Winter Abbreviated

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A flightless great horned owl, born in the dead of winter, now thrives in the late February sun, surrounded by maroon tree buds which began to emerge around the time the owl eggs were being incubated.

Imagine a door with twelve windowpanes, each frame a portal into a month of the year, and every time you turn away and look back, the scene changes. Some views, in a series of glances, stand out out more than others, and from that subjective perspective we link an emotion to an image that is different from anyone else’s interpretation. 

This perfectly describes how the impression of each month and season is characterized in our mind. 

The image of each month has been generalized to create a static image to establish its collective reputation. December is always dark and snowy, July is always hot and dry, while February is portrayed as a full month of winter, a time of hibernation, deep snow and howling wind. February becomes an abbreviated but intense survival test where only the strong survive. Sometimes February’s visit is tempered with warm weather and no measurable snow. So, having been visited by February each year of our life, what image appears in our mind when we think of February?

Reality is that each month demonstrates a flexibility in the character it portrays and together with the rest of the cast, summarizes that season’s show. A back up actor follows the same script, while using nuance, expression, and timing to elicit audience reaction. A Broadway play is always a different experience with a new lead actor.

Our impression of the month, yet to unfold, is really artistic expression. Each person who peers through the portal of February sees that view differently. Barely tolerable to some, this mid-winter month represents a never ending imprisonment in darkness and cold. Stripping away the emotion, February delivers a full hour and seven minutes of daylength in just twenty-eight days to flood the earth with light and shrink the long shadows that grew in the low winter sun.

The bright light of sunshine forces the darkness into retreat to make legible an early promissory note, guaranteeing the arrival of spring twenty days after February’s departure.

The leafless gray brown stands of trees, as seen in the distance as muted vertical brush strokes, now wear a dark maroon veil as color seeps from emerging buds to signal change is in the air. The increasing daylength promotes the flow of energy in the form of sugary sap to awaken the buds and give them their burnished blush. Freezing nights halt the flow of sap which resumes when the daytime temperature rises above freezing. Ice shrouded fine tree branches hanging just above the surface of the river are often broken during strong winds and by large shards of ice and debris carried downstream by raging flood waters. The broken ends drip with concentrated sugary sap and form long icicles during the cold night to provide a passing paddler with a sweet icy energy boosting treat.

Among the treetops, bald eagles and great horned owls are incubating eggs or brooding hatched chicks. Winter is now well aware its days are numbered when new life appears despite the inexhaustible supply of cold, snow and ice that remain in winter’s armory. Live eagle cams make it possible to watch a brooding eagle, covered with snow, faithfully await an early morning exchange with its partner. Both parents share brooding, feeding and incubating responsibility as they defy the threat of winter’s oppressive cold that stands opposed to emerging life.

Bird migration is well underway in February to brighten the stark frozen landscape, soon to be liberated by planetary position and tilt of the earth in relation to the sun. Brilliant colored warblers and waterfowl are the first to journey north to summer breeding grounds. Blue and green wing teal, ring neck ducks mingle with winter holdovers who are herded short distances by the vagary of unfavorable local weather. Small flocks of boldly colored male warblers light up the dull landscape and foliage as bright as a string of multicolored miniature lights hidden within the branches of a Christmas tree.

February fights a losing battle as the walls of a depleted winter fortress begins to crumble and the month surrenders days in frustration to become the shortest month of the year.

Though February is devoted completely to winter, it cannot conceal the increasing daylength nor suppress the awakening of life that begins before winter can exit the stage.

A male ring- necked duck in full breeding plumage, rests on a local pond during early migration north to traditional breeding grounds. Migration may be early or delayed, depending on the variable weather conditions each winter brings. 

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. Contact jjmish57@msn.com.

US Volunteer Water Monitoring Network

The LRWP is pleased to be part of the US Volunteer Water Monitoring Network, a workgroup of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council.

It’s neat to explore their map of volunteer monitor programs around the country. We are in good company!

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1FrwxC9jkrLvsbXfJthB_JDsuSeAjw4I&ll=47.37598375812538%2C-113.20773405000001&z=4

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1FrwxC9jkrLvsbXfJthB_JDsuSeAjw4I&ll=47.37598375812538%2C-113.20773405000001&z=4

Beaver Tales

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The beaver, like many endangered species, was known more as a marketing icon rather than a commonly observed live animal. Whether it be an eagle, an owl or a beaver, all presented unique features, behaviors or sounds that immortalized them in the eyes the general public. Each animal had qualities easily transferrable as desirable human characteristics, making them kindred spirits and role models.  Artistic impression blended fact and myth, using wild animals to capture their intended audience.   

