Month: April 2018

The Birds and The Bees

Article by Allie Oross, photos by Johnny Malpica

Rutgers Raritan Scholars Interns Justin So and Allie Oross join New Brunswick Environmental Commission Chair Erin Connolly to hand out milkweed seeds at the New Brunswick Food Forum

On a bright morning at 10 AM in the hallways of A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School, tables from multiple community groups lined the halls in anticipation of the 7th Annual New Brunswick Food Forum organized by the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (NBCFA). Most of the interest groups were related to food and health within the local community and, as the first visitors started to file in, it was evident that these were topics of both concern and interest. Soon the hallways were bustling with adults and children alike from the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) table was promoting the importance of pollinator plants (plants that attract pollinator species) as we handed out milkweed seeds and vegetable seedlings. Children could choose to plant their own milkweed seed at one of our tables and many of them enjoyed the opportunity to get their hands dirty.

Pollinators are animals that assist in the fertilization of plants by transferring pollen from the male anatomy of the flower to the female parts. Pollinators can include bees, butterflies, bats, and birds and are essential for plant biodiversity. The number of pollinators in an area has a direct and positive correlation with the general health of an ecosystem. When these biotic vectors rifle around within the flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck to their legs or bodies and when they go to the next flower they take that pollen with them. This allows for diverse genotypes within plant populations that would not be seen without the assistance from pollinators.

The LRWP’s goal in handing out milkweed was not only to encourage an increase in pollinator populations in our urban community, but to also increase public awareness and involvement. We asked that people tend to their milkweed plant and watch it grow for two months, then join us and the New Brunswick Environmental Commission for a “pollinator planting day” on Sunday June 17. At that time the plan is to plant the milkweed seedlings and other pollinator plants in New Brunswick’s Buccleuch Park Pollinator Garden. Though most of the people who visited our table were initially unsure what a pollinator was, many took an interest in the health of our environment and were enthusiastic about the prospect of taking an active role in its prospective remediation.

The ability of our environment to efficiently and cohesively function is of drastic importance to every single person that lives within it. Conveniently enough, that same environmental ability depends mostly on the decisions made and actions taken by our very own species.

As Earth day rolls around, it is vital that we reflect on anthropogenic interference in nature and take responsibility for the consequences of over-development and urbanization. If most of the damage to the planet is caused by humans, then it is a logical conclusion that humans also possess the solution. Events like the Food Forum that engage community education and interaction are integral for the remediation of our planet and decreasing the prevalence of apathy and ignorance within our population.

 

What’s In a Name?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A red eyed vireo briefly descends from the treetops to provide a fleeting glimpse of one of the most common, yet rarely seen birds, east of the Mississippi.

March is the last piece of evidence needed to prove winter has gone by. No matter the weather March brings, her legacy of cold and snow, as the step child of winter, is invalidated by “the first day of spring” conspicuously stamped twenty-one days into the month on just about every calendar printed.

Further visual proof needed to allay the fear that winter is here to stay, are the strands of migratory birds that precede peak migration in the next couple of months. Perfectly positioned between two rivers that lead to the sea and link to the main Atlantic flyway, Branchburg comes alive with colorful winged migrants. Some birds are just passing through while others stay to establish breeding territories.

You don’t really need to be a graduate ornithologist with the ability to differentiate a magnolia warbler from a black throated warbler to enjoy all the feathered gems that pass our way in spring.

During a recent snowfall the view of several brilliant red, resident cardinals, dodging among the tight branches of a nearby holly tree resplendent in dark green leaves and an overabundance of red berries was a sight to behold. The gently falling snow turned the scene into a living Christmas card.

Bird seed scattered on the ground immediately near the back glass sliding door was being appreciated by a flock of brave juncos. The scene was calm and predictable with an occasional song sparrow darting across the stage. Suddenly, standing on the ground next to the glass was what appeared to be a Parula warbler. I ran for the camera to no avail as the little bird disappeared quicker than a shooting star. It didn’t seem plausible that a warbler would be in this area so early but there it was. Looking through the, ‘guide to field identification, Birds of North America’, I reviewed the dazzling array of warblers each differentiated by plumage unique to adult and juvenile, male and female with a cautionary note on hybrid warblers and seasonal plumage. I guess it was a male Parula warbler.

The conflict of identification versus the excitement at seeing a strange colorful bird lingered for a moment until I realized it was the sight of the bird that provided the magic.

Knowledge of the scientific classification was irrelevant to the enjoyment of simply noticing something that appeared to be different and gave pause to a moment of thoughtfulness or beauty.

As an example, you might gaze upon a stunning portrait of another person or a dreamy sunset and immediately be drawn in even though you have no idea of the person’s name or the location of the sunset.

Beauty is its own reward and needs no further qualification.

Birds are creatures which reflect the colors that dripped from God’s palette of infinite hues used to paint the portrait of life. One could argue ‘colors’ have wings to spread nature’s beauty far and wide and taken together they are called, ‘birds’.

Soon the area will be crowded with migrating birds, the most colorful of which are the warblers. A walk along the river flyways while scanning the treetops will reveal small flocks of birds that look like no other you have ever seen. The bright plumed breeding males will be the first to arrive as they travel in the safety of numbers. It is hard to imagine that these diminutive delicate appearing birds migrate yearly to Central America, Mexico and the West Indies from New Jersey and points north. After arriving in breeding areas, the males separate to set up mating territories defended by trilling songs sung loud and often.

The colorful and numerous male warblers representing several species are spectacular to observe in their diversity of color swatches, masks, vests, necklaces and caps. Each color pattern represents a different species despite similar size and intermingling of flocks.

Even the most ‘nature oblivious’ and ‘nature neutral’ observers may have their heads compulsively turned by the accidental appearance of a flash of tropical color among the local treetops.

Perhaps a seed of curiosity may be sown, nurtured and cultivated from a brief encounter with a spring warbler. That dangling thread of gangly curiosity left by a Magnolia warbler or Yellowthroat can easily draw the observer into the world of nature to wander and wonder at the infinite complexities that bind all living things. To believe beauty is only skin deep and fleeting is to ignore the power, depth and satisfaction the beauty of nature has to offer. Asking nothing in return, not even requiring that you can differentiate a Rufous sided towhee from a Cape May warbler, beauty exists only to be appreciated.

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.

Ode to April

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Eager and hungry fox pups survived the mercurial spring floods to feed voraciously on mom in the bright sunlight of a late April morning.

April is the quintessential month of spring, the first month to start with a vowel after a bleak winter of hard consonant constructed months. The name April is probably derived from the Latin infinitive, aperere, ‘to open’, but that consideration is at the risk of offending the claims of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and Apollo the son of Zeus, their namesake month.

I see April as a grand series of ever changing dance steps performed in tune to the great celestial choreography of the planets and stars. One planetary misstep and the world comes crashing down. It is, however, a play without flaw that brings the predictability of the seasons and the impish April to improvise her set of daily surprises that precede the full bloom of May.

April is a charming minx with dancing green eyes whose mercurial ways give false hope to early gardeners as she whirls in the white robes of a sudden snow squall. Days of bright sunshine are mixed with bone chilling moist air, frosts and gentle rain or hailstorms of biblical proportion. These are the veils April sheds as she improvises dance steps to tease and mislead, all the while faithfully delivering the solemn promise of May.

Edwin Way Teale, a noted author and naturalist claims that, “spring approaches from the south at fifteen miles a day”. If you were to drive from New Jersey to Maine in mid April, you could actually see spring approach.

Travelling north, you go back in time to see spring begin.

As you drive through New Jersey, forsythia planted along road medians would be in full yellow bloom as tree buds give birth to pale green leaves.

The crowns of naturalized red maple dominated hardwoods would have shed their maroon veil to now wear a haze of light green unfurling leaves that will continue to darken as they mature

Oak dominated hillsides and lowlands scattered with black gum, hard maple, beech, ash and sycamore appear as colorful as autumn with interlacing crowns covered in non reflective red, yellow, pink and salmon hued emerging leaves.

