If shadows and footprints were indelible

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Joe Mish - youth

Joe Mish - adult

If shadows and footprints were indelible and double exposures across time possible, you might be able to see Henry David Thoreau standing next to Joe on the shore of the Raritan River in New Jersey and the rocky streamside of the Kenduskeag in Maine. Each contemplating the wonder of nature where others might not see anything of value or beauty.

I always lived within sight of where the Raritan flows, the river being a reference point in my life. So embodied in my psyche is the river, that when at the recent 8th Sustainable Raritan River Conference at Rutgers, mention of the words, ‘Raritan River’ by one of the academic speakers felt as if it was me he was talking about. In reality the cumulative agenda was revealing the natural treasures hidden in plain view that I had discovered as a wayward youth and fondled as an adult through a newspaper column and photos.

The Raritan River basin drains about 1,100 square miles of New Jersey. The main Raritan River and bay is the summation of the North and South branches and their tributaries. I hunted ducks and trapped muskrats on the tidal creeks in season and for the rest of the year roamed the area exploring its history, geology, flora and fauna.

My interest in local nature only grew, as the gravitational pull of curiosity generated by this region’s unique natural diversity, drew me deeper into science and fostered an appreciation of its inherent beauty.

Years later I moved up river along the South Branch, fascinated by the thought of the river system as a watery highway. I paddled throughout the year and twice to Raritan Bay.

Eventually the South Branch became a training venue for the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race in Bangor Maine. Starting in January each year I would paddle an 11 mile stretch of river several times a week to get in shape for the 16.5 mile canoe race in Maine, which is held in mid April. I ran that race for 20 years, 18 straight years without interruption. Who knew this connection held a significant piece of a puzzle I didn’t know I was putting together.

At some point along the way, when doing research on the Raritan, I came across a history of Perth Amboy, a town located at the mouth of the Raritan River. Its list of astounding historic firsts also included a who’s who of famous visitors; Henry David Thoreau’s name was casually noted. That was very interesting, though just an isolated bit of information.

It was when I began to participate in the Maine canoe race that a coincidence hit me like a lightning bolt. Thoreau’s name came up again, this time linked to the Kenduskeag Stream and Bangor. The lights started to flash, Perth Amboy and Bangor, two river towns prominent in my life.

For those who don’t know, David Henry Thoreau, better known as Henry David Thoreau, or HDT, by his followers, is relevant today for his writings, diaries and environmental awareness. Among his best known works are ‘Walden’, ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Walking’ and ‘The Maine Woods’. An abolitionist and anarchist closely associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and a lesser known association with Marcus Spring and Eagleswood.

Eagleswood was a utopian society established in Perth Amboy and the focus of Thoreau’s month long visit to New Jersey in October through November 1856. The visit was facilitated by Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. Thoreau was hired to lecture the Eagleswood society and do a land survey.

I began to research Thoreau, Eagleswood and the Bangor Connection as I seemed to be a kindred spirit of Thoreau, as assessed by some that know me.

If footprints and shadows were indelible, HDT and I would have been physically bumping into each other. I wasn’t following in Henry’s footsteps as much as I was crossing them.

There is a great article by, Wayne Dilts, a New Jersey resident and member of the Thoreau Society who describes Thoreau’s NJ visit. Wayne’s article is found in the Thoreau Reader and titled, “Thoreau’s New Jersey Connection”; http://thoreau.eserver.org/jersey.html

Reviewing other sources for Henry’s actual diary entries for October 25th through mid November 1856 I discovered Thoreau had wandered about 2 miles west of Eagleswood, which placed him directly in the wilds I once roamed.

“Nov 2nd – Took a walk 2 miles W of Eagleswood – the quercus palustris or pin oak, very common there…”

Thoreau goes on to describe the plants, soil and topography he observed. One entry that really hits home are his words; “I see apparently the sea side goldenrod lingering still by the Raritan River”

This entry stunned me.

Here was a revered philosopher and man of nature, who transcended Walden Pond and Massachusetts to be embraced by the world and relevant for more than a century and a half to the environmental movement, said the magic word, “Raritan River”. This was the first time I experienced what I described earlier at the Sustainable River Conference, an independent discovery of our natural treasures hidden in plain view. My secret world exposed a century and half ago and still viable today.

