June 18 Stormwater infrastructure mapping training with NJDEP

The NJDEP has developed a new stormwater infrastructure mapping tool to assist municipalities with meeting the requirements of their municipal stormwater permit. This ArcGIS field app will be available free-of-charge to municipalities and partners authorized by the municipality.

On Monday June 18, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Middlesex County will host a NJDEP training session for communities interested in learning how to use this new stormwater mapping tool. The training session will be held at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville, and will run from 9-1pm (including lunch). Pre-registration required.

Here’s an overview from NJDEP as to why communities should use their new Stormwater Mapping Tool:

-Ease of use
-Data is automatically uploaded to DEP servers
-Overlay data with DEP maps to assess the location of waterbodies in relation to stormwater infrastructure
-Municipalities without a current ArcGIS license will be provided with one free-of-charge

The workshop will also include an overview of the recently renewed municipal stormwater permit requirements, as well as a short presentation on how to visually assess the quality of existing stormwater infrastructure.

Lunch will be provided. RSVP required.

For questions: hfenyk@lowerraritanwatershed.org

River Dancing with Ferries

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The powerful watery hand of the river reaches up in a wild mood to toss its dance partner skyward.

A canoeist might think of the river as a dance partner whose energy flow and mood sets the tone for the style of dance to be performed. A waltz, a tango or lambada are all on the river’s dance card to be enjoyed or sat out. Any paddler who wishes to partner with the river and enjoy the wide variety of watery tunes must have practiced moves, familiarity with boat and paddle and an ability to read the subtle nuance of wave patterns reflecting the structure of the hidden riverbed.

While high water and low water dances may be thoroughly enjoyed, I originally coined the term ‘river dance’ to describe the convoluted navigation required to follow the low water flow typically occurring on the South Branch during the summer.

Each year, winter ice and downed trees reshape the river bed to form new shoals, islands and channels which leave the scars and wrinkles that figure so prominently when water levels drop in the summer.

Low water and limited paddler skill do not preclude a float trip down the river as a grounded boat may be dragged across exposed shoals and shallows to deeper water.

Plodding along does not equate to river dancing but it gets the job done.

The joy of river dancing comes into play when the paddler, perhaps in a solo canoe, seeks out cuts and channels that hold just enough water to support the boat. Following the deepest water when the riverbed becomes a player in the band may mean tracing a convoluted course from one side of the river to the other. This shallow water navigation strategy is directly applicable to high, fast water flowing through boulder strewn stretches of river. Both situations require reading the wave patterns to determine the best path beyond the next immediate move.

One fast water section where I launch always has sufficient water from bank to bank for about a hundred yards. During lower water levels the left side and most of the middle of the riverbed is almost exposed and not navigable except for a narrow cut quite close to river right. As is often the case, a direct downstream approach to the deep water cut is not possible because the water directly above the cut is too shallow or has a downed tree blocking that approach.  As the situation and solution is obvious from a long distance upstream there is time to gradually approach the passage at a forty-five degree angle and then straighten the boat with a quick draw to follow perfectly in the strong deep current.

Further downstream near a bend in the river, a long treeless island appears, the right side of which is navigable in a channel that runs along the opposite bank. As the channel nears the end of the island, it flattens out and disappears. The water then seeks to run at an angle across the raised center section of the riverbed. The riverbed here appears to have a profile of a typical crowned roadway and the main channel reappears to run just along the tip of the island. Crossing the riverbed from one channel to the other requires a good look at the wave patterns. If you know nothing, then just observe the differences in the wave patterns.  In very shallow water they are almost indistinguishable but with practice differences will become apparent. Generally, flatter waves reflect deeper water. Or simply put, the less busy the surface of the water appears, the further above the riverbed it is. Don’t be surprised sometimes to find the water too shallow despite choosing the most favorable pathway.  Crossing an ultra shallow channel as described, may require the paddler to shift their weight forward to create an absolute neutral balance in the boat to avoid a fore or aft drag. Shifting paddler weight to one side in a typical shallow V-shaped hull will often decrease the depth the hull protrudes into the water and might make the difference between stepping out and dragging the boat or barely floating by with some slight scraping.