The color and blooms slowly fade as you travel north. The further you travel in one day, the more the landscape appears as if drawn on individual sheets of paper flicked by hand to appear as if moving. The individual frames of the ‘movie’ become alive and reveal the living, leading edge of the manifestations of spring.

The return journey south allows you to enjoy the second coming of spring and the insight that comes with a second chance.

Along the South Branch, a Great Horned Owl has been nurturing a clutch of eggs that will produce at least one full sized, flightless owlet to stand constantly alert for parental food deliveries in mid April.

During two trips down the South Branch in February and March, a female red fox ran along the river bank to expose herself as if to draw me away from her riverside den. She would run along the bare vertical bank then walk out onto a gravel bar, sit down and watch me approach. When I got too close she would run off and wait further downstream. At one point she ran across a sand bar that was flanked by a pair of mallards standing on the bare ground and a great blue heron posed in foot deep water. All three birds stood perfectly still as the fox ran between them. Neither the ducks nor the heron made any move to escape as if they knew the fox was not a threat that day.

I can only hope the fox waited until April to have her pups in light of the flood that came in late March. Perhaps April will reveal a gentle rain that favors the survival of not only the fox pups, but the bank swallows, flycatchers, muskrat and turkeys that might have dens or nests close to the riverbank and flood plain.

It is amazing how migration, breeding, births and nurturing coincide with seasonal events as if truly participating in a dance whose every step is critical to survival.

We have evolved physiologically to fit into a small, ‘temporary’ niche circling in an eddy on the river of change. If the changes take place faster than we can evolve, we go away.

Despite the vagaries of April’s whim, she shows the world an emergence of life that has learned her fickle ways and dances in step to lovingly embrace such a wild partner.

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 and Afield — Week of April 1, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

The dance of the black vultures, “Coragyps atratus,” in a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County. These vultures were near a deer carcass, so they could have been spreading their wings to rid them of any bacteria picked up while feeding on the dead body. Or it could be a simple drying of the wings, although the day was foggy. 

     BLACK VULTURES, UP FROM THE SOUTH:  As I have mentioned in the past, I do not recall seeing a black vulture, “Coragyps atratus,” until about the middle 1990s. They are more of a southeastern United States species. Now, I see them frequently in the Jersey Midlands. The species “has expanded range northward in the northeast, but has declined in parts of southeast,” according to the National Audubon Society’s website. “Loss of good nest sites in large tree hollows may be one cause.”

Black vultures on a foggy day in a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

BLACK VULTURES ON A CARCASS:   In a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County, lie a well-picked-over carcass of a deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” presumably the victim of motor vehicle accident. It was not picked-over enough for black vultures, “Coragyps atratus,” to be uninterested. There were about 10 on or near the carcass. Black vultures feed on “mostly carrion,” according to the National Audubon Society website.  The species “feeds on carcasses of dead animals of all sizes.” And from Cornell University’s All About Birds website, “Turkey vultures (“Cathartes aura”) have an excellent sense of smell, but black vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring turkey vultures. When a turkey vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the black vulture follows close behind. One on one at a carcass, black vultures lose out to the slightly larger turkey vulture. But flocks of black vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary turkey vultures away.” I saw no turkey vultures at the carcass.

Black vultures on a deer carcass in a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     DEER DAMAGE:  Damage from browsing deer, “”Odocoileus virginianus,” is quite apparent, if you know what to look for. Look where ornamentals are planted. If you see arbor vitae with a thin bottom and a tipped top, kind of like an arrow pointed upward, you are probably looking at deer damage — the bottom being what is easily reachable to the deer, the top being harder to reach or out of reach.

