Author: Heather Fenyk

The Eagles Have Returned

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Not that the eagles ever left, however, their nest of six years was removed, which gave rise to wild speculation as to their fate.

High tension towers were being replaced, one of which held their nest. Though in past years, the nest had been removed accidently, remodeled and relocated from the left to the right to the center by the eagles themselves, the middle of the tower arm seemed to be the final site.

Much to the eagle’s surprise, the home tower dating back to the 1920s was removed and a new style tower constructed in its place. Though ‘science’ says eagles bond and nest in January, our eagles were never polled and began to bond and touch up the nest in October. Just as the power company took down the tower.

The eagles appeared upset, one screeching at the other as they were perched nearby. Hearts were breaking in sympathy. Before the old tower was deconstructed, the giant nest was cradled, lowered by crane and stored on site. The plan was to return the nest on a new style platform as encouragement for the eagles to return. That was the plan but would the eagles agree?

We watched that pair daily and never once did an eagle land on that tower. It didn’t look good.

Then a new nest was started a mile downstream and hopes soared for our faithful pair. During one twenty minute period, the suspected male brought six large branches to the nest where both eagles discussed their placement.  

The nest grew larger and finally looked like it was move-in ready. Still, no eagle would land on the nest platform in the new tower. It was in a way, comforting, to see eagles nesting in a giant sycamore tree rather than in non organic, cold metal tower draped with high tension wires.

During nest construction many images were taken and shared. On one occasion, a pair of adult eagles was observed downstream of the nest and another pair at the nest in the sycamore. Were there two pair of eagles or did the eagles seen downstream make it to the nest before the observer could?

Sure enough photo evidence and direct simultaneous observation revealed there were two pairs of eagles seen at different times on the new nest. Now what?

Then one day an eagle was seen perched on the rail at the nest on the tower! Would eagles occupy both nests, would there be a territorial dispute?

One eagle on the tower nest was hopeful, but why would they go through the trouble and wasted energy to construct a beautiful downstream nest?

It was a confusing time, as we all concluded the sycamore nest was the nest of record. Then both eagles were seen on the tower, the suspected male bringing material to the rebuild the nest. January twenty-third was the last date eagles were recorded on the downstream nest while activity picked up at the tower.

Now the question was, who were the eagles at the tower, the interlopers or the faithful pair? Try as we might from images and observed past individual behavior, we could not definitively conclude their identity.

The original pair had an easily seen size difference, the conclusion was the larger bird was the female. This is a generalization which may not be true in every case. This pair was closer in size to each other. The original larger bird had a unique expressive head movement not seen by the bird identified as the female.

Was the male from the original pair with a new female? We concluded there was no sure way to tell.

Now a fully prepared downstream nest awaited tenants, hopefully, the other eagle pair. No such luck as the nest was now declared abandoned. At one point a local red tail hawk and then an immature eagle briefly visited the nest.

The other eagle pair left the area though several un-banded immature eagles were commonly observed.

Now all attention was on the pair of eagles nesting at the tower. When the nest was relocated in the new tower, an eagle cam was installed but failed to function. The plan was to remedy the camera during the banding session.

When the eagles were observed mating, the countdown to egg laying began. Hatching followed on schedule and the day to conduct the banding of the chicks was set.

May fourteenth, a crew from PSE&G, the state zoologist heading the project, and the state veterinarian, along with eagle project volunteers, participated in the banding of two eagles determined to be males. Each bird given a thorough physical exam, blood samples drawn, beak, talons and primary feather measured, weights taken.  Green aluminum bands, H-04 and H-05 were placed around the legs. The concerned parents circled the tower while the banding was in progress.

When the eagles were returned to the nest, a consolation prize of two large fish was left as a compensation for their trouble. After everyone left, the parents returned to the nest and as in past years, continued to care for their young. This year, the world will stand witness to the rearing and eventual fledging of two young eagles whose shadows will glide over the earth to the amazement and wonder of our children and grandchildren.

Thanks to PSE&G we now have a live webcam, an incredible gift to the world of nature and environmental education. The eagle webcam may be accessed at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faqEAavMO40 [youtube.com]

This will spark curiosity to ignite the desire to seek deeper knowledge, not just about eagles but the entire interrelated community of nature, of which we are a part; a benefit to all. 

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. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

Save our pollinators, ban neonics!