One of the most useful skills a paddler can acquire is the ability to ferry. A ferry is a method which allows cross stream travel in swift water with minimal paddler effort.

I usually stop to do a ferry whenever fast water presents itself just because it is so much fun and feels like magic. A ferry is based on the premise that a canoe becomes invisible to the current when perfectly aligned with the water flow. A canoe can be paddled upstream and held in position without any downstream travel when the hull is parallel to the water flow. Eventually when the hull begins to angle across the current the boat will be washed downstream. The speed with which the boat is carried downstream depends on the angle of the boat to the water flow. The greater the hull angle, the greater the surface area the current has to push against. A ferry is possible when the boat is angled into the current and that angle held steady by the paddler. Very fast water requires a shallow angle to be held, the slower the water speed the greater the angle needed to perform a ferry.

Often the current speed changes as you cross the river and the boat’s position must be adjusted appropriately. The magic occurs when you realize the boat, held at the proper angle, begins to cross the current from one side to the other without any downstream travel!

A ferry can be accomplished with the bow upstream or downstream. Simply angle the upstream end of the boat in the direction of the shore you wish to reach. In very fast water you might suddenly find yourself at the precipice of a ledge with no chance of safe passage. Not to worry. Straighten the hull with any and all paddle strokes that might be applicable, hold the boat steady. Choose your angle and be amazed as your boat becomes a magic carpet to drift you above the ledge, perpendicular to the current, and on to a safe passage or convenient eddy.

Do not despair when summer water levels fall and most folks abandon the thought of paddling the local rivers. Armed with patience and agility you might try to dance with the river on her terms.

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.

Bound Brook, NJ gets Canoe/Kayak Riverfront Access

On Saturday May 5 several partners helped the Borough of Bound Brook inaugurate its first kayak/canoe launch site. A partnership between the Borough and New Jersey American Water (NJAW) resulted in an access agreement to allow recreational use of private land, giving paddlers a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and NJAW allows the public to put their watercraft into the Raritan in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.

Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera and Council President Abel Gomez were joined by representatives of South Bound Brook; Somerset County; New Jersey American Water; Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings; the Raritan Riverkeeper; National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance; and members of the public for the ribbon cutting and launch ceremony on a beautiful spring day. Signs explaining how to use the access site with a map of downtown Bound Brook greeted launch users in English and Spanish.

Council President Abel Gomez noted: “This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists. This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. The launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”

In addition to the access to the River for paddlers, the Plan calls for the creation of a park along the waterfront from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook, including the development of a riverfront trail system for pedestrians and bicyclists using inactive rail corridor and a levee system. Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz explained that the “launch site will mean that paddlers can now travel all the way from Bound Brook downstream to Perth Amboy and the Raritan Bay, about 18 miles. Raritan River recreation complements the land-based recreation currently available on the south side of the river, as part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park.”

The Borough is receiving technical assistance from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders, including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings, and members of the Bough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.

The Riverfront Access Plan is available at: http://boundbrooknj.org/MasterPlan/RiverAccessPlan

For more information about the project, contact Bound Brook Borough Administrator
Hector Herrera at 732-893-8520 or hherrera@boundbrook-nj.org

May 21 – General Meeting: All about Forage Fish!

At our monthly meeting on May 21 (10-noon) we will welcome Zack Greenberg with the Pew Charitable Trusts for a special presentation on forage fish and ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM).

Zack is a Senior Associate at The Pew Charitable Trusts, focusing on marine conservation issues as a part of their U.S. Oceans, Northeast team. At Pew, Zack is raising awareness about the importance of adopting a big picture approach to marine conservation called ecosystem-based fisheries management or “EBFM”, which recognizes that every part of the marine ecosystem, from seagrass to whales, are interconnected. Zack’s primary focus is to advance protections for forage fish like menhaden, river herring and shad. How these essential forage species are managed has huge implications for the future of the ocean food web and many of the sportfish, marine mammals and birds we enjoy today.

