Author: Heather Fenyk

EPA ends publication of Nonpoint Source News-Notes

Sadly, after 102 issues and 29 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will cease publication of Nonpoint Source News-Notes.

The LRWP has relied on these news-notes to shape our approach to non-point source pollution reduction. For now the archived issues will remain available on EPA’s website:

Lots of other good stuff here for municipalities interested in minimizing stormwater runoff.

Slow down on the salt!

Even after today’s snow has melted and flowed from our streets, through our stormwater system, and out to Raritan Bay, our local streams and the Raritan River will carry the scars of our desire to drive quickly in wintry conditions.

Too often we forget that the salt we apply to our streets, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks is a pollutant that permanently stays in our water bodies and groundwater.

As we imagine warm summer days playing in the surf on the Jersey shore, basking in the sun and tasting salt spray, let’s remember that the salts we put on roadway surfaces ends up in our waterways. These salts increase the mobilization of heavy metals and other pollutants in roadside soils, causing erosion and aiding transport of pollutants into our waterways.

It is the case that in urbanized areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed, the first flush of meltwater is two-to-three times as salty as ocean water. We can float in the ocean because salty water is more dense than freshwater, and sinks to the bottom. Salts likewise sink to the sediments in our freshwater bodies, where they decrease oxygen levels, essentially strangling the animals that live in the benthic (bottom) layer.

These bottom-dwelling animals (benthic macroinvertebrates) are some of the most sensitive species in our ecosystem. They form the base of the food chain, and when they die off, the creatures higher up on the food chain, including fish, can’t find food.

Salt is toxic, but necessary for public safety. We are all part of the problem with over applying it, and all part of the solution, too. The top five things you can do now:

  • In winter, drive for the season. Our collective demand for perfectly-cleared roads is a major barrier to protecting our waterways
  • Ask your municipal and county leaders what they are doing to minimize salt usage on public roads.
  • Hire maintenance firms that have taken salt application training.
  • Minimize your personal use by removing snow quickly and distributing only about one coffee mug of salt for a typical driveway.
  • Be sure to clean up any leftover salt, sand, and de-icer to save and reuse as needed.

LRWP receives Middlesex County Local Arts Program Grant

With grant support from the Middlesex County Office of Arts History, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and coLAB Arts will implement the first component of the #lookfortheriver Public Art Program in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park in Summer 2018. The grant will allow for engineering and construction of a footing (the base) for a new public art piece for New Brunswick’s Boyd Park. The creative work to be installed at that site will serve both environmental/watershed awareness and cultural/community engagement purposes for the Raritan River waterfront at that site. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders through a grant provided by New Jersey State Council on the Arts / Department of State.

The #lookfortheriver Public Art Program is a component of the LRWP’s #lookfortheriver watershed restoration campaign, which is designed to encourage community members to “look” for buried streams using landscape cues and historical research. #lookfortheriver is a package of actions communities can engage in around flood resilience and environmental restoration. The LRWP will be rolling out aspects of the #lookfortheriver campaign through 2018 and 2019.

Q & A with LRWP-coLAB arts Resident Artist Jamie Bruno

Interview conducted by LRWP Raritan Scholars intern Quentin Zorn

Why did you decide to work with the LRWP?

In the past couple of years my work has been in community gardening, locally organized composting and food system development.  I have focused my creative drives toward innovating and troubleshooting in these sectors via grassroots organizing and business startups.

The opportunity with coLAB and LRWP came along at the perfect time.  I had just finished installing a geodesic greenhouse in an exhibition called LANDHOLDINGS at Index Art Center in Newark, NJ and was looking to invest more energy to art-making. Additionally LRWP’s mission incorporates scientific and geological considerations that at the time I was not familiar with: the focus on watershed heath and its intersection with the urban environment. I was eager to learn more.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

How do you relate to the LRWP’s goals?

LRWP’s goals are to inspire environmental appreciation and stewardship, to inform relevant stakeholders on the watershed by building networks for sharing data about its health, and to innovate to improve watershed health responsibly with a diverse group of partners.

My role as a Resident Artist with the LRWP is to support their on-going projects and help generate new projects that align with these goals.  Because my personal viewpoints also align with LRWP’s mission, my own integrity as an artist is not compromised.  In fact, exposure to their programs and operations has been challenging and enlightening.  The public needs organizations like LRWP to bring together science and community towards making impactful environmental efforts. Art plays a big role in this as it can help folks make the connection between the health of local environmental resources and one’s personal well-being in exciting and thought-provoking ways.

How does integrating art with science change the way you think about your own art?

Even the most traditional art forms require scientific understanding. For example, oil paint is an exceptionally difficult medium that if applied improperly can result in cracking and flaking once it sets. Research- historical, social, and technical- is always necessary for an artist and in-studio discoveries can be, in many ways, scientific in nature. I am used to shifting my medium to convey different kinds of ideas. As an interdisciplinary artist I am excited to collaborate and learn more technical languages.

How does the interpretive nature of art help or hinder conveying the messages you want people to understand?

This tension is one of my favorite parts of art making.  The artist Patricia Piccinini is a huge inspiration of mine as much of her work is about the “creator’s” inability to control their “creation.” Experienced artists are able to walk the tight rope between intention and perception, directing the viewer but leaving enough space in the work open for the viewer to be able to identify and enter into it.  Of course, not all art works intentionally speak to all audiences.

