Category: Voices of the Watershed

Of the residents of the Lower Raritan Watershed there are many naturalists and individuals with a wealth of knowledge about the special ecosystem we call home. “Voices of the Watershed” is our community blog, a place for watershed residents to document (through photos and posts) stories and observations of the watershed.

For more about our authors and photographers, and how you can contribute and essay, story, artwork or photo.

Image of an Eagle

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Rose gets a green aluminum band affixed to her left leg and a silver band to her right leg. Green is the band color used by NJ and silver is a federal band. Each state uses a specific color to quickly identify a banded eagle’s origin.

 

Over last century as the northeast bald eagle population dwindled, their image flourished as a marketing tool to brand high end merchandise. Gilded eagles sat upon flag poles in parades and auditoriums. Dollar bills and quarters bore engraved, lone eagles, wings spread and talons flared, about to attack at the least provocation.

 

Never did any image show more than one eagle, even though they mate for life and are dedicated parents. As a generation, we came to know eagles as powerful solitary creatures frozen in iconic poses. There was nothing to challenge that image, the skies were empty and no shadows could be seen speeding across the land. Least of all in central NJ, a land reputed to be sanitized of nature.

 

Awareness of man’s place in the natural world and his impact on the environment began to be studied in universities like Rutgers College of Agriculture and Environmental Science in the late 1960s, which opened the door to a new era of enlightenment and activism. Books like Silent Spring and Sand County Almanac were the seeds sown to nourish the idea humans were not apart from the cascade of life that flowed, uninterrupted, from the soil and water to apex predators, like the eagle and peregrine falcon.

 

Eagle restoration in NJ began in earnest in the 1980s accompanied by an ever-growing accumulation of study data gleaned by observation and scientific research. Still the view of intimate eagle relationships and social interaction remained at a sky-high level and not well published for public consumption.

 

Eagles kept their privacy and legacy reputation as solitary creatures intact until the advent of live cameras, genetic mapping, banding and miniature transmitters.

 

As far as the public is concerned, it is the live cams, set above some nests and broadcast on the internet, that provide non-stop coverage of eagle antics in the aerie to feed an insatiable voyeuristic human appetite.

 

The forums that accompany these spy cams generate lively conversation and together, have created a whole new audience beyond those immersed in all things nature. People who can’t tell a snow goose from a snow bunting, are now addicted a wildlife reality show.

 

And addictive it is, as viewers and scientists both learn what goes on behind nest walls. As voyeurs watch, they see behaviors that mimic human responses. The eagle screaming at its partner could very well be a replay of last night’s argument with their spouse, “who never listens to a word I say”.

 

Cumulatively, what we see are personality differences among pairs of eagles, where before we had only anecdotal observations and generalized conclusions. We knew the eagle as a solitary warrior and now we see a great raptor dedicated to its mate and offspring. When we look closely into the world of an eagle we see a glimpse of ourselves.

 

Locally the intrigue has been riveting, with a ringside seat to a female ingénue coming between a mated pair, a harassing hawk obliterated by an annoyed eagle and tender moments of dedicated parents doting on their precious offspring.

 

We watch as courting behavior evolves into mating, egg laying and alternate job sharing, as pairs relieve each other from brooding duty. We see and hear the wailing of one parent when their mate fails to return, either through injury or death. You cannot be unaffected by that sight and sound as what you experience is automatically translated into human terms.

 

A live cam from another state showed a female eagle covering her three, day old chicks, as a late spring snowstorm raged. That moment was tender enough but then the male positioned himself alongside the female, resting his head on her shoulder and spread his wings to shield his mate and their chicks from the heavy snowfall; our collective tears flowed.

 

Recently an eagle that prematurely fell from a local nest was rescued, examined and found to be in good health. Given that one parent went missing in the weeks prior to the fall and it was impossible to return the bird to the nest, a decision was made to place that eagle in another nearby nest.

 

Armed with the knowledge of intimate eagle behavior and demonstrated dedication to their young, fostering that young eagle was done with full confidence it would be accepted and thrive.

 

Only time will tell but so far, so good. Years hence, if you see a bald eagle bearing a green leg band, engraved with E68, you now know the rest of the story. Consider an eagle that was killed, June 2015, in upstate NY by a car, was banded 38 years prior! So, eagle E68, affectionately named, Rose, and her foster siblings, E66 and E67 have a good chance to be seen by your grandchildren!

 

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.

A Special May Flower

Article and photos by Joe Mish

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Along the South Branch: May Flowers

Article and photos by Joe Mish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Notes From Garden & Afield — Week of April 15, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

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

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

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

 A closeup of callery pears in Monroe, Middlesex County.