The meeting will be held from 10-noon in the Middlesex County Planning Offices at 75 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, NJ – 5th floor mid-size conference room.

Parking is validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Be sure to bring your ticket to the meeting for validation.

For more information contact Heather: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org

Presentation Topics

  • Magnuson-Stevens Act
  • Forage and EBFM
  • River Herring and Shad

Magnuson-Stevens Act

The MSA is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the United States. It setup many of the regulatory systems and management tools we are familiar with today. The MSA is credited with rebuilding 43 once-overfished populations since 2000, but U.S. fisheries still face significant challenges, including continued vulnerability to overfishing, habitat destruction, and changing ocean conditions—factors that highlight a need to strengthen, not weaken, the MSA.

Forage and EBFM

Forage fish are the foundation of healthy marine ecosystems. Sportfish, like striped bass, summer flounder, and bluefish, as well as popular wildlife, such as osprey and whales, need healthy forage fish populations to thrive. Despite forage fish being an increasingly valued commodity, the MSA currently does not ensure they are managed to account for their ecological role. Protecting forage is the best way to guarantee abundant food and a healthy ocean for marine life, which draws millions of people to the coast for fishing, boating, diving and other recreational opportunities.

River Herring and Shad

River herring and shad once supported large commercial and recreational fisheries. However, the damming of spawning rivers, combined with habitat degradation, overfishing and bycatch at-sea have depleted their populations. In February, the Atlantic mackerel fishery was shut down due to bycatch of river herring and shad, and in March the Atlantic herring fishery closed in southern New England for the same reason. With effective federal management and conservation policies at-sea, rivers up and down the East Coast could once again come to life with thousands of migrating fish.

Mile Run Brook Community Cleanup! (New Brunswick)

~VOLUNTEERS NEEDED~ Please join the LRWP, our Americorps Watershed Ambassador and community partners including Friends of Mile Run Brook, Greater Brunswick Charter School, Esperanza Neighborhood Project, the New Brunswick Environmental Commission, Elmwood Cemetery and the New Brunswick Department of Public Works for a multi-site clean-up of Mile Run Brook, culminating in a community celebration in Boyd Park!

WHAT: a clean-up of Mile Run Brook, followed by a community picnic and celebration

WHEN: Saturday May 12

9:00 AM to noon – clean-up of multiple sites.

12-1:30 pm community gathering / picnic in Boyd Park.

WHERE: Multiple sites in New Brunswick

Site 1: Friends of Mile Run Brook / Corner of Hamilton Street and Woodbridge Street

Site 2: Esperanza Neighborhood Project / Corner of French Street and Sandford Street

Site 3: Greater Brunswick Charter School (closed group)

Site 4: Elmwood Cemetery / Entrance at Commercial Avenue


Please wear closed toe shoes and clothes you are willing to get wet and dirty. Gloves and bags will be provided!


5.12.2018 MRB clean-up waiver, English

Permission and rights granted to LRWP to record and use image and voice, English

For more information

Heather: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org

or Americorps Watershed Ambassador Rob Hughes: wsamb AT raritanbasin DOT org

Visual Habitat Assessment Training in Green Brook

Please join us for our May visual habitat assessment training with the LRWP and WMA9 Americorps Watershed Ambassador Rob Hughes! (Here’s more on the LRWP’s water quality monitoring programs).

This FREE training on Saturday May 5 will run from 9 AM – 1 PM at the Middlesex High School, located at 300 John F Kennedy Dr, Middlesex, NJ 08846

We will start the morning with a lecture indoors, and then get out in the field to test our knowledge of streams and stream habitat.

Please wear clothing and footwear that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.

RSVP required, E-mail Rob Hughes: wsamb@raritanbasin.org


New Launch Site along Raritan at Bound Brook

Article and photo by Hector Herrera

A partnership between the Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will give kayak and canoe enthusiasts a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and New Jersey American Water allows the public to put their watercraft into the River in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.