The LRWP is working in partnership with a broad coalition to ban Neonics (neurotoxins that decimate bees and other wildlife populations), to encourage passage of a “Save the Bees” Bill. With nudging from environmental groups around the state, New Jersey’s legislature is poised enact the strongest, smartest restrictions in the country to rein in widespread pollution of the state with neurotoxic neonicotinoid pesticides—or “neonics.” The bill, A2070/S1016, isn’t just good news for New Jersey’s bees, birds, and other wildlife, but also the state’s mostly pollinator-dependent farmers and all residents that value clean water and a healthy environment. 

New Jersey’s pollinators are disappearing, with beekeepers losing between 40% to 50% of their colonies annually for most of the last decade. Honeybees are a $7 million industry in New Jersey and—along with wild bees and other pollinators—help pollinate nearly $200 million worth of fruits and vegetables annually. These include some of the state’s most valuable food crops, including blueberries, cherries, apples, peaches, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash. Rutgers University research indicates many of these crops are “pollinator limited”—meaning a lack of pollinators is already resulting in lower crop yields.

A large and growing body of science confirms that widespread neonic use is a leading cause of pollinator losses and links neonics to declines in birds, the collapse of fisheriesbirth defects in white-tailed deer, and a variety of health harms in other mammals, including humans.

Contact your state legislators and tell them to support A2070/S1016 – let’s make New Jersey a model for the nation in protecting our pollinators!

Recreating Art with Trash

Our friends at RISE Rockaway did a clever thing, recreating Millet’s The Gleaners during a recent clean-up:

The LRWP has been challenged to do something similar.

Would you like to see a favorite work of art come to life? Share suggestions in the comments for found-object-artworks the LRWP should recreate during our next clean-up!

Bonus points for suggestions for art recreations (re-enactments?) that speak to a vision for a cleaner watershed, strong and resilient community, and social justice.

For example, we really love RISE Rockaway’s vision. Millet’s “The Gleaners” is symbolic of so much the LRWP holds dear: Grit & resilience. The return to nature in and through art. And bringing attention to the contrast between abundance and scarcity, Millet’s use of light and shadow does just that.

Pathogens Monitoring 2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Rutgers Extension / Middlesex County EARTH Center and the Interstate Environmental Commission are pleased to solicit trained volunteers for our 2021 pathogens monitoring season!

May 12 in person training for new volunteers

We will host an in-person training for new volunteers running from 4-6pm on Wednesday May 12 (location TBD – either East Brunswick or Piscataway). Space is limited and registration required. With thanks to The Watershed Institute for grant support to allow for Spanish language translation for this session.

May 19 virtual “refresher” for returning volunteers

For those of you who have joined us in the field in prior years, we will also host a virtual training “refresher” on Wednesday May 19, 5-6:30pm. During this session we will summarize findings from 2020, provide an overview of goals for 2021, walk through sign-ups for the season, and explain a few new processes and procedures for the season.

Can’t wait to start thinking about pathogens monitoring and your role as a volunteer? We invite you to view the Webex recording of our 2020 virtual training. If prompted, please enter password: Pathogens2020

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about responsibilities and time commitment of a volunteer pathogens monitor:

Q: Do I need boots, waders, or other equipment? 

A: Boots, yes. You will also want clothing appropriate for the weather and sun protection. Don’t forget your bug spray and hats! We have several sets of waders of different sizes that we can loan.

Q: What time does the sample collecting begin and end?

A: We typically kick off between 8-8:15 AM. We meet at the Piscataway site, then caravan to the New Brunswick site, where some folks leave their cars. We then carpool to the remaining sites. Going from site to site takes about 4-5 hours depending on traffic. We then travel to the lab or at a drop off site. Depending on interest in the lab, we may stay as long as an hour to orient volunteers to what is going on there.

We generally return to the New Brunswick site by about 3pm.

Q: What about lunch?

A: Sometimes we grab a bite at a local restaurant either on Staten Island or in Perth Amboy. Please be sure to bring plenty of snacks to keep your energy up throughout the day. And don’t forget your water!

Q: Does everyone doing the collecting on a given day go to all the sites?

It is not always the case that all volunteers join us for the whole day. Some people choose just to help out with the sampling, and do not join us for the trip to the lab.

Q: What would I do as a volunteer monitor?

