Rutgers Day 2016

Rutgers Day is this Saturday April 30th! Stop by to spin the “Wheel of the Raritan” and to chat with the LRWP. This year we are sharing a table with Rutgers watershed management students and will be set-up in front of Blake Hall around Passion Puddle (Cook/Douglass Campus in New Brunswick).
 
Rutgers Day – held across all Rutgers campuses – starts at 10 am & runs until 4 pm. It is our favorite day of the year: friends, music, food, exhibits, tons of opportunities to learn new things – so much fun! Hope to see you Saturday!

Shadow of the Osprey

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Mish - Osprey 4.18.16

The osprey from Maine searches the clear water of the South Branch for a meal as she takes a break from her 2,500 mile journey north. The letters, DV, can be seen on the blue band attached to her right leg.

The warmth from the mid-morning sun felt good on my back as I paddled the low, clear water of the South Branch. The cloudless sky, directly above, was a darker shade of blue, its intensity pure and endless, and mesmerizing. It compelled me, as the devil’s advocate, to search for just a single speck to interrupt its perfection.

Suddenly a shadow sped across the water, momentarily stealing the sunlight. I instinctively looked up to catch a glimpse of an osprey circling above. The white head, streaked with a dark brown stripe, was instantly recognizable. The osprey proceeded downriver by making tight overlapping circles in its search for fish. It isn’t too hard to imagine some of these super intelligent predators realize a canoe is herding the fish ahead of it. When the osprey was about 150 yards downstream it tucked its wings and dove into foot deep water to come up with a large white sucker held fast in its black talons. The bird oriented the position of the fish to cut wind resistance as it flew out of sight.

Ospreys are ever present on the South Branch, typically from early spring to mid autumn. They feed primarily on live fish. I see them most often eating white suckers, a fish large enough to compensate for the energy spent to catch it.

Mish - Osprey on perch 4.18.16

Osprey on a riverside perch, dining on fresh fish during the 2014 NJ opening day of trout season.

Earlier this April, I noticed an osprey perched in the same location day after day. This wasn’t typical of the local ospreys that ranged far and wide in their constant search for food. I was able to get a few photos and noticed a blue band on the right leg and a silver band on the left. I reported the band to the USGS website, BandReports@usgs.gov, to find this osprey was banded in Portland, Maine, July 27th, 2011 while it was still in the nest, too young to fly.

Osprey migrate from the northeast, where they breed, to central and South America each fall, a trip of more than 2,500 miles. This bird was apparently on its way back to Maine and stopped to rest. Osprey, like other migratory birds, are very loyal to nest sites and return to the same location with great predictability.

Consider our visiting osprey will be 5 years old this July, and has 25,000 plus, frequent flyer miles on its account, you have to recoil in amazement, wonder and respect for its strength and tenacity. As osprey can live 25 to 30 years or more, the mileage really adds up.

Our Maine visitor, a female, as evidenced by her speckled décolletage, has a bright and long future and hopefully will stop along the South Branch again on her journey to and from Central America. No doubt other osprey are flying to northern breeding grounds through NJ, so the opportunity to spot a banded bird along the North and South Branch are quite good.

The reporting of banded birds is critical to wildlife research as it helps to unravel the mystery of migration, the location of breeding grounds, longevity, and other variables that impact the health and status of local and overall wildlife populations.

New Jersey is now using red bands for osprey and from Ben Wurst at conservewildlifenj.org, as per USGS; “Green anodized bands are being used in NY. Purple anodized bands in MD and VA. Red anodized bands (like ours, but with alpha code A&B 00-99) in PA (permit is expired now). Blue anodized bands in MA, ME & Ontario.”

The preponderance of osprey nests in NJ are along the Delaware River and Atlantic shoreline, its estuaries, bays and rivers, so keep an eye out for banded birds and report them to BandReports@usgs.gov . The researchers are as excited about a band report as you and will send a certificate of appreciation with relevant data about your bird. Many species of birds are banded, so don’t forget our eagles, hawks and songbirds. Opportunities abound as NJ is on a major flyway, the rivers being main exit and entrance ramps to our backyard.

brisml_photo_ospr_nest_0130a_jul_2011

*Joe sent us an update to this post, a photo of the exact location in Maine where the osprey was born. Photo courtesy of Lauren Gilpatrick at the Biodiversity Research Institute, Portland Maine.

See, http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/ospreycam/ for more details about NJ osprey project and live osprey cam.

