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.

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

Notes from Garden and Afield in the Jersey Midlands – Week of March 11

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Arneys Mount in Springfield, Burlington County.

     ARNEYS MOUNT:  Arneys Mount stands roughly 245 feet above sea level, or about 175 feet above the surrounding lowland, in Springfield, Burlington County. It is part of the cuesta geologic formation — hills that have survived erosion and now separate New Jersey’s Outer Coastal Plain and Inner Coastal Plain. Take a map a draw a line from Sandy Hook at the Atlantic Ocean in Monmouth County to the Burlington County area of Mount Holly-Mount Laurel. That line is essentially the line of the cuesta. On a detailed map of that line, you will see names representing the hill system —  Highlands, Mount Mitchell, Crawford Hill, Telegraph Hill, Beacon Hill, Knob Hill, Locust Hill, Quail Hill, Pine Hill, Backbone Hill, Disbrow Hill, Crematory Hill, Stone Hill, Arneys Mount, Mount Holly, and Mount Laurel.

The circa 1775 Arneys Mount Friends Meeting House.

     VOICES FROM AFIELD NO. 1, THE CUESTA:  Cousin Jerry Edvy lives on high ground just outside of Perrineville in Millstone, Monmouth County. When it snowed during the Tuesday, March 13, nor’easter, he reported “at least 5 inches.” His house is on the cuesta, or about 280 feet above sea level. When Jerry drove off the cuesta, he saw hardly any snow. “(Route) 33 was clear,” said Jerry, speaking of the road about 3 miles north of his house. “We must have got hit with a band,” he said. Or maybe it was just the height of his area. My house, about 50 feet above sea level about 10 miles to the north, got only about 1 inch of snow. I recall this cuesta-lowland dichotomy several years ago during my newspaper reporting days for the Asbury Park Press as I drove in Monmouth County from the Millstone area to the Sandy Hook area — when I was on high points of the cuesta, there was a covering of snow, maybe a few inches; when I was at lower elevations, maybe just a coating. An interesting phenomena happening in only a matter of dozens of feet.

The Tuesday, March 13, nor’easter snowfall in a Monroe Township, Middlesex County, cornfield.

     SNOWFALL:  The seasonal snowfall tally at my house in the part of Monroe between Jamesburg and Helmetta is 29.0 inches. The average seasonal snowfall in New Brunswick, about 7.5 miles away, is about 26 inches. So, based on that, we are about 3 inches more than normal at my house, with about a month’s worth of snowfall season left.

The Tuesday, March 13, nor’easter snowfall at a farm in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

     FOREST FIRE SEASON:  Because of the wet weather, the Pine Barrens spring wildfire season in the Jersey Midlands is running behind this year. Normally, it runs March 15 to May 15, when winds blow, humidity decreases, temperatures rise, and sun penetrates the essentially leafless forest, warming and drying the duff. But with the wetness out there, for example, the state Forest Fire Service canceled a control-burn for the upcoming week in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area in Middlesex County.

 Snow on the ground in the Pine Barrens of Barnegat, Ocean County.

     FIRE TOWERS:  The idea of a fire tower is to see smoke during daylight hours, basically to dispatch firefighters before a fire really gets going. Because once flames are seen, the fire is well underway. The state Forest Fire Service has eight wildfire lookout towers in the Jersey Midlands — Apple Pie Hill, Bass River, Batsto, Lebanon, and Medford, all in Burlington County; Cedar Bridge and Lakewood, both in Ocean County; and Jamesburg, Middlesex County. When the fire towers are staffed, the public is welcome to visit. Beware, though, it can be a climb of about 60 to 100 feet, depending on the tower.

 

BASS RIVER STATE FOREST:  Trees are to be cut around the Bass River fire-lookout tower in Bass River State Forest to improve the view for the tower observer. See https://thesandpaper.villagesoup.com/p/clear-cutting-proposed-for-bass-river-state-forest-fire-protection/1729679.

PYGMY PINES:  Generally in the area of the intersection of Routes 72 and 539 in Ocean County stand hundreds of acres of Pine Barrens forest with trees perhaps only 8-feet-tall at most. This is the “Pygmy Pines” or “The Plains.” The theory is the stunted growth in this area is caused by repeated fires.

  A sport utility vehicle drives on Route 539 through the Pygmy Pines, or Plains, in the Pine Barrens outside of Warren Grove, Ocean County.

The Pygmy Pines, or Plains, on Route 539 in the Pine Barrens near Warren  Grove, Ocean County.

WITCH’S BROOM:  If you regularly walk the Pine Barrens, you are likely to have seen a “witch’s broom,” a thick growth of needles on a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida.” While it may look haunting, it is simply caused by disease, defect, infestation, or environmental stress.