A further look into the Thoreau, Bangor and Kenduskeag connection, bought more surprises and mingling of footsteps and shadows.

Bangor was at the edge of civilization in Maine and served at the trailhead for Thoreau’s Maine Journey to Mount Katadin via the Penobscot River with his Indian guide, Joe. Thoreau was later to say Joe was one of just a couple of people he most admired.

Thoreau also had cousins in Maine who were friends of the Pratt family. One document I read, and cannot now find as a reference, mentioned Henry and his cousin being invited to dinner at the Pratts.

As it turns out, it was the Pratt family in Bangor who hosted me each April during the Kenduskeag stream canoe race. The connection between the Pratt families in Bangor, then and now, seems to have been lost, but the parallel experiences of two out of state visitors in Bangor are wild coincidence.

“…….the impetus for Thoreau’s interest in Bangor and the northern Maine woods were his cousins Rebecca Jane Billings and Mary Ann Thoreau Billings, and aunt Nancy (Thoreau) Billings, who lived in the Queen City.”

The shore along the lower Kenduskeag, where it empties into the Penobscot River in Bangor, also marks the finish line of the canoe race. Coincidentally there are two mandatory portages around the old flour mill dam and a natural ledge which forces racers to carry their boats along the same path Henry walked.

“During his travails to Bangor, Thoreau often hiked along the Kenduskeag Stream and noted the plant and flower life along its shores.”

http://bangorinfo.com/Focus/focus_kenduskeag_stream.html

Henry’s last word as he died on May 6th 1862 was ‘moose’. Coincidentally my last word as I left Maine, after an unsuccessful month long archery moose hunt, was ‘moose!’, followed closely by the guttural inflection, ‘grr’. I waited more than thirty years to get drawn in the Maine moose lottery and went home with a consolation prize of 15 pounds of moose meat from a sympathetic donor, knowing full well that was my last breath of a chance at a Maine moose.

As I was finally completing this article, which had been simmering for more than two years, a hummingbird, the first one I had seen this season, flew up to the window, where I sat and stared at me for several seconds before flying off. I took that as a sign Henry was nearby and impressed by the coincidence of our footsteps and shadows.

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.

Acid Rich Soils in Englishtown, NJ

Check out these pics from June 16, 2016 water quality monitoring in the Englishtown area of the LRW. Waters were bright orange in color with very low pH (3.8):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upstream was an eroding bank with charcoaled, black wood:

Englishtown - black wood, acidic soils 6.16.16

What’s going on here? This is an acid-producing deposit from the Englishtown Geologic Formation. According to Stephanie Murphy, Director of Rutgers Soil Testing lab: “When deposits are buried (not exposed) the mineral is iron sulfide and pH is not “unusual”. It can have black color. When exposed, the extreme acidity results from certain microbes oxidizing the sulfide to sulfate with H+ produced. Same process with acid coal-mining spoils. Acidity makes iron soluble, and when it re-deposits/precipitates, you get the orange hues.”

Also see the NJ Geological Survey’s Figure 1-1. NJ sedimentary units with potential to produce acid:

http://www.state.nj.us/dep/njgs/geodata/dgs09-2.htm

May 29-June 4: The Weekly Garden and Afield Report

Photos and article by Joseph Sapia

Afield observations made in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta in South Middlesex County. Garden observations made in my yard, just outside of Helmetta.

THE GARDEN. Planted vegetables, cantaloupe, and flowers, all from seed, May 21. Sweet corn, cucumbers, and sunflowers are sprouting well. The tomatoes are just peeking through the soil.

2016,%20June%204,%20Saturday,Holmdel%20Greek%20Fest%20058

GARDENING CHORES. Planted black-eyed Susan seeds, finished lawn-mowing, weeded the garden, been watering the garden.
WATERING THE GARDEN. I use no fertilizer and no chemicals — to me, things ruining the local Pine Barrens ecosystem and time bombs in the soil and groundwater. But I water, a soaking preferably before 10 a.m., so less loss of water to evaporation in the sun’s heat and allowing the vegetation to dry so as not to pick up fungal growth. If I miss the pre-10 a.m. watering, I will try to water with a sprinkling can, low to the ground, underneath the vegetation.