Deer damage on these evergreen ornamental trees on a foggy day in a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     MULCHING TREES:  The concept of mulching a tree is to retain water to the root area while the tree is getting established. Well, if you are going to mulch, please do it correctly. That is, think “doughnut,” not “volcano.” Regarding the proper way, build a “doughnut” outside of the trunk — the hole around the trunk, the ring not touching any trunk or roots. Run the rim out to the end of the root ball or to the end of the tree canopy. The mulch should be only 2- to 3-inches deep. (Regarding a volcano, its massive depth could introduce and hold contaminants, while its touching the tree could introduce contaminants to the tree itself. Also, why mulch an established tree? Aesthetics — and property owners love aesthetics. Sorry, but I view that as image over substance.

Volcanoes, the wrong way to mulch a tree. Here in a professional park in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     THE DRIVE-BY NATURALIST:  A doctor’s appointment in this Plainsboro, Middlesex County, professional park got me a lot of material for this writing. So, as I keep reminding, be prepared. There is a lot of nature around us. As much as I preach about keeping an eye out for things happening in the natural world, I missed a rare photograph — a flying adult bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” and an Air Force jet circling Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Per my duties as a state Division of Fish and Wildlife volunteer, I was observing the Upper Millstone River eagle nest on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties, including shooting photographs. An adult eagle left the nest and was circling the area, flying farther and farther south from the nest — in the direction of the military base. At the same time, the Air Force cargo plane was circling the base. There they were, two flying symbols of American freedom in one frame. Well, nowadays, I have only a point-and-shoot camera. Instead of focusing on the eagle and plane in the background, the camera focused on the tree branches in the foreground. So, the eagle and plane are a blur. My fault. Despite the capture-the-moment shot, I should have made sure the camera was properly focused.

 A missed photograph opportunity of two flying symbols of American freedom — a bald eagle circling in front of the Upper Millstone River nest and a plane circling Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  The bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” on the Upper Millstone River nest on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties seem to have been attending to their young for weeks. So, the baby or babies — it is unknown if there is one baby or more in the nest — should fledge in early to mid-May on the early end to early June on the far end. Then, the family should stay together in the area. After fledging, the young eagle or eagles should stay in the area until about early September to early December. (The bald eagle remains in New Jersey an “endangered” breeder – that is, in immediate jeopardy as a breeder – and “threatened” in general – that is, in danger of becoming “endangered” if conditions deteriorate.)

An adult bald eagle flies into the Upper Millstone River nest, left, on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties. 

     SNOWFALL THIS WEEK:  This week at my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, snow fell Monday, April 2 — and estimated 2 inches. Also on April 2, I noticed the first forsythia blooming this season in Mercer County (Hightstown and East Windsor) and Middlesex County (Cranbury and South Brunswick).

Forsythia blooming along Cranbury Brook in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

SNOWFALL TO DATE:  With the Monday, April 2, snowfall of about 2 inches at my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, the seasonal snowfall total is 42.5 inches. What a late snow period — prior to March 2, 21.5 inches fell; from March 2 to April 2, 21 inches fell. (The seasonal average at New Brunswick, about 7.5 miles away, is about 26 inches.)

A tranquil Brainerd Lake (informally “Cranbury Lake”) in Cranbury, Middlesex County, on the day it last snowed, Monday, April 2. It was a wet snow of about 2 inches and melted very quickly — before this photograph was taken in the afternoon.

     SNOWFALL, I TOLD YOU SO:  I keep noting we can get snowfall until about April 15. This year, it is proving true. Based on my record-keeping, since the winter of 1995-1995, the latest snowfall accumulation in Monroe, Middlesex County, was 3.5 inches in 1996, April 9-10, and the latest snowfall without accumulation was in 2007, April 16.

From the Joey Archives:  1996, April 9, Tuesday — Snow on blooming forsythia in Hamilton Square, Mercer County.

     SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  For the week of Sunday, April 8,  Sunday, to Saturday, April 14, the sun will rise from about 6:30 to 6:20 a.m. and set about 7:30 to 7:35 p.m. For the week of Sunday, April 15, to Saturday, April 21, the sun will rise about 6:20 to 6:10 a.m. and set about 7:35 to 7:45 p.m.