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

Flooding at Saw Mill Brook in Helmetta, Middlesex County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 From my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

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

South Brunswick Middlesex County.

 South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPCOMING:

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

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

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

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

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

My coaster bicycle hauling firewood.

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

The woodstove in my garden with the log on top.

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

     He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda.

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

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

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

Notes From Garden & Afield — Week of April 8, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Matchaponix Brook near Englishtown Market in Manalapan, Monmouth County. This section of the brook is both diamond and rough — a beautiful natural world fighting the nonpoint-source pollution along Route 527. Brook in the foreground, swamp hardwood forest in the near background, and in the left of the far background, pitch pine trees of the Spotswood Outlier, disconnected from the main section of the Pine Barrens to the south.

MATCHAPONIX BROOK AT ROUTE 527:  I am 61-years-old and have been crossing Matchaponix Brook at Englishtown Market in Manalapan, Monmouth County, since as far back as I can remember. Yet I never gave much thought to the natural world here — until Englishtown outdoorsman Gary Forman relayed information to me through our mutual friend, outdoorsman Frank Ulatowski. This is the beginning of Matchaponix Brook, formed by the joining of Weamaconk Creek and McGellairds Brook. When I stopped by this week, I was amazed. Step only a few feet away from busy Route 527 and one is in a beautiful natural world of brook; swamp hardwood forest; a lodge of beaver, “Castor canadensis”; mallards, “Anas platyrhynchos”; great blue heron, “Ardea herodias”; and the telltale pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” of the Pine Barrens because this is part of the Pines’s disconnected Spotswood Outlier. Probably plenty more that I did not notice. Unfortunately, I did notice the nonpoint-source pollution — garbage gathering in Matchaponix Brook. Take away this garbage and the busyness of Route 527 and I was in a wonderful natural world. Again, we should keep our eyes open because the natural world is around us, even if we taint it.

A great blue heron on Matchaponix Brook in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

     AS BEAUTIFUL AS MATCHAPONIX BROOK IS AT ROUTE 527…:  Nonpoint-source pollution — basically debris, such as litter or materials blown offsite, with no specific origin — is a major problem in our world. Simply look at litter along a road or, in this case, gathered in Matchaponix Brook at Route 527 in Manalapan, Monmouth County. Generally, the source of this garbage appears to be debris that drains into the brook and Route 527 littering.

Garbage in Matchaponix Brook at Route 527 in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

Garbage in Matchaponix Brook at Route 527 in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

     MATCHAPONIX BROOK:  In the Englishtown area of Monmouth County, Weamaconk Creek and McGellairds Brook join to form Matchaponix Brook. The brook then flows for about 5 miles, as the crow flies, to the north and merges with Manalapan Brook to form the South River on the boundary of Monroe, Spotswood, and Old Bridge in Middlesex County.  “Matchaponix” is a Lenni Lenape Indian word for “land of bad bread,” or land where corn does not grow well. I speculate this name comes from the Matchaponix Brook area being in the Spotswood Outlier of the Pine Barrens, or an area of sandy soil not conducive to growing corn or other conventional crops. (Conversely, “Manalapan” means “land of good bread.” Manalapan Brook begins and runs for miles in a non-Pine Barrens area, or an area of darker, gravelly soil that is good for growing corn.)

Mallards on Matchaponix Brook in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

     SPRING SPRINGING:  People are fishing. Listen in the early morning and you will likely hear birds singing. Look at a woods and you likely will see the red buds of trees. Flowers are blooming in gardens. Nature is coming alive with spring.

Warren Kiesler churns up horseradish plants on his farm in Cranbury, Middlesex County. To the right of the tractor in the background, notice the tree budding.

An angler at “Jamesburg Lake’ (properly “Lake Manalapan”) on the boundary of Jamesburg and Monroe, Middlesex County.

     ROBINS IN THE YARD:  With the coming of spring-like weather, it means the likelihood of seeing robins, “Turdus migratorius,” in our yards. I have noticed more of them around my yard in Monroe, Middlesex County. This week, I watched a robin pull a worm from my garden. “Although robins are considered harbingers of spring, many American Robins spend the whole winter in their breeding range,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. “But because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time in your yard, you’re much less likely to see them.” As the weather warms and nature comes alive, they move to yards because of the availability of such things as worms. “American Robins are common sights on lawns across North America, where you often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground,” according to the Cornell website.