“This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists,” said Bound Brook Council President Abel Gomez.

“This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. This launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”

In addition to the access to the River for kayaks and canoes, the Plan calls for an open space along the waterfront, from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook. This would include the formalization of a Bound Brook Riverfront Trail System for pedestrians and bicycles and a creation of a riverfront park. The Plan can be found by going to this url: http://boundbrook-nj.org/MasterPlan/RiverAccessPlan

The Borough received a technical assistance award from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program in 2017 and 2018. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer, and members of the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.

The Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will formally open Bound Brook’s Riverfront Access Launch at noon on Saturday, May 5, 2018. The launch is located under the Queens Bridge in Bound Brook. RSVP required.

For more information about the kayak and canoe launch site or to RSVP for the ribbon cutting ceremony, contact Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera 732-893-8520.

A Special May Flower

Article and photos by Joe Mish


Looking up into the columbine flower’s mouth, I see a dove with wings spread or an angel. This diminutive wild flower is found in isolated patches among the red shale cliffs that line the South Branch. Who knew, other than hummingbirds, that such a treasured crown jewel was hidden along our river.

The red shale cliffs interrupt pasture and field along the South Branch to stand as an unchanging reference point, immune to progress and raging spring floods that swirl around them.

The exposed cliff face is characterized by a jagged appearance, with sections of smooth rock face the exception. Ancient floods have scoured rounded contours into the soft shale, to form shallow caves, nooks, crannies and alcoves. Like a human face with striking character, the cliffs beg more than a casual glance.

I cannot paddle by without desperately searching the high cliff face for ancient etchings or a petroglyph. Travelers from earliest times could not have passed up an opportunity to scribe their name or draw their hunting or fishing trophies into the smoother areas of these red shale sketchpads. It would be against human nature to leave no sign.

Unexpectedly, what I have found among the craggy shale cliffs is a species of native wildflower that begins to bloom in late April through May. Wild columbine is not found anywhere else, except in the crevices of the prominent shale outcroppings along the river.

Columbine is a finely structured red and yellow flower, in the shape of a crown with five distinct tubular projections. The openings of the five separate passages are shrouded in a common vestibule. Several stalks arise from one clump, one flower to a stem, opening faces downward. The plant is not found in profusion, just in scattered, isolated patches.

There are many commercial cultivars and species of columbine, so to be clear, the wild native columbine is Aquilegia columbine. The derivative of the name is interesting as, ‘Aquila’, is Latin for eagle, and columbine references the family designation of doves. Early taxonomists saw characteristics of both in the flower. It is said the ‘spurs’ resemble the open talons of a raptor and the face of the flower, a nest of doves. To me the spurs that project to form the crown remind me of the reversed leg joint of a grasshopper when viewed from a certain angle and looking up into the mouth of the flower, I see the form of a single dove with wings spread.

The columbine flower produces tiny round black seeds in late May that are indistinguishable from poppy seeds. Though the columbine blooms about the time the first migrating hummingbirds show up, I have yet to catch a hummer dining on the flowers but surely some returning hummers have the plants marked on their GPS.

How and when columbine first found anchorage in these cliffs is a mystery. In the absence of its known origins, I prefer to think of these flowers as inheritance from an ancient legacy of primitive plants. The first of which relied on wind for propagation and then, as if by the hand of an engineer, designed shape, color and form to take advantage of insect pollinators and local soil conditions. Could it be that flowers intelligently made use of the cliffs to mark their presence through the centuries where humans left no trace?

Wild columbine are the crown jewels hidden among the cliffs, that appear in the spring for a brief moment to enrich both pollinators and humans who stumble upon them.

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.

Along the South Branch: May Flowers

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A hummingbird and orange trumpet flower engage in an evolutionary dance of equal partnership that has lasted for eons. The flower not only took advantage of an array of pollinators but also stole the heart of man who would seek to propagate flowers far beyond their natural range and ability to survive.   

