Mile Run Brook Community Cleanup! (New Brunswick)

~VOLUNTEERS NEEDED~ Please join the LRWP, our Americorps Watershed Ambassador and community partners including Friends of Mile Run Brook, Greater Brunswick Charter School, Esperanza Neighborhood Project, the New Brunswick Environmental Commission, Elmwood Cemetery and the New Brunswick Department of Public Works for a multi-site clean-up of Mile Run Brook, culminating in a community celebration in Boyd Park!

WHAT: a clean-up of Mile Run Brook, followed by a community picnic and celebration

WHEN: Saturday May 12

9:00 AM to noon – clean-up of multiple sites.

12-1:30 pm community gathering / picnic in Boyd Park.

WHERE: Multiple sites in New Brunswick

Site 1: Friends of Mile Run Brook / Corner of Hamilton Street and Woodbridge Street

Site 2: Esperanza Neighborhood Project / Corner of French Street and Sandford Street

Site 3: Greater Brunswick Charter School (closed group)

Site 4: Elmwood Cemetery / Entrance at Commercial Avenue


Please wear closed toe shoes and clothes you are willing to get wet and dirty. Gloves and bags will be provided!


5.12.2018 MRB clean-up waiver, English

Permission and rights granted to LRWP to record and use image and voice, English

For more information

Heather: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org

or Americorps Watershed Ambassador Rob Hughes: wsamb AT raritanbasin DOT org

Visual Habitat Assessment Training in Green Brook

Please join us for our May visual habitat assessment training with the LRWP and WMA9 Americorps Watershed Ambassador Rob Hughes! (Here’s more on the LRWP’s water quality monitoring programs).

This FREE training on Saturday May 5 will run from 9 AM – 1 PM at the Middlesex High School, located at 300 John F Kennedy Dr, Middlesex, NJ 08846

We will start the morning with a lecture indoors, and then get out in the field to test our knowledge of streams and stream habitat.

Please wear clothing and footwear that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.

RSVP required, E-mail Rob Hughes: wsamb@raritanbasin.org


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.

April 16 LRWP meeting

At our April 16 meeting we will catch up on partner activities and provide status updates for on-going projects. We will also dedicate time on the agenda to discuss ways to link Raritan River activities to energies around the East Coast Greenway. Mike Kruimer with the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and other ECGW advocates have been invited to join in the discussion.

The meeting will be held from 10-noon in the Middlesex County Planning Offices at 75 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, NJ – 5th floor mid-size conference room.

Parking is validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Be sure to bring your ticket to the meeting for validation.

March 12 General Meeting

**Please note date change**

For our March 12 general meeting, in recognition of the 2018 World Water Day theme of “Nature for Water,” we have asked Rutgers Professor JeanMarie Hartman to present on “The Role of Forests as Green Infrastructure.” As part of this presentation, Professor Hartman will provide an overview of a proposal to reforest vacant lots in Perth Amboy as a way to manage combined sewer overflow events.

The design suggestions will be compared to current best management standards and practices. Discussion will also elucidate several points regarding the relationships between human and natural systems such as resource conservation, habitat restoration and creation, and urban ecology.

The meeting will be held from 10-noon in the Middlesex County Planning Offices at 75 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, NJ – 5th floor mid-size conference room.

Parking is validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Be sure to bring your ticket to the meeting for validation.

For more information contact Heather: hfenyk AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org

Notes from Garden & Afield, Week of February 11, 2018

Except as noted, article and photos by Joe Sapia.


Rain and fog over “Jamesburg Lake” (Lake Manalapan) on the Jamesburg-Monroe boundary, Middlesex County, on the morning of February 11, Sunday.

HEAVY RAIN:  The National Weather Service reported these preliminary rainfall totals in Jersey Midlands counties for the February 10-11, Saturday-Sunday, rainfall. The numbers are not necessarily a comprehensive listing, so there could have been higher and lower totals:  Burlington —  1.55 inches at Chesterfield to 4.02 at west northwest of Tabernacle; Hunterdon — 1.00 at northwest of Milford to 1.81 at Wertsville; Mercer — 1.44 west of Princeton to 2.21 west of East Windsor; Middlesex — 1.74 at Sayreville to 2.28 at East Brunswick; Monmouth — 1.27 at North Middletown to 2.82 at Howell; Ocean — 1.23 at Island Heights to 3.19 at Barnegat Inlet; and Somerset — 1.12 at Martinsville to 2.19 at Middlebush.