 A “witch’s broom” growth on a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” at the Cedar Bridge fire-lookout tower in Barnegat, Ocean County.

PAINTED ROCK IN THE PINE BARRENS:  Going back years, a rock along Route 539, on the section between Routes 70 and 72 in Lacey, Ocean County, had been painted in different ways according to the calendar — a Halloween jack-o-lantern, a turkey for Thanksgiving, and so on. But the rock, apparently on its way by truck to the Jersey Shore for erosion control when it somehow wound up along the road, took on an American flag, patriotic theme after 9-11 — the 2001, September 11, Tuesday, terrorist attack on American soil. No matter the artwork, the rock remains a landmark in the Pine Barrens. For more information on the rock, see http://www.jamesrahn.com/pages/other/personal/rock.htm.

Since around 9-11 — the terrorist attack on American soil on 2001, September 11, Tuesday — the rock on Route 539 in the Pine Barrens of Lacey, Ocean, has taken on a patriotic theme.

     PROTECTED ‘PINELANDS’:  While much of the Pine Barrens is protected by state “Pinelands” regulations, it is not true the Pine Barrens are fully preserved. One, not all the Pine Barrens is regulated for environmental protection. Two, building is allowed even in the regulated area.

 The (un)American way, development in the Pine Barrens, here in Whiting, Ocean County.

CROSSWICKS CREEK:  Crosswicks Creek’s headwaters are in the area of New Egypt, Ocean County. It, then, flows into the Delaware River at Bordentown. The federal Geological Survey has a gauge along Crosswicks Creek at Extonville on the boundary of Burlington and Mercer counties,  https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv/?site_no=01464500. Along the waterway is Crosswicks Creek Park, part of the Monmouth County Park System, https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?Id=2568.

 Looking upstream on Crosswicks Creek, here on the boundary of Mercer County to the left and Burlington County to the right. Here, Crosswicks Creek separates the villages of North Crosswicks in Hamilton, Mercer County, and Crosswicks in Chesterfield, Burlington County.

READING THE ENVIRONMENT:  When walking afield, let the land talk to you. It has a historical record. For example, the other day I was telling Eric Gehring, a naturalist for the Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation, about the dikes in the woods across Manalapan Brook from my house. Those dikes are a record of the area’s cranberry farming that ended around World War II. Then, during the week, on a portion of Manalapan Brook about 4 miles south of my house, I noticed wood planks sticking out of the ground. Remnants of a bridge? A dam? This remains a mystery.

Remnants of a wooden structure on Manalapan Brook in southern Monroe, Middlesex County.

The wooden remnants on Manalapan Brook in southern Monroe, Middlesex County.

     VOICES FROM AFIELD NO. 2, A MINK:  Frank  Ulatowski, an Englishtown-Manalapan outdoorsman, reported seeing a roadkilll of mink, “Mustela vison,” on Route 33 in Monroe, Middlesex County. So, mink are around.

I came across this deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” on a utility line on the boundary of Hightstown and East Windsor in Mercer County. Deer live on the edge — the edge of the woods, where they seek refuge, and fields, where they browse.

     CHANJ:  The state Division of Fish and Wildlife is promoting its initiative of CHANJ — Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey. CHANJ is looking to protect habitat and connect habitat through such things as land purchase, management of land, and safe wildlife passage at roadways. Roadway mitigation could include using culverts and bridges to have a safe pathway for wildlife to cross roads. The idea is have connectivity using core areas, which could be as little as 200 acres to as big as state regions such as the Highlands of North Jersey and, locally, the Pine Barrens.

UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  It appears the pair of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” are feeding chicks in the Upper Millstone River nest on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties, based on one adult on the nest while another flies to it. See the series of photographs:

 Photo 1:  An adult bald eagle circles the Upper Millstone River nest, which is below the eagle.

 Photo 2:  The eagle continues to circle, its white tail easily seen in this photograph. The nest is to the left.

 Photo 3:  The eagle circles back toward the nest, which is to the left, its white head clearly seen.

 

Photo 4:  The eagle flies toward the nest, which is to the left, where its mate awaits. The mate’s head is the speck of white above the nest.

 Photo 5:  The eagle is landing on the nest, its mate awaiting.    

VOICES FROM AFIELD NO. 3, UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  Frank Ulatowski, an outdoorsman from Englishtown-Manalapan, and his wife, Charlene, were visiting a business in the area of the Upper Millstone River nest of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties when a bald eagle flew by near the top of one of the single-story buildings. Frank wondered with all people around, how many noticed the eagle — as breeders in New Jersey, bald eagles are “endangered,” or under immediate peril, and, in general, “threatened,” or a species that can become “endangered” if conditions continue.

