likelihood and frequency of powerful hurricanes and other storms. The northeast has already experienced a 71% increase between 1958 and 2012 in the amount of rain that falls in very intense storms.

At LRWP we think about and work on climate adaptation in relation to water quality improvements, community health and storm preparedness. Our approach is to identify, prioritize and implement nature-based solutions (called Green Infrastructure) that will make our Lower Raritan Watershed communities resilient to stronger rain storms and rising temperatures. Preparing and adapting proactively will save money while protecting our infrastructure, the environment, and human life – with the added benefits of improved air and water quality, reduced urban heat island impacts and enhanced urban neighborhoods. For this reason we are organizing the November 17 “Green Infrastructure for Resilience” workshop with NOAA. This workshop is designed to help our communities think through their resilience approaches. Registration is now open. We encourage municipalities (Environmental Commissions, Green Teams, Planners, Engineers, Council Members) to attend as teams to develop concept plans to take back to your towns. Continuing education credits are available through the American Planning Association (6 credits) and the Association of State Floodplain Managers (5 credits).

We are very excited to kick off our 3rd (!!) year as a non-profit with the NOAA resilience workshop. We are also rolling out lots of birthday surprises on our websitethroughout October (new resource pages for students, towns, teachers and homeowners) and plenty of other events to get you out in the field!

See you in the watershed,

Heather Fenyk, President
Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

October is Alive with Color…and coming to a tree near you!

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Black oak leaves are ablaze in the most incredible orange color, which makes you wonder how the black oak got its name.

A robe of many colors is October’s alone to wear. It is a coarse cloth, woven with silken threads of yellow and orange, melting into the extreme end of the red spectrum. Set against a clear blue sky, the colors radiate with brilliance. While the sun is otherwise occupied behind gathering clouds, the colors are no less extraordinary, as they hold their sharp contrast, presenting with a soft matte finish.

As the robe is placed upon the earth’s shoulders, the colors slowly flow downward in an infinitely slow progression, best seen from high above the earth. With that image in mind, it is easy to visualize autumn as a living creature leaving a momentary trail of color across the breadth of the tilting earth.

An alternative to a live, time lapsed satellite image of autumn’s gradual crawl across the latitudes, is best seen from a lofty vantage point with expansive views. Though the view is static, the full range of colors is on display. The cloth of the colorful cloak lies tight against the contour of the wooded mountains, each undulating feature of the landscape accentuated by shade and light. On a typical sunlit October day, herds of white billowy clouds drift across the blue sky followed on the ground by their shadows trying to keep up. As the lagging shadows flow across the colorful mountainsides, the tints change for a brief moment to provide a sense of movement to an otherwise still image. The scene is more dramatic if you can imagine the passing shadows being that of the artist’s hand working as you watch.

Retreating from distant views to stand within the October woodlands, individual trees and stands of trees become the focus. Each species resplendent in their own genetically defined color, modified to some degree by soil conditions, specifically, available nutrients and moisture. Instead of looking at a mass of treetops where smudges of varied colors blend together, we now see the pixels that make up the distant image.

Comparing trees of the same species, we can see the individual variation of color. Many trees with yellow leaves such as hickories, Norway maples, cherry and tulip poplar trees are very consistent in color. Oaks, sweetgum and some maples, whose leaves have a red component, show the most diversity.

The most glorious displays of fall color are where we find them, scattered among the local landscape. Each, an emissary heralding the arrival of autumn; apart from the mass of color sweeping across the land.

We all have a perennial favorite we watch on a daily basis to gauge the progress of autumn color.

A lone white oak in the middle of a field or a native red maple pressing against the chain link fence in the backyard, as seen from the bathroom window, serve as daily alerts.

Among the many autumn images accumulated in my experience, the one that keeps appearing is an old abandoned farm road lined with Norway maples, all the same size. The tree tops form a tight canopy over the road, keeping it clear of weeds and paving it with a golden carpet of fallen leaves. The length of the yellow paved road has a hint of a vanishing point that beckons a traveler to follow deeper into the fire of autumn color.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of September 17

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Dawn on the Delaware River, looking downstream from Hamilton, Mercer County, to the other side of the river and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

ABBOTT MARSHLANDS: The Abbott Marshlands are about 3,000 acres, about 1,300 wetlands and 1,700 uplands, along the Delaware River on the boundary of Burlington and Mercer counties in the Bordentown-Trenton area. An interesting point of the marsh is that it is both freshwater and tidal. While Delaware River saltwater going inland ends between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Philadelphia, the tidal effect continues for miles upstream to the Marshlands. The Marshlands also are known as the Trenton Marsh and the Hamilton Marsh. More information is at http://abbottmarshlands.org/.

The Abbott Marshlands at Hamilton, Mercer County.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: Watch for monarch butterflies, “Danaus plexippus,” on their southern migration, to either Florida or, more likely, Mexico. This “super generation” are the great-grandchildren of last fall’s migrators and will make the complete migration. However, next year, they will begin northward, but will only make it so far, requiring three breedings to complete the journey north. Then, those great-grandchildren will become a “super generation,” making the entire journey south.

A monarch butterfly in my garden in August.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, BLACK VULTURES: I was driving to Princeton, Mercer County, to meet the lovely Pamela for breakfast and came across quite a scene on Route 27 in South Brunswick, Middlesex County – dozens of black vultures, “Coragyps atratus,” feeding on a dead deer. (As I mentioned last month, I do not recall seeing a black vulture locally until probably the 1990s. They are a southern species that has moved north.) Remember, nature is all around us, just keep an eye out for it.

Black vultures on Route 27 in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, CHESTNUT TREES: As I was driving through the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, I noticed a Middlesex County Parks and Recreation pickup at the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. I had to talk to naturalist Eric Gehring about a volunteer project, so I turned around and pulled over. Eric was on a mission with Les Nichols of the American Chestnut Foundation, looking for chestnut trees, “Castanea dentata,” in the Conservation Area. Since around 1900, the American chestnut has been plagued by a non-native and extremely invasive and potent fungal blight, “Cryphonectria parasitica,” – estimated to have crippled up to 4 billion chestnuts initially. American Chestnut blight affects the tree upward from where it infects it. The tree, then, is able to sprout again from roots, only to have those shoots, except for rare cases, infected. The Foundation seeks good specimens, hoping to create resistance in future chestnuts. Eric asked if I knew of chestnuts growing in these woods. Yes, at Swing Hill (which Eric already knew about) and at Big Tree. Into the woods, we headed – on my part unexpectedly, but I would rather walk the woods my family has walked for more than 100 years than do chores around the house – looking for specimens that may produce sought-after seeds in the future.

An American chestnut, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, infected with the fungal blight.

American chestnut leaves in silhouette – serrated with a surf wave-like pattern.

STINK BUGS: I had noticed one or two brown marmorated stink bugs, “Halyomorpha halys,” outside the house. This is an Asian species, apparently introduced accidentally in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area in 1996. This week, I found one in the house on a blind in my living room — perhaps just the beginning of an infiltration for their overwintering. As a Rutgers University fact sheet says, “They enter houses through cracks in windows and the foundation and may be seen in large numbers during September and October.” If you go after one and, say, crush it, it will release an earthy odor. So, it is a nuisance, not a damaging bug to the house. However, it is a serious threat to crops. More information is available at https://njaes.rutgers.edu/stinkbug/. (As for crickets in the house, my $45,000 cricket deterrent project – that is the remodeling with the side benefit of keeping crickets out of the house – seems to be working. So far, only 8 crickets in the cellar and 2 in the living section of the house. A cacophony of crickets is beautiful music. A single cricket rubbing its legs in the wee hours like the fingernail scratching of a blackboard. While cleaning the garage, I may have discovered their last main intrusion route into the living section – through a crack/opening between garage floor and foundation.)

marmorated stink bug on a living room blind.

BIRD FEEDING: This is the first summer in years I have not gone all out feeding the birds in my yard. I miss watching them, but I saved quite a bit of money (because I use only sunflower hearts or kernels) and tried something new, letting the birds eat insects, serving as a natural pesticide. But the bird-feeder is back up and the birds are slowly discovering it. I am looking forward to beginning my day watching birds feed.

A chipmunk, “Tamias striatus,” in the yard.

FERRIS FARMS: Now that I am feeding the birds in my yard again, I stopped by my regular bird food supplier, Ferris Farms in East Brunswick, Middlesex County. I recall visiting Ferris as a youngster with my family. Mike Rutkowski and Tony Riccobono have always been friendly and helpful when I have asked gardening questions. See http://www.ferrisfarms.org/.

Gourds at Ferris Farms in East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Pansies at Ferris Farms.

KITCHEN TABLE: The flower display on my kitchen table gets better and better. One, the Knock Out roses continued flowering. Two, the zinnias also continued blooming. Three, I learned the display looked better with the more zinnias that I used. Lastly, the gourds were the same as before but they seemed to be yellowing in color, making them more autumn-like. Of course, the antique, porcelain-top table adds to the country-ness of the display. On the down side, this rose bloom seems on its way out. (I have something up my sleeve, though: Grandma Annie Onda’s old kitchen table, with porcelain top and more ornate build, stands ready in my cellar to be moved upstairs to the kitchen.)

The kitchen table flower display.

ZINNIAS IN THE GARDEN: This week, my zinnias were distributed to the Helmetta Post Office, the lovely Pamela’s, and Jamesburg Dental Care (where I had my first dental appointment 55 years ago under Dr. Lew Goldstein). Butterflies continue to visit my zinnia patch.

A painted lady, “Vanessa cardui,” in the zinnia patch.

HURRICANE JOSE, THE GOOD: Jose’s effects brought out sightseers to look at the roughness of the ocean. And I saw parasailing surfers taking advantage of the winds at the Atlantic Ocean at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

A parasailing surfer in the Atlantic Ocean at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

WEEDS IN THE YARD: When I see some kind of vegetation popping up in the yard, I let it grow to observe it. So, year after year, pokeweed, “Phytolacca americana,” pops up, one plant along my driveway, another in my garden. Here is an interesting article on this complicated plant, http://nadiasyard.com/our-native-plants/american-pokeweed/.

Pokeweed in the garden.

MONMOUTH CONSERVATION FOUNDATION: A shout-out to the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, a not-for-profit land preservation group in Monmouth County, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Over the 40 years, it has helped save more than 22,000 acres of open space. (The Foundation recently contracted me to write two articles – one on the group’s origin and another on Monmouth County wildlife — for one of its upcoming publications.)

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 69 degrees to 74 degrees on the weekend of September 23-24.

A gull at the Atlantic Ocean beach at Sea Bright, Monmouth County.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For September 24, Sunday, to September 30, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 a.m. and set about 6:45 p.m. For October 1, Sunday, to October 7, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7 a.m. and set about 6:30 to 6:40 p.m.

THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Full Harvest Moon October 5, Thursday.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.

“Jamesburg Lake,” or more properly “Lake Manalapan,” on the boundary of Monroe and Jamesburg, Middlesex County, is about 35 to 40 acres. On the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, there are few, if any, natural bodies of water. So, Jamesburg Lake on the Inner Coastal Plain is formed by the damming of Manalapan Brook.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

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