 A name logically follows the existence of an idea, a person, place or a thing and forever provides an instant reference, complete with assigned identifiable characteristics. So before there was a month named May, a segment of time existed in nature where birth and bloom dominated the season.

The mythology from which the name of May arose was based on the same natural observations seen today. Stories of the stars and the gods became the reference points displayed on the night sky overhead projector to help explain observed phenomenon. The poetic phrase, “April showers bring May flowers” provides information sufficient enough for most people to understand the season. Instead of placing flowers at the altar of the goddess Maia we now send flowers to our mothers on a day designated to show her our appreciation, same story, different day.

Going back to the time before May, can you imagine discovering the first flower ever to bloom? In retrospect it would have meant that some plant had evolved to take advantage of a new method of pollination that relied on insects rather than wind. At the time of discovery, however, the moment had to be absolutely magical. Here was something so different in structure, color, scent and profusion that it instantly intensified a fledgling human emotion that speaks to the appreciation of beauty. The flower not only took advantage of insect pollinators but at that moment stole the heart of man who would later seek to propagate flowers far beyond their natural range and ability to survive.

Watching a rambunctious fox pup at a distance, I saw what appeared to be orange pollen on its solid black nose. As the pup was playing around the daylilies I imagined he stuck his nose inside a funnel shaped orange flower, designed for bees and hummingbirds, to come away with the telltale signs of brightly colored pollen grains. If he sniffed a few more flowers he actually became the “bee” and a willing, if not random, participant in asexual reproduction. The part that serendipity plays in nature and science can never be underestimated and its potential never unappreciated when unprecedented success results.

Fox pups are not the only pollinators unknowingly pressed into service by the ingenious evolutionary design of flowers. It is a laugh riot, for some reason, to see a dusting of yellow or orange pollen on the nose of a child or adult who sniffs a flower in pursuit of its scent. Eyes closed, as if about to plant a kiss, the human pollinator presses forward until nose touches stamen.

The entire event, so instinctive and innocently conducted, that the “bee” comes away unaware of its role in the evolutionary drama of species reproduction and survival. A kind friend will of course bring attention to the dusting of pollen left by such an intimate encounter and be trusted to address it discreetly.

Bees of all kind have ‘pollen baskets’ on their back legs which hold an accumulation of pollen grains that appear as large colorful round beads on opposite back legs. Watch one of those big furry yellow and black bees and you can easily see the lumps of colorful pollen that varies from flower to flower.

Paddling along the south branch, wild columbine can now be seen in select places on north and west facing red shale cliffs. These delicate plants grow from roots wedged between the layered red shale well above the surface of the water. The reddish pink tubular flowers with a common yellow center resemble a group of ice cream cones joined to form a common opening which leads to several individual tails. This structure encourages contact with the centrally located pollen that has to be brushed against in order to reach several sources of nectar located in each tail. This flower must have had a hummingbird sitting on the design team who decided not only the flowers structure but the time the flower was set to bloom. Hummers arriving in early spring from Mexico and Central America have a ready source of food to replenish the energy spent in their annual migration north.

Consider the greatest mayflower of all and the part it played in another notable migration. The “Mayflower”, was a ship that sailed to our shores bearing its human pollen to establish new life on the North American continent  The ship, so named by unknown whimsy and intended as a supply barge, grew to evolve much as early flowers did into an effective delivery system directed by nothing more than chance. Like a flower it bloomed, spread its pollen and ‘died back’ soon after returning to England.

May apples, Virginia bluebells, trout lilies, trillium, jack-in-the pulpits and spring beauties are a small sample of local May flowers that represent the spectrum of a floral legacy whose genealogy traces back to the earliest flowers. Consider that flowers are living things that in some magical way recruited man to further their propagation in exchange for a glimpse of eternal beauty, dreams and imagination to expand the universe of human potential with unbounded creativity and expression.