DUKE FARMS EAGLE CAMERA:  At Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County, bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” are sitting on two eggs, the first of which is scheduled to hatch about Wednesday, March 21. There is a live-stream camera on the nest that can be seen at http://dukefarms.org/making-an-impact/eagle-cam/.  In New Jersey, bald eagles are “endangered,” or under immediate peril, as breeders and, in general, “threatened,” or a species that can become “endangered” if conditions continue.

The March 13, Tuesday, nor’easter flooding on the boundary of Plainsboro and  South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

BATSTO LAKE:  Batsto Lake in Wharton State Forest, Burlington County, is formed by the damming of the Batsto River. The lake is 40 acres, according to the New Jersey Fish Finder website. As for the river, it drains 67.8 square miles, according to the federal Geological Survey.

Batsto River in Wharton State Forest, Burlington County.

 SIGNS OF THE PINES:  While traveling through the main part of the Pine Barrens, I came across a few interesting signs, both in the Bass River State Forest area of Burlington County:

 A folk art sign warning drivers of deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” crossing a road near Bass River State Forest in Burlington County.

An old masonry advertising style — formerly announcing a winery, now advertising property for sale — on Route 9 near Bass River State Forest in Burlington County.

     SKY VIEWS:  This week’s sky views are from Hamilton, Mercer County, and Monroe, Middlesex County.

 Farmland in Hamilton, Mercer County.

Mounts Mills Road in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Thompson Park, looking at Monroe High School, in Monroe, Middlesex County.

An abandoned cabin in the woods of 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

 

 

 

 

 

South Branch Parade, Thousands to Attend

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Canada Geese in a snowstorm on the South Branch appear at ease as the falling snow softens the scene.

The January blizzard raged, turning the darkness into an opaque curtain of white. Almost a foot of powdered snow covered the ground before midnight.

The broadcast news reported that NJ had declared a state of emergency shutting down roadways throughout the state. The setting was just right for the midwinter parade on the South Branch. Thousands attended and the main thoroughfare was jammed with local residents and visitors. As I stepped outside to get a head start on clearing the driveway, the sound of geese, thousands of geese, overpowered the drone of the wind driven snow. So impressive was the magnitude of the unalarmed chatter, I was compelled to investigate. Alerting my family where to search for the body, I headed into the storm.
The closer I got to the river the louder and more beckoning the sound became. Moving slowly through the trees toward the river bank, the din from the geese on the open water was deafening. The river was filled wall to wall with migrant and resident Canada geese. Some started to get up and fly. Others just drifted by. All appeared as black silhouettes against the snow and reflective water. Thousands upon thousands all in chorus, the rhythm and sound of their calls rose and fell as if one voice. Occasionally all sound would hesitate into a moment of absolute silence. The silence was as dramatic as the din.

Animals generally become fearless in extreme weather and at the height of this snowstorm the geese collectively tolerated my close approach.

As I closed in, the birds parted, momentarily leaving a void of reflective water. The surface was again soon covered with geese as the specter of an interloper was confidently dismissed.

The Geese were packed so tight; they appeared as if in a big cauldron that was being stirred. One group was drifting down with the current while the other was going back up stream in a re-circulating eddy below the island.

Aside from the geese, the river was filled with joined platelets of gray and white ice, strong enough to support several of the large birds. A display of motionless geese rode atop drifting ice flows, escorted by a cadre of even more geese floating alongside, all travelling at the same speed.

This looked all so familiar. Suddenly it struck me. I could have been watching a fourth of July parade with themed floats and accompanying marchers. Certainly the band was playing a familiar tune as spectator geese lined the banks and joined in the chorus.

How odd that here was a gathering of what seemed to be all the geese in New Jersey having their own parade. As if to celebrate some event sacred to the hearts of all geese, each bird taking comfort in knowing they owned the night and there would be no human eyes to witness their ethereal rite.

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.

Fish With Feathers

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A female common merganser pauses in the fast shallow water of the South Branch where clams and crayfish abound.

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,– For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

The witches brew in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” revealed a magical recipe perhaps intended to capture a victim’s soul for evil consumption. Truth is the witches were brewing magic bait they intended to use the next morning on the opening of trout season. Shakespeare spun the story to keep the ancient fishing formula secret and so, “Macbeth”, was written to obscure the truth and ‘Shakespeare’ is now a company that makes fishing gear.

I know it’s hard to believe, but sure enough similar formulas are used today and found in books like Art Flick’s New Streamside Guide or the old classic, AJ McLanes Fishing Encyclopedia. Artificial fly recipes used to catch trout read like the midnight brew mixed during the dark of the April moon in “Macbeth”.

