Month: January 2023

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

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!

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

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: 

Registration will be open until February 6, 2023: