Tag: New Jersey

A Special May Flower

Article and photos by Joe Mish

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Along the South Branch: May Flowers

Article and photos by Joe Mish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mallards on Matchaponix Brook in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Harvested horseradish on Kiesler farm in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awaiting a movie at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

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

     UPPER MILLSTONE RIVER EAGLES:  We are pretty sure the nest of bald eagles, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” on the Upper Millstone River on the boundary of Mercer and Middlesex counties, has one eaglet in it. The baby should fledge in early to mid-May or the early end to early June on the far end. Then, the family should stay together in the area. After fledging, the young eagle or eagles should stay in the area until about early September to early December. (The bald eagle remains in New Jersey an “endangered” breeder – that is, in immediate jeopardy as a breeder – and “threatened” in general – that is, in danger of becoming “endangered” if conditions deteriorate.)

An adult bald eagle landing on the Upper Millstone River nest.

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

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

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

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

Sky above farmland in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Sky above farmland in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

Above my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

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

     SUNRISE AND SUNSET:  For the week of Sunday, April 15, to Saturday, April 21, the sun will rise about 6:20 to 6:10 a.m. and set about 7:35 to 7:45 p.m.

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

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

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

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

UPCOMING:

April 21, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Burlington County, Southampton:  The Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s 13th Annual Native Plant Sale, Alliance headquarters, 17 Pemberton Road (Route 616). More information is available from the alliance, telephone  609-859-8860 or website http://www.pinelandsalliance.org.

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

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

Daffodils in bloom in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2018 by Joseph Sapia

What’s In a Name?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A red eyed vireo briefly descends from the treetops to provide a fleeting glimpse of one of the most common, yet rarely seen birds, east of the Mississippi.

March is the last piece of evidence needed to prove winter has gone by. No matter the weather March brings, her legacy of cold and snow, as the step child of winter, is invalidated by “the first day of spring” conspicuously stamped twenty-one days into the month on just about every calendar printed.

Further visual proof needed to allay the fear that winter is here to stay, are the strands of migratory birds that precede peak migration in the next couple of months. Perfectly positioned between two rivers that lead to the sea and link to the main Atlantic flyway, Branchburg comes alive with colorful winged migrants. Some birds are just passing through while others stay to establish breeding territories.

You don’t really need to be a graduate ornithologist with the ability to differentiate a magnolia warbler from a black throated warbler to enjoy all the feathered gems that pass our way in spring.

During a recent snowfall the view of several brilliant red, resident cardinals, dodging among the tight branches of a nearby holly tree resplendent in dark green leaves and an overabundance of red berries was a sight to behold. The gently falling snow turned the scene into a living Christmas card.

Bird seed scattered on the ground immediately near the back glass sliding door was being appreciated by a flock of brave juncos. The scene was calm and predictable with an occasional song sparrow darting across the stage. Suddenly, standing on the ground next to the glass was what appeared to be a Parula warbler. I ran for the camera to no avail as the little bird disappeared quicker than a shooting star. It didn’t seem plausible that a warbler would be in this area so early but there it was. Looking through the, ‘guide to field identification, Birds of North America’, I reviewed the dazzling array of warblers each differentiated by plumage unique to adult and juvenile, male and female with a cautionary note on hybrid warblers and seasonal plumage. I guess it was a male Parula warbler.

The conflict of identification versus the excitement at seeing a strange colorful bird lingered for a moment until I realized it was the sight of the bird that provided the magic.

Knowledge of the scientific classification was irrelevant to the enjoyment of simply noticing something that appeared to be different and gave pause to a moment of thoughtfulness or beauty.

As an example, you might gaze upon a stunning portrait of another person or a dreamy sunset and immediately be drawn in even though you have no idea of the person’s name or the location of the sunset.

Beauty is its own reward and needs no further qualification.

Birds are creatures which reflect the colors that dripped from God’s palette of infinite hues used to paint the portrait of life. One could argue ‘colors’ have wings to spread nature’s beauty far and wide and taken together they are called, ‘birds’.

Soon the area will be crowded with migrating birds, the most colorful of which are the warblers. A walk along the river flyways while scanning the treetops will reveal small flocks of birds that look like no other you have ever seen. The bright plumed breeding males will be the first to arrive as they travel in the safety of numbers. It is hard to imagine that these diminutive delicate appearing birds migrate yearly to Central America, Mexico and the West Indies from New Jersey and points north. After arriving in breeding areas, the males separate to set up mating territories defended by trilling songs sung loud and often.

The colorful and numerous male warblers representing several species are spectacular to observe in their diversity of color swatches, masks, vests, necklaces and caps. Each color pattern represents a different species despite similar size and intermingling of flocks.

Even the most ‘nature oblivious’ and ‘nature neutral’ observers may have their heads compulsively turned by the accidental appearance of a flash of tropical color among the local treetops.