Pale hairs from a “red fox belly are mixed with sandy poll from a hare’s ear”;  One dark ginger hackle and a quill from a Rhode Island Red rooster soaked overnight and blended with gray fox underbelly and hair of claret seal are combined with three strands of skunk tail; Peacock herl, scarlet silk, flat gold tinsel are bound with muskrat belly fur dubbing; Along with feathers from the cheek of a partridge, wing of wood duck and porcupine quills soaked in Clorox, we have a comprehensive list of standard ingredients found stocked on the shelf above any self respecting witch’s eternally boiling cauldron. The addition or deletion of the slightest ingredient is all that differentiates intended purpose. Good vs evil or brown trout vs rainbow trout, nuance makes the difference.

The use of feathers to catch fish on the fly is not exclusive to fishermen casting hooks adorned with feathers. Alternatively, the feathers are still on the birds and the hooks are in the form of beaks and talons.

Sharing the local fishery with licensed fishermen are common mergansers, great blue herons, king fishers, green herons, yellow crowned herons, egrets, osprey and bald eagles.

It is a wonder to realize the waters of the North and South Branch are rich enough to support the variety and quantity of fish required to have most of these birds as year round residents. The recent dam removals on the Raritan River will ensure an even greater supply of forage fish and a brighter future for not only fish eating birds but other game fish to improve what is already a fisherman’s paradise.

Driving along the river, I experienced a Kodak moment, where a female merganser surfaced with what looked like a decent sized bluegill in its serrated beak. Mergansers are the most commonly seen diving duck locally and are easily differentiated by gender as the males have a contrasting dark green head, black and white body while the females are white and gray with rusty red colored heads and a pronounced crest as if coiffed to resemble a wind blown hair style. Both sexes have a bright orange beak. Mergansers swim underwater to search for food that includes crayfish as well as the plentiful mollusks that populate our rivers.

Great blue herons seem to be next most common fish eater and are often seen standing tall and still as statues as they probe shallow water for small and large fish as well as frogs and salamanders.

Much shorter and less often seen is the green heron and seasonally, the pure white common egrets at summer’s end.

Our smallest fisheater is the belted kingfisher. About the size of an extra large bluejay and quite similar in color, bearing a pronounced crest and white throat patch with a blue bandana across its throat.

Osprey are often seen perched on dead tree limbs along the river eating fish, as bald eagles from two different nests are occasionally observed.

The arrival of fishing season, this April 6th at 8am, is a reminder of the flocks of feathered fishers, not bound by seasons or licenses, which share the bounty of our local waters.

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 in the Jersey Midlands — Week of 2018, March 4

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

A nanny with two of her three new kids at Cranbury Brook Farm in Monroe, Middlesex County.

NEW KIDS IN TOWN:  A few days ago, Laurie Ann Kozinsky Winter welcomed three “kids” to her Cranbury Brook Farm in Monroe — that is, three baby goats. On Sunday, March 4, Laurie Ann opened up her farm for a few hours so the community could visit the kids (all females) and their mom, the nanny.

The three young ladies at Cranbury Brook Farm.

     As a lifelong Monroe resident of 61 years, I have watched the township of a little more than 43 square miles grow from an estimated 5,000 people to today’s estimated 50,000. So, today’s visit to the farm, which sits on Cranbury Brook, was a visit back in time — when the part of Monroe south of Jamesburg was simply “The Farms.”

A mother’s care at Cranbury Brook Farm.

     My maternal Onda-Poznanski family and Laurie Ann’s maternal side have know each other for a hundred or so years. Laurie Ann’s maternal grandmother, Anna Kozinsky, and I lived in the same Helmetta Road area of Monroe. Laurie Ann and I are four days apart in age — Grrrrrr, I am the older one — and attended Holy Trinity Church in Helmetta and St. Mary School in South River — both Polish-Catholic institutions for us good Polski-Catholic children. At the farm, I got to talk to some of Laurie Ann’s children and caught up with her parents, Anna and Danny Kozinsky. So, it was a reunion of families, too.

What was supposed to be a short stay turned into about three hours — and about 120 photographs.

  1967, January — Little Laurie Ann and little Joey, both 10-years-old, in the 5th grade at St. Mary School, South River, Middlesex County, where good Polish-Catholic kids went to school.

     SHOUT OUT TO FARMER LAURIE ANN KOZINSKY WINTER:  The GOAT (Greatest of All Time) — farm owner Laurie Ann Kozinsky Winter. Or as I call her, Princess Winter Spring Summer Fall. (Baby-boomers would understand the Princess moniker — and notice the mix-up of words.) A shout-out to Laurie Ann — A loving wife who lost her husband, Greg, over the summer after a long battle with cancer; she is very dedicated to her elderly parents; and she is a mother and grandmother. A Jersey Girl!