 Sky photo, No. 1:  My backyard in Monroe, Middlesex  County.

     ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURE:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature off New Jersey was about 45 degrees.

Sky photo, No. 2:  “Jamesburg Lake” (properly “Lake Manalapan”) in Thompson Park on the Jamesburg-Monroe boundary of Middlesex County.

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

Forsythia blooming in a front yard of a house in East Windsor, Mercer County.

UPCOMING:

April 9 to 15, Monday to Sunday, Mercer County:  The annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival, website https://www.princetonlibrary.org/peff/.

April 11, Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Somerset County, Hillsborough:  The 10th Annual New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team Conference, Duke Farms, Route 206. More information is available from the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, email  info@fohvos.org.

April 14, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. signup, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Middlesex County, East Brunswick:  The 15th Annual Farrington Lake Cleanup, Bicentennial Park, Riva Avenue and Hardenburg Lane. (Rain date, April 15, Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.). More information is available from Michael Shakarjian at telephone 732-828-3275, Alan Godber at 732-846-4476, website http://www.lbwp.org, or  email contact@lbwp.org.

April 21, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Burlington County, Southampton:  The Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s 13th Annual Native Plant Sale, Alliance headquarters, 17 Pemberton Road (Route 616). More information is available from the alliance, telephone  609-859-8860 or website http://www.pinelandsalliance.org.

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. 

Now, this is a Jersey blue jay, a blue jay, “Cyanocitta cristata,” that eats pizza. In my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     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

Garden and Afield in the Jersey Midlands — Week of March 25

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Here at Rock Brook on Sourland Mountain in Montgomery, Somerset County, and in other New Jersey locales, trout fishing formally opens Saturday, April 7, at 8 a.m.

     ROCK BROOK:  Rock Brook has its headwaters on Sourland Mountain, from which it drains about 3.2 square miles into Beden Brook below the mountain to the east in the area of Skillman Park. Beden Brook, then, crosses Route 206 and flows into the Millstone River between Rocky Hill and Griggstown. These few miles of flow are all in Montgomery, Somerset County. Rock Brook is filled with traprock, one of the characteristics of the Piedmont geologic area.

A rite of passage of fishing, getting snagged in a tree. Here, a bobber and lure snagged along Rock Brook at Bessie Grover Memorial Park on Sourland Mountain in Montgomery, Somerset County. Bessie Grover was a local resident. Her history is at http://www.stoutsburgcemetery.org/stories/bessie-grover/.

Sky photo 1:  East Windsor, Mercer County.

     HARRY’S ARMY/NAVY:  Harry’s Army/Navy, a military surplus and outdoors retail institution on Route 130, is closing. In the summer of 1974, as I headed to my freshman year at Marquette University’s College of Journalism in Wisconsin, I bought my pea coat at Harry’s for $45. Since, I have bought many a thing: shoes, shirts, denim jacket, neckerchief, belts, T-shirts, knapsack, bright orange safety vest, pocket knife, flashlight…. I am so sad to see Harry’s go. What will I do, now? See http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2018/03/post_180.htmland http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2018/03/17_things_harrys.html#incart_river_index. Harry’s website, http://harrysan.com.

I believe this is an oil beetle, genus “Meloe,” on my back porch in Monroe, Middlesex County. Why “oil”? Because they have a defense of secreting an oily substance.

     THE SOUNDS OF SPRING:  As I was leaving my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, I heard the cooing of a mourning dove, “Zenaida macroura,” sounding as though it was coming from the Manalapan Brook floodplain’s swamp hardwood forest. Earlier by a day or two, I heard another bird, although I do not know the species, colorfully singing. Then, another bird singing away. Oh, and the spring peeper treefrogs, “Pseudacris crucifer,” are really calling away. This is the sound of spring.

The emergence of this oil beetle on my back porch is another sign of spring.