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 April 15, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Callery pear trees taking over a field in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     CALLERY PEAR TREES:  Have you noticed the trees of blooming white flowers in abundance during your travels? Pretty? As we drive by them, yes. But take a closer look, these non-native, but once popular ornamentals, have large thorns, have week branches, and grow thickly. This thick growth prohibits beneficial native plant life from growing. Calleries cross-pollinate easily and produce small pears, which birds eat and, then, poop seeds through the countryside — resulting in more calleries. Enjoy the view and learn from them — that is probably the only good I can say about them.

Callery pear trees along Route 130 in East Windsor, Mercer County.

 A closeup of callery pears in Monroe, Middlesex County.

HEAVY RAIN…:  The Jersey Midlands got clobbered with rain on the Sunday-Monday overnight and Monday, April 15-16 and 16. The National Weather Service reports the following rainfall totals in Midlands counties, although these reported records may not be complete records:
Burlington:  1.94 inches at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst to 2.50 at Southampton.
Hunterdon:  2.34 at Lebanon to 2.51 at Readington.
Mercer:  2.33 at Trenton-Mercer Airport.
Middlesex:  No reading available.
Monmouth:  3.17 at Wayside.
Ocean:  No reading available.
Somerset:  2.20 at Middlebush to 2.83 in the Hillsborough area.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania:  2.85 at Doylestown Airport.

Flooding at Saw Mill Brook in Helmetta, Middlesex County.

  …AND WIND:  On Monday, April 16, besides getting hit hard by rain, the Jersey Midlands got pretty good winds. According to the nj.com website, strong winds were recorded at:
Monmouth County:  47 miles per hour at Sea Girt.
Ocean County:  51 miles per hour at Tuckerton and Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst.

The wind whips these flags at Thompson Park on the boundary of Jamesburg and Monroe in Middlesex County on Monday, April 16.

“Jamesburg Lake” (properly Lake Manalapan) at Thompson Park on the boundary of Jamesburg and Monroe, Middlesex County, is wind-driven Monday, April 16.

     GROUNDHOG IN THE WATER:  I do not think of ground hogs, “Marmota monax,” and water going together. But I spooked one near Manalapan Brook. A hole dug under a tree was flooded, but the ground hog fled me, into the flooded hole. At 61-years-old, all my life in these Pine Barrens around Helmetta, I still learn.

Two women searching for American Indian artifacts in a farm field on the Cranbury-Plainsboro boundary, Middlesex County.

     SNOW:  I received a report of snow falling Tuesday, April 17, in the Cranbury-Plainsboro area of Middlesex County. Since the winter of 1995-1996, this would be the latest snowfall I am aware of in South Middlesex County. Previously, I knew of April 16 in 2007. This season, I recorded 42.5 inches at my home in Monroe, Middlesex County; Normal, based at New Brunswick about 7.5 miles away, would be about 26 inches. Basically, half of this season’s snow did not fall until March 2 or later.

A double-crested cormorant, “Phalacrocorax auritus,” on “Jamesburg Lake” (properly Lake Manalapan) on the boundary of Jamesburg and Monroe, Middlesex County.

SHAD RUN:  I ran into Don Kamienski, a field editor for The Fisherman magazine, at this year’s Outdoors Writer’s Workshop, sponsored by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. Don, who lives along the Delaware River in Burlington County, told me the shad were already running up the river. The annual Shad Fest in Lambertville, Hunterdon County, is Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29. More information is available at http://www.shadfest.com. 

Shad Fest, 2011 — Various festival posters and one of the artists involved.

     BEWARE THE LANDSCAPER:  As it warms and we get into our yards and gardens, beware of hiring landscapers or gardeners. Have some reasonable faith in them. For example, I see way too much “volcano” mulching, rather than the proper “doughnut” mulching. The buildup of volcano mulching invites fungus into the mulch and disease into the tree. (Why mulch at all?) Also, I see white rock circles around trees; It just heats up the tree. Another recent sighting was a lawn treatment of topsoil on top of old lawn, then a seeding on top of the topsoil; One, it is the wrong time of year to properly plant a lawn and, two, why not remove the old lawn and aerate? Also, topsoil is not regulated, so try to make sure you know what you are getting.