Manalapan Brook Overflows Its Banks

 The leaves of an oak tree, genus “Quercus,” light up my front yard on a rainy day.

     POOR DRAINAGE:  A drainage issue flying under the radar is the clogging up of swamps — through filling them in purposely, by unintentionally clogging them by dumping leaves and other vegetative debris in them, and the overtaking of these wetlands by invasive species, such as phragmites reed grass. As the swamps clog and water is displaced, more flooding will happen.

In this Sunday, February 11, photograph of Helmetta Road, in the part of Monroe between Jamesburg and Helmetta, two problems are obvious: One, Helmetta Road (Middlesex County Route 615) passes through a low, swamp area and easily floods and, two, the surrounding swamps are clogged with phragmites. With phragmites, what is seen above ground is only an estimated one-fourth to one-third of the plant. Drive by wetlands and look at their changing nature — the overtaking by phragmites, easily identified by its tassel-like top.

Phragmites eradication projects are now underway or planned — for example, by Middlesex County Parks and Recreation at Helmetta Pond — but it is a complicated, labor-intensive, and costly undertaking. Combining that with the issue being ignored, by far not enough remediation is being done.

But something needs to be done, if not to protect the environment, then for practical anti-flooding reasons.

Look at this United States Geologic Survey website, https://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/peak…, for the highest flows per year on Manalapan Brook at the gauge on the Spotwsood-Monroe boundary. Over the last 60 years, four of the highest flows were in a recent 10-year period, from 2005 to 2014.

Keep covering up soil, keep filling in wetlands, and let these drainage issues get out of control. People will lose homes — think Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, again in recent and back-to-back years — and be otherwise inconvenienced. Just wait….

 The combination of this section of Helmetta  Road (Route 615) in Monroe, Middlesex County, passing through a swampy area and that area clogged with common reed grass, genus “Phragmites,” equals poor drainage.

     SNOWFALL UPDATE:  At Helmetta-Jamesburg-Monroe in Middlesex County, the snowfall on Saturday, February 17, was 3 inches, bringing the seasonal total to 21.5 inches. (The average seasonal snowfall at New Brunswick, Middlesex County, about 7.5 miles away, is about 26 inches. We still have about seven weeks left in the snowfall season.)
These figures for Saturday’s snow are from the National Weather Service. These are reported figures, not necessarily complete figures:  Burlington County — 1.2 inches in the Eastampton and Tabernacle areas to 4.0 in Wrightstown; Hunterdon County — 4.3 in Wertsville to 9.3 in the Clinton area; Mercer County:  2.0 in the Lawrence area to 4.7 in the Hopewell area; Middlesex County — 2.0 in the Old Bridge area to 3.7 in the Cheesequake area; Monmouth County — 1.3 in Rumson to 3.0 in Colts Neck; Ocean County:  .5 to 1.5, both in the Brick area; Somerset County — 3.3 to 7.4, both in the Bridgewater area; and in Pennsylvania’s adjoining Bucks County — 1.0 in Penndel to 6.4 in Springtown.

At night, as the Saturday, February 17, snow was ending, in my neighborhood in Monroe, Middlesex County.

     SPRING PEEPER TREEFROGS:  On the night of February 11, Sunday, I stepped outside my Monroe, Middlesex County, house and heard the nostalgic call of spring peeper treefrogs, “Pseudacris crucifer,” coming from the Manalapan Brook floodplain — kind of like sleigh bells. In February! But it was about 63 degrees on the night of a very rainy day. They are early maters — the calling likely either looking for mates or signaling territory. If you go looking for them,  they will quiet as you approach and you likely will never find one. I recall seeing them only about 3 times in my 61 years. A check of my field notes going back to 1992, with only 2001 missing, shows this date as the earliest I had recorded for hearing them in a season. They likely will call and not call until we get consistently warmer weather. So, it will be interesting to see when they start calling strongly and consistently. I view peeper calls four ways: 1, these early calls; 2, regular calling; 3, late calling; and 4, an out-of-season aberration. As for their species name “crucifer,” they have a cross-like mark on their backs.