Special thanks to Robert Somes, Kathy Clark and Ben Wurst for their enthusiastic help and support.

Robert Somes, Senior Zoologist

NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife

Endangered and Nongame Species Program

 

Kathy Clark,CWB,

NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife

Endangered and Nongame Species Program,

 

Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

New Jersey Osprey Project

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.

National Sea Monkey Day (May 16) is Reason to Celebrate New Jersey’s Vernal Ponds

By: Heather Fenyk

Part of the fun of reading comic books when I was a kid was coming across ads for the absurd: Monster Size Monsters! X-Ray Vision Glasses! Kung-fu Sandals! (AUTHENTIC! Worn for Centuries by Oriental Fighting Masters!) But my absolute favorite adverts included invitations to “Own A Bowl Full of Happiness.” For just 49¢ plus $2.99 shipping, you could raise your own “trainable” insta-pet, the Sea Monkey.

seamonkeyscomicad

Sea-Monkey ad from 1970’s comic book

Sea Monkeys fall into a general group of organisms including brine shrimp and “fairy shrimp” that, with the proper mix of nutrients and chemicals, can be stored in dry form and then “revived” with a dose of plain tap water.

Recent rains have nourished our New Jersey swamps and freshwater marshes, transforming seeming terra firma into vernal or ephemeral ponds. These ponds – or more specifically their “fairy shrimp” inhabitants – get me out in the field looking for Sea Monkeys.

The descriptive terms for these freshwater wetland types — “vernal” and “ephemeral” — refers to their habit of appearing in spring and being short-lived or temporary. Many vernal ponds in New Jersey and elsewhere were not protected during the post-World War II building boom. But with the passage of the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Action in 1987, all freshwater wetlands – including these temporary wetlands – were finally granted protection. Fairy shrimp benefit directly from these protection measures.

A common species of fairy shrimp in our New Jersey vernal ponds is Eubranchipus vernalis. It grows between 0.5 and 1.5 inches in length, and other than its forked tail and large, stalked, compound eyes, its most obvious features are the 11 pairs of feathery appendages it uses for swimming, breathing and feeding. It collects algae, bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, and detritus on the feather-like structures and transfers that material to its mouth by other appendages. In addition, it will scavenge dead tadpoles, mollusks and amphibian eggs.

Eubranchipus vernalis

Eubranchipus vernalis. Image from www.bugguide.net

The shrimp’s reproductive strategy is fascinating. After mating, the male dies. The females are easily distinguished from males by the egg-filled brood sac on their abdomen, and the sac contains one of two types of fertilized eggs depending on the density of males in the pond. A low density of males results in thin-shelled “summer eggs,” which have a very short incubation period and hatch inside the brood sac. A high density of males results in thick-shelled “winter eggs” that eventually fall to the bottom of the pond and remain there even when the pond dries out. They will hatch the following spring, when the pond refills, and they have an amazing capacity to withstand extreme elements, including temperatures that are probably never encountered in nature: from a high of just below boiling (210 degrees) to a low extreme of -310 degrees.

The powdered thick-walled eggs of fairy shrimp are the type that my sister Julie purchased in 1978 from the back of an Archie Comic Book. It is this egg stage that enables the fairy shrimp to be distributed to other potential vernal ponds. Fairy shrimp eggs are tiny, dry granules that can be blown by the wind or picked up on the feet of animals and carried to other vernal ponds. These thick-walled, dry eggs remain viable even after 15 years, and the eggs are supposed to hatch 30 hours after being submerged in water.

Sadly, Julie’s order of Sea Monkeys never hatched. While she was perhaps permanently scarred by being duped into purchasing a package of powdered brine shrimp, I remain suckered in by the advertising and happily spend spring weekends exploring New Jersey’s vernal pools looking for my own Sea Monkeys to train.

Happy National Sea Monkey Day!

Death in the Tall Grass

Article and photos by Joe Mish

death of a wood turtle

A slow journey that began more than a million years before, ended at the tip of a mower blade spinning at 3,200 rpm. This wood turtle, listed as ‘threatened’ in New Jersey, was killed in late May, while on its way to lay eggs.

May and June have been the peak of the great turtle migration where females, laden with eggs, leave the protection of quiet places to journey far and wide to dig holes and bury their eggs. Incubation takes about 70 days, more or less, and nests are left unattended.

All species, whether aquatic, terrestrial or both, like the wood turtle, seek dry land to lay eggs. Each has a preference for where and when they dig nests, though individual variation is the rule.

turtle-wood-turtle en route to lay eggs

A wood turtle on its way out of the river where it hibernated to lay eggs in the gravel soil near railroad tracks.

Wood turtles prefer gravel laden soil on high ground, as found along railroad tracks, roadsides and driveways.

wood turtle nest

Roadways have become the killing fields for these slow moving reptiles where large blocks of undisturbed habitat are segmented by roads. A preserved island of land may be celebrated as a conservation success but the lack of linear greenways to bridge these islands is a death knell for many small creatures as it exposes them to predation and roadkill.

Eastern Box Turtle on highway

Eastern box turtle pauses mid journey across a New Jersey roadway, in a false retreat that offers no protection form speeding vehicles.

Turtles are creatures of habit and maintain consistent pathways from year to year. So that eastern box turtle you saw crossing over the double yellow line last year will be crossing the road in the same place this nesting season.

Mowing tall grass during nesting season is a more insidious cause of death for turtles and grassland nesting birds. Many farmers and landowners alter their mowing schedule to prevent killing fawns and game birds; turtles and grassland nesting birds are coincidental beneficiaries.

State conservation organizations advocate mowing early in the season and then not again until August, late July at the earliest.

A driver may possibly avoid killing a turtle on a paved road as it is somewhat visible, while a turtle in tall grass is a foregone conclusion when a mower runs through a field. The fractured shell of the wood turtle pictured, was found on a path mowed through an overgrown pasture near the South Branch.

Females may travel half a mile from wet areas to lay eggs, so please be careful. As the wood turtle is considered, “threatened “, and known to populate our area, special caution should be taken. May 29, 2015, a female wood turtle was observed digging a nest within inches of a long paved private drive, in hard packed gravel. This would be the last place you’d ever expect a turtle to dig, as you would be hard pressed with a pick and shovel to penetrate that ground. The hole was about 5 inches deep and 4 inches wide.

An awareness of turtles and their nest sites are a prerequisite to protecting them. As the eggs are laid in a small hole, covered and left unattended, you’d never know you were endangering a nest. Many eggs don’t hatch or are destroyed by predators. Then imagine an inch long hatchling trying to traverse a quarter mile through fields and open ground in an effort to reach water, bog or swamp. Survivors are few and far between.eggsmldsc_image 2 eggsmlturtleggsds pic 1

…you will find collapsed leathery egg shells scattered about; though they won’t look like egg shells. Imagine an egg shell make of cloth and inwardly collapsed to appear as a scrap of white material.

With poor odds for survival, it begs at least awareness on our part to, “first, do no harm”, and avoid destroying nests or mulching hatchlings and adults with a mower.

Turtles remain in their essential form that traces back to prehistoric times. Their evolution is an unrivaled success, even more astounding when their slow lumbering movements and low reproduction rate are considered.

Some interesting anatomical features reveal the secrets hidden behind the shell. See how the spinal cord is integral to the carapace or top shell in this painted turtle. The box turtle shell shows the spine as well as the clavicle. The thin plates that line the outer surface of the shell are attached much like a fingernail.

The easiest way to find a turtle nest is to look for the open holes in late summer and early fall. Either the nests were naturally opened by emerging turtlettes or dug out by raiding predators. In either case you will find collapsed leathery egg shells scattered about; though they won’t look like egg shells. Imagine an egg shell make of cloth and inwardly collapsed to appear as a scrap of white material. Last year I found 6 nests, one, just outside my back door. I had never seen a nest before but once I knew what to look for, they seemed to be everywhere.

paintedturtleshell smllturtleshell turtleshell-2

The Unami, one of the three matrilineal clans of the Lenape indians, who lived in central New Jersey, were known as the Turtle Clan. Treating the turtle with respect,  keeps the clan of the turtle alive and well in the land it has known since the last glaciers receded and the land emerged from the sea. Consider, the turtle had arrived at it final evolutionary form long before humans.  As new to the neighborhood, we might look to the turtle for guidance as we would a centenarian, to seek advice on how to live a long life in alignment and peace with our ever changing environment.

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, hiswordpress blog. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

 

 

Midwinter Shines Its Light on Local Hawks

Articles and Photos by Joe Mish

Cooper's Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

A cooper’s hawk flies off after landing in a holly tree where it jumped from branch to branch in an effort to flush a hiding songbird into the open.

Midwinter is a great time to catch a glimpse of local wildlife, especially hawks, as these large birds stand in dramatic contrast to the gray-brown leafless trees in which they perch.

