Notes from Garden & Afield: Week of Oct 1-8

Except as noted, 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.

Morning on Farrington Lake, looking from East Brunswick to North Brunswick, both in Middlesex County, at the Hardenburg Lane bridge. Being on New Jersey’s Coastal Plain, where there are few, if any, natural bodies of water, Farrington Lake is created by the damming of Lawrence Brook between Davidson Mill Pond Park and Milltown.

FIRETOWERS: New Jersey’s fall wildfire season coincides with leaves falling and normally runs until about Thanksgiving and that time of year’s colder temperatures. But there could be a wildfire threat at any time if conditions are correct — and, now, we have had both falling leaves and dry conditions. So, the state Forest Fire Service is staffing its lookout towers. Visitors are welcome to go up in the towers when they are staffed – but, remember, you not only have to walk up the tower stairs, but you have to walk down. These Forest Fire Service towers are in the Jersey Midlands: Jamesburg/Middlesex County, Lakewood/Ocean County, Cedar Bridge/Ocean County, Medford/Burlington County, Lebanon/Burlington County, Apple Pie Hill/Burlington County, Batsto/Burlington County, and Bass River/Burlington County.

“Jamesburg Tower,” actually outside of Jamesburg in a Monroe Township section of Thompson Park, is about 65-feet-tall, sitting on high ground of about 150 feet above sea level over the Raritan River watershed.

GREAT HORNED OWL: Late at night, as I was at my desk, I thought I heard one of my favorite night sounds, the resonating hoot, hoot, hoot of a great horned owl, “Bubo virginianus.” I went outside and heard what I thought was a faint call of one, then nothing. The great horned is an early breeder, so the calling, signally both territory and looking for mates, should increase. More information, including audio of its calls, is at Cornell University’s All About Birds website,
BALD EAGLE, OCEAN COUNTY: Diane Larson, the home horticulturist and leader of the Master Gardeners program in Rutgers University’s Cooperative Extension Office/Monmouth County, sent in this photograph taken by her stepson, Danny Larson. It is a juvenile bald eagle, photographed on the afternoon of Thursday, October 5, on Beaver Dam Creek in Brick, Ocean County. Diane was leaning toward bald eagle, “Haliaeetus leucocephalus,” but raised a question if it could be a golden eagle, “Aquila chrysaetos.” Two New Jersey Audubon Society naturalists, Pete Bacinski (retired) and Scott Barnes (active) made the identification via this photograph. “It is a juvenile bald eagle,” Pete said. “The bill is too large for (a) golden.” “Yes, definitely a juvenile bald eagle,” Scott said. (Thank you, Danny, Diane, Pete, and Scott, for the team effort.)

Danny Larson photographed this juvenile bald eagle on Beaver Dam Creek near his family’s house in Brick, Ocean County. (Photography copyright 2017 by Danny Larson.)

DRIVE-BY NATURALIST, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT: As I drive through the Pigeon Swamp area of South Brunswick, Middlesex County, I pass a warehouse area. There, I often see a double-crested cormorant, “Phalacrocorax auritus,” at a retention pond.

A double-crested cormorant in a retention pond in South Brunswick, Middlesex County.

STEAMING FARRINGTON LAKE: When water temperature is much warmer than air temperature, bodies of water look like steaming soup. I caught this view of Farrington Lake on a cool morning. A few winters back, when we experienced real cold temperatures, this phenomenon was seen at the Atlantic Ocean – a really cool view.

A steamy Farrington Lake, looking from East Brunswick to North Brunswick.

FALL ON THE FARMS: It is fall, so farms are displaying pumpkins and chrysanthemums. Field corn, or feed corn, awaits harvesting.

Field corn awaits harvesting in South Brunswick, Middlesex County

Acres of field corn await harvesting in South Brunswick

Chrysanthemums at Davino’s Nursery in East Windsor, Mercer County.

CLOUDS, NO. 1: One of the week’s beautiful clouds and sky view was from the East Windsor Community Garden in Mercer County.

Beautiful clouds and sky view at East Windsor Community Garden in Mercer County.

CLOUDS, NO. 2: Another view of beautiful sky with clouds was from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

A clouds-in-the-sky view from my backyard in Monroe, Middlesex County.

Another clouds-in-the-sky view from my backyard.

OCEAN TEMPERATURES: Atlantic Ocean temperatures on the New Jersey coast were about 69 degrees to 71 degrees during the weekend of October 7 and 8.
SUNRISE/SUNSET: For October 8, Sunday, to October 14, Saturday, the sun will rise about 7:05 a.m. and set about 6:25 p.m. For October 15, Sunday, to October 21, Saturday, the sun will rise from about 7:10 to 7:15 a.m. and set about 6:10 to 6:15 p.m.
THE NIGHT SKY: The next full moon is the Frost Moon on the November 3-4 overnight.

The moon over Manalapan Brook and its floodplain in Monroe, Middlesex County. This moon is waning after October 5’s Full Harvest Moon.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

A view from Jamesburg Tower, looking south toward Monroe Township High School, from the spring of 2014.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program. 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 Grandma Annie. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on, along with on the Jersey Midlands page. Copyright 2017 by Joseph Sapia