A spring peeper treefrog found in the Manalapan Brook floodplain of Monroe, Middlesex County, in 2017, March. In this photo, the X-like or cross-like mark on their upper to middle back is hard to see.

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLE NEST:  Anne Price, my fellow volunteer monitor of this nest on the boundary of Middlesex and Mercer counties, had a fabulous experience while watching the nest, where the bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” are sitting on an egg or eggs. She watched a mature eagle flying with an immature. So, there is at least one immature in the immediate area of the nest. We expect the egg/s to hatch in late February or early March. We are not releasing the exact location of the nest to protect it because eagles, as breeders, are considered “endangered,” or in immediate peril, in New Jersey and, in general, are considered “threatened,” meaning if conditions deteriorate, they could become “endangered.”

The head of a bald eagle pokes out of the Upper Millstone River nest. The eagles are sitting on an egg or eggs.

COASTAL PLAIN AND PIEDMONT:  As I have noted previously, the Jersey Midlands is composed of two geologic regions:  the rolling hills and rocky terrain of the Piedmont to the west and the generally flat land of the Coastal Plain to the east. (I also like to break up the Coastal Plain into the Inner and Outer.) For our purposes here, let us talk of the Piedmont with its soil of red shale and the Inner Coastal Plain with its gravelly soil. I was driving the other day in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, and noticed piles of dirt, basically displaying these two types of soil. In the following photograph, the red shale of the Piedmont is to the far left, the gravelly soil of the Inner Coastal Plain to the far right:


‘SPOTSWOOD LAKE’:  On the flat-terrain Coastal Plain, there are few, if any, natural bodies of water. Instead, the water bodies are human-made, either by digging a depression or by damming a waterway. The approximately 60-acre “Spotswood Lake,” properly known as “DeVoe Lake” or “Mill Lake,” is an example — formed by the damming of Manalapan Brook shortly before it joins Matchaponix Brook on the Spotswood-Old Bridge boundary in Middlesex County to form the South River.

This dam holds back Manalapan Brook, forming Spotswood Lake.

This photograph of “Spotswood Lake” takes in a lot:  wildlife (Canada geese, “Branta canadensis”), religion (a cross), patriotism (the American flag), and history (in the background, an old pump house to the right of the residential house).

     BROKEN PITCH PINE:  A branch on the pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” in my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County, was leaning. When I checked it, I saw that it was damaged. So, I chopped it off. I could put it out on the road, where the township picks up vegetative waste. Instead, I put it to use on-site, adding it to my backyard wildlife brush pile — often a haven for birds and presumably other wildlife. I try to keep my yard as a quarter-acre farm, discarding something in one place and using it elsewhere on the property.

The broken branch area of the pitch pine.

Notice the pitch pine in the background. It has a missing section. Well, there is the missing section, now in my wildlife brush pile in my backyard.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES:  The Atlantic Ocean temperature along the New Jersey coast was running at about 39 to 41 degrees on the February 17-18 weekend.

SUNRISE/SUNSET:  From Sunday, February 18, to Saturday, February 24, the sun will rise about 6:40 to 6:45 a.m. and set 5:35 to 5:45 p.m. From Sunday, February 25, to Saturday, March 3, the sun will rise about 6:30 to 6:35 a.m. and set about 5:45 to 5:50 p.m.

FULL MOON:  The next full moon is March 1, Thursday, the Full Lenten Moon.

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

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS:  When I heard of the Wednesday, February 14, school shooting in Florida that took 17 lives, I thought of the school’s name:  “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.” I hope Douglas’s name is not predominantly associated with the place where 17 murders took place; Douglas was an acclaimed environmentalist, author of the seminal 1947 “The Everglades:  River of Grass.” Her name deserves better.

My copy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s classic book, “The Everglades:  River of Grass.”


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

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.

 A scene from the 2016 Lines on the Pines event. This is a great event, one that I try to attend every year.

AS THIS FICKLE WEATHER WEEK ENDS:  Sun, rain, and snow. Cold and warm temperatures. Soon, gardening and farming will be here. Until then….

On this snowy night of Saturday, February 17, the bell will have to await its time to be rung at Krygier’s Nursery in South Brunswick, 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


LRWP receives Middlesex County Local Arts Program Grant

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

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

Garden & Afield, Week of January 21

Except where noted, article and photos by Joe Sapia


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

UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLE NEST:  As the state Department of Environmental Protection monitors of the nest, Anne Price and I have been watching the pair of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus.” By week’s end, they were still in pre-nesting mode – flying in courtship, perched near each other near the nest, perched together on the nest. Stay tuned, there should be an egg or eggs during the week of January 28. Because bald eagles are a jeopardized species in New Jersey – “endangered,” or under imminent threat as a nester, and “threatened,” or could become “endangered” if conditions persist, in general – we are being discreet in identifying the location of the nest. (In the 2017 state eagles report, http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/eglrpt17.pdf, this nest is listed as No. 184, “Upper Millstone.”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deer in Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County

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

Robins in my front yard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEGGY RENNER, ARCHERY CHAMP:  I stumbled upon an obituary for Peggy Renner, who died this week. She and her family ran an archery-outdoors store in the Jamesburg-Monroe area for years. A salute to Peggy.  Peggy’s obituary, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mycentraljersey/obituary.aspx?n=margaret-w-renner&pid=188001769&fhid=27060.

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

SWEET GUM TREE:  Seeds from the pods of sweet gum, “Liquidambar styraciflua,” are a food for wildlife. This Internet site shows artsy uses for the seed pods, https://www.pinterest.com/beckyblue65/sweetgum-tree-seed-pods/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wyckoff’s Mills farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Looking toward Applegarth in Monroe, Middlesex County.

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


At Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County.

At Saint James Cemetery in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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


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

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

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

Canada geese flying at sunset on the border of Cranbury and Monroe, Middlesex County.       

     Joe Sapia, 61, is a lifelong resident of Monroe — in South Middlesex County, where his maternal family settled more than 100 years ago. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic gardener of vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening. Joe is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

Notes from Garden & Afield, Week of January 7

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

This photograph is of my home thermometer in Monroe, Middlesex County, showing approximately minus 5 or minus 6 degrees at about 7:35 a.m. January 7, Sunday.

SUB-FREEZING DAYS: Our sub-freezing temperatures ran from about December 25, Monday, Christmas Day, to January 8, Monday, or about 15 days. On the morning of January 7, Sunday, we really got some low temepratures. The Hopewell area of Mercer County reported 13 degrees below zero! Wrapping up Jersey Midland lows of the January 7 morning, based on my home reading and Rutgers University:

Burlington County: Minus 3 degrees at Red Lion and Oswego Lake.
Hunterdon: Minus 4 degrees at Pittstown.
Mercer County: Minus 13 degrees at Hopewell.
Middlesex County: Minus 5 or 6 degrees at Monroe-Helmetta-Jamesburg. (Another report from the Monroe-Spotswood-Old Bridge area shows Minus 7 degrees.)
Monmouth County: Minus 9 degrees at Howell.
Ocean County: Minus 7 degrees at Berkeley Township and West Creek.

Ice-fishing on Helmetta Pond in Middlesex County.

Farrington Lake, iced over, on the boundary of South Brunswick, East Brunswick, and North Brunswick in Middlesex County.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, RIK VAN HEMMEN: Hendrik “Rik” F. van Hemmen – maritime naturalist, sailor, marine engineer, and author of “A Chronology of Boating on the Navesink River” – checked in from Fair Haven, Monmouth County. “Why do people bitch when it is cold for a few days?” Rik said. “It is really a gift and allows us to see our environment from a different perspective.” Rik sent in photos from a frozen Sandy Hook, which he and his wife, Anne, visited.