How do the sculptures from project WADES help achieve the LRWP’s goals or environmental goals in general?

Project WADES stands for Watershed, Action, Dialogue, Education and Stewardship and aims to develop Environmental Education curriculum. The sculptures are positioned at the intersection of WADES with a public sculpture project under a program called Rail Arts River, which aims to connect New Brunswick communities to the Raritan though art and green infrastructure.  The sculptures from Project WADES are casts of the hands of youth clasping pieces of trash collected at clean ups along the streams of the Raritan Watershed. They serve to inspire increased connection between human behavior and watershed health within LRWP’s watershed curriculum.

When the sculptures are completed, what is the reaction you are hoping for?

To be honest I haven’t reflected on the reaction as much as the intention and the varying methods that coLAB, LRWP, and I have discussed for presentation!  So far this work is still going through a collaborative gestation process. The sculptures will be brought back to the schools for semi-permanent art installations but will also be used in a larger public sculpture at Boyd Park. When the work is complete I am very much looking forward to seeing what people think.

How did you create the River Walk book and what do you hope people take away from it?

River Walk is a kind of functional art work, much more sentimental and straightforward then my typical work.  It is a usable notebook made primarily from recycled materials: reused paper, cardboard, old art prints and wood binding.  The wood binding was fabricated from materials gathered from a FEMA buy-out home that was deconstructed and transformed into a rain garden and flood storage park, an exciting project done by landscape architect and Rutgers Professor Tobiah Horton.  The signature sheets include linocut prints of humans in nature.  These images were taken directly from a hike with coLAB Arts on the D&R canal in New Brunswick.  The only way to acquire this work is by donating to LRWP.  My hope is simply that people enjoy it and use it!

What effect do you think the Windows of Understanding project has on the community or the local environment?

Windows of Understanding is a public art project set in multiple storefront businesses.  It operates like a rhizome, utilizing the brain power of local advocates and artists to filter their mission and work through a prompt.  This year that prompt is ”We See Through Hate.” I see so much mutual benefit here and I’m excited about the realistic, but hopeful message. Our country is going through rapid change that seems to hark on hard times for so many of us.  Americans are under incredible pressure from the media, from the antagonistic government, from the precarious state of healthcare, and from a job market threated by automation. To be truly resilient, in an environment filled with risk, disparate communities should be given opportunities to know each other face to face; to move past bigotry and ignorance and to see through hate. Windows of Understanding will address these struggles, but provide hope and positivity to the surrounding public. I believe this effort will have a positive effect on the passerby, increase the visibility of advocate organizations, and increase community cohesion.

Sustainable Jersey certifies 12 Lower Raritan Watershed towns!

We applaud the following Lower Raritan Watershed towns for securing Sustainable Jersey status in 2017!

East Brunswick – bronze
Edison – bronze
Monroe – bronze
New Brunswick – bronze
Plainsboro – bronze
South Plainfield – bronze
Woodbridge – silver
Hillsborough – silver
Somerville Borough – bronze
Warren Township – silver
Berkeley Heights Township – bronze
Summit City – silver

Extra kudos to New Brunswick, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge for securing 20 points in the “Climate Adaptation: Flooding Risk” action. This action is designed to help communities: 1) identify their vulnerability to flooding impacts (both coastal and inland) and 2) identify ways to improve their overall resiliency. This action focuses on the various causes of flooding that could impact a community, either now or in the future, including increased precipitation, increased frequency of heavy precipitation events, sea level rise and storm surge.

Climate change, population growth, urbanization and industrialization are all putting pressure on our communities and their access to safe and secure water supplies. Sustainable Jersey now awards points for Green Infrastructure Planning and Implementation Actions that can directly improve the water quality of our rivers and streams. Read more about these water-friendly actions on the Sustainable Jersey website.


Notes from Garden & Afield, Week of February 4 2018

Except as noted, article and photos by Joe Sapia

A Carolina chickadee in the front yard shrubbery of my house in Monroe, Middlesex County. Here, looking at the bird through the living room window.

BIRDING THROUGH THE WINDOW: One of my favorite places to watch birds is through my living room window. The love seat, my favorite resting spot, is across from the window, providing the lazy person’s way to birding. Birds perch in the shrubs and, if lucky enough, I take a good photo of them. Recents include the Carolina chickadee, “Poecile carolinensis“; cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis”; house sparrow, “Passer domesticus,”; and junco, or “snowbird,” or “Junco hyemalis.

A cardinal outside my living room window, easily identifiable as a male because of its bright red color.

A house sparrow outside the living room window.

Another view of a house sparrow, showing off its colorful pattern.

A junco, or “snowbird,” outside the window.

SNOWFALL: Flurries on Sunday, February 4, did not accumulate at my home in Monroe, Middlesex County. But on Wednesday, we had a dusting. So far, the season’s total is 18.5 inches (at my house). The normal seasonal total at New Brunswick, Middlesex County, about 7-1/2 miles away is about 26 inches. We still have about two months left of realistic snow weather.