Laurie Ann Kozinsky Winter, owner of Cranbury Brook Farm in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     MARCH 1 to 3 NOR’EASTER:  We were still cleaning up from the March 1 to 3 nor’easter…

Here in Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County, this fallen tree was a victim of the March 1 to 3 nor’easter. Then, on Wednesday, March 7, we got hit with another nor’easter…

     MARCH 7 NOR’EASTER:  Meteorologists were having trouble forecasting snow totals for the Wednesday, March 7, nor’easter. Where would the rain/snow line be? A difference of only a few miles could mean a drastic difference in snowfall — Look at the following figures from Somerset County, a 15-inch difference! The National Weather Service reported the following snowfall totals by county. I am listing the reported highs and lows. Keep in mind this may be an incomplete report:

Burlington County: 3.3 inches at Pemberton to 9.5 inches at Moorestown and Cinnaminson.

     Hunterdon County: 6.0 in East Amwell to 15.5 in the Stockton area.

Mercer County: 6.1 in the Trenton-Ewing area to 11.5 at Hamilton.

Middlesex County: 2.0 in the Old Bridge area to 9.4 at Cranbury. (I recorded an estimated 6.0 at the part of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg.)

Monmouth County: 1.3 at Keyport to 7.6 in the Upper Freehold area.

Ocean County: 0.4 at Lacey to 3.2 in the Jackson area.

Somerset County: 7.1 at Somerville to 22.0 at Green Brook.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania: 6.5 in the Oakford area to 11.1 in Langhorne.

The S-curve of Manalapan Brook in Monroe, Middlesex County, known as the “Old Swimming Hole.”

     SNOWFALL:  With the Wednesday, March 7, nor’easter, where I live — in the Helmetta-Monroe-Jamesburg area of Middlesex county — has surpassed the seasonal snowfall average. The nor’reaster dropped 6 inches, bringing the seasonal total to 28 inches. Normal would be about 26 inches, based in New Brunswick about 7.5 miles away. And we still have about 4 weeks left in the snowfall season.

 A March 7 nor’easter scene in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     OTHER SCENES FROM THE MARCH 7 NOR’EASTER:

The snow begins in Hightstown, Mercer County.

A Monmouth County Department of Public Works And Engineering plow on Route 571 in the part of Millstone, Monmouth County, between Roosevelt and ETRA.

Horses in Roosevelt, Monmouth County.

One of the famed geodisic dome houses in Roosevelt, Monmouth County.

Disbrow Hill, or “Crematory Hill,” in Millstone, Monmouth County.

ConRail freight railroad tracks in the part of Monroe, Middlesex County, between Jamesburg and Helmetta.

     HOW THESE NOR’EASTERS LIVE ON:  We may not realize it, but we will see remnants of Wednesday’s nor’easter for years to come in fallen or bent trees, because of the high wind and the heavy, wet spring snow.

A branch of a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” that fell because of the March 7 nor’easter in an East Brunswick section of the Middlesex County Department of Parks and Recreation-operated Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. This is part of my beloved Pine Barrens around Helmetta.

The heavy, wet spring snow bent this American holly, “Ilex opaca,” in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County. In heavy snows, I knock the snow off trees and shrubs in my yard.

This swamp hardwood tree, about 60 feet in length, fell recently in the Manalapan Brook floodplan in Monroe, Middlesex County. The root pan is about 10-feet-tall. This is in woods I walk and I note trees that are lying to the west are probably remnants of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, whose winds blew west, rather than the normal wind coming out of the west.

     SIGNS OF SPRING:  I have noticed male red-winged blackbirds, “Agelaius phoeniceus,” beginning to show their yellow and red epaulets, which they use to attract a female and likely signal territory. According to Cornell University’s All About Birds website, “The Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygynous species, meaning males have many female mates – up to 15 in some cases. In some populations 90 percent of territorial males have more than one female nesting on their territories. But all is not as it seems: one-quarter to one-half of nestlings turn out to have been sired by someone other than the territorial male.”

A male red-winged blackbird is beginning to show his yellow and red epaulet, a sign of the mating season. This one was in a common position, feeding on the ground below a birdfeeder — in this case in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     WINTERING DUCKS:  During the winter season, it is fun to see what is down here from the north. At Helmetta Pond in Middlesex County, I saw ducks of the genus “Aythya.”

 Ducks of the genus “Aythya” on Helmetta Pond.

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  Anne Price and I, the state Department of Environmental Protection volunteer monitors of this nest on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties, believe the bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” have a newly born chick or chicks in the nest. As breeders in New Jersey, bald eagles are “endangered,” or under immediate peril. For now, we just keep on watching the nest.

An adult bald eagle at the Upper Millstone River nest.