“Sandy Hook Bay is solid ice,” said Rik van Hemmen, a maritime naturalist, sailor, marine engineer, and author who lives in Fair Haven, Monmouth County. (Photograph copyright 2018 by Hendrik “Rik” F. van Hemmen)

IN MEMORY OF RUSTY RICHARDS: The Pine Barrens around Helmetta in Middlesex County lost a wonderful historian-outdoorsman and I lost a dear mentor-friend, Ralph “Rusty” Richards of Helmetta, on Friday, January 12. Rusty was 85. Rusty was a volunteer (Helmetta Fire Department, Knights of Columbus, Holy Trinity Church), but I remember him as a storytelling friend who made me laugh. Over the last year or two, Rusty, Eddie Sciegel and I, along with Jimmy Krygier more recently, would get together every several weeks for a Saturday breakfast. We are all from Helmetta-area 100-year families. But Rusty’s legacy to me was he, as a local outdoorsman, taught me about the world afield – unlike some outdoors people who selfishly guard their knowledge. Rusty and I were supposed to Jeep-tour the main Pine Barrens around now. But it never came to be, Rusty being diagnosed with late-stage cancer. Perhaps Rusty and I will get to see each other on the trail. Because, for me, Rusty simply hiked ahead and someday – But not too soon, Rusty! – I hope to see him up yonder. Rusty’s obituary said it nicely, “He was an avid woodsman with an extensive knowledge of the local pine barrens.” The obit, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mycentraljersey/obituary.aspx?n=ralph-j-richards-rusty&pid=187839053&fhid=17103.

Rusty Richards, in 2011, picking “opienki” mushrooms in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, Middlesex County. Rusty died January 12, Friday, at home in Helmetta. This photograph is from the day Rusty taught me about “opienki,” or honey mushrooms, genus “Armillaria.” Around Helmetta, they also are called “stumpies.” “Pien” in Polish means “stump.”

SNOWFALL: There was no new snowfall. So, at my house in the section of Monroe between Jamesburg and Helmetta, Middlesex County, the seasonal count, so far, is 16.0 inches in five events. The seasonal average for this area would be about 25.8 inches, based on the average in New Brunswick, which is about 7.5 miles from my house.

Sunset over snow at Thompson Park in Monroe, Middlesex County.

A snowy scene along the Millstone River in West Windsor, Mercer County.

SNOWFENCING AND DRIFTING: Some may wonder about the purpose of picket-fencing along fields. Well, it is snow-fencing, put in place to prevent drifting snow on roadways.

Drifting snow where there is no snowfence in place on farmland on the Cranbury-Monroe boundary, Middlesex County.

Snow accumulates at a snowfence, keeping the road (out of the photograph in the foreground) clear. This site is on farmland in Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

BALD EAGLE REPORT: The state 2017 bald eagle report is available at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/eglrpt17.pdf. It shows 206 pairs of eagles, with 190 babies produced. The significance is the bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” is “endangered,” or in immediate peril, as a breeder and, even in general, is considered “threatened,” meaning if current conditions continue, it could become endangered. Thanks to the ban of DDT pesticide and conservation methods, there has been this jump in nests from only one known nest from 1970 to the early 1980s. A breakdown in the Jersey Midlands shows about 45 pairs of eagles, with some pairs near or on county lines:
Burlington County: 12 pairs.
Hunterdon County: 6 pairs.
Mercer County: 4 pairs.
Middlesex County: 5 pairs.
Monmouth County: 8 pairs.
Ocean County: 6 pairs.
Somerset County: 5 pairs.
(See the report for more specific locations. Keep in mind, human intervention can seriously disrupt eagles, so, generally, no location is listed too specifically.)

MY CHRISTMAS CARD: Did anyone use my home-made Christmas card to locate stars in the night sky? I got some interesting reaction to the card. Are you into astrology? No. Do you follow unidentified flying object reports? Not on a regular basis, although I read stories if I stumble upon them. And Cousin Rosemarie Sapia Audino said, “I didn’t know you were a stargazer.” Yes, I am. (Rose, thanks for your normal comment!)

TRACTOR SUPPLY: There is a new Tractor Supply store in my town, Monroe, Middlesex County. The other day, I stopped because it was more convenient than my regular sources for bird seed. One of the things I like about Tractor Supply is it has reading material I normally do not see in other outlets – such as Northern Woodlands and The Backwoodsman magazines, both of which I bought.

A few magazines I picked up at the new Tractor Supply store in Monroe, Middlesex County.

INVASIVE BAMBOO: Man, do I hate bamboo. It is not only non-native, it is highly invasive and tough to eradicate. This time of year, it is easy to spot – everygreen, leafy, and tall. So, I am seeing it frequently. Grrrrrr!