     ‘ONION SNOW’:  I learned a new term, “onion snow.” It means a snow that comes after onions have been planted and are sprouting or when they should be planted. In other words, a late snow that melts quickly. In New Jersey, the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension advises planting onions in April. So, here we are, with an “onion snow” forecast for the Sunday-Monday, April 1-2, overnight. As for wild onions, they have been sprouting for weeks.

Sky photo 2:  Farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     SPRING SNOW:  A spring snow tends to be wet and heavy. In a recent snow, a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County, broke. It  already was weakened — I noticed what I believe were woodpecker peck marks in it — for whatever reason. The pitch pine is the common pine of the Pine Barrens and I dug up this one in my local woods and transplanted it in my yard. So, it is not normally used as an ornamental. Because it is more forest tree, I am leaving it in place, broken — as it would sit in the woods. I did remove the broken limbs and added them to my brush pile, a favorite place of house sparrows, “Passer domesticus.”

The snow-broken pitch pine in my backyard.

 

Another view of the snow-broken pitch pine in my backyard.

I added the broken branches from the damaged pitch pine to the wildlife bush pile in my backyard.

     NO EAGLETS AT DUKE FARMS:  I have been watching the live camera on the Duke Farms nest of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” pre-nor’easter snow, during a nor’easter, and after a nor-easter. During a nor’easter, an eagle covered in snow sat on an egg or eggs. Sadly the nest at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County, is done for the season, with no successful hatching of the two eggs. See the story at http://www.nj.com/somerset/index.ssf/2018/03/duke_farm_devastated_after_eagle_cam_nest_fails.html. This means the Duke Farms nest is done for the season.

Sky Photo 3:  Farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  For a few weeks now, the bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” at the Upper Millstone River nest on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties have been feeding a chick or chicks. This was based on watching the adults, either standing high on the nest or flying in or out frequently — as if they were taking care of, feeding, an eaglet or more than one. This week, Ann Price, my fellow volunteer nest monitor, “saw the adult feeding the chick/s. I did catch a glimpse of an eaglet. No idea how many are there. But I can confirm one.”

Sky photo 4:  Farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     MYSTERY OF THE BIG CATS:  Recently, there have been reports of a mystery big cat in Ewing, Mercer County, and Helmetta, Middlesex County. Mountain lion? Doubtful. Bobcat? Maybe. Domestic cat? Probably. These mystery big cat sightings happen every so often. During my newspaper reporting days, I kept a file on them. Normally, they never amount to anything conclusive.

Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” at a puddle on farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  For the week of Sunday, April 1, to Saturday, April 7, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:30 a.m. and set about 7:20 to 7:30 p.m. For the week of Sunday, April 8,  Sunday, to Saturday, April 14, the sun will rise from about 6:30 to 6:20 a.m. and set about 7:30 to 7:35 p.m.

A field of Indian grass in Montgomery, Somerset County.

     ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURE:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature off New Jersey is about 45 degrees.

 An eastern bluebird, “Sialia sialis,” sits on a snowfence post in Montgomery, Somerset County. It is a male, identifiable because of its bright colors.

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

Sky photo 5:  Farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     UPCOMING:

April 9 to 15, Monday to Sunday, Mercer County:  The annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival, https://www.princetonlibrary.org/peff/.

HEARINGS ON GAS PIPELINE EXPANSION:  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has schedule hearings on the “draft environmental impact statement” for the Northeast Supply Enhancement project’s natural gas pipeline expansion through the Jersey Midlands. Hearings are scheduled for:
April 25, Wednesday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Middlesex County, Old Bridge, at the George Bush Senior Center.
April 26, Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Brooklyn, New York, at the Best Western  Gregory Hotel.
May 2, Wednesday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Somerset County, Franklin, at the Franklin Township Community Center.
May 3, Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, at Solanco High School.

 Sunset in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County. 

 

     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 Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

Notes from Garden & Afield – Sunday March 18, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Gulls flying above a dune along the Atlantic Ocean at Spring Lake, Monmouth County.