Endangered species appeared in cartoons, sales ads, and as insignias and mascots. The bald eagle is the symbol of our country and mascot of the 101st Airborne Division. The wise old owl’s hoot call in the night, sent chills down the spine of fright night movie goers. Beaver, whose ability to fell trees and build dams is legendary, is associated with industriousness, hard work and effort all desirable human behaviors.  The cartoons featured its flat tail and timber felling ability as main elements in a story.  

Bucky Beaver was a cartoon character created to promote Ipana toothpaste, given the beaver’s prominent front incisors. In the commercials, Bucky had shiny white teeth, though in reality, beaver teeth are bright orange; it mattered not, as few consumers ever saw a beaver to notice the difference.  

Pursuit of beaver pelts promoted early exploration and settlement of North America as their European cousins had been obliterated as the demand for beaver top hats and coats was insatiable. In the new world, beaver were found to exist in profusion and the greed for profit eventually depleted the beaver population in the east to isolated populations. By 1895, NJ and other northeast states were thought to be devoid of beaver.

Beaver, captured in Canada were transplanted to the Adirondacks and quickly spread to populate distant regions by the innate behavior of young beaver leaving the core family to seek new territory. This transience is observed each winter on the South Branch of the Raritan where itinerant beaver travel waterways and streams to establish dens throughout the entire river system down to Raritan Bay. 

My first encounter with a live beaver was on Lawrence Brook, an outlet of Farrington Lake. I was about thirteen and fishing a narrow part of the stream for calico bass. A heavy canopy of trees hung low over the smooth slow flowing water to create an eerie mood. I was completely focused on casting my lure without getting caught in the branches. The day was almost over, and I kept telling myself, ‘just one more cast’. It was then I noticed a large wake heading upstream toward me. I could not imagine what it might be. Its head appeared square and held slightly above the water. It was closing in and clearly it knew I was there and yet its course remained unchanged. Starving alligator crossed my mind as my hair stood on end. What else could it be? An instant later I found out… and the surprise was perhaps more astounding than an alligator. A loud slap of the animal’s tail numbed every cell in my body. This is how a prey animal must feel when a raptor’s talons sink into its flesh. The quiet evening was shattered, and water exploded frothy droplets high it in the air. It could be only one animal on earth and that could not be: but it was!  It was a beaver!  

Over the years, since that day on Lawrence Brook, beaver populations have dramatically increased throughout their original range. Beaver are now ubiquitous in NJ, one even built a huge lodge in a small stream running through a local condo development before entering the North Branch of the Raritan. Our smallest waterways are often explored by itinerant beaver.  

On a warm September day, I took my grandson, Caleb, on his first canoe trip, a mile up a local stream and back to Grammy and Dad standing on shore. The water was crystal clear and had a steady flow as I paddled upstream. Caleb was full of questions, and I had all the answers. Upstream about seventy-five yards, at the base of a shale cliff, deep in the shade, I saw some low-slung animal move. A fox seemed to fit the impression, though the spot was on a ledge at the base of the cliff. It was high noon bright and sunny. What could it be? I cautioned Caleb to look in that direction and be quiet. As we closed in, there was a huge beaver. 

I was thrilled that we got within a few yards as it dove into the clear water and disappeared into a bank den. I could not contain my excitement seeing beaver at midday with my grandson on his initial canoe trip. As we approached the takeout, I could not contain myself relating to all, what Caleb and I experienced.  The next day I called my daughter to hear what Caleb said about our maiden voyage, hoping he would share my enthusiasm about the rare mid-day, close encounter with the giant beaver. What most excited Caleb was that Grampy lifted the canoe over his head and carried it to the river!  Alas! 

Beaver are fascinating animals in terms of behavior, interpersonal relationships, and anatomy and make a great introduction into nature for children of any age as well as adults. Beaver live quietly among us, and on occasion, make an appearance to bring myth and legend to life. The beavers’ come back is a lesson in how our land and water are used and the long-term impact of today’s land planning decisions. All that aside, beaver are an unexpected wild treasure placed in our midst to pique our curiosity and guide us deeper in the mysteries of nature.  

Two excellent books to gain insight into the life of this unique animal are.