Perhaps a seed of curiosity may be sown, nurtured and cultivated from a brief encounter with a spring warbler. That dangling thread of gangly curiosity left by a Magnolia warbler or Yellowthroat can easily draw the observer into the world of nature to wander and wonder at the infinite complexities that bind all living things. To believe beauty is only skin deep and fleeting is to ignore the power, depth and satisfaction the beauty of nature has to offer. Asking nothing in return, not even requiring that you can differentiate a Rufous sided towhee from a Cape May warbler, beauty exists only to be appreciated.

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

Ode to April

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Eager and hungry fox pups survived the mercurial spring floods to feed voraciously on mom in the bright sunlight of a late April morning.

April is the quintessential month of spring, the first month to start with a vowel after a bleak winter of hard consonant constructed months. The name April is probably derived from the Latin infinitive, aperere, ‘to open’, but that consideration is at the risk of offending the claims of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and Apollo the son of Zeus, their namesake month.

I see April as a grand series of ever changing dance steps performed in tune to the great celestial choreography of the planets and stars. One planetary misstep and the world comes crashing down. It is, however, a play without flaw that brings the predictability of the seasons and the impish April to improvise her set of daily surprises that precede the full bloom of May.

April is a charming minx with dancing green eyes whose mercurial ways give false hope to early gardeners as she whirls in the white robes of a sudden snow squall. Days of bright sunshine are mixed with bone chilling moist air, frosts and gentle rain or hailstorms of biblical proportion. These are the veils April sheds as she improvises dance steps to tease and mislead, all the while faithfully delivering the solemn promise of May.

Edwin Way Teale, a noted author and naturalist claims that, “spring approaches from the south at fifteen miles a day”. If you were to drive from New Jersey to Maine in mid April, you could actually see spring approach.

Travelling north, you go back in time to see spring begin.

As you drive through New Jersey, forsythia planted along road medians would be in full yellow bloom as tree buds give birth to pale green leaves.

The crowns of naturalized red maple dominated hardwoods would have shed their maroon veil to now wear a haze of light green unfurling leaves that will continue to darken as they mature

Oak dominated hillsides and lowlands scattered with black gum, hard maple, beech, ash and sycamore appear as colorful as autumn with interlacing crowns covered in non reflective red, yellow, pink and salmon hued emerging leaves.

The color and blooms slowly fade as you travel north. The further you travel in one day, the more the landscape appears as if drawn on individual sheets of paper flicked by hand to appear as if moving. The individual frames of the ‘movie’ become alive and reveal the living, leading edge of the manifestations of spring.

The return journey south allows you to enjoy the second coming of spring and the insight that comes with a second chance.

Along the South Branch, a Great Horned Owl has been nurturing a clutch of eggs that will produce at least one full sized, flightless owlet to stand constantly alert for parental food deliveries in mid April.

During two trips down the South Branch in February and March, a female red fox ran along the river bank to expose herself as if to draw me away from her riverside den. She would run along the bare vertical bank then walk out onto a gravel bar, sit down and watch me approach. When I got too close she would run off and wait further downstream. At one point she ran across a sand bar that was flanked by a pair of mallards standing on the bare ground and a great blue heron posed in foot deep water. All three birds stood perfectly still as the fox ran between them. Neither the ducks nor the heron made any move to escape as if they knew the fox was not a threat that day.

I can only hope the fox waited until April to have her pups in light of the flood that came in late March. Perhaps April will reveal a gentle rain that favors the survival of not only the fox pups, but the bank swallows, flycatchers, muskrat and turkeys that might have dens or nests close to the riverbank and flood plain.

It is amazing how migration, breeding, births and nurturing coincide with seasonal events as if truly participating in a dance whose every step is critical to survival.

We have evolved physiologically to fit into a small, ‘temporary’ niche circling in an eddy on the river of change. If the changes take place faster than we can evolve, we go away.

Despite the vagaries of April’s whim, she shows the world an emergence of life that has learned her fickle ways and dances in step to lovingly embrace such a wild partner.

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

Clean-up of Donaldson Park (Highland Park)

The LRWP is teaming up with Raritan Headwaters Association, Highland Park High School Environmental Club, Highland Park Environmental Commission, Highland Park Ecology and Environmental Group, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War – Environmental Committee, Central Jersey Stream Team, Plastic Free Waters Partnership and others for an Earth Day clean-up of the floodplain.

WHAT: a clean-up of Donaldson Park and the Highland Park Conservation Zone on Saturday April 14 from 9 AM to noon.

WHERE: Parking is available in the Highland Park Department of Public Works parking lot at the end of South 5th Avenue (444 Valentine Street). We will kick-off the clean-up at the kiosk at the entrance to the Conservation Zone near the DPW lot.

Please dress appropriately for the weather. Gloves and bags will be provided!

 

*** For more information contact Heather hfenyk@lowerraritanwatershed.org ***

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

Transcontinental Pipeline Public Comment Sessions, dates set

The LRWP has posted previously about the Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement (Transco NESE) Project Transcontinental Pipeline proposal that would effect much of the Lower Raritan Watershed. The Transco NESE Project would travel through the Lower Raritan Watershed towns of Franklin Township, South Brunswick, Sayreville and Old Bridge and under Raritan Bay. NESE involves the construction of 2 pipelines and a compressor station. These pipelines are intended to transport 400,000 dekatherms per day of fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City. None of this natural gas would be used to the benefit of New Jersey residents. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now accepting public comment at open house sessions and in writing.