     DRIVE-BY NATURALIST:  As I was driving along a road in Monroe, Middlesex County, I looked at farmland and saw two birds — a red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis,”on a dead animal, the other, a turkey vulture, “Cathartes aura,” standing aside. When the red-tail left, the turkey vulture began feasting on the dead animal, while another turkey vulture flew in. It appears the turkey vultures were not messing with a red-tail.

Photo 1:  A turkey vulture, bottom, awaits its turn on a dead animal, to the right of the vulture, as a red-tail hawk got done eating and flies away. Moral of this story:  Do not mess with a red-tail.

Photo 2:  The red-tail flies off.

Photo 3:  The turkey vulture gets its turn on the dead animal.

Photo 4:  Another turkey vulture flies in.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE RED-TAILED HAWK:  “The Red-tailed Hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. “At least, that’s what Hollywood directors seem to think. Whenever a hawk or eagle appears onscreen, no matter what species, the shrill cry on the soundtrack is almost always a Red-tailed Hawk.” The site adds, “This is probably the most common hawk in North America. If you’ve got sharp eyes, you’ll see several individuals on almost any long car ride, anywhere.”

A red-tailed hawk flies over field and farmland on the boundary of Monroe and Cranbury in Middlesex County.

SNOW:  From the snowfall of Tuesday to Thursday, March 20 to 22, the National Weather Service is reporting the following totals by county. They are broken down, here, by the low number of inches to the high number, but they may not reflect complete totals from around each county:
Burlington County: 7.3 inches in Cinnaminson to 11.9 inches in Mount Holly.
Hunterdon County: 6.7 in Wertsville to 14 in the Byram area.
Mercer County: 6 in the Princeton area to 9.1 in the Hightstown area.
Middlesex County: 5 in south Old Bridge to 12.5 at Cheesequake. (I recorded about 11 inches in the part of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg.)
Monmouth County: 8.5 in Keyport to 13 in Lincroft.
Ocean County: 5.8 in the Lakehurst area to 15 in Lacey.
Somerset County: 5.6 in Watchung to 8.5 in the Bedminster area.

Turtle Creek on the Helmetta-Monroe boundary in Middlesex County after the Tuesday to Thursday, March 20 to 22, snowfall.

     SNOWFALL TO DATE:  At my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, the season’s snowfall to date has been 40.5 inches. Normal at New Brunswick, Middlesex County, or about 7.5 miles away, is about 26 inches. We are well past normal, with about three weeks of snow season to go. Interestingly, nearly half the snowfall, or 19 inches, has been in the last three weeks — of March!

Joey’s house in Monroe, Middlesex County, in the snow.

     CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE WEATHER:  Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers Univeristy, talks about climate change’s impact on weather, http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/climate-change-noreaster-spring-snow-opinion-20180322.html.

 The Wednesday, March 21, nor’easter party at the Hightstown Diner, Mercer County.

     GARDEN WRITING:  The “Garden Writing” course I am teaching in the Princeton Adult School began this week. So, I have spent some time reading student papers, covering such topics as farm life in Delaware, Hunterdon County; orchids; Grandma’s pansies; and a lemon tree. All the papers have been enjoyable reads by area writers.

A farm scene in the Applegarth section of Monroe, Middlesex County.

     MY GARDEN, NO. 1, PLANTING:  The back portion of my backyard has as far back as I can remember in my 61 years been called “The Garden,” where my father, Joe Sr., and Grandma Annie Poznanski Onda grew vegetables and fruit. I still garden it, that patch being about 15 feet in depth and 75 feet in width, or a little more than 1,100 square feet. Before this week’s snow, I plowed up The Garden. Some look to St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, to plant peas and I had my Burpee Sugar Snap Peas in hand, but I viewed St. Paddy’s Day as too early. Instead, I was looking to plant the peas in early April. Finally, on Saturday, March 24, I broke down and planted two rows, or about 30 feet, of the Burpee Sugar Snap Peas. I also planted a row, or about 15 feet, of Burpee heirloom Touchon Carrot, because I had some old seeds around.