“Lily Pond, Four Years With a Family of Beavers”, by naturalist, Hope Ryden.  

“ The World of the Beaver”, by Leonard Lee Rue, a New Jersey pioneer of wildlife photography, written, circa 1958 and filled with Len’s images of NJ beaver.

Beaver dam across a small stream.
Beaver lodge on a flooded stream
Beaver slide
Beaver tracks
Beaver do climb trees. This branch could only be reached by climbing, there was no snow pack, the beaver actually climbed to about eight feet up to choose that specific branch.
Close up of teeth marks
Dog like nose
Teeth marks and trees partially gnawed through are telltale signs a beaver is living nearby. A large dog like nose, beady eyes and flat paddle shaped tail are distinguishing characteristics of the beaver. Social animals, all members of the family will care for the young kits born in lodge or bank den during the winter.  

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. Contact jjmish57@msn.com.

Feb 10 – 6th Annual NJ Watershed Conference

For the 6th year the Watershed Institute will host “The Watershed Conference” – in 2023 it will be hybrid and held on February 10th and 17th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. As always, it will be an opportunity for stakeholders to learn, brainstorm, discuss, and plan solutions for the problems faced by NJ’s watersheds such as stormwater pollution, flooding, climate change, and more.

For 2023 the conference will focus on municipal stormwater and new MS4 requirements for municipalities in NJ. The new MS4 permit could result in much needed improvements in our state’s water quality. Municipalities will need community and partner support to implement new requirements and go beyond minimum standards. The conference will have sessions relevant to a wide variety of relevant stakeholders and will be organized into 3 tracks (Implementers, Policy-Makers, and Community Members) based on different audiences. Prospective attendees can access more information about MS4 and details about the conference on the Watershed Conference page here: https://thewatershed.org/sixth-annual-watershed-conference-feb-10-2023/ 

Registration will be open until February 6, 2023: https://thewatershed.doubleknot.com/event/watershed-conference/2953488 

Will you sponsor a LRWP educational video?

In 2023 LRWP will be taking on an ambitious new project to create a quality educational video series that can be used with our in-person water quality monitoring training. Please consider the opportunity to underwrite one of these video releases as a way to support our community engagement work. Each video project will be limited to one donor at $300 each who will be named in the thank yous at the end of their chosen video project. The videos will be featured in a variety of community outreach and education settings and will be produced in both English and Spanish, narrated by 14-year old Abraham Moratti, a LRWP Watershed Week Summer Institute participant.

Did you miss the premiere of our introductory “Orientation to Stream Monitoring” video at the Holiday Potluck? You are in luck – it’s now up on YouTube!

Video themes seeking sponsorship include:

  • 1) Epifaunal Substrate / Available Habitat – Epifaunal substrate refers to in-stream fish habitat, or structures such as submerged logs, large rocks, undercut banks, and other stable habitat features. WITH THANKS TO JOHNNY & PAULINA QUISPE
  • 2) Embeddedness – The second habitat parameter, embeddedness, refers to the amount of sands and sediments that bury rocks in the bottom of your stream. IN MEMORY OF MARY ANN ZIMMERMAN
  • 3) Stream Velocity and Depth Combinations – Stream velocity and depth is assessed using four relative categories of velocity and depth. WITH THANKS TO ANONYMOUS
  • 4) Sediment Deposition – Streams deposit sediments naturally in their slow moving areas. Sediments include things like silt, sands and gravels. 
  • 5) Channel Flow Status – Our fifth habitat parameter, channel flow status, assesses the water level within a stream. 
  • 6) Channel Alteration – Channel alteration refers to human modifications of the stream channel within your 300-foot site. 
  • 7) Frequency of riffles – Riffles are indications of rocky substrate, and are good source of oxygenation for macroinvertebrates, so assessing them is important. 
  • 8) Bank Stability – Bank stability assesses the areas of erosion and steepness of banks.
  • 9) Bank Vegetative Protection – Bank vegetation considers the amount of natural vegetation that exists on our stream banks. 
  • 10) Riparian Vegetation Zone Width – Much like bank vegetation, riparian vegetation is the natural vegetation that exists along either side of the stream.

If you would like to underwrite one of these projects please fill out the form below with the required information, check the box of your preferred underwriting video theme, and send to info AT lowerraritanwatershed DOT org. We have received funding for our first three videos, and will honor preferences for the remaining videos on a first come first serve basis.