     USGS GAUGES:  My family through my maternal side has lived along Manalapan Brook in Helmetta or Monroe, Middlesex County, since 1900 or so. I was born, grew up, and am back living within 400 or so feet of the brook. So, I often use the brook’s United States Geological Survey stream flow gauge at Spotswood, Middlesex County, about 2 miles to the north as the crow flies, for research. For example, when the brook is running at about 50 cubic feet per second in Spotswood, I can no longer wade across the brook at my house — the velocity is too strong and maybe the brook is too high. And when the brook is running about 200 CFS in Spotswood, it is about to flow over its bank at my house. My added affinity to the Spotswood gauge is that it began operating in 1957, January, or two months after I was born — giving me almost a perfect record  of brook flows of my lifetime. This week, I stumbled upon the USGS gauge on the Delaware and Raritan Canal at Kingston on the boundary of Middlesex, Mercer, and Somerset counties. See https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nj/nwis/uv/?site_no=01460500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060,62614 for the Kingston gauge. See https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nj/nwis/current/?type=flow for the stream flow  gauges in New Jersey. There are more than 50 gauges in the Jersey Midlands.

The United States Geological Survey stream flow gauge at Kingston on the boundary of Middlesex, Mercer, and Somerset counties.

Signs on the USGS stream flow gauge at Kingston.

     A lock of the Delaware and Raritan Canal at Kingston. The USGS gauge sits in the background, along the canal’s left bank.

     CATCHING THE RIGHT LIGHT:  On two days this week, I happened to catch views of soft sunlight on trees at dusk. And both times I captured it with my camera.

 This shot is across the street from my house in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Another shot from across the street from my house.

Another bit of golden sunlight at Monmouth Junction, Middlesex County.

     SKY VIEWS:  This week’s sky views were captured in East Brunswick, Helmetta, Monmouth Junction, and Monroe, Middlesex County, along with the Kingston area on the boundary of Middlesex, Mercer, and Somerset counties.

This photograph was taken at Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Helmetta Pond in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County.

Carnegie Lake, formed by the damming of the Millstone River — this portion of the lake is on the boundary of Princeton, Mercer County; Plainsboro and South Brunswick, Middlesex County; and Franklin, Somerset County.

 

From my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County, I captured this photograph of Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” flying by.

 

CHRONICLING GARDEN AND AFIELD:  Based on some things I have heard in recent days or months, I think people assume I spend a lot of time outdoors, finding what I write about. Actually, I do not spend enough time outdoors, either roaming the woods or in the yard! Whether I work 60 hours a week or am not working, I tend to chronicle the same way. That is, I do not pass up opportunities when I see them. I constantly have the camera with me and always have pen, pencil, and notebook with me. For example, this week’s report includes results of me having brunch in Hightstown, Mercer County; going to a doctor’s appointment in Plainsboro, Middlesex County; and dealing with the nor’easter in my neighborhood in Monroe, Middlesex County. My point, do not miss out on the outdoors world around us. It is there! Stay aware.

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, STARLINGS:  As I was driving through Monmouth Junction, Middlesex County, I came across a murmuration of starlings, “Sturnus vulgaris,” landing in trees. They are well-known for their flocks, or “murmurations.” “For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website.

A starling murmuration in Monmouth Junction, Middlesex County.

STARLINGS, NO. 2:  From reading “Garden and Afield,” you may have correctly deduced I hate non-native species, especially highly invasive ones. Not only do I find starlings, ” Sturnus vulgaris,” oily- and ugly-looking, they are non-native invasives. According to Cornell University’s All About Birds website, “All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that (William) Shakespeare ever mentioned (in his writing). It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.” The first thing we do, let us kill the starlings!

The Monmouth Junction starlings.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME:  Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday, March 11, at 2 a.m. Spring forward with spring, so set the clocks one hour forward.

SUNRISE/SUNSET:  DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME BEGAN SUNDAY, MARCH 11, AT 2 A.M.; SET THE CLOCKS ONE HOUR FORWARD. From Sunday, March 11, to Saturday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, the sun will rise about 7:15 to 7:05 a.m. and set about 7:00 to 7:05 p.m. From Sunday, March 18, to Saturday, March 24, the sun will rise about 7:05 to 6:55 a.m. and set about 7:10 to 7:15 p.m.

FULL MOON:  The next full moon is March 31.

The March 4 moon, as seen through my living room window, waning from the March 1 full moon.

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

SPRING WILDFIRE SEASON:  The Pine Barrens spring wildfire season generall runs from March 15 to May 15, when winds blow, humidity decreases, temperatures rise, and sun penetrates the essentially leafless forest, warming and drying the duff.