Sapia - watering cans

WATER CONSERVATION. Since taking over the family house in 2002, I have cut my water consumption in half for the most part. Some can be attributed to a needed bathroom remodeling (and a water-efficient toilet), but a lot is from simple conservation — do not run as much water, along with re-using gray water and rain water for watering plants. This week, for example, I watered the garden with a combination of house water and gray water, hoping to switch entirely to rain water and gray water.

MORE WATER CONSERVATION. Water from the cellar de-humidifier goes to the bird bath/watering trough. The trough, too, is recycled — a garbage can lid place on the ground, easy for birds to use, as well as squirrels and so on.

sapia - trash can lid feeder

RACCOON AT THE BIRD-FEEDER. My friend continues to visit the bird-feeder, helping itself to the sunflower kernels. I let it do it for a good part of the night, then I put the feeder in the garage for the overnight.

sapia - raccoon

WILDLIFE AND ME. Un-rhythmic chirping crickets in my cellar in the middle of the night bring out the serial killer in me — wait till later this summer when that starts up!. But, generally, wildlife is very welcome in my yard (if not my house). This week, though, a raccoon, which I normally get within 7 or so feet of as I let it raid my bird-feeder, would not leave my garage after I startled it and it hid behind tools and so on. I poked around with a stick and finally gave up, left the doors open, and curled up on the love seat in the house until I heard rattling, meaning the raccoon was in the garbage can holding the bird seed. So, I got up, and shooed it away. Earlier, while weeding, I saw a rabbit — whose kind let me get within 5 feet or so — eating my sunflower sprouts. The hand-weeder in my hand flew across the garden. Get it? The rabbit surely understood.
WILD ON MY SIDE. Neat on the street side and neighbor side. I let my hedges and shrubs have a wild or English garden look facing inward. But I try to keep it neat on the public and neighbors’s sides. And I keep a number of wild patches in my side and back yards, making the best out of unproductive lawn ecosystems (photo 9) (I am puzzled by parents that worry about school bus stops, un-shoveled snowy sidewalks, and overcrowded classrooms, but do not worry about the chemicals on their lawns. Time bombs, I say, time bombs!)

sapia - around the yard

AROUND THE YARD. The season’s first bloom of Knock Out roses is wilting. Fungi (photos 11 and 12), mullein, and pokeweed sprout freely. I let this stuff grow, interested in how it looks.

Sapia - wilting roses

— WHAT IS GOING ON? In recent weeks, I have seen a brown thrasher (first I have seen in around 15 years), then I heard a whip-poor-will calling at my house (the first in an estimated 6 years), and, this year, the northern gray treefrogs have been hollering. Is nature coming back to the local Pine Barrens? Is the natural world becoming so condensed that nature is retreating internally? Does it mean anything?
— AND MOUNTAIN LAUREL IS BLOOMING Meaning turtles are out laying eggs, so be careful while driving. (And be careful: Do not pick them up by their tails and WATCH OUT FOR THE SNAP OF A SNAPPING TURTLE.) For the more fainthearted naturalists, the mountain laurel blooming is sort of an alarm clock that the woods will heat up, get muggy, and pine flies will be swarming.

sapia - mountain laurel

— MY INSIDE GARDEN. The view from my desk.

sapia - view from inside

Copyright 2016 by Joseph Sapia

Joe is kicking off a new Facebook.com group, “The Jersey Midlands,” where this report is first published. To access The Jersey Midlands, go to the group and request access.

Joe Sapia, 59, is a vegetable gardener, who gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his vegetable gardening. And he draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in the local Pines, and his grandmother.

May 22-28: The Weekly Garden and Afield Report

Photos and text by Joseph Sapia

Garden and Afield in Helmetta-Monroe-Jamesburg, 2016, May 22, Sunday, to May 28, Saturday

From my yard in the Helmetta Road area of Monroe and the surrounding Pine Barrens

knock out roses

Knock-out roses

— “KNOCK OUT’ ROSES: The “Knock Out” roses are putting on a spectacular display, the best I recall since planting them in my yard in 2008.

— RACCOON/S AT THE BIRD-FEEDER: The battle continues between me and the raccoons at the bird-feeder. I have been putting the feeder in the garage at night, but the raccoon/s sometime beat me to the feeder.

raccoon at backyard feeder

Raccoon at my backyard birdfeeder

racoon in tree

— CANADA GEESE GOSLINGS: Adult Canada geese are out and about with their goslings. The adults are amazing parents — and humans can learn from them, (Photo 6, at Helmetta Pond.)