The LRWP is concerned that the NESE pipeline will further fragment the already significantly fragmented natural habitats of the Lower Raritan Watershed. We are concerned about the effects of potential pipeline leaks or ruptures. And we are concerned that installing yet another way to transport fossil fuels will push off action on moving toward renewables, which we desperately need to consider in this age of peak fossils.

Last week the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC released the Draft Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statements. They are available here.

We are encouraging watershed residents that they consider the following:

-submitting a petition the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) for a Health Impact Analysis of the project

-submitting a petition to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to not award construction permits for this project

-requesting Williams Partners (the natural gas infrastructure company) to withdraw its proposal

Public comment will be accepted until May 14, with meetings held at the following dates and times:

April 25, 5-9pm at George Bush Senior Center, Old Bridge, NJ
April 26, 5-9pm at Best Western Gregory Hotel, Brooklyn, NY
**May 2 5-9pm at Franklin Township Community Center, 505 Demott Ln, Somerset, New Jersey 08873
May 3, 5-9pm at Solanco High School, Quarryville, PA

**the LRWP is co-hosting a pre-hearing conversation from 4-6pm at this location.

We encourage you to consider project impacts on your community and our watershed and Raritan Bay habitat, and to share your concerns either via letter or at one of the public hearings.

SCRAP-NESE provides updates on opposition to Transco’s Northeast Supply Enhancement proposals for gas pipelines through the Lower Raritan Watershed and under Raritan Bay.

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

March Count

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A red fox magically appears against the sky, just before she disappears again. Moments before, she ran along the vertical river bank, almost slipping into the cold swift water as she lured me away from her den.

A dear friend has been visited by March ninety-three times, a grandson but once.

It may seem odd to think in terms of a month representing years, if it was time that was being measured.

Conventional wisdom demands we use the larger numeric value of years to keep the scale of time manageable over the span of someone’s life. When viewed from that perspective, the months go spinning past like a second hand on a clock, imparting no useful information.

Looking at the cyclic occurrence, over time, of a single month like March, allows a comparison of the differences buried within the idealized image assigned to the month. It also considers the impact of having repeatedly experienced the end of winter, the beginning of spring and the instant day and night co-exist in perfect balance.

Like a long running play where the script remains unchanged, the audience still walks away each night with a new impression as cast members and lead actors are substituted.

So it is with each performance of March, where the associated cosmic events that mark the vernal equinox are the only constants in a script dominated by improvisation.

March reveals over time, that despite the vagaries of weather, fair or foul, bright or dark, warm or cold, spring is near and new life a guarantee.

March is a lesson in equanimity where a balanced view is maintained while experiencing the ebb and flow of hope, disappointment and turmoil in the guise of inconsistent weather. The moment where night and day reach equality is a perfect lesson which teaches us to hold all that happens around us in perspective.

Sage wisdom, spoken by philosophers over the centuries, always appears as novel, insightful and imaginative as it is introduced the first time to new generations.

The language and cultural nuance supporting the wisdom is the glue to make the words stick. Inconsistent weather is the adhesive March uses to drive home the importance of maintaining balance and perspective when riding an emotional roller coaster.

Over the years I have lost touch with March by relying solely on its wild and varied menu of weather. Nature, however, has seen more visits from March than any living human and so pays little heed to the wild ranting and hysteria of a month hosting the emergence of spring from the coma of winter. Nature keeps its balance to focus on new life and all that it entails.

One March is indelibly etched in my mind by an encounter with a red fox running along the river bank while I was canoeing.

The fox would watch my approach, let me get quite close and then disappear over the steep bank to reappear further downstream, as if waiting for me to catch up.

When the fox would go over the top of the bank and out of sight, I would paddle as fast as I could to close the distance in anticipation of its next appearance. This game went on for at least a mile. Typically in any other season such an encounter would be a one time occurrence with the fox disappearing, never to be seen again. This was odd behavior I attributed to the fox leading me away from its den.

Twice I was able to get ahead of the fox before it reappeared in full view, focusing its attention upstream where it expected me to be.

Despite the fast action of trying to control a canoe in the swift current within intimate distance of a magical disappearing fox, I was able to keep my balance and record the event with a series of images. This was March’s way of imparting its lesson of balance using nature instead of weather to cement its lesson into my memory.

One March, taken each day for 31 days, once a year, will improve your condition whether it is repeated nine-three time or just once. But who is counting?

The sly red fox does its best to divert me from its den hidden somewhere nearby the banks of the river. The steep bank caused the fox to slip and almost fall into the swift water. In another image, the fox runs across an exposed shoal right between a disbelieving great blue heron and a pair of mallards surely wondering at this fox’s odd behavior.  The fox then hightails it over a shallow dip in the riverbank to finally give us its diversion.

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.

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