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.
Pumpkins and fall foliage, both taking a last stand for the season, at the Red Wagon Farm Market on Route 33 and Smithburg Road/Route 527-A in Manalapan, Monmouth County.
SNOWBIRDS: I saw the first “snowbirds,” or dark-eyed juncos, “Junco hyemalis,” of the season on Tuesday, November 7, Election Day, around sunrise at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. The birds are easy to identify by their gray tops and white undersides – “gray skies above, snow below” – and the white edges of their splayed tails as they take off. My rule of thumb is to look for these birds around Halloween, October 31, arriving for the cold weather from as close as the high ground of North Jersey or Pennsylvania and as far away as Canada. Around my yard, I look for these small birds on the ground under the bird-feeder or in bushes. I will see them around my yard to about mid- to late April.
I saw the first “snowbirds,” or dark-eyed juncos, of the season Tuesday, November 7, Election Day, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. These birds arrive from the north for the cold-weather season.
VOICES FROM AFIELD, MORE WINTER BIRDS: Diane Larson, a long-time gardening mentor, checked in on the afield side, regarding Beaver Dam Creek in Brick, Ocean County. “Another bird sign of winter – the buffleheads (“Bucephala albeola’’) and mergansers (genus “Mergus”) arrived in Beaver Dam Creek right on schedule – saw them Saturday (November 4) for the first time. We also have otters (“Lutra Canadensis”). They are very elusive, but we’ve seen them and heard them splashing in the water around 8:00 p.m. one night (during) the last week of October. We went outside and tried to see them, but they swam away. All we saw was their wake and heard their grunts.”
Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” on the Skeba Farm in the Applegarth section of Monroe, Middlesex County.
BIRDS IN MY YARD: As I was doing yardwork, birds were feasting on corn hearts at my backyard bird-feeder: dark-eyed junco, “Junco hyemalis”; mourning dove, “Zenaida macroura”; tufted titmouse, “Baeolophus bicolor”; and Carolina chickadee, “Poecile carolinensis.”
A Mourning Dove at my Backyard Bird-feeder
A Tufted Titmouse at my Backyard Bird-Feeder
A Chickadee at my Backyard Feeder
GARDEN AND YARD: As I cut the lawn, hopefully for the last time of the year, I smelled wild onions I had mowed down. A bittersweet scent – one pointing back at the year’s peak of vegetable growing, one pointing to a gardening season that lingers. The Jamesburg-to-New Brunswick area of Middlesex County got down to about 20 degrees on the Friday-Saturday, November 10-11, overnight, pretty much bringing an end to the warm weather gardening season. However, I did find a few cherry tomatoes in my garden. (I have a cool weather crop of carrots planted. So, I am hoping for some kind of harvest.) So, this week, I cut the lawn, dumped my last barrel of gardening water, and mowed down the garden, except for the carrots. As for the yard work, I try to get that all done by Thanksgiving.
I found these cherry tomatoes in my garden. The top one was in good condition and I popped it into my mouth right in the yard and ate it.
VOICES FROM AFIELD, NO. 2, LINGERING SPRING: Last week, I mentioned I thought I heard the call of a spring peeper treefrog, “Pseudacris crucifer,” at Farrington Lake on the boundary of South Brunswick, East Brunswick, and North Brunswick in Middlesex County. They are normally early spring callers. Jean Montgomerie, an environmental scientist who lives in Freehold and works in the Pine Barrens, said, “Those were spring peepers; I heard them last week too.” Spring, in the form of fall, is playing itself out again, this year.
NIGHT SKY: With the cold spell at the end of the week, I stood in my yard between about 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and looked at the night sky. With the temperature at about 23 degrees and very little moisture in the air (with a dewpoint of about 8 degrees), it was one of the clearest night skies I recall, with great views of Auriga (overhead/east); Pleiades, or Seven Sisters (overhead); Orion (southeast); the Great Square of Pegasus (southwest); Cassiopeia (northwest); and the North Star. Take advantage of cold, dry fall and winter overnights. Get a revolving star chart, turn off the outside lights, go outside and acclimate your eyesight to the darkness, and look into the night sky.
THE MOON: The moon is waning from the Full Frost Moon of the November 3-4 overnight. The next full moon is the Long Night Moon on the December 2-3 overnight.
The morning moon, with the changing colors of the fall foliage underneath, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. The moon is waning from the Full Frost Moon of the November 3-4 overnight. The next full moon is the Long Night Moon on the December 2-3 overnight.
FALL FOLIAGE: The changing colors of fall foliage are all over the place – some past full color, some peaking, some yet to come. I take the colors as they come, rather than concentrating on a peak.
The changing colors of the fall foliage along Interstate 195 in Jackson, Ocean County.
The rising sun’s light hits the top of the trees, lighting up the fall colors, at St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.
The changing colors between Davidson Mill Park and Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.
DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, RED-TAILED HAWK: As I was returning home from my normal Sunday routine of lunch at the Hightstown Diner in Mercer County, I crossed the Millstone River on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County. On the Cranbury side, a large bird flew out of the trees, then low along the roadway – a red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis.” I cranked off a shot on my camera. Not a good shot, but that is photojournalism – you take what you get, because the news does not necessarily stop for the journalist. The photo, at least, puts in perspective how low the bird was.
A red-tailed hawk flies low along a roadway on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County.
The Millstone River on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County.
VOICES FROM AFIELD, NO. 3, DEER RUT: I continue seeing normally hidden male deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” because it is the mating season, or rut. This week, I saw one in southern Monroe, Middlesex County, at night. Then, as I was driving to work one morning in daylight, a deer bolted across a paved road in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County. I did not get a good look at the deer, but, based on the way it bolted across the street and because I saw no others, my guess is it was a buck. Paul Migut checked in from South River, Middlesex County: “Spotted buck behind my firehouse. He’s been chasing two does around here.” Again, be careful driving during the rut, which should last until about mid-December.
CLOUDS: This week’s cloud shots are from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County. My family has had a plot there for more than 100 years, since my maternal grandfather, Michael Onda, died in 1917, October.
Clouds over St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.
More clouds from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.
And more clouds from St. James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.
VOICES FROM AFIELD, N0. 4, SWIMMING RIVER: Rik van Hemmen, sailor and advocate for the Navesink River watershed, Monmouth County, checked in: “Two weeks ago, just before I hauled my Sea Bright skiff for the winter, we had a perfect tide going up the Swimming River with friends who had never done it before. As is common, it blew their minds to see all this natural beauty.”
Fall on the Swimming River in Monmouth County. (Photograph copyright 2017 by Rik van Hemmen.)
OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 50 degrees to 53 degrees over the November 11-12 weekend.
SUNRISE/SUNSET: For November 12, Sunday, to November 18, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 a.m. and set about 4:35 to 4:40 p.m. For November 19, Sunday, to November 25, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 to 6:55 a.m. and set about 4:35 p.m.
WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.
IN THE BACKYARD: As I was wrapping up this week’s “Notes from Garden and Afield,” I took a soda break. While in the kitchen, I grabbed four gourds I had on display on the table, opened the back door, stood on the back porch, and threw the gourds across the lawn into the garden. I threw one into a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” bordering lawn and garden. A bird must have been in the tree, because a large bird flew out and past me eye-high. Wow! On that note….
Say, good night, Pumpkin Person. (A pumpkin person at the Red Wagon Farm Market on Route 33, Manalapan, Monmouth County.)
Joe Sapia, 60, 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 a gardener of organic vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. 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 Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.