Houseplants in the living room window in my house in Monroe, Middlesex County. A cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis,” perched in a tree outside the window.

     GOLDFINCHES, SKUNK CABBAGE, ETC.:  Another sign of spring is the yellowing of male eastern goldfinches, “Spinus tristis.” “Spring males are brilliant yellow and shiny black with a bit of white,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. “Females and all winter birds are more dull, but identifiable by their conical bill; pointed, notched tail; wingbars; and lack of streaking. …The brightening yellow of male goldfinches each spring is one welcome mark of approaching warm months.” This species is the New Jersey state bird. And skunk cabbage, “Symplocarpus foetidus,” is greening up in wetlands.

Two eastern goldfinches, the colorful male on the left and the duller female on the right, on my backyard finch feeder in Monroe, Middlesex County.

 Skunk cabbage in the Millstone River floodplain on the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     TONY’S MARKET:  For the first time this season, I visited one of my favorite places, Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in Robbinsville, Mercer County. At Tony’s, I usually buy house plants — On this trip, I picked up a wandering Jew and a fuschia — house plant supplies, tomato plants, seeds, and perhaps other odds and ends. I have been a Tony’s customer for 25 or so years. Also, a trip to Tony’s includes me walking through the greenhouses, shooting photographs. Many thanks to the Ciaccio family. I normally deal with Tony, a third generation of the family. (My other two regular nursery stops are Krygier’s in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and Ferris Farms Garden Center in East Brunswick, Middlesex County. All three are courteous and very helpful.)

Blooming flowers at Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in Robbinsville, Mercer County.

     DRIVE-BY NATURALIST:  I was driving to a Monmouth County section of the  state’s Assunpink Wildlife Managment Area to attend the annual Outdoor Writer’s Workshop, sponsored by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. While driving on Route 539 in East Windsor, Mercer County, a male northern harrier, “Circus hudsonius,” flew only a few feet off the ground and only a few feet in front of my Jeep, crossing my path from left to right. This sleek hawk is one of my favorite birds of prey. To see one close-up, if only only a glimpse, is a sight. Because it was a quick-happening event, I was unable to photograph the harrier.

Pollinators, honeybees on the Kiesler farm along the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     OUTDOOR WRITER’S WORKSHOP:  As a journalist, I have been attending the state Outdoor Writer’s Workshop, sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, on and off for about 30 years. I am a little off my turf because it is basically attended by hunting and fishing writers, rather than naturalists such as me, but the talks are informative. This year, I was able to catch the welcome by Larry Herrighty,  director of Fish and Wildlife; Paulette Nelson, assistant director, on “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,”; Ross Shramko’s “Results of the Strocked Trout Movement Study in Flat Brook”; and Sharon Petzinger’s “Songbird Response to Forest Management in Northwestern New Jersey.” Many thanks to Al Ivany, chief of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Wildlife Education and Information, for inviting me every year. The lunch, catered by Mastoris Diner-Restaurant, one of my old hangouts in Bordentown Township, Burlington County, is a treat. (Disclosure:  Beginning a few months ago, I became a Fish and Wildlife volunteer, primarily keeping tabs on the Upper Millstone River bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” nest on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties.)

Larry Herrighty, director of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, welcome attendees to the 2018 Outdoor Writer’s Workshop.

A vanishing scene of farmland, here on the Cranbury-Plainsboro boundary of Middlesex County.

     VOICES FROM AFIELD, FRANK ULATOWSKI:  Frank Ulatowski, an outdoorsman-friend from Manalapan-Englishtown, Monmouth County, is looking to get rid of circa late 1930s-early 1940s Allis Chalmers tractor. In its deteriorated condition, it probably would be best used for parts. Frank is reachable at Frank’s Auto Repairs in Manalapan-Englishtown, telephone 732-446-7616.

The circa late 1930s-early 19402 Allis Chalmers tractor in Manalapan-Englishtown, Monmouth County.