LRWP 2022 Recap

Dear LRWP Friends and Donors –

We had a wonderful year! See below for an update. Our accomplishments are realized with many thanks to you for the gifts of time and financial support.

Water Quality Monitoring: Raritan River Pathogens Sampling

In partnership with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County and the Interstate Environmental Commission, the LRWP wrapped up our 4th year of civic science pathogens sampling and reporting for non-swimming public access beach sites along the Raritan River. The project has evolved, including expansion of Spanish-language volunteer engagement and a pathogens genetics study partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. We received NJSeaGrant funds for our project “Advancing techniques to source track fecal microbes in estuarine and coastal waters to engage civic scientists” to continue this work through 2024. In Summer 2023 our real-time data reporting on both the LRWP website www.lowerraritanwatershed.org and Rutgers Hydrological database https://tessera.rutgers.edu/rrho/ will be in both English and Spanish.

Frank Dahl, Genevieve Ehasz, Julisa Collado and Andrew Gehman monitoring for pathogens at Rutgers Boat House

Community Boat Build

In March we moved into our new boat build space at 101 Raritan Avenue in Highland Park! Volunteers developed woodworking skills, building paddles and ‘stable recreational’ rowing vessels that will serve as the inaugural fleet for a youth rowing program. Grant funding was provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund, made possible by funds from Middlesex County, a partner of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Stop by through January 30 to see paddles on display. Or better yet, register on our events page to join a build on Wednesday evenings or Saturday mornings: https://lowerraritanwatershed.org/events/  

Derek Hartwick and LRWP Raritan Scholar intern Jonathan Sim installing paddle art at the 101 Raritan Ave Boat House

Water Quality Monitoring: Stream Assessments

With thanks to the eyes and ears of dozens of wonderful volunteers, we wrapped up the 6th year of our Streamkeeper “stream adoption” program. Through this on-going program, Streamkeepers monitor the streams and tributaries that feed the Raritan River and provide data that helps us understand threats to our waterways, giving us insight into how to prioritize locations for clean-ups, restoration, and more. Covid made clear the need for more remote educational materials, and this year we produced the first of eleven instructional videos on the “how-tos” of stream monitoring (in English and Spanish). Please let us know if you can support this important educational outreach effort, we seek sponsorship of $300 per video to complete the series.

Central New Jersey 4H measuring stream width at Lawrence Brook

MS4 Stormwater Management Assistance Program

We love working with municipal partners in Highland Park and New Brunswick to improve water quality, reduce pollutant flows, and meet federal educational requirements for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) mandated under the Clean Water Act. This included creating municipal stormwater management webpages, the “Soak Up the Rain” newsletter for municipal residents, coordinating clean-ups, rain barrel builds, stream assessments, and continuing education for K-12 educators and others.

Taking it to the streets! A rain barrel build in Highland Park, part of Earth Day 2022 celebrations

Looking forward to 2023…Watershed Restoration

Trash Traps. In 2023, in partnership with the Borough of Dunellen and with settlement funds from the Cornell Dubilier Superfund site, we will implement a “Trash Trap” litter collection device in the Green Brook downstream from the Plainfield Transfer Station. Installation will coincide with development of metrics to assess device impact on plastics and trash reduction, and we welcome volunteers to join us for clean-up days for these assessments. South River Ecosystem Restoration. We are nearing completion of engineered design for restoration of a 165-acre coastal eco-park along the South River and now seek funds for project implementation. Clean-ups: Lots of clean-ups on the calendar for 2023 including in Franklin Township, New Brunswick, Highland Park, and Dunellen!

“The trip on the lower Raritan really moved me. I especially felt it the next day when I was driving over the parkway bridge, which I’ve done hundreds or possibly thousands of times since I was a kid…but this time was was different. I think there was always somewhat of a cringe feeling when I saw all the industry there, the smoke/steam, a blighted landscape…but when I was on the bridge after the boat ride, I looked over and felt, Oh! I know that place now! That’s where the eagles and osprey and herons and egret are, all that rich biodiversity and some beautiful marshland that I’d just realized was right there! And I seriously felt something shift in my heart – it was definitely a visceral shift – almost like the Grinch when his heart grew – and I knew I was a different (richer, happier, more hopeful) person now. It was such a wonderful surprise to feel all of this! Thank you and the LRWP for providing this experience to us, and for all you to care for the natural world.”