The dusting of snow Wednesday, February 7, in my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

ALONG MANALAPAN BROOK: I live across the street from Manalapan Brook in the house I was “born” in — actually taken to this Monroe, Middlesex County, home from the hospital of my birth. I often escape to a few minutes of woods time by walking the few hundred feet to the Brook. This week, I shot photos there on the snowy Wednesday, February 7, and the rainy-foggy Saturday, February 10. Manalapan Brook’s headwaters are in the area between downtown Freehold, Monmouth County, and the Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, Ocean County. From its headwaters to where it meets Matchaponix Brook and the two form the South River at Spotswood and Old Bridge in Middlesex County is a straight line of about 15 miles in a direction heading north. It drains 43 square miles in Middlesex and Monmouth counties. The Brook, its floodplain, and surrounding woods are no longer as mysterious and no longer as big (literally and in in my mind) as when I was a kid, but they still provide an adventure. My family has lived along Manalapan Brook since about 1900.

A foggy Saturday, February 10, in the swamp hardwood forest of the Manalapan Brook floodplain.

A dusting of snow along Manalapan Brook on Wednesday, February 7.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK: Mike Deitche of Monroe checked in with a great photograph of a red-shouldered hawk, “Buteo lineatus,” he took Tuesday, February 6, in Hamilton, Mercer County. “The hawk was on a path as I was walking,” Mike said. “It must have been finishing up its meal when I noticed it. I took three photos (of it) on the ground. Then, it flew up to the top of the tree. It was a lucky shot. I circled around, but it had taken off. I took some photos of the remnants of its meal — looked like breast feathers and tail feathers.”

A red-shouldered hawk in Hamilton, Mercer County. “It’s one of our most distinctively marked common hawks, with barred reddish-peachy underparts and a strongly banded tail,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. (Photograph copyright 2018 by Mike Deitche)

LIGHTED CANDLES IN THE WOODS: Pass a forest and you might see leaves of gold on small trees, “lighting” up the woods. These are beech trees, genus “Fagus.” Snow certainly paints a beautiful picture in a winter woods, but when there is no snow, look for these beeches to add some sparkle to the otherwise earthy tones.

Beech trees “sparkle” at a hardwood forest at Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

A closeup of a beech tree at Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DEBBIE MANS, FROM BAYKEEPER TO DEP: Debbie Mans has watched over the New Jersey-New York Harbor Estuarty for 10 years as director of the New York-New Jersey Baykeeper group, based in Keyport, Monmouth County. Now, Debbie is moving on to be deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Debbie is the type of person we need in government — smart, passionate but low key, a leader. As a Jersey boy who went to college in Wisconsin, I appreciate Debbie’s Upper Midwest sensibility — in her case, growing up in Michigan — and, as she put it, now “with a splash of New Jersey.” Congrats, Deb! (A profile I did on Debbie in 2016, September,

IF YOU THINK YOU HEAR A WOMAN SCREAMING IN THE WOODS…: …I am not saying you should not call the police, but it could just be a red fox, “Vulpes vulpes.” One, perhaps more than one, was really making a racket this week in the woods along Manalapan Brook across the street from my house in Monroe, Middlesex County. A year or so ago, my neighbor called the police after he and his wife heard what sounded like a woman being dragged through the woods, screaming. An example of a fox scream,

VERNAL PONDS: A New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife website defines vernal ponds as “confined depressions, either natural or man-made, that hold water for at least two consecutive months out of the year, and are devoid of breeding fish populations.” Vernal ponds, or “vernal pools, pools provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants, and other wildlife,” according to Fish and Wildlife. “The absence of fish is the essence of these ecosystems. Fish are highly predatory on amphibian eggs and larvae. Over the course of evolution, several species of salamanders and frogs exploited these fish-less water bodies. Today, these species exhibit ‘hardwired’ instincts and behaviors that are geared exclusively towards fish-free aquatic habitats.” As warmer weather approaches, keep an eye on vernal pools and the wildlife they produce.

vernal pond at Pigeon Swamp in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature along the New Jersey coast was running at about 35 to 37 degrees over the February 10-11 weekend.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: From Sunday, February 11, to Saturday, February 17, the sun will rise about 6:45 to 6:55 a.m. and set at about 5:30 to 5:35 p.m. From Sunday, February 18, to Saturday, February 24, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 a.m. and set 5:35 to 5:45 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting office serving the Jersey Midlands is at


March 3, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Somerset County — Deer Management Symposium at the Elks Lodge, 354 Route 518, Montgomery, free. Different stakeholders are to discuss deer management. More information is available at

March 10, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Ocean County — Science Saturday, talk on striped bass management and fishing by Brendan Harrison, a New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife fishing technician,at the Long Beach Island Foundation of Arts and Sciences, 120 Long Beach Boulevard, Loveladies, 08008, $5 for non-members. More information at telephone 609-494-1241.

The Carolina chickadee in front of my living room window.

— Joseph Sapia
2018, February 11, Sunday,
In the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, 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 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, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

Notes from Garden & Afield, Week of January 28

Except as noted, article and photos by Joe Sapia

On the ConRail railroad tracks between Prospect Plains and Cranbury Station on the boundary of Cranbury and Monroe, Middlesex County.