Bamboo in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Bamboo on the Millstone River on the boundary of East Windsor, Mercer County, and Cranbury, Middlesex County.

What appears to be a red-tailed hawk, “Buteo jamaicensis,” perched above the Millstone River and its floodplain, near the bamboo.

Bamboo in Princeton, Mercer County.

SKY VIEWS: This week’s sky photographs are from Plainsboro, Middlesex County, and Whitesbog in the Pine Barrens of Burlington County.

The sun “drawing water” over cranberry bogs at Whitesbog in the Pine Barrens of Burlington County. This, simply, is sun rays peaking through clouds.

More from Whitesbog.

The sky over farmland at Plainsboro, Middlesex County.

FOOD AND FLOWER GARDENS: I have been thinking about my food and flower garden and half-heartedly thinking about what to plant and ordering seeds. Now, I have to really get focused on this – first, planning the garden and, then, buying seeds.

A plot of field corn in winter in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

ATLANTIC OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature in New Jersey on the Saturday-Sunday, January 13-14, weekend ranged from about 31 to 37 degrees.

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

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For Sunday, January 14, to Saturday, January 20, the sun will rise about 7:15 to 7:20 a.m. and set about 4:55 to 5 p.m. For Sunday, January 21, to Saturday, January 27, the sun will rise about 7:10 to 7:15 a.m. and set about 5:05 to 5:10 p.m.

PENNSYLVANIA FARM SHOW: It is over for this year, but next January, if you have the opportunity, consider going to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, http://www.farmshow.pa.gov. It is a show of real-deal farming, not the agri-tourism, hobby farming, and play farming taking over the Midlands. Check out the show’s famous butter sculpture.

This year’s butter sculpture at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It took 1,000 pounds of butter and 14 days for Marie Pelton and Jim Victor of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, to sculpt this exhibit.

A cow giving birth. Here comes a hoof….

Garden and Afield in the Jersey Midlands: What we are about…

Sky, woods, field, and water in the Pine Barrens at Whitesbog, Burlington 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 2017 by Joseph Sapia

Interning with the LRWP

Article by Quentin Zorn

My name is Quentin, and I am a junior at Rutgers studying environmental policy. Over the course of this semester, I have been interning with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects relating to water quality issues. I participated in many stream cleanups, attended many exciting events such as the Raritan River Festival, got to contribute to several long-term art projects and learned a lot along the way. This experience has not only taught me a lot about watershed management, but also has broadened my way of thinking and strengthened my passion for combating environmental issues.

One of the more exciting projects I was able to participate in was teaching kids from the Plainfield Youth Center about water quality and watershed management, and to work on an art project with them. This was part of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership’s Project WADES Environmental Education curriculum. We started off by taking the kids to a nearby stream and training them in visual habitat assessments and how to notice what kinds of things can impair stream quality, such as nearby roads, maintained lawns and lack of riparian cover. We got to help build a foundation with these kids at a young age, which will help them understand and care about water quality issues as they grow up.

The art project we worked on with the kids was a lot of fun and interactive. Each kid selected a piece of trash found at a cleanup in the Lower Raritan Watershed, and then held that piece of trash in a container, which we would then fill with an algae-based mold called alginate.

The finished products were a bunch of unique sculptures of hands holding the trash.


When I was working on my own on this internship, I got to explore and contribute to several different datasets. I worked on a master database of every municipality in the Lower Raritan Watershed that contained a wide variety of information on each town’s environmental and development plans. I also worked with data from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on different industries that have permits to pollute into the Raritan River, and I helped make this data more coherent and complete. This helped me understand what kind of information is important when considering water quality, and also my contributions helped make more complete and meaningful logs of data. It was really satisfying to see all this information come together and fulfilling to know that the public can access this data and learn what is going on in their watershed.

There were many cleanups of streams in the watershed throughout the duration of my internship, and I participated in as many as I could. The cleanups were far more rewarding than I anticipated them being. Arriving at any given cleanup gave me a feeling of hopelessness when I would see how much trash there was. I would think, “we can make this a little better, but it’s still going to be in a bad condition.” Every single cleanup I was surprised by how good of a job everyone did, and how great the area looked when we left. Seeing all of the trash piled up in the end was always shocking but felt good to have gotten it all out of the ecosystem.

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