A: You will always have a team leader with the volunteers. The team leader is generally joined by three additional people. That seems about the right number of hands to do the work and help us keep to our schedule. In the field folks are absolutely given tasks! This includes recording site observation data, labeling sample bottles, taking samples (which can involve suiting up in waders), using the probe and documenting that data, keeping everything organized. This is quality controlled work and we do not send out volunteers on their own. The more hands the better and the faster things go. We ask folks to sign up for specific dates, and ask that they commit to going out with us for the full day.

April Update from the Boat Shop

The LRWP has launched a new woodworking class for women, under the guidance of boat build volunteers-turned-instructors Amber Hennes and Sarah Tomasello. Amber gained skills in woodworking through her work in theater design and scenic fabrication across the US. Sarah has taken classes in woodworking, and has been part of our community boat shop boat build since project inception.

Participants are learning several aspects of woodworking, including: preparing and laminating wood for construction; transferring the pattern and cutting the shape; shaping the shaft, grip and blade; sanding; and applying the finish. At the end of the session, participants will have a paddle to take home!

Last Saturday, the second week of the workshop, participants finished gluing and clamping all of the pieces. Everyone’s paddles are now drying on the work benches! The next task is to cut out the basic paddle shape using a jigsaw.

Scent by May

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The gentle month of May steps out of character to finally terminate winter’s lease on the land. May does what March and April were unable to do and does it with authority and grace. 

Winter has been served an ironclad, last frost warning, and nature celebrates. Delicate plant life now bursts from its dormancy to join their hardier kin who dared unpredictable early spring conditions. 

Floral scent now fills the morning air to conjure pleasant memories of warm weather suppressed by winter doldrums.  

Walking through the meadow grass, canoe balanced on my shoulders, the scent of multiflora rose fills the air. My path meanders around these thorny bushes and prickly eastern redcedar as if I were bouncing around in a pinball machine. 

As I walked into the wind, aromatic meadow grass replaced the floral scent of the scattered bouquets of wild rose. A three-strand barbed wire fence, intended to keep generations of dairy cows honest, now delineated the lush meadow, but could not contain the whimsical direction of the perfumed air. I slid the boat under the sagging bottom wire, laid face down on the grass and inched to the other side. 

The river was flowing gently, sun sparkling off its rippled surface which lay just beneath a parallel current of air which carried, intermittent quantums of the unmistakable perfume of black locust blossoms. 

Though my olfactory senses were immersed in the current of scent, I had to walk further into the river to set my boat in water deep enough to float, with me aboard. I had to walk-in ankle-deep water to the main channel and each step sent a cloud of muddy water downstream, while upstream, the water ran clear. A pickerel frog escaped my intrusion by lying motionless on the bottom of the shallow water. His spots blending in so well among the small stones. Fresh water clams showed telltale depressions in the mud that revealed their presence. I stopped for a moment to pull up a clam, check to see if it was alive and set it back down to watch it bury itself out of sight.

I had been dragging my boat by a short bow line through the shallows. As I near the main flow and deeper water the current swung the stern downstream. I pulled the boat back up to the center seat to set my paddle in against the forward thwart and snapped my spare into clips mounted on the seats’ pedestal. Then secured my pack behind the center seat with a figure eight knot and two half hitches. Swinging the boat around with the bow now facing downstream, I gingerly got in, sat down, picked up the paddle and just drifted for a long minute before I made a correction. I began to slowly paddle downstream, careful to take in a 360 view. The clear water, blue, cloudless sky, both lush overgrown river banks and the water ahead all held my interest.  

May is the time of year to see young creatures of all species and thier parents gathering food to feed hungry pups or kits freshly weaned.  

The first week in May I saw and photographed a mink transferring her kits to a new den. That was certainly unexpected. Fox will also move pups from one den to another.  One den with six pups, situated in the pasture, was abandoned after two weeks. The pups were moved further uphill and closer to human habitation. As the meadow was really a flood plain, the vixen made a smart move, perhaps for the wrong reason, but her pups did survive the next week’s flood.

A high vertical bank, perhaps constructed by a muskrat and remodeled by a groundhog, now served as harbor for a daydreaming raccoon. A masked face momentarily peered out as a face might be seen glancing out behind the sheer drapery of a window in a high-rise city building. Yellow, white and purple flowers screened the den’s doorway.  

Further downstream a flightless great horned owl perched in a tangle of a fallen tree beneath a red shale cliff. It was now old enough to ‘branch’. The stage where the owl leaves the nest and begins to walk, climb and flap its wings, strengthening them for a first attempt at flight.