UPCOMING:

March 11, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Atlantic County:  13th Annual Lines on the Pines, a Pine Barrens day of the written word, spoken word, art, and the performing arts at Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, 08205. More information at http://www.linesonthepines.org/linesonthepines.html.

April 9 to 15, Monday to Sunday, Mercer County:  The annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival. Stand by for the specific schedule. This is a great event — not only showing environmental films, but some that are rather obscure. I try to go every year.

ME BAD OR ME GOOD?  I blew off the Saturday, March 10, 29th Annual Pinelands Short Course to finish this week’s “Garden and Afield.” So, I wasted $50 and lost some knowledge. But as musician-singer-songwriter-friend Frank Pinto has noted, It is better to perform than to watch someone else perform. I am torn. In my early journalism days, I thought it was more important to write than read. Now, in my 40th year of journalism and my often tired state, I wonder….

Gulls at Lake Carnegie on the boundary of Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties.

     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, Week of February 28, 2018

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

 Photographic art, “The Approaching Nor’easter,” using a battery-powered lantern; a bottle of an old Jersey Midlands recipe, Laird’s Applejack; “Down Barnegat Bay, a Nor’easter Midnight Reader” by Robert Jahn; and my enamel-top kitchen table.

The nor’easter came,

rather calmly at my house.

Then, it disappeared.

NOR’EASTER:  The nor’easter moved through from the Thursday-Friday, March 1-2, overnight through Saturday, March 3. It snowed, sleeted and rained. There was some minor and moderate flooding, along with power losses. Perhaps the only uniform part of the storm through the Jersey Midlands was high wind. Otherwise, the storm affected areas differently. My travels took me from my home in Monroe, Middlesex County, to the Jersey Shore at Belmar-to-Sea Girt in Monmouth County, on to Prospertown Lake in Ocean County, and back home. During those travels and at home, I witnessed snow, sleet, and high winds, but really nothing of major concern. My home had no power loss. Again, though, the nor’easter impacted the Midlands in different ways….

The nor’easter surf of the Atlantic Ocean at Spring Lake, Monmouth County.

The Atlantic Ocean beach at Sea Girt, Monmouth County, during the nor’easter.

     NOR’EASTER SNOW:  On Friday, March 2, the nor’easter brought a coating of snow, as measured at my house in the part of Monroe between Jamesburg and Helmetta, Middlesex County. This brings the season total to about 22 inches. The season’s normal snowfall is about 26 inches, as measured at New Brunswick about 7.5 miles away. With about 9 weeks of probable snow weather, we have a good chance to reach the season average.
Other preliminary snowfall totals in the Jersey Midlands, as reported by the National Weather Service. These reports are not necessarily complete, but are valid reports:
Burlington County:  .2 in the Burlington area to 1.5 inches in the Medford area.
Hunterdon County:  .5 at Readington to 4.5 at Byram.
Mercer County:  .1 in Hamilton to .5 in the Hopewell area.
Middlesex County:  .5 in the South Brunswick area.
Monmouth County:  .4 in the Long Branch area to 3.3 in the Clarksburg area.
Ocean County:  .2 in the Brick area to 2 in the Berkeley area.
Somerset County:  .3 in the Franklin area to 4.0 in the Peapack-Gladstone.
In next-door Bucks County, Pennsylvania:  .7 in the Langhorne area to 6.1 in the Perkasie area.
Other totals beyond the Jersey Midlands:   Morris County, Green Pond, 11.8; Sussex County, Branchville, 16.5; and Monroe County, Pennsylvania, Coolbaugh, 23.6.

 Nor’easter snowfall at Ye Olde Yellow Meeting House cemetery in Upper Freehold, Monmouth County. More information on historic Ye Olde Yellow Meeting House, http://www.oymh.org.

NOR’EASTER WIND:  Despite different impacts of the nor’easter through the Jersey Midlands, the unifying factor was the high wind. The National Weather Service reported these high gusts in the Jersey Midlands. The listing may not be complete:
Burlington County:  51 miles per hour at McGuire Air Force Base.
Hunterdon County:  71 MPH at Lebanon.
Mercer County:  54 MPH at Trenton-Mercer County Airport, Ewing.
Middlesex County:  55 MPH at Perth Amboy.
Monmouth County:  54 MPH at Keyport.
Ocean County:  62 MPH at Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island.
Somerset County:  49 MPH at Somerset Airport, Bedminster.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania:  51 MPH at Perkasie.
Other totals outside the Jersey Midlands:  Brandywine Shoal on Delaware Bay, 74 MPH (the minimum speed required for a hurricane), and at the Cape May Buoy, 68 MPH.

Blowing snow during the nor’easter at Prospertown Lake in Jackson, Ocean County.