     SKY PHOTOS:  This week’s sky photos are from the areas of Helmetta, Monroe, Cranbury, Plainsboro, South Brunswick, and East Brunswick in Middlesex County; Upper Freehold in Monmouth County; and East Windsor and West Windsor in Mercer County.

A night view from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

The Kiesler farm on the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro in Middlesex County and East Windsor, Mercer County.

The Kiesler farm looking toward the Cranbury, Middlesex County, side.

The Kiesler farm on the boundary of Cranbury and Plainsboro, Middlesex County, looking toward Grover’s Mill, Mercer County.

Along the Millstone River on the boundary of Plainsboro and Cranbury on the Middlesex County side and East Windsor and West Windsor on the Mercer County side.

 From my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Sky over the cuesta geologic formation in Upper Freehold, Monmouth County.

South Brunswick Middlesex County.

 South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

Over a swamp hardwood forest on the boundary of Helmetta and East Brunswick, Middlesex County, in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  For the week of Sunday, April 22, to Saturday, April 28, the sun will rise about 6:10 to 6 a.m. and set about 7:45 to 7:50 p.m. For the week of Sunday, April 29, to Saturday, May 5, the sun will rise about 6 to 5:50 a.m. and set about 7:50 to 7:55 p.m.

NIGHT SKY:  The next full moon is April 29, the Sprouting Grass Full Moon.

 The crescent moon and the planet Venus, from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURE:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature off New Jersey was about 51 degrees.

A squirrel, “Sciurus carolinesis,” at my backyard bird feeder in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     WEATHER:  The National Weather Service office serving the Jersey Midlands is at https://www.weather.gov/phi/.


April 28, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Middlesex County, New Brunswick:  Rutgers University Ag Field Day, Cook Campus, Route 1 and Ryders Lane. More information is available at website http://agfieldday.rutgers.edu.

April 28 and 29, Saturday and Sunday, Hunterdon County, Lambertville:  Shad Fest event of environmentalism, entertainment, food, crafts. More information is available at http://www.shadfest.com. 

Inside the greenhouse at Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in Robbinsville, Mercer County.

 REDUCING MY CARBON FOOTPRINT:  As I awoke one morning, I listened to a radio broadcast about reducing one’s carbon footprint. I thought, Where am I failing to be an environmentalist? My answer is I drive too much, probably in the 20,000 miles-per-year range. I should work on this. Well, a few hours later, my Jeep was in the shop again for an ongoing clutch-dashboard area problem. Several weeks ago, I had no Jeep for 10 days — and survived quite well, walking and bicycling. So, here we go again. Fortunately, this is my slow time of year for work and with the little work I have this time of year, I can survive without a motor vehicle — I hope. Which leads me to a related story…

…BICYCLING:  Without my Jeep, I bicycled from my Monroe house, through Helmetta, to Spotswood, all in Middlesex  County, for breakfast. On my way back, I stopped at Timmy Mechkowski’s farmette in Helmetta. Timmy has a woodcutting operation there and I needed one log for the woodstove Timmy gave me. I grabbed the wood, tied it to rack of my second-hand, but lovingly trusty, circa 1980 Schwinn Collegiate coaster bicycle. Chris, the pizza delivery woman, saw my parked bicycle with the firewood and thought, Who would do something like this? Then, she saw it was my bike and she added, Now, it makes sense. I am like the “Log Lady” on the old Twin Peaks television show…

My coaster bicycle hauling firewood.

BURNING THE LOG:  After watching on television my Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Boston  Bruins is a National Hockey League playoff game, I went to my woodstove in my garden and threw in the log. I figured I would hang out under the stars on a cool night with a warm woodstove. Well, I gave up that idea when I realized I was smoking out the neighborhood. I guess the log was too wet. So, I watered down the fire and called it a night.

The woodstove in my garden with the log on top.

     Joe Sapia, 61, is a lifelong resident of Monroe — in South Middlesex County, where his maternal family settled more than 100 years ago. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic gardener of vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. He loves the Delaware River north of Trenton and Piedmont, too.

     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 Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda.

     He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening.

     Joe is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with The Jersey Midlands page on Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

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