Canada Geese at Helmetta Pond

Canada Geese at Helmetta Pond

— NEW JERSEY STATE BIRD AT THE FEEDER: An Eastern goldfinch at one of my bird-feeders. Easily identified as a male because of the bright colors.

Eastern Goldfinch at feeder

Eastern Goldfinch, the New Jersey state bird

— NORTHERN GRAY TREEFROGS: These called strongly during the week. See http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/audio/no_gray_frog.wav.

— GARDEN: I planted May 21 and a week later plants were sprouting, most noticeable the Mammoth Gray-Stripe sunflower. Although I do not use fertilizer or pesticides, I water regularly. Once the plants get going, I water before 10 a.m. so as not to lose water to evaporation as the day warms.

— BLACK BEAR MOVEMENT: Reports continue about black bear sightings in Central Jersey and across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. I am surprised there have not been more reports closer to home. If a bear is sighted, it is likely a 1-1/2-year-old male, perhaps 80 to 100 pounds, looking for its own turf. (What to do when encountering a bear, http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/bear/bearfacts_know.pdf.)

— YARDWORK: I trimmed the shrubs, then started cutting the grass. I have to finish the lawncutting today. I still have to plant black-eyed Susans.

— BLAST FROM THE PAST, CIRCA LATE 1960S: Paul Migut with an 8-horsepower roto-tiller at his Uncle Stanley “Pon” Ceslowski’s garden on Old Road at Helmetta Road, Monroe. Over the years, Pon, Paul and Jim Becker worked that huge garden.

Paul Migut at Pon's garden

Paul Migut, circa late 1960s, at Pon’s garden

close-up of knock out roses

More knock-out roses

Joe Sapia, 59, is a vegetable gardener, who gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his vegetable gardening. And he draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in the local Pines, and his grandmother.

LRWP response to Draft RP/EA for American Cyanamid Co. Superfund Site

The LRWP has submitted the following letter in response to NOAA’s Invitation to Public Comment on their “Restoration Plan/ Environmental Assessment Draft (RP/EA) for the American Cyanamid Co. Superfund Site, Bridgewater Township, Somerset County, New Jersey”:

May 23, 2016

Carl Alderson
NOAA Restoration Center – Sandy Hook Office
JJ Howard National Marine Fisheries Science Center
74 Magruder Rd, Highlands, NJ 07732

RE: American Cyanamid Draft RP/EA

Dear Mr. Alderson –

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership has reviewed NOAA’s proposed Restoration Plan/ Environmental Assessment (RP/EA) for the American Cyanamid Co. Superfund Site, Bridgewater Township, Somerset County, New Jersey and fully supports the proposal for primary and compensatory restoration activities.

The LRWP is New Jersey’s newest watershed association, formed in 2014 to address legacy contamination and current pollution in the Raritan River and the Lower Raritan Watershed. Our mission is to conserve, enhance and restore the natural resources of the New Jersey Watershed Management Area 9, the Lower Raritan Watershed. We believe that not only will removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River directly improve resources impacted by legacy contamination, it is our understanding that the proposed project will benefit a broad spectrum of the Raritan River’s ecology and will likewise enable other environmental and human use benefits. Significant ecological, environmental and human use benefits have in fact already been realized following recent removal of a series of dams (Robert Street, Nevius Street and Calco) on the lower portion of the Raritan River between the towns of Bridgewater and Bound Brook. Likewise, we expect that design of technical fish passage at the Island Farm Weir (located on the Raritan River) will advance multiple Lower Raritan Watershed stakeholder goals.

The LRWP is also aware that the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River, as well as future modifications at the Island Farm Weir to include a technical fish passage at the Island Farm Weir on the Raritan River, will expand access to several thousand acres of non-tidal freshwater mid to upper reaches of the Raritan River’s major tributaries. Removal of Weston Mill Dam and the construction of a technical fish passage at Island Farm Weir will significantly enhance maturation and rearing habitat for striped bass, American shad, American eel, blueback herring, and alewife, and should significantly increase the abundance of anadromous and catadromous species, which will improve the ecological health of the Raritan River.