The sights sounds and smells that appear in late spring under the banner of May, whether from the perspective of the rivers or backyard gardens, are the first floral wrapped gift box, filled to the brim with new life, to be opened after winter’s reign has ended. 

Seeking volunteers for Bluebird nest monitoring at historic Elmwood Cemetery

If Bluebirds are considered symbols of happiness and progress, here is some happy news about New Jersey: we are first in the nation in expanding Bluebird population!

In 2018, five Bluebird nest boxes were installed at the historic Elmwood Cemetery in North Brunswick (the LRWP’s 2019 BioBlitz partner). Part of an Eagle Scout project, the nest boxes were placed and installed under the guidance of Laura Stone, a representative from the NJ Bluebird Society. Laura explains that a box that is not monitored may do more harm to bluebirds than good. “Monitoring increases the chances of success for bluebirds using the box. When good records are kept, it is also valuable for determining population trends”. Monitoring nest boxes is a way to understand problems birds may be having with predators and competitors, and to ensure that the boxes are safe and appropriately located. Without the proper habitat in appropriate locations, Bluebirds are not able to reestablish themselves in this area.

As a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, use of pesticides, and competition from aggressive non-native birds, starting in the early 1900s, populations of many native bird species like Bluebirds dropped precariously. In recent years, with human help in installing and monitoring nest boxes, these trends have reversed. Bluebirds are well suited to nesting in man-made boxes. They are what are known as “secondary cavity nesters,” meaning they historically build their nests in holes in trees left by woodpeckers. In the absence of woodpecker holes or other natural cavities, they will readily accept boxes. They also don’t mind being close to people, so boxes placed near homes won’t scare them away.

Bluebird nest boxes must be properly maintained and monitored weekly in order to increase the Bluebird population.

In order to participate in the Bluebird program, one is required to become certified through NestWatch.org. The certification is very simple. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to read through the information on the website and take an online certification test. Once certified, you will work with Elmwood Cemetery to schedule times to monitor weekly and report findings to NestWatch.org. The nest boxes are monitored for 10 months from March through the beginning of October. Anyone interested should contact Elmwood Cemetery Association President Eleanor Molloy emolloy@theelmwoodcemetery.com or at #732-545-1445.

Unlike some birds which lay only one clutch of eggs each year, bluebirds are prolific breeders, laying two or even three clutches of up to five eggs. This helps compensate for the low survival rate of fledglings due to predators, disease, and deadly cold and wet spells in spring. For more information on bluebirds and how to help them nest near you, visit the New Jersey Bluebird Society website at www.njbluebirdsociety.org. You can also see photos of bluebirds and hear recordings of their songs and sounds.

Ever Given – to scale in the Raritan!

With volunteers having removed hundreds of tires from the riverbed over the years, perhaps there is now room for the “Ever Given” to displace some of the Lower Raritan? The Ever Given’s WNA (Winter North Atlantic mark) indicates she draws 48′ of water below her plimsoll (a plimsoll is the waterline reference mark located on a ship’s hull that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed). There’s just about enough flow in the deeper spots at high tide to accommodate this massive ship.

Here we see how nicely the ship’s 1/4 mile frame nestles in between the Raritan Avenue Bridge (Route 27) and the New Street exit off Route 18 in New Brunswick.

With thanks to LRWP Board Member David Tulloch for the visuals. (created using https://evergiven-everywhere.glitch.me) #lookfortheriver

Woodworking for Women: Make Your Own Paddle

This FREE six-week woodworking class for women ages 13+ will take place at the Community Boat Shop downtown New Brunswick on Saturdays from 11am-12:30pm starting Saturday April 17 and running to Saturday May 22. Participants will learn several aspects of woodworking, including: preparing and laminating wood for construction; transferring the pattern and cutting the shape; shaping the shaft, grip and blade; sanding; and applying the finish. At the end of the session, participants will have a paddle to take home! Please do not sign up if you cannot commit to attending all class sessions. Registration is limited to six (6) participants. First come, first served.

Instructors for this session are Amber Hennes and Sarah Tomasello. Amber gained skills in woodworking through her work in theater design and scenic fabrication across the US. Sarah has taken classes in woodworking, and has been part of our community boat shop boat build since project inception.

Class sessions (registration for the April 17th session will enroll you in the rest of the series):

April 17

April 24

May 1

May 8

May 15

May 22

For more on the Community Boat Build. Many thanks to US Merchant Marine Naval Academy Crew Coach Derek Hartwick for project guidance.

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