The Garden” plowed up in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     MY GARDEN, NO. 2, ORDERING SEEDS:  I ordered the rest of my early garden seeds, along with the summer garden stuff, all from Burpee. The early stuff:  heirloom Touchon Carrot, Kaleidoscope Blend Carrot, Salad Bowl Lettuce, Early Wonder Beet, and heirloom Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach. The summer seeds:  Red Currant cherry tomatoes, heirloom Rutgers Tomato, Silver Queen Hybrid Corn, Straight Eight Organic  Cucumber, heirloom Big Mama Lima Bean, and heirloom Hales Best Jumbo Cantaloupe. Also for the summer season, I bought various varieties of Burpee zinnia for fresh cuts and to attract pollinators —  Envy, Candy Cane Mix, Old Mexico,  Forecast, and Raspberry Lemonade Mix.

MY GARDEN, NO. 3, ZINNIA:  Last year was the first year I grew zinnia. I bought them to attract pollinators, which they did — especially various species of butterfly. And I always had fresh cuts. Zinnia, too, are easy to grow. Also nice about zinnia is it being an annual, so I am not introducing an invasive non-native plant. I fell in love with zinnia. This year, I plan on putting the seeds of various varieties in a jar, shaking the jar, and planting the seeds in a big mix. So far, I plan these Burpee varieties — Envy, Candy Cane Mix, Old Mexico, Forecast, Raspberry Lemonade Mix, Cut and Come Again, Giant Flowered, and Big Tetra. If I need more, I will buy more. If I have too much seed, I will save the extra or take the view, “You cannot have too much zinnia seed.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE YARD:  Ma (Sophie Onda Sapia) died at 81-years-old in 1995. But her flowers still grow in the front yard.

Ma’s flowers in the front yard of my home in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     FULL MOON:  The next full moon is Saturday, March 31, the second full moon of March. The first one was March 1.

A half-moon with clouds passing in front of it, as viewed from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  For the week of Sunday, March 25, to Saturday, March 31, the sun will rise from about 6:55 to 6:45 a.m. and set about 7:15 to 7:20 p.m. For the week of Sunday, April 1, to Saturday, April 7, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:30 a.m. and set 7:20 to 7:30 p.m.

A cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis,” and a white-throated sparrow, “Zonotrichia albicollis,” in my sideyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURE:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature off New Jersey is about 40 degrees.

A calm, flat Atlantic Ocean at Sea Girt, Monmouth County.

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

A HAWK?:  Have you ever heard a blue jay cry like a hawk? “The blue jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks, especially the red-shouldered hawk” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. “These calls may provide information to other jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present.”

A blue jay, “Cyanocitta cristata,” helping itself to sunflower seeds in the backyard of my Monroe, Middlesex County, home. 

     SKY PHOTOS:  This week’s sky photographs are from Monroe and Cranbury in Middlesex County.

The Wyckoff’s Mills section of Monroe, Middlesex County.

The Wyckoff’s Mills section of Monroe, Middlesex County.

The sky over farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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

     HEARINGS ON GAS PIPELINE EXPANSION:  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has schedule hearings on the “draft environmental impact statement” for the Northeast Supply Enhancement project’s natural gas pipeline expansion through the Jersey Midlands. Hearings are scheduled for:
April 25, Wednesday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Middlesex County, Old Bridge, at the George Bush Senior Center.
April 26, Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Brooklyn, New York, at the Best Western  Gregory Hotel.
May 2, Wednesday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Somerset County, Franklin, at the Franklin Township Community Center.
May 3, Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, at Solanco High School.

     UPCOMING:
          April 7, Saturday, 8 a.m.:  New Jersey’s trout fishing season formally opens.
          April 9 to 15, Monday to Sunday, Mercer County:  The annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival, https://www.princetonlibrary.org/peff/.
In my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County, the Wednesday-Thursday, March 21-22, nor’easter ends. This photograph reminds me of “Scout Vespers,” a song we sang at Boy Scout Troop 81 meetings, “Softly falls the light of day as our campfire fades away….”

     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 Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia