Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of November 12

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Looking upstream on the Delaware River at dusk from the historic iron bridge connecting Stockton, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to Centre Bridge, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The photograph was taken from the New Jersey side, looking toward Pennsylvania. The bridge was built in 1926 and refurbished in 2007. This section of the Delaware River is part of the National and Wild Scenic River System.

DELAWARE RIVER: After the Pine Barrens, the Delaware River is my favorite local ecosystem. I especially love the part of the river north of Trenton. There, an approximately 150-mile stretch of the river, from Washington Crossing at Mercer County, New Jersey, and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, north to Hancock, New York, is part of the National and Wild Scenic River System. Aside from what the System name suggests, eligibility for the System requires the river have protection in place and be free-flowing. At 330 miles, the Delaware River is the longest free-flowing river, meaning it is uninterrupted by a dam, east of the Mississippi River. Next summer, consider tubing the Delaware. Meanwhile, these two books can keep you company, “Natural Lives, Modern Times – People and Places of the Delaware River” by Bruce Stutz and “The Illustrated Delaware River – the History of a Great American River” by Hal Taylor.

Looking downstream on the Delaware River from the Centre Bridge-Stocton bridge. New Jersey is to the left, Pennsylvania to the right. This section is part of the National and Wild Scenic River System.

HOUSE SPARROWS: I watch many a bird perched in the shrubs outside my living room window at Monroe, Middlesex County. This week, I noticed a small bird of chestnut, black, and gray – a house sparrow, “Passer domesticus.” Beautiful! Alas, it is non-native, a species from Eurasia and North Africa introduced to North America in New York in 1851, according to the National Audubon Society. “Many people regard house sparrows as undesirables in their yards, since they aren’t native and can be a menace to native species,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. “House Sparrows are so closely entwined with people’s lives that you probably will find them around your home even without feeding them.” (A shout out to two New Jersey Audubon Society naturalists for heading me in the proper direction in identifying this bird: Pete Bacinski, retired, and Scott Barnes, active. I am a pretty bad birder, so I appreciate the help.)

A house sparrow in the front yard of my house in Monroe, Middlesex County.

CANADA GEESE: Speaking of beautiful but pain-in-neck birds, I observed Canada geese in different locales during the week. I have a funny relationship with Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” finding them to be admirable parents and elegant when personally connecting with them, while in a standoffish way viewing them as pooping, polluting pests. This week, I leaned in a positive direction. (If you get a chance, observe Canada geese as a couple. “They mate for life with very low ‘divorce rates,’ and pairs remain together throughout the year,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds website. Also, they care for their young as very protective parents. Perhaps a lesson for humans, “Homo sapiens.”)

Canada geese landing at a retention pond near Route 33 in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Canada geese dot ETRA Lake in East Windsor, Mercer County.

VOICES FROM AFIELD, No. 1, WILL SIGLE: Fellow Monroe, Middlesex County, resident Will Sigle, a retired science teacher, checked in with some thoughts on farming and wildlife. One of the things Will mentioned was about his yard, “Last year, I had a red-tail (hawk, ‘Buteo jamaicensis’) dining on a daily basis. Amazing how quiet the yard was when he was around.” Ah, yes, when a raptor is around, smaller birds know to beware.

BIRDING NOTES: While in my house in Monroe, Middlesex County, one night this week, I heard a great horned owl, “Bubo virginianus,” hooting. This species is an early breeder, so I am figuring it was either a territorial call or a call for a mate. I went outside to get a better idea where it was calling from, but it had stopped by the time I got outside. Keep your ears open for this resonating baritone. Years ago, one must have landed in a tree near my bedroom in the Monroe farmhouse I was living in at the time and started calling – Man, did I come alive in surprise when I first heard it.

A pumpkin patch at the Fresh Ponds section of South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

DEER RUT: One night, this week, I heard a familiar rustle in the fallen leaves of my neighborhood. I waited and, yes, a doe and her two young walked through a neighbor’s yard and onto my street. Hiding in bushes in my front yard, I watched them for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, only 125 feet or less away. They were jumpy, but they never fled. Finally, I lost sight of them up the street. This week, I saw no bucks, as I had been seeing in recent weeks. So, I suspect the mating season, or rut, of deer, “Odocoileus virginianus,” is at its peak – with bucks and receptive does holed up in secluded spots in the woods.