JEEP-LESS, THE BAD: My Jeep Wrangler has been in the shop. A metal plate in the clutch area cracked. When mechanic-friend Frank Ulatowski told me the parts distributor said, I never ordered this part before, I knew this could be trouble. The part, being shipped from Detroit, finally did come in and Frank installed it, but the repair was set back by the need for a second part. The Jeep should be ready Monday. For the past week, though, my travels have been limited – generally confined to walking in my hometown of Monroe and the bordering towns of Helmetta, Spotswood, South Brunswick, Cranbury, and Jamesburg.

JEEP-LESS, THE GOOD: With no work scheduled, I decided to not rent a motor vehicle, instead hoofing it. I have thought about this for years – on my days not working, try to only walk or bicycle. So, I have been constantly walking, along with some bicycling. My longest walk was 11 miles – a trek home from the doctor’s office for a followup on my annual exam in Monroe (to which I taxied), with a detour to Teddy’s luncheonette in Cranbury and, later, supper in Helmetta. Aside from the health benefits of walking, it has taken me on routes less-traveled and slowed me to observe better. So, I have a lot of cool observations to pass along.

An old farm site in Cranbury.

SNOWFALL UPDATE: The two snowfalls on Tuesday, January 30, amounted to an estimated 1.0 inch of snowfall at my Monroe house. This brings the seasonal total to 18.0 inches. The normal season average is about 25.8 inches, recorded in New Brunswick, about 7-1/2 miles away; We still have about 2-1/2 months of snow potential to reach the average.

The view I awoke to, as seen from my bedroom window, on Tuesday, January 30, in Monroe.

‘POWDERED SUGAR’ SNOW: When I awoke Tuesday, January 30, I found a snowfall that looked as though the vegetation was covered with powdered sugar. It was a beautiful find to start the day!

The “powdered sugar” snow on the pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” in my backyard in Monroe.

NORTHERN HARRIERS, CONTINUED: I continue to see northern harriers, “Circus cyaneus,” more than I have ever seen. This week, I saw one at Helmetta Pond, Middlesesex County – the first time I recall seeing one there. Remember, as a nester, New Jersey lists them as “endangered,” or in imminent peril. Look for them hunting game by flying low above fields or marshes. They are sleek and have a white rump patch – females are brown, males are gray-white. As Roger Dreyling, birder extraordinaire from Monroe, noted, “I like harriers, especially males, which are sometimes called ‘gray ghosts.’”

A female northern harrier at Helmetta Pond. Notice the white rump patch.

UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES NEST: Anne Price and I, volunteers for the state Department of Environmental Protection, have been watching this nest. We agree it appears the eagles are incubating an egg or eggs. For example, I saw an eagle fly by the nest and perched nearby, while it appeared the other one was in the nest. Because bald eagles are a jeopardized species in New Jersey – “endangered,” or under imminent threat as a nester, and “threatened,” or could become “endangered” if conditions persist, in general – we are being discreet in identifying the location of the nest. (In the 2017 state eagles report,, this nest is listed as No. 184, “Upper Millstone.”)

Mallard ducks, “Anas platyrhynchos,” at a fire-suppression pond at the former George W. Helme Snuff Mill in Helmetta. The more colorful male is on the left.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, EAGLE SIGHTINGS: I keep saying, if you want to see bald eagles, look up into the sky. Various reports came in during the week week. Michele Arminio of Monroe reported seeing a flying eagle at Milltown Road, between Route 18 and Ryders Lane, in East Brunswick. Janice Weinman reported seeing one at the South River and its wetlands on the boundary of Old Bridge, Sayreville, and East Brunswick: “Flying out of the marshlands area on the east side of Bordentown Avenue, flying towards east Brunswick. It was an adult as it had its white head, but not too big. I was surprised to see one there. I was not aware of any in that area.” Actually, this one could be nesting in the Old Bridge area. A pair, there, has repeatedly moved its nest and, last year, a nest could not be located. Paul Reed reported an eagle at Helmetta Pond. Roger Dreyling of Monroe reported an immature eagle at “Jamesburg Lake” (Lake Manalapan) in Monroe. Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County, has a camera on its eagle nest,

An immature bald eagle – notice the lack of white head and tail – with a fish at “Jamesburg Lake” (Lake Manalapan) in Monroe in January. (Photograph copyright 2018 by Roger Dreyling)

MUTE SWANS: Ugh, I dislike mute swans, “Cygnus olor,” non-natives that hurt local ecosystems through their aggressive eating of aquatic vegetation and scaring off native species. But they are naturalized here…. This week, I saw a pair at Helmetta Pond.

Mute swans on Helmetta Pond.

BACKYARD SHRUB PILE: I keep a pesticide- and fertilizer-free yard. It is only a quarter-acre, or about 10,000 square feet. But it is productive — a vegetable and fruit garden of more than 1,000 square feet, bird-feeders, bird baths. Roughly only 10 percent of rainwater drains off the property. One of the pro-environment bits of my property is the brush pile and tall-grass patch I keep in the backyard. The brush pile, for example, is a place for birds to retreat to and perch. This week, I photographed a few house sparrows, “Passer domesticus,” is the pile. (I was happy to see the brush pile being used, despite being used by house sparrows, a non-native species.)

House sparrows in the backyard bush pile.

OTHER YARD BIRDS: I took random photos of various bird species in my yard: cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis”; dark-eyed juncos, “Junco hyemalis,” or “snowbirds”; red-bellied woodpecker, “Melanerpes carolinus”; and grackles, “Quiscalus quiscula.”

A cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis,” in the backyard pitch pine.

Snowbirds – one at the niger feeder, one perched nearby, one flying in.

Red-bellied woodpecker at the sunflower kernel feeder.

Grackles at the feeder.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, ROBINS: “Polish Paul” Migut, a friend going back to childhood, checked in on robins, “Turdus migratorius.” He, too, had them in his South River yard. “Thursday (February 1) morning, looking into my rear yard, spotted about 10 to 12 robins,” Paul said. “Looked very healthy, plump.” Again, some may consider a robin as a sign of spring, but they are year-around.
RED-TAILED HAWKS: This week, I was able to get some pretty close-up photographs of red-tailed hawks, “Buteo jamaicensis.” Looked for them perched, soaring with a creamy underbelly look and rust-colored tail, or a big bird flying and flapping its wings about a half-dozen times.

A red-tailed hawk perches in a tree and watches over farmland in South Brunswick.

A closeup of the South Brunswick red-tailed hawk.

A red-tailed hawk perches in a tree near New Jersey Turnpike Exit 8-A in Monroe.

DEAD GREAT BLUE HERON: I was hiking in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta and at Cranberry Bog came across a dead blue heron, “Ardea Herodias.” It was lying on dry ground, inches from the water. Its eyes were in place and its body supple, so it probably was not dead all that long. I saw no obvious cause of death. Its anal area was ripped up a bit, but that likely was caused by a scavenger after death. I talked to Rick Lear, head of the Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation, about it and he speculated it died of starvation, because of the difficulty of finding food, such as aquatic animals and small mammals, this time of year.

A great blue heron I found dead at Cranberry Bog in Monroe.

FARMLAND, DEVELOPABLE LAND: I recall saying, “Potatoes like dry feet and so do developers.” Well, look at this gravelly, or well-drained, farmland in South Brunswick. Nice developable land, unfortunately! Even more unfortunate is it being located on the New Jersey Turnpike, near an exit, 8-A.

Gravelly farmland in South Brunswick.

PHRAGMITES: I am noticing a lot of invasive reed grass, genus “Phragmites.” This stuff really clogs wetlands and is difficult to control. It is not only bad for the environment, but also for drainage. Beware in heavy rain, this will contribute to flooding. And phragmites invasion is only getting worse, from what I see.

Phragmites clogging Cranberry Bog in Monroe.

BARKING FOX: One night, I stood in my yard and listened to this yip, yip, yip call from the woods or near the woods. It was a red fox, “Vulpes vulpes.” So, do not only look, but listen. Nature is all around us.

NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION: I was walking in the Manalapan Brook floodplain in Helmetta and there it was, non-point source pollution – garbage — that got into the water system and floated about. Ever seen those notices about garbage getting into storm drains? They really mean it. Throw a plastic bottle out of a car miles inland and, at least in theory, it could wind up in the ocean. Even if it does not wind up in the ocean, it could wind up in the freshwater system. And even if it does not do that, it is still litter.

Non-point source pollution in the Manalapan Brook floodplain at Helmetta.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature along the New Jersey coast was running at about 35 to 37 degrees on the February 3-4 weekend.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: From Sunday, February 4, to Saturday, February 10, the sun will rise about 7 a.m. and set 5:25 p.m. From Sunday, February 11, to Saturday, February 17, the sun will rise about 6:45 to 6:55 a.m. and set at about 5:30 to 5:35 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting office serving the Jersey Midlands is at

Deer damage to arbor vitae trees at the old George W. Helme Snuff Mill power plant in the Helmetta.

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 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, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

Garden & Afield, Week of January 21

Except where noted, article and photos by Joe Sapia


     A bald eagle perched in a tree near its “Upper Millstone River” nest on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties.

UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLE NEST:  As the state Department of Environmental Protection monitors of the nest, Anne Price and I have been watching the pair of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus.” By week’s end, they were still in pre-nesting mode – flying in courtship, perched near each other near the nest, perched together on the nest. Stay tuned, there should be an egg or eggs during the week of January 28. Because bald eagles are a jeopardized species in New Jersey – “endangered,” or under imminent threat as a nester, and “threatened,” or could become “endangered” if conditions persist, in general – we are being discreet in identifying the location of the nest. (In the 2017 state eagles report,, this nest is listed as No. 184, “Upper Millstone.”)

The eagle, spreading its wings, on a tree near the nest.

NORTHERN HARRIERS:  I love northern harriers, “Circus cyaneus,” flying low above fields, searching for mammals to eat. They glide eloquently, putting on quite a show. This week, I was watching them on the Monroe-Cranbury boundary, Middlesex County – one at the wetlands mitigation bank at Cranbury Station, then around the wetlands mitigation bank at Wyckoff’s Mills. I did not get a good look at the Cranbury Station “marsh hawk,” but watched the Wyckoff’s Mills one for several minutes, flying back and forth, seemingly unbothered by me. The glimpse I got of the Cranbury Station harrier suggested it was a male, because it looked to be light-colored. The Wyckoff’s Mills harrier was a female – brown in color. Harriers, whether male or female, are easy to identify – flying within feet of the ground, sleek-bodied, having a white rump patch.