-Jacki Dickert, photographer

Recreational Access to the Raritan

Studio course with Rutgers. Spring 2023 the LRWP will partner on a graduate studio through which students will put Disability Justice at the center of strategic partnership and planning to improve recreational accessibility for the New Brunswick, Rutgers, and larger communities. The projects include: 1) initial concept development for a “Missing Link Bridge” connecting the New Brunswick Boyd Park waterfront to the D&R Canal and increasing access to an additional 70+ miles of trail; and 2) integrating Universal Access and landscape management design (soil erosion control) for a planned accessible path through the Rutgers Ecological Preserve. These projects have been prioritized for implementation as part of the “Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Cornell Dubilier Electronics, Inc. Superfund Site,” by the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics, Inc. Trustee Council.

General Environmental Education & Outreach

As always, we welcome community members to join for water quality monitoring, trips on the Rutgers Research Vessel, moonlight paddles on the Raritan, “hidden streams” walking tours, environmental education, clean-ups, rain barrel builds, and so much more. Events listings are on our website: https://lowerraritanwatershed.org/events/

With gratitude for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP

Board President & Founder                                                                                        

Paddle Art on Display at 101 Raritan Avenue

On display in the generous windows at 101 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park are paddles built as part of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership’s paddle build workshops. The display will run November 15 through the end of January 2023.

We will also display paddles at our annual holiday party Friday December 9, 5:30-8:30 pm at the Reformed Church in New Brunswick. At this event artists will be at the event to talk about their work. Highland Park resident and out Boat Build lead, Captain Derek Hartwick, will also be at the event to answer questions about the LRWP’s boat build program.

A Trip on the RV/Rutgers

Article and Photos by Rutgers Research Vessel Captain Chip Haldeman

Fall colors as seen from the Rutgers Research Vessel

In March of 2022, Rutgers junior and Leadership Scholar at the Institute for Women’s Leadership Kirstin Slattery inquired about the possibility of a trip aboard the R/V Rutgers along the Raritan River. She had been tasked with developing a social action plan centered around a personal passion, and as an environmental policy major, the Raritan River and its storied history were a perfect fit.

Kirstin reached out to R/V Rutgers Captain Chip Haldeman and initiated discussions in relation to what’s involved, how much it costs, and most importanly, what she’s interested in accomplishing. Feeling perhaps a bit of deja vu, Captain Chip connected Kirstin w/ Dr. Heather Fenyk, Board President and de facto Executive Director of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. Dr. Fenyk, one of our resident experts on history and current policies affecting the Raritan River, agreed to accompany the IWL scholars aboard and share her expertise. Additionally, Kirstin was also invited aboard by Dr. Fenyk for LRWP’s annual trip prior to her own discussing similar areas of interest and introducing new concepts as well.

Fast forward to October 28th, and Kirstin’s vision, dedication, and planning had come to fruition. Not only had she arranged the scheduling and logistics for the trip, but she had also secured the necessary funding for the vessel’s operation. This can often be a daunting task, but challenges are meant to be overcome, and this now-Rutgers senior delivered. Dr. Jeffra Schaefer, a professor in Rutgers’ Department of Environmental Sciences, volunteered to serve as deckhand, offering further expertise. Dr. Schaefer and Dr. Fenyk are the embodiment of women in leadership roles; perfect examples for aspiring Scarlet Knights. Many thanks to both for volunteering their time. The trip itself was informative and educational – the bonus being perfect weather and beautiful fall colors along the banks – but not without its obstacles. Moon phases and tides had conspired to flood the Rutgers crew boathouse docks, so the R/V Rutgers once again utilized its landing craft ability to board passengers on the banks of the Raritan near Boyd park. The remainder of the trip went off without a hitch, returning as planned and disembarking at the boathouse, just prior to RU crew’s afternoon practice. Congratulations, Kirstin, on a job well done. Truly a moment for Rutgers to be proud!

Tides washed over the Boathouse deck, so the group launched from the Landing
Traveling under Route 1
Thank you Kirstin Slattery!!

Stormwater Utilities Make Good Municipal Sense

Following the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Ida many Lower Raritan Watershed communities want to know more about how good stormwater management can help minimize future flood impacts and damages. This video recaps the LRWP’s workshop held 10.6.2022 with NJFuture’s Brianne Callahan talking about stormwater utilities, an innovative strategy for municipalities to use to bring awareness to the role of land use choices on flooding and water quality, and to prompt community action to improve stormwater management.

Here is a link to the “share” version of our slide deck. It is set to “View Only” mode, feel free to download!

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