THE ENIVIROMENTALISM OF DEER HUNTING: “U.S.1” newspaper recently had an interesting article on how deer-hunting is now environmentally in vogue, at least in some circles such as in the Hopewell Valley area on the boundary of Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties. When this was mentioned here recently, it generated quite a bit of pro-hunting chatter. The recent “U.S.1” article,

Sheep at a farm in Monroe, Middlesex County.

FIRE IN THE PINES: The state Pinelands Commission is considering fire-break permits in the Pine Barrens area it covers – basically from the Route 528/Cassville section of Jackson, Ocean County, and south. The Pine Barrens are susceptible to wildfire because of their well-drained, sandy soil with dry, dense, and highly flammable vegetation. Fire-breaks can stop fires or at least hopefully slow their threat.

Helmetta’s Joey Slezak took this photograph of a state Forest Fire Service control-burn a few years ago in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta. The Pine Barrens around Helmetta are not part of the state-regulated “Pinelands.” (Photo copyrighted by Joey Slezak).

VOICES FROM AFIELD, NO. 2, VERONICA VAN HOF: Veronica Van Hof, director of the Unexpected Wildlife Refuge a bit south of the Midlands in Buena Vista, Atlantic County, checked in, regarding how spring peeper treefrogs, “Pseudacris crucifer,” normally early spring callers, have been heard in recent weeks: “We heard peepers recently, too! I was surprised but they’re so unmistakable.” Veronica also noted the arrival of winter visitors, bufflehead ducks, “Bucephala albeola,” down from Canada, “Just got our first buffleheads today” — Sunday, November 12 – “a pair lazily dabbling around the pond.”

DAIRY FARMS: In recent years, there has been a resurgence in dairying (at a scaled-down level) and home delivery of dairy products. But in my youth in the 1960s, local commercial dairy farms, along with home delivery, were a way of life – in my case, Forsgate Farms of Monroe, Middlesex County, at my Monroe home and Decker’s Dairy of Hightstown-East Windsor, Mercer County, at my elementary school, St. Mary School in South River, Middlesex County. The Hightstown-East Windsor area also had Conover’s Dairy. Conover’s Dairy, for example, closed in 1972, according to the East Windsor township website. (See

A Conover’s Dairy and Decker’s Dairy display at the Hightstown Diner in Mercer County.

PERRINEVILLE LAKE PARK: New Jersey’s Coastal Plain, as its name suggests, is generally flat. But at Perrineville Lake Park in Millstone and Roosevelt, both in Monmouth County, the land is hilly, thanks to the cuesta geological formation. This hilly formation generally runs from Sandy Hook in Monmouth County to the Philadelphia area, dividing the sandy soil Outer Coastal Plain and the generally dark soil Inner Coastal Plain. The park is about 1,200 acres and includes the lake, formed by the damming of Rocky Brook, woods, and field. More on the park, and

Perrineville Lake in Millstone, Monmouth County.

DELAWARE AND RARITAN CANAL: The Delaware and Raritan Canal’s main shipping channel ran about 30 miles between the areas of New Brunswick, Middlesex County, and Trenton, Mercer County. Another canal, the feeder canal, replenished the main canal with water from the Delaware River. The feeder canal also ran about 30 miles between the areas of Frenchtown, Hunterdon County, and Trenton. The feeder canal later was used for shipping, too. The canal operated for about 100 years from the 1830s to the 1930s. Today, the canal provides easy hiking, bicycling, boating, and fishing along both main and feeder canals. More information,

Looking south on the Delaware and Raritan Canal’s feeder at Stockton, Hunterdon County.

The Delaware and Raritan Canal, here the feeder canal, towpath at Stockton, Hunterdon County.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: The Atlantic Ocean temperature at Sandy Hook was about 49 degrees over Friday-Saturday, November 17-18.
SUNRISE/SUNSET: For November 19, Sunday, to November 25, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:50 to 6:55 a.m. and set about 4:35 p.m. For November 26, Sunday, to December 2, Saturday, the sun will rise about 6:55 to 7:05 a.m. and set about 4:30 to 4:35 p.m.
WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

Happy Turkey Day – Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23. In the photograph, wild turkeys, “Meleagris gallopavo,” cross a road in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta in 2015.

Joe Sapia, 60, 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 a gardener of organic vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening. Joe is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at @JosephSapia on, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

One Comment On “Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of November 12”

  1. I remember the Puritan Dairy (next to Silzer St in Perth Amboy) and hunting in the northernmost sector of the Pine Barrens (Runyon Water Works) where Perth Amboy got its water from for many years. I used to practice with my bow and arrows there during the off season…but it is now a restricted area probably due to homeland security concerns.


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