     A northern harrier flies across farmland in at Wyckoff’s Mills on the Cranbury, Middlesex County, side of the road. Brown in color means it is a female. Notice the white rump patch females and males both have.

     The female northern harrier flies above the wetlands mitigation bank on the Monroe side of the road at Wyckoff’s Mills, Middlesex County.

The female northern harrier flies on the Monroe side of the road at Wyckoff’s Mills, Middlesex County.

BLACK SQUIRRELS:  If you want to see black squirrels, check out Princeton or Cranbury. Several years ago, I heard a story, although I do not know if it is true, that someone from Cranbury went to Princeton, trapped some black squirrels, and brought them to Cranbury. Actually, black squirrels are just a black phase of a gray squirrel, “Sciurus carolinensis.” Gray squirrels have no gray hairs — only white, black, and brown with the combination giving them a varied appearance.

A black-phase gray squirrel in the woods between Wyckoff’s Mills and Cranbury Station in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

DEER IN THE DAYTIME:  Twice in one day, I saw deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” seemingly unbothered in the daytime in areas with a lot of human traffic. At noon, I saw one in a residential area on Riva Avenue, East Brunswick, Middlesex County. Then, 3-1/2 hours later, one was in a lawn area of Thompson Park, Monroe, Middlesex County. I thought this daytime lack of fear of these deer was brazen.

The deer on Riva Avenue in East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

     The East Brunswick deer fled me, then checked me out from the relative safety of the woods.

A deer in Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County

ROBINS, A SIGN OF SPRING?:  Some may think of robins, “Turdus migratorius,” are a sign of spring. But, actually, they are around in the winter. Perhaps more in the woods this time of year because of berries as a food source. Then, as it warms, with insects and worms becoming available, in our yards where we readily see them. But a little group of robins popped into my yard, across from woods, this week. (I have this affection for robins, because, I think, it was the first bird I learned to identify as a child.)

Robins in my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

BIRDS, STARLINGS:  Recently, I have noticed flocks of starlings, “Sturnus vulgaris.” The photograph shows them on farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County. (They are non-native, brought from Europe to North America in the 1800s and, now, naturalized here.)

A flock of starlings on farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     YARD BIRDS:  I was able crank off photographs of a white-throated sparrow, “Zonotrichia albicollis,” in one of my favorite bird-watching areas – through my living room window in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     A white-throated sparrow in my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

STINK BUGS:  With the cold weather, I have an occasional brown marmorated stink bug, “Halyomorpha halys,” invading my house. I exterminate them. Their stink is not bad – more an earthy organic smell than a nauseating one. But they are highly invasive non-natives that could be devasting to farming. They have been documented for only about 20 years, believed to have arrived from East Asia to the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area via cargo. See

     Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” and mallard ducks, “Anas platyrhynchos,” along the Millstone River in East Windsor, Mercer County.

JERSEY MIDLANDS PRECARIOUS LOCATION:  The beautiful Jersey Midlands are situated precariously between two major metropolitan areas, New York City and Philadelphia, and in the heart of the Boston-to-Richmond megalopolis. So, we are under development pressure. But, sometime, when we see our natural world beauty, we may forget how close we are. Reminders are the ongoing development (and destruction of the Midlands); traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and elsewhere; jets passing overhead.

     A view of the New York City skyline – the Freedom Tower, center, and the Empire State Building, just to the right of the utility line tower – through the eye of a point-and-shoot camera about 35 miles away from Redmond’s Hill at Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     Here is an example of that development – in what I grew up calling “The Farms” of Monroe, Middlesex County.

PEGGY RENNER, ARCHERY CHAMP:  I stumbled upon an obituary for Peggy Renner, who died this week. She and her family ran an archery-outdoors store in the Jamesburg-Monroe area for years. A salute to Peggy.  Peggy’s obituary,

     A deer rub of a male deer, “Odocoileus virginianus.” Bucks will rub the velvet off their antlers because they are hormonal and ready to mate, along with declaring their mating turfs. This is a pretty big rub, so there must be a pretty big buck around the Wyckoff Mills wetlands bank on the Monroe-Cranbury boundary, Middlesex  County.

SWEET GUM TREE:  Seeds from the pods of sweet gum, “Liquidambar styraciflua,” are a food for wildlife. This Internet site shows artsy uses for the seed pods,

Seed pods of the sweet gum tree dot the ice of Devil’s Brook on the boundary of Plainsboro and South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

     TURKEY VULTURES:  We may note turkey vultures, “Cathartes aura,” flying V-winged or eating roadkill. They are a common bird. This week, I caught two interesting photos, one of them on a roadkill, the other in silhouette illustrating their look.

     A turkey vulture. From Cornell University’s All About Birds website, “…They have long ‘fingers’ at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight” — both evident in the photograph.

Turkey vultures on a deer carcass on Route 535 in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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

A farmland scene between Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     Again, a farmland scene between Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     And, again, a farmland scene between Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills in Monroe, Middlesex County.


Wyckoff’s Mills farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Looking toward Applegarth in Monroe, Middlesex County.

At the Dey Farm historic site in Monroe, Middlesex County.


At Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County.

At Saint James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

      ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature along the New Jersey coast is running at about 35 or 36 degrees.