USE OF ‘NOR’EASTER’:  Early on in my reporting days at the Asbury Park Press, I refused to use the term “nor’easter,” finding it to be a bit pretentious to define the powerful type of storm with winds out of the northeast. Instead I would write about a “northeastern” storm. I mean, I am not a sea captain or something. As time went on, I succumbed. I mean, people do know the term “nor’easter.” But I found something this week that has got me thinking to go back to the old way — the passion of Tom Halsted. Halsted wrote, “That gimcrack word ‘nor’easter’ is a made up, fake, pseudo-Yankee neologism that came from the same plastic cracker barrel as ‘ye olde Tea Shoppe.’ It should be shunned as silly and pretentious.” Thoughts?

SIGNS OF SPRING:  I am hearing birds calling — not in full swing, but calling nonetheless. Garden flowers are blooming. Herptiles are moving around.

Blooming crocuses at Heritage Park in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

     MORE SPRING, THINKING ABOUT THE GARDEN:  I have been thinking about the early spring vegetable garden and looking at the seed catalogs. Still deciding which varieties of beet, carrot, lettuce, pea, and spinach to plant.

 My garden seed catalogs.

A NEW TICK:  The Asian longhorned tick, “Haemaphysalis longicornis,” has been been found for the first time living in the United States in November — specifically, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, on an Icelandic sheep in Hunterdon County. Previously, the tick has been found in the United States only on animals at ports of entry. The tick is a threat to livestock, but there is no known threat to humans. More information is available at https://sebsnjaesnews.rutgers.edu/2017/11/rutgers-center-for-vector-biology-helps-in-identification-of-east-asian-tick-species-on-hunterdon-county-farm/.

   A cardinal, “Cardinalis cardinalis,” in my sideyard in Monroe, Middlesex County, during Friday’s nor’easter weather. It is easily identifiable as a male because of its bright color.

     CHIGGERS ALREADY?:  I think of the bite and resulting crazy itch of chiggers, genus “Trombicula,” as a late summer or fall nuisance. But this week I noticed a number of itchy red spots around my left ankle, a place one would find chigger bites. Could it be?

VOICES FROM AFIELD, JOAN GETAZ ZUMOFF ON THE ‘SMOKEY GRAY’ TURKEY:  Joan Getaz Zumoff checked in from just below the Jersey Midlands in Gloucester Township, Camden County. In recent months, a wild turkey, “Meleagris gallopavo,” of thhe “smokey gray” phase has been hanging out around her yard. It is a less common coloring than the darker colors normally found on turkeys. A nice find!

  A wild turkey in a less common”smokey phase” in Gloucester Township, Camden County. (Photo copyright 2018 by Joan Getaz Zumoff)

     DELAWARE WATER GAP:  The Delaware Water Gap is a bit north of the Jersey Midlands, but it is a well known, beautiful outdoors area on the boundary of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Now, the New Jersey Department of Transportation wants to protect Interstate 80 from falling boulders by putting in a fence and wall. Is it really necessary for safety? Is it too big a tradeoff, ruining the beauty of the area? See these various stories:  http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2018/02/mayors_fight_fencing-in_of_delaware_water_gap_di_i.htmlhttp://www.njherald.com/20180228/opposition-grows-to-plans-for-i-80-fence-in-knowlton#//; and http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/index.ssf/2018/02/jurassic_park_fence_delaware_w.html.

A circa 1940 Delaware Water Gap postcard.

     SKY VIEWS:  The week’s sky view was from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

  The view from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature along the New Jersey coast was running at about 41 to 42 degrees on the March 3-4 weekend.

 

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME:  Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday, March 11, at 2 a.m. Spring forward with spring, so set the clocks one hour forward.

SUNRISE/SUNSET:  From Sunday, March 4, to Saturday, March 10, the sun will rise about 6:25 to 6:15 a.m. and set about 5:55 to 6 p.m. DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME BEGINS SUNDAY, MARCH 11, AT 2 A.M.; SET THE CLOCKS ONE HOUR FORWARD. From Sunday, March 11, to Saturday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, the sun will rise about 7:15 to 7:05 a.m. and set about 7:00 to 7:05 p.m.

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

UPCOMING:

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.

March 10, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Atlantic County:  29th Annual Pinelands Short Course at Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, 08205. More information at  https://stockton.edu/continuing-studies/conferences.html.

March 11, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Atlantic County:  13th Annual Lines on the Pines, a Pine Barrens day of the written word, spoken word, art, and the performing arts at Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, 08205. More information at http://www.linesonthepines.org/linesonthepines.html.

April 9 to 15, Monday to Sunday, Mercer County:  The annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival. Stand by for the specific schedule. This is a great event — not only showing environmental films, but some that are rather obscure. I try to go every year.

A gray squirrel, “Sciurus carolinensis,” 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 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