A robin in the shrubs of my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     HORSERADISH FARMING:  With the collapse of newspapers and, in turn, the collapse of my approximately 35 years as a reporter – basically from 21-years-old when I got my journalism degree to 55-years-old – I am always looking for work. Over those 5-plus years, I have been a part-time staff writer on a weekly paper, freelance writer, writing teacher, security guard. Security guarding, which I did during my college years and resumed these years later, now takes me from a Central Jersey professional park to the perimeter around foreign cargo ships where Maryland’s Patapsco River meets Chesapeake Bay. As I like to say, I have the best syntax at the Baltimore docks and am the only employee of Rutgers University’s Plangere Writing Center that wears a hard hat on his other job. This week, at 61-years-old, add laborer at the Kiesler horseradish farm to my resume.

 Harvested horseradish on Kiesler farm in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

     SNOWBIRDS GOING, GOING…:  When will “snowbirds” — juncos, “Junco hyemalis” — be gone for the season? Based on field notes I have kept over the years, they should be leaving Monroe, Middlesex County, any day now to about April 25 or so. They will head to high ground, as close as North Jersey or Pennsylvania or as far as Canada. Then, I will see them again around the yard about mid-October to early November.

Manalapan Brook in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg, Middlesex County.

     IN MY GARDEN:  I finished the planting of the early spring crop — Kaleidoscope Blend Carrots, Touchon Heirloom Carrots, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Heirloom Spinach, Early Wonder Heirloom Beets, and Salad Bowl Lettuce, all Burpee products.

I found this in my garden. Something got this bird, the remains possible those of a mockingbird, “Mimus polyglottos.”

     YARDWORK:  I tackled the first yardwork of the season, working the front yard. I trimmed trees and prepared soil to plant zinnia and warm-season vegetables. The latter is a continuation of my plan to make my one-quarter-acre yard as productive as possible. With that idea, I am trying to minimize a generally unproductive lawn as much as possible.

PRINCETON ENVIRONMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL:  I attended the annual Princeton Envirionmental Film Festival, seeing part of the “Evolution of Organic” movie and the entire “Seed to Seed” movie, both about organic farming. I also got to see the talk of Dr. Joe Heckman — organic farmer, a member of the board of directors of Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, and Rutgers University soil scientist — after the showing of the “Evolution of Organic” and got to socialize with Joe. (Joe and his wife, Joyce Goletz Heckman, own Neshanic Pastures farm in East Amwell, Hunterdon County. Joyce and I are childhood friends from Monroe, Middlesex County.)

Awaiting a movie at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

Dr. Joe Heckman, who spoke on organic farming  at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival. Joe is an organic farmer, a member of the board of directors of Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, and Rutgers University soil scientist.

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  We are pretty sure the nest of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” on the Upper Millstone River on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties, has one eaglet in it. The baby should fledge in early to mid-May or 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 landing on the Upper Millstone River nest.

     GARDEN WRITING:  A great pleasure of mine is to be back at the Princeton Adult School this semester, again teaching non-fiction writing. In the past, I have taught the essay and the vignette. This semester, the course is called “Garden Writing,” but is really about gardens, the outdoors, or nature. Because of its title, the course has drawn a class of passionate gardeners. This passion inspires wonderful stories. Just this week, I have read papers about dandelions, beginning spring plantings indoors, tomatoes and their guests of the hornworm and Braconid wasp. The dozen or so in this class make it a joy to teach.

THINGS THAT DO NOT BELONG:  Just because something is outdoorsy does not mean it belongs everywhere in the outdoors world. On the Millstone River on the boundary of East Windsor, Mercer County, and Cranbury, Middlesex County, I noticed ornamental daffodils growing in the river floodplain. I suspect these were purposely planted or they grew from waste soil. They looked pretty along the river, but they are a non-natives that do not belong there.

These daffodils look pretty blooming along the Millstone River on the boundary of Cranbury, Middlesex County, and East Windsor, Mercer County. But they are ornamentals that do not belong in the wild.

     SKY PHOTOS:  This week’s sky photos are from Monroe, Cranbury and Plainsboro, all in Middlesex County.

Sky above farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Sky above farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Above my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Above farmland on the Cranbury-Plainsboro boundary, Middlesex County.

     SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  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.

A Piedmont boulder field on the Princeton Ridge in Princeton, Mercer County. Notice the lichen growing on the rocks. Lichen is a sign of fresh air.

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

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURE:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature off New Jersey was about 46 to 52 degrees.

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

UPCOMING:

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. 

Daffodils in bloom in Cranbury, 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

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

1 2 3 11