WEATHER:  The National Weather Service forecasting office serving the Jersey Midlands is at

     Cranbury Brook, here at Cranbury, Middlesex County, is part of the Raritan River watershed. Cranbury Brook runs from the Route 33 area at Millstone and Manalapan in Monmouth County.

SUNRISE/SUNSET:  For Sunday, January 28, to Saturday, February 3, the sun will rise about 7:05 a.m. to 7:10 a.m. and set about 5:10 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.

Canada geese flying at sunset on the border of Cranbury and 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 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, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

The Collection Agency

Article and photos by Joseph Mish

A thin blue line drawn on a map, comes to life in this photograph. A plaque, inset in a concrete bridge spanning the stream, constructed in 1923, a map showing a thin blue line depicting the stream and an image of the stream as it exists today just before it reaches the South Branch.

If all the water that ever flowed from the Raritan River drainage could be measured, its contribution to the depth of the ocean would be impressive. Think of that watershed as a collection agency for world’s oceans.

An aerial view of the Raritan River clearly shows its two main branches, the South Branch, and the North Branch. The South Branch draining more area than the North. The confluence of the North and South branch mark the beginning of the Raritan River.

A closer look reveals the larger tributaries which feed the main branches; Rockaway creek, Black River/ Lamington River and the Neshanic River, all of which are clearly noted on maps.

No less important, are the numerous smaller brooks and creeks whose contribution is significant and whose names may appear only on old maps or engraved on marble plaques set in the structures that bridge their banks; Peter’s brook, Chamber’s brook, Pleasant run, Prescott brook, Assiscong creek, Minneakoning creek, Holland brook and the First, Second and Third Neshanic rivers. Hoopstick, Prescott and Bushkill are lesser known streams, within plain view, that bear no identifying name.

There are dozens more minor streams whose names appear nowhere except on an obscure online list. Each one eventually feeds into the Raritan or its two main branches above their confluence. Knowing someone’s name is a sign of respect. Calling someone by the wrong name can be embarrassing. However, the sign that identifies the North branch of the Raritan as the Raritan River proper, has failed to embarrass those responsible for posting such signs.

Many smaller seeps and springs whose names have been lost to the ages, add to the accumulated flow. Driving along the Lamington, for instance, there are endless watery traces, arising from springs within the woods that empty into larger tributaries. Many are just moist creases worn through the soil over time, which collect rainwater and snow melt to supplement the downstream daily flow.

Maps show nameless springs, which make the cartographer’s final draft, as thin blue lines. Often, a network of converging shorter lines, each with a defined beginning, join to form larger streams like Pleasant run and Holland brook.

These obscure water sources fascinate me simply because their anonymity and remote location arouses curiosity. Their presence also represents a convergence of habitat types that attract birds and wildlife. Though they bear no labels to honor their faithful contribution to the next blue line and ultimate confluence, their importance should not be overlooked.

Many springs which appeared on old maps no longer exist, eliminated by construction of sewer lines or filled in. As maps are revised and generations fade, these streams exist only in a cartographer’s archive.

My appreciation for these disappearing blue lines was heightened when I recently discovered that as a kid, I walked over Slingtail brook every day on the way to school. At some point this little stream was diverted through a sewer line under the pavement. More amazing, even older residents had no memory of that stream whose name has been lost to the ages.

An extended winter freeze, preserving snow from a previous storm, beyond its expected stay, was interrupted by a thaw and heavy rain. The melting snow joined the torrential rain as it flowed over frozen ground to collect in every shallow crease leading to the river. The water’s velocity was enhanced by the decreasing gradient of deep well-worn pathways etched in the earth.

Where water barely trickled most of the year, a proportional biblical flood now ensued.

The banks of the successively larger streams barely contained the accumulation of water delivered from the network of anonymous thin blue lines. Acting as a single entity, the collection agency if you will, the Raritan River drainage, faithfully delivered its contribution of sweet water to the world’s salty oceans.

Cattail brook arises from the convergence of a network of bubbling springs, supplemented by runoff from rain and snow fall. It begins as hardly more than a trickle, directed by gravity, from the south facing ridge of the heavily forested Sourland mountains. The DNA extracted from a drop of water, taken from the deepest canyon in the ocean, would trace its lineage back to cattail brook through its genetic progeny. Cattail gives birth to Rock Brook, a tumultuous and moody stream that joins the more sedate Bedens brook on its way to the Millstone river. The Millstone brings its accumulated genetic material to blend with that of the Raritan to make a final contribution to the earth’s deep blue oceans.

We use our imagination as we await the technology that can trace the oceans DNA back up Cattail brook to show a single drop of morning dew that dripped from a box turtles face, was a critical contribution to the blue ocean we see via satellite images of the earth.

Rock brook derives its character from the influence of gravity which changes its mood from an idyllic mountain brook to a raging torrent.

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 January 14

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

A farm outbuilding in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.

UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLE NEST: Last year’s pair of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” has returned to its nest along the Millstone River corridor on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties. Last year, the nest fledged one eaglet. The state Endangered and Non-Game Species Program (within the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife) has named Anne Price, a professional naturalist and fellow Monroe, Middlesex County, resident, and me as the volunteer monitors for the nest. The eagles were still in pre-nesting phase, but we expect an egg or eggs to be laid any day now. More good news to follow next week. (In the 2017 state eagles report,, this nest is listed as No. 184.)

A bald eagle perched on the Upper Millstone River nest on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties. This pair appears ready to lay an egg or eggs soon.

SNOWFALL: The Wednesday, January 17, snowfall in the part of Monroe between Jamesburg and Helmetta, Middlesex County, was about 1.0 inches, bringing the seasonal total to about 17.0 inches. (The seasonal average, measured at New Brunswick about 7.5 miles away, is 25.8 inches. So, we need only about 9 more inches to hit the average and we have about 3 months of snow time left.)

Snowy woods with an abandoned building on Federal Road in Monroe, Middlesex County.

SNOWFENCING: I have talked about snowfencing in open areas before and how it prevents drifting on roadways. Also, I have posted photos. But, perhaps, the post-snowfall scene best describes snowfencing, how snow is deposited on the downwind side. A photograph of the post-snowfall scene:

Here, on Main Street in Cranbury, Middlesex County, snow has deposited on the downwind side of the snowfencing. This same concept is used to contain blowing sand on beaches.

CANADA GEESE: I have been seeing a lot of Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” on farmland, presumably helping themselves to leftover field corn in these fields. And I keep an eye out to see if there is anything else mixed in with these Canadas, perhaps a snow goose, “Chen caerulescens.”

Canada geese on farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Canada geese flying in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.

BIRDS AROUND THE YARD: We have an incredible world of nature around us in New Jersey. We are at a prime location, where northern and southern animal and plant species meet. One easy thing to do is take time to view the birds in one’s yard. I feed them, using sunflower kernels/hearts nyger. (Last year, though, I stopped feeding birds in the summer, letting them serve as a natural pesticide in my yard. This year, I may extend this feeding ban beyond June, July, and August to a greater gardening period.)

It is a “snowbird” – or dark-eyed junco, “Junco hyemalis” – but it is bundled up against the cold. This junco, in an oak, genus “Quercus,” in my sideyard, has its feathers fluffed to protect it against the cold.

This photograph shows the “dark-eyed” in this dark-eyed junco. This bush in front of my living room window is a fun place to watch birds.

Mourning doves, “Zenaida macroura,” huddled under the flowering quince bush in my backyard.

COASTAL PLAIN BODIES OF WATER: The Jersey Midlands is divided into two geological provinces – the rolling and rocky Piedmont to the west and the flatland, either sandy or gravely, to the east. (The Coastal Plain can be divided into the Outer, or sandy, white soils of the Pine Barrens and beach, and the Inner, the darker, gravely soil conventional farming areas. For the sake of this story, we will talk of the Coastal Plain as one province.) Because of its flatness, there are few, if any, natural bodies of water on the Coastal Plain; Instead, they are human-made, often by dams holding back waterways. In Middlesex County, on the boundary of Helmetta, Monroe, and Spotswood, there is now-dry Lake Marguerite. It was formed by the damming of Manalapan Brook, but has been dry since the 1920s or so. The other day I shot photographs of its old dam.

The remnant of the Lake Marguerite dam on Daniel Road-10th Street on the boundary or Spotswood and Monroe, Middlesex County.

The circa 1906-1907 Lake Marguerite dam.

“OLD JERSEY”: As the Jersey Midlands develop, I am glad to run across “Old Jersey” remnants. Across the street from my house is one of them with an environmental twist – a “Prevent Forest Fires” sign. This sign might be the same one I have seen over all my 61 years. (Just to point out: There has been a different way of thinking on fire. For example, fire is good for the ecology of the Pine Barrens, such as where I live; But it is bad for people.)

An old “Prevent Forest Fires” sign in my Monroe, Middlesex County, neighborhood.

Another “Old Jersey” scene: a farm in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.

SKY VIEWS: This week’s sky views are from Monroe, Middlesex County, and the Manalapan-Freehold Township boundary, Monmouth County.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park on the boundary of Freehold Township and Manalapan, Monmouth County.

Monroe, between Applegarth and Wyckoff’s Mills.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature in New Jersey ranged from about 36 to 37 degrees.

More farming from Hopewell Township Mercer County.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting office serving the Jersey Midlands is at

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For Sunday, January 21, to Saturday, January 27, the sun will rise about 7:10 to 7:15 a.m. and set about 5:05 to 5:10 p.m. For Sunday, January 28, to Saturday, February 3, the sun will rise about 7:05 a.m. to 7:10 a.m. and set about 5:10 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.

The crescent moon over Helmetta Pond, Middlesex County. The crescent moon is waxing toward the January 31 Full Snow Moon.

Ralph “Rusty” Richards, 85-years-old, a mentor of mine in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, was buried this week in St. James Cemetery in the part of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg, Middlesex County. As his obituary read, “He was an avid woodsman with an extensive knowledge of the local pine barrens….” I left this bough of pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” the most common pine in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, on Rusty and his wife’s, Mona’s, gravestone. The cemetery is in my neighborhood and Rusty’s grave is a neighbor of my parents’s, Joe Sr. and Sophie Onda Sapia’s, grave. (My maternal family, the Onda-Poznanski family, has known the Richards family for 100 or so years.)

— Joseph Sapia
2018, January 21, Sunday,
A woodsman of the Pine Barrens of Helmetta

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 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, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

1 2 3 4 5 17