The most common hawk in our region is the red-tailed hawk. Comparatively large, the adults are recognized by the bright russet colored tail. This is the only hawk whose tail is not banded or bordered by a contrasting color. The young birds have barred tail feathers, alternating russet and white, with no distinct borders.

Red Tailed Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

Easy to spot at highway speeds, the light breast and faded red tail stand out like a beacon when perched in trees along the roadway. Locally, I often see these hawks atop telephone poles near pastures and flood plains where they scan the open area for small mammals and ducks. Some red tails specialize in killing gray squirrels, a worthy meal for such a large bird whose energy expenditure in the winter would hardly be covered with mice or voles.

During a winter freeze when most of the river is solid ice, there are always open sections where ducks concentrate in the water and on the ice. A red tail will make an easy meal, especially of the smaller wood duck, flushing it into the air or catching it as it naps on the ice.

Last winter I watched an eagle feeding on a wood duck, speculation was the eagle took the duck from a red tail as eagles are notorious for stealing game from ospreys and hawks.

Eagle - Mish, Feb 2016

Muskrats are also high on the midwinter menu as the males often travel during the day over ice and snow as they seek food and females to breed.

A hawk requires a large nest and now is the time to scan the treetops and high tension towers for these stick built structures. One local hawk has adapted to a giant oak in someone’s backyard bordering a cluster of recently constructed homes. I have seen several local nests situated high in sycamore trees along the river. Hawk nests are relatively flat and large, not to be confused with squirrel nests which are numerous and quite round, generally built at a lower level, among thinner branches. Red tails will also use ledges as a base for their nests.

Hawk Nest - Mish, Feb 2016

The ultimate adaptation belongs to the red tail known as, Pale Male, whose life is well documented in film, media and print as he has mated and bred several generations of hawks among the skyscrapers in mid Manhattan. His age is estimated at 24 years. Here is one site dedicated to Pale Male.

Marsh hawks share the sky with red tails and characteristically conduct ground hugging flights across overgrown fields, flood plains and grasslands and have an ability to hover in place. These hawks are slightly smaller than a red tail with dark brown coloration and a boldly banded tail. The key to identifying a marsh hawk is the bright white rump patch. These hawks are common, though not often seen and are known to migrate while red tails remain as full time residents.

Marsh Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

Aside from red tails, the most often seen hawks are the coopers and sharp-shinned hawks. The coopers being slightly larger than the sharp shinned. Both hawks feed on songbirds and small rodents. As each is similarly marked, identification is always controversial. More often than not, someone will submit a photo of a hawk to a website asking if it is a coopers or sharp-shinned and the replies are often split, each summarizing why they made their choice. I see the larger coopers preferring doves and rabbits while the sharp shinned has left piles of bluebird, indigo bunting and flicker feathers about the yard.

Lastly, look for the diminutive sparrow hawk, now known as the kestrel, typically perched on telephone poles and wires along open fields. This bird is about the size of a large dove, feeds on insects and small rodents. Kestrels are known for hovering before they dive on their prey and this stationary flight is a good identifying characteristic. The males are brilliantly marked with blue, shades of russet, black and white. At first glance a perched kestrel will appear as a songbird so be sure to give a second look. They are considered threatened in New Jersey and a nest box program and monitoring effort is having a positive effect on their recovery. The birds are easily baited and trapped for tagging and data collection.

Sparrow Hawk - Mish, Feb 2016

This is the winter of the hawk and hardly a commute is possible without being evaluated by a feathered predator. They can see you, can you see them?

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. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.

Meet Maya – the Green Floater Mussel!

by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor

Hello! I’m Maya, a green floater mussel (less commonly known as Lasmigona subviridis). I live in the Lower Raritan Watershed of New Jersey, but my relatives can be found as far south as the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, and as far north as the Lawrence River Basin in New York. I am two years old, no longer a baby glochida relying on a host fish for food and safety. Now that I’m a juvenile I bury under the sediment at the bottom of the Raritan River for protection. My favorite foods are plankton and little bits of plant matter that drift through my filter.

Life cycle of the freshwater mussel

Green Floater Mussel Life Cycle (Image: Texas Parks & Wildlife)

I bet you are wondering what I look like. Well, I have a trapezoid bivalve and my outer shell is yellow and brown with many green streaks. My nacre (the inside, or lining of my shell) is white or blue and iridescent. I am also very small, just a little more than an inch now, but when I’m a grown up I’ll be almost 5 inches! It will take me another four years to get that big, and I can’t wait! Then I will be able to float around the Raritan River looking for food. Some of my relatives have lived until they were 100. If I’m lucky to live that long, I’ll be able to explore a lot of the River in my lifetime!

Green Floater Mussel

Green Floater Mussel (Image: New Jersey Conservation Foundation)

 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why I might not live to be 3 years old let alone 100. I might be eaten by predators like raccoons, muskrats, bears, otters, heron, waterfowl, turtles or sturgeon. Or my species might go extinct for human-caused reasons. You careless humans are using my home as a trash can, dumping waste right into my river! You have also built a lot of dams, which had led to the removal of some of the host fish our baby glochida rely on to survive until we are juveniles.

Another huge issue is the introduction of foreign species like the Asian clam to our neighborhood. These non-native species compete with us for the same limited food supply and sometimes we don’t get enough to eat. Another problem I’m facing now as a juvenile is the erosion of the sediment on the bottom of the river. This sediment is supposed to be a cozy blanket of protection for me and friends, keeping us hidden from predators as we grow into adults. But erosion makes the silt move, threatening to reveal my hiding place. This erosion happens from things like building and farming, and the use of road salt on the roads in the winter. My corner of the Raritan River also has a history of people dumping not just sewage but toxic industrial waste. Yuck!

Unfortunately, a lot of the river habitat in the United States has been used as a trash can for centuries. Although the 1972 Clean Water Act has made a huge difference in reducing point source pollution, the erosion of sediment in my habitat contimues primarily because of non-point source (NPS) pollution. EVERYONE can do things to help stop NPS, and I would REALLY appreciate your help keeping me safe.

Some of the things you can do to help me survive include:

-Keep debris (litter, pet waste, leaves) out of street gutters and storm drains

-NEVER dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints or other household chemicals in storm drains or down the sink

-Eat less meat! Animal manure, and the impacts of agriculture (water, fertilizer and pesticide use) associated with animal feed, really does a number on aquatic ecosystems

-Landscape with native plants and plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticide

-Leave lawn clippings on your lawn

-Stabilize erosion-prone areas

-Use less water when showering, washing dishes or clothes, or brushing your teeth

-Drive less! Automobiles release a lot of pollution, which increases acid rain that ends up in my River

-Clean up after your pets!

Nice talking to you, but I have to hide quick! I just spotted a hungry sturgeon heading my way!

If you want to know more about me and how to protect my habitat check out this video by Maya and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership:

Click here to read more from the “Voices in the Watershed blog” series.

Welcome to the LRWP website!

We can’t think of a better way to launch our new website than with a recap of the fun had on September 27, 2015 at the annual Raritan River Festival in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park, and with the story of the first Raritan River Festival held on August 16th, 1980.

The first Raritan River Festival was held as part of the 300th Anniversary Celebration of the City of New Brunswick and combined community entertainment and celebration with environmental awareness and action. The goal, according to the Festival Chairman MC (Mac) Babcock was to “demonstrate the recreational and artistic potential of our riverfront.”

On that sunny Saturday in 1980 hundreds of people crowded the banks of the river to watch parades of decorated boats, raft races, canoe races and to witness the arrival of Folk Music Legend, Pete Seeger on the good ship Clearwater. The Festival has since been awarded “Living Legend” status by the United States Library of Congress.

At the LRWP we are driven by the same spirit that launched the Raritan River Festival 35 years ago. We too want to demonstrate, and celebrate, the potential of the Raritan River throughout the Lower Raritan Watershed. We do this through data gathering and reporting, civic science and environmental education and outreach. We do this through a host of collaborative work with artists, academics, planners, engineers, and local and regional stakeholders, and by having a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun: This year the rubber duck and cardboard canoe races were nail biters. Sorry to say the LRWP ducks didn’t win, but the LRWP canoe came in 4th overall!

Many thanks for help at the Festival to our new AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program Ambassadors for bringing out their enviroscape, to our wonderful volunteers and interns, and to the amazing COLAB ARTS sculptors who installed the “Found in the Watershed” sculptures on river’s edge.

Please plan to join us for more fun at our gallery opening fundraiser “sculpture unveiling” from 6-9PM October 29 when these artworks will be installed in the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness & Wellness Center. For more information about the gallery event and to purchase tickets, check out the sculpture project website.

Thanks for visiting, and see you in the watershed!

Heather Fenyk, President

Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

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