The LRWP’s only concerns with NOAA’s proposal are short term sediment transport impacts following dam removal. However, we are confident that NOAA’s plan to reduce potential environmental consequences is sound and further expect that the proposed projects will provide long term restorative benefits to water chemistry, specifically decreased water temperatures in formerly impounded sections, and increased dissolved oxygen concentrations. These changes will benefit riverine biota from the most basic food chain level up to the top predators for many years to come.

Enhancing fish populations in the Raritan River system is important for fresh and marine ecosystems. It is especially appropriate as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) lists the estuarine portion of the Raritan River as an important migratory pathway for anadromous alewife and blueback herring, species which NOAA lists as of special concern. The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership feels that the proposed projects could help to reverse declining population trends, and anadromous fish returning to spawn each spring in the Raritan River provide an attraction to the general public in the Raritan River Basin. The removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River and feasibility analysis and design of technical fish passage at the Island Farm Weir are important to the LRWP and we fully support the proposed projects.

Sincerely,

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP
President, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership
www.lowerraritanwatershed.org

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Interior, and the State of New Jersey invite public comment on a proposed plan.
The Draft RP/EA is available at the following website:

http://darrp.noaa.gov/hazardous-waste/american-cyanamid

The public comment period on this plan ends June 10, 2016.

To request further information or an additional hard copy of this document or to submit your comments, please contact Carl Alderson at (732)371-0848, NOAA Restoration Center – Sandy Hook Office, JJ Howard National Marine Fisheries Science Center, 74 Magruder Rd, Highlands, NJ 07732 or by email at Carl.Alderson@noaa.gov. Please put “American Cyanamid Draft RP/EA” in the subject line.

May 15-21: The Weekly Garden and Afield Report

Garden and Afield In Helmetta-Monroe-Jamesburg

2016, May 15, Sunday, to May 21, Saturday

by Joseph Sapia

sapia - full corn planting moon 2016

Nearly a Full Corn-Planting Moon during the week

— NIGHT SKY: On Saturday, the moon turned full, the Full Corn-Planting Moon. Look for a bright red Mars for weeks. (The photograph is of the almost-full moon over Monroe and Jamesburg.)

— VEGETABLE GARDENING: I got the vegetable garden in on Saturday, May 21, working in and out of rain. I am a bit concerned I went by the calendar, using May 20 as my guide to when the soil normally would be warm enough to plant, rather than by this year’s still-cool weather. That is, the soil may still be too cool for the warm-season vegetable plants. Perhaps I should have waited to June 1. No matter if I went with my heart over my head, the crop is in: Mammoth Gray-Stripe Sunflower, Cuppa Joe Sweet Corn, Rutgers Tomato, Hale’s Best Jumbo Cantaloupe, Born-to-be-Mild Hybrid Hot Pepper, Kaleidoscope Mix Carrot, Northern X-tra-Sweet Hybrid Sweet Corn, Igloo Lettuce, Carnival Mix Sweet Pepper, and Tasty Green Cucumber.

— OLD SEEDS: The Mammoth Gray-Stripe Sunflower, Cuppa Joe Sweet Corn, and Tasty Green Cucumber are 2015 seeds, which still should produce a crop.

— HOW I SEED: For what it is worth, I do not single-seed. Instead, I place a few to a bunch of seeds per hole.

— POLLINATION IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN: I am trying something new in the garden, adding flowers to attract pollinators. So, I threw around seeds of Burpee’s Bee and Butterfly Garden and Monmouth Conservation Foundation’s Project Pollinator/Kids for Conservation.

— GARDENING ZONES: As the area transitions from the cooler Zone 6 to the warmer Zone 7, because of global warming, we will have a longer growing season. The gardening downside, more erratic weather. For example, many days of rain, followed by long periods of droughty weather. And, of course, the environmental downside is the global warming.

— RACCOONS AT THE BIRD-FEEDER: I enjoy watching the nightly visit of a raccoon or raccoons at the bird-feeder, sometime joined by a skunk below the feeder. I guess the raccoons and skunk like the sunflower hearts/kernels I use – and they have to eat, too, while entertaining me. But I got tired of the raccoon/s knocking down the feeder night after night. So, for now, I am bringing the feeder inside the garage at night and putting it back out in the morning.

— BIRDS: House finches were flying around the yard, fluttering to trees, bird-feeder, and clothesline, having trouble landing. They must have been fledglings, trying to figure it all out.

— WHIP-POOR-WILL CALLING: About 10:45 to 11 p.m. Wednesday night, May 18, a whip-poor-will called loudly, if only sporadically. This was once a common bird here in the local Pine Barrens – calling ad nauseam through the overnight. But this one was the first I have heard in an estimated 6 years. I got reports of whip-poor-will calls from around my Helmetta Road neighborhood, so I hoping for a return of the whip-poor-will.

— MOUNTAIN LAURELS AND SNAPPING TURTLES: Mountain laurel should begin blooming about now. So, remember this bit of Pine Barrens lore: “The snapping turtle lays its eggs, when the mountain laurel blooms.” Watch for snappers crossing roads – probably a female headed to high ground from a swamp to lay eggs or a female returning to a swamp after laying her eggs on high ground. If helping the turtle along, move it in the direction it is traveling. I MOVE A SNAPPER ONLY WITH A SHOVEL, because here is more Piney lore to think about, “Only the setting sun or lightning makes the snapping turtle let go.” If bitten, try running a wire down its nostril to make it let go. (Moving a snapper by lifting it by its tail could hurt it – and, also, it could bite the mover and not let go….)

(Garden observations are from my yard in the Helmetta Road area. Pine Barrens observations are from the Helmetta-Monroe area Pines.)

 

Joe Sapia, 59, is a vegetable gardener, who gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his vegetable gardening. And he draws inspiration on the local Pine Barrens from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in the local Pines, and his grandmother.

Screams in the Night

Article and photos by Joe Mish




Mish - Female Red Phase Screech Owl May 2016

This female red phase screech owl with erect ear tufts and large eyes looks as ferocious as it sometimes sounds.

The calm starlit night, made blacker by the dark phase of the moon, was the perfect setting for a peaceful night’s sleep. The windows were wide open and the air scented with honeysuckle as the gentle sounds of the night played a sleepy time lullaby.

Deep sleep and dreams were well under way when a primal scream, just outside the window, vibrated the walls. Everyone sat up, hearts beating wildly, sleeping coonhounds unleashing unheard of sounds that must have been reserved in the event they ever treed the devil.

Before my heart beat slowed, I figured the sounds had to come from a screech owl perched on a tree limb six feet from the bedroom window. The unearthly screams were one selection of screech owl vocalizations that include rapid clicking of its beak and a gentle wavering call that, through association with spooky movies can easily raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

The volume of a screech owls’ motivated scream is inconsistent with its small size. The eastern screech owl is about 9 inches tall, weighs around 6 ounces with a 24 inch wingspan and easily fits through a three inch nest box hole.

Mish - Adult Red Phase Screech Owl

Adult red phase screech owl perches in 3″ hole of its nest box, note the feet gripping the edge of the opening.

Eastern screech owls come in two colors, a red phase and a gray phase. Its physical appearance, while perched, gives the impression it is missing the lower half of its body. During the day with its eyes shut it blends in so perfectly with its background it is difficult to tell what part is what. The owl seems to suddenly appear from the background when it opens its large yellow eyes.

Mish - Eyes closed owl

Eyes closed, these owls seems to disappear with no reference to top or bottom or recognizable form.

Mish - twin screech owls

Screech owls seem to comfortably tolerate humans and can be seen, and will nest, in proximity to homes and buildings if a nest box is provided.

Late June early July, a screech owl would show up whenever I went into the backyard around dusk. It would follow me around and click its beak from a nearby branch. I have no idea what motivated that behavior but that owl provide plenty of photo opportunities.

Mish - screech owl at dusk

Then there were the memorable Christmas day visits.   One Christmas morning I went to the open woodshed to replenish the woodstove with an armful of oak. There, staring me in the face from four feet away was a gray phase screech owl. It stayed put while I gathered the wood but was gone when I returned with my camera.

A few years later on Christmas night, a red phase screech owl perched a few feet off the ground in a weeping cherry tree. The little owl was spotted by the car’s headlights. It remained undisturbed while I did capture its image.

Mish - Christmas screech owl

A late Christmas present in full feather, delivered at the front door.

Screech owls may just as well be found in deep woods. I have a great image of a red phase owl sitting in a healed hole in the side of a large tree trunk about eight feet off the ground. Other sightings have been in places where mature sycamore trees grow. Often, broken branches will leave a cavity that overtime becomes deeper, forming a perfect nest or day time resting place for this diminutive owl.

Mish - screech owl in tree

Though screech owls are quite common, you may never see one. Think of them as a night time radio host whose show you listen to all the time but never put a face to the voice. Hear a sampling of screech owl calls at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/sounds

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.

Monroe-Helmetta Afield: Whip-Poor-Wills

Our friend and “Voices of the Watershed: Pinelands of Helmetta” contributor Joe Sapia writes:
“Wow, I just heard a whip-poor-will calling at my house in the Helmetta Road area. That is the first time in about 6 years I have heard this bird, once a harbinger of spring in the local Pine Barrens, since about 2010.

Antrostomus vociferus is considered a jeopardized species in NJ. This one, I heard from about 10:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. Its call was powerful, meaning it was close, but it was sporadic, not the ad nauseam call.

Listen to an example and multiply that all night.

Around here, I would say this bird is a Pine Barrens bird, so it could be heard in parts of Monroe (north of Jamesburg and hugging the Old Bridge and Manalapan boundaries), anywhere in Helmetta and Spotswood, and other local Pine Barrens areas.
If you hear one locally, let me know when and the general location. Thanks.
A few weeks ago, I saw a brown thrasher, “Toxostoma rufum,” the first one I saw locally in years. What is going on?”

May 16, 10 AM – Senate Committee Meeting on Flood Hazard Rules

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee will meet on Monday, May 16th at 10am – the Committee has invited representatives from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to discuss modifications to their proposed Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules, Coastal Zone Management Rules, and the Stormwater Management Rules.
We encourage concerned stakeholders and citizens to come hear what NJDEP has to say about the changes they plan to make to their proposed revisions of the Flood Hazard rules.
WHEN: Mon., May 16th @ 10:00am
WHERE:  State House Annex
125 W. State Street, Trenton NJ
Committee Room 10, 3rd Floor

Invite to Public Comment – Bridgewater, NJ American Cyanamid Superfund Site

Received today from Carl Alderson, NOAA Federal

To All Interested Government Agencies and Public Groups:

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an environmental review has been performed on the following action.

TITLE:  Restoration Plan/ Environmental Assessment Draft (RP/EA) for the American Cyanamid Co. Superfund Site, Bridgewater Township, Somerset County, New Jersey

LOCATION:       The Millstone and Raritan Rivers, Somerset and Middlesex Counties, New Jersey.

SUMMARY:    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead federal agency for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance for projects brought forth to restore injured habitat for fish and other trust resources resulting from long-term hazardous substance releases from the American Cyanamid Co. Superfund Site in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey.   Projects identified in the RP/EA are compensatory for lost resources and fulfill an obligation to serve the public as required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as Superfund Law.  Superfund is a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. The Draft RP/EA proposes removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River as well as feasibility analysis and design of technical fish passage at the Island Farm Weir, located on the Raritan River.

As documented in the RP/EA, the selected projects are expected to have an overall beneficial impact on ecosystem function and species biodiversity.  The project’s goals include benefits to various species, improvement of habitat function, and protection of existing habitat.  Because the project is intended to restore natural resources, it is expected to cause a net increase to habitat productivity and improve ecosystem function.

INVITATION TO PUBLIC COMMENT:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration, the Department of Interior, and the State of New Jersey invite public comment on a proposed plan.

The Draft RP/EA is available at the following website: https://darrp.noaa.gov/hazardous-waste/american-cyanamid

The public comment period on this plan ends June 10, 2016.

One hard copy of the RP/EA will be available in each of the following public library locations:

Manville Public Library

Address: 100 S 10th Ave, Manville, NJ 08835

Phone: (908) 722-9722

Hours: Mon-Thurs 9:30AM–9PM

Friday-Sat  9:30AM–5PM

 

Franklin Township Public Library

Address: 485 Demott Ln, Franklin Township, NJ 08873

Phone: (732) 873-8700

Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM–9PM

Fri-Sat 10AM–5PM

To request further information or an additional hard copy of this document or to submit your comments, please contact Carl Alderson at (732)371-0848, NOAA Restoration Center – Sandy Hook Office, JJ Howard National Marine Fisheries Science Center, 74 Magruder Rd, Highlands, NJ 07732 or by email at Carl.Alderson@noaa.gov.  Please put “American Cyanamid Draft RP/EA” in the subject line.

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