Stream Habitat Assessment of Ambrose Brook – 10 October 2018

Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

This visit to the Ambrose Brook in Middlesex, NJ took place on a sunny, blustery fully autumn day. I didn’t know what to expect in regard to this visit, given that Hurricane Michael had blown through NJ the previous day. What was most impressive about the site was that it was imbued with a sense of energy and even restlessness, perhaps a carryover from the weather event of the day before. As I wandered along the stream bank, my attention was caught by the wind, strong gusts that kicked up dust and a trail of early falling leaves that scattered along the footpaths, the banks of the moving brook, and settled momentarily on the water. There was plentiful sunshine, open blue sky, a few scattered clouds that gave scant shadow on the earth, but… fall is in the air. The surrounding trees have not yet lost all of their leaves, but it is evident that the summer heat and earth’s natural cycle are performing their annual duty: the tree color is washed out, leaves are drying out and there is more space between the upper branches, as evidence of the drying and falling leaves. The tall grasses at various points on the stream banks have taken on a brownish hue, in contrast with the deeper green of the earlier summer months. Is there a change in the sunlight’s power? I tend to think so. In resting for a few moments on the banks of the stream on a strategically placed bench, I noted that the angle of the sunlight was lower, so the sun’s rays and warmth were mitigated by the obvious change of season, the rotation and tilting of our green planet here in the northern latitude toward winter. Oh, don’t utter the word!

The restlessness that I noted previously can be attributed to the energy that is expressed in the pulsing of the planet via various sources: the movement of the wind, as noted in the trees, grasses and leaves, the rustling and creaking of overhead branches, and the comings and goings of the Canadian geese. For this visit, various groups of geese appeared to be organized into elite squadrons, squawking their arrivals and departures on clearly defined areas of the brook, which took on the function of an aquatic airport, an avian Newark Liberty, as it were. None were to be found on the grass or footpaths. In contrast with earlier visits during spring and summer; for this visit, the geese were supremely active, aggressive even, as if protecting given areas on the water’s surface for their landings and take-offs. I wonder if their ancient memory of paths of fall migration was contributing to their agitation. Their honking and hissing carried from all along the footpath. Other birds that were noted were hearty and intrepid blue jays, who with their size and weight, seemed to be able to tolerate the wind’s gusts and buffeting, as well as a privacy seeking blue heron. The latter was tucked into a quiet shallow at the base and to the side of the waterfall, likely an attempt to avoid and ignore the noisy Canadian geese. (This last comment is a glaring example of anthropomorphism, I know, but those geese really are quite vocal, pushy and …mildly annoying.) Ground squirrels, who appear to be in fine flesh, have begun to heed autumn’s warning, several were observed collecting and munching on the first fall of acorns from the surrounding oaks.

Ambrose Brook was swollen and fast moving, manifesting a steady and plentiful flow, with even some white water at the base of the waterfall. Although I had not brought any measuring equipment for this visit, my ‘guess-timate’ based on visual measurement alone as to water depth was approximately 8-10 inches closer to the bank and 12-15 inches toward the center of the stream and past the small waterfall, surely because of the rainfall from Hurricane Michael. The stream had lots of surface ripples, which acted as prisms for the sunlight, and thus produced a dancing refraction of water, waves, and light. Lovely.

So, this cycle of observation and assessment of mine will soon be drawing to a close. My commitment was for a year’s worth of visits and measurements. Given that I began in December of 2017, only a few more visits remain. Now that autumn is upon us, I am struck by the wholesomeness of this process and how the observation of nature’s constant change ironically demonstrates its sureness and constancy. The beauty of each season does not depend on human intervention – nature and the environment are enough, in and of themselves.

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