Rock Mill Preserve – a Friday morning with the Wild Boys!

Rock Mill Preserve is located on Grandview Rd in Montgomery Township.

Link to hiking map.

My Oldest likes to tell people that his mom’s job is to save trees. He is so proud of that and truth be told, it makes me tear up a little when he talks about it. While the majority of my work is administrative, budgeting and e-mails (so many e-mails!) I take a lot of pride in the work that I do for Sourland Conservancy because our mission is to protect Sourland Mountain. I really enjoy the educational portion of my job, sharing my knowledge of plants and ecology and listening to stories from volunteers about their experiences here and why they love this place. It is exciting to see their faces light up when they talk about their favorite berry patch, the first time they saw an indigo bunting or how they find peace in the forest. This mountain is so precious and I love that my children get to come out and explore it with me.

IMG_3209Our shirts and pants are tucked in and we are ready for an adventure!IMG_3213 It looks like one tree fell over and then another tree fell on top of the first. Trees knocked over by wind are often referred to as “wind thrown” and these thrown trees can have many different effects on the ecosystem.  Fallen trees change the ecological community because the organisms that depend on an upright tree generally cannot survive on a horizontal one. Also, when a tree falls it causes a physical disturbances on the ground where it fell and in the hole that the roots used to occupy. Uprooted trees destabilize the soil making it easier for the next tree to fall. When a tree falls it also creates a gap in the canopy, allowing a lot more light to reach the forest floor. Often when you see large canopy gaps you will also see a flush of invasive species like Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum. IMG_3218“These are ferns!” My little botanist in training 🙂IMG_3224Littlest working on his fire starting skills.IMG_3230A Jill-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.IMG_3231Jack-in-the-pulpit/Jill-in-the-pulpit seeds. They will turn a bright red when they are ripe.IMG_3232I love the curves of this Sweet Cherry, Prunus serotina. At the top of the photo you can see the Sweet Cherry growing into the bark of what appears to be a Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica. The Sweet Cherry probably had damage on that branch and as the branch healed, the new wood started to grow around the bark of the Black Gum. This is an example of a natural graft. Grafting is a horticultural technique often used to combine two different species of plant. For example, many of the grape vines grown in Europe use a rock stock from the American Concord grape which is resistant to Phylloxera, which is an insect pest that was introduced to Europe and killed a large percentage grape vines across the continent. A piece of the vine from the desired grape variety (lets go with Chardonnay) will be sliced on an angle producing a “scion”. This will be aligned with an identical but mirrored cut on a Phylloxera-resistant root stock (Concord) and then the two pieces will be wrapped to hold them in place. The vines will heal around each other making the two plants into one. This method is used in many different plant species, but particularly for fruiting trees.IMG_3234The Wild Boys playing nature’s version of hop scotch.IMG_3237Kings of the mud mound!IMG_3243Jump!IMG_3246We used roots and rocks to navigate through the mud.IMG_3251My Big dude found a slug and wanted to make sure I took a picture.IMG_3262“Rock Island”.IMG_3266Surveying the stream and looking for the best place to throw rocks.IMG_3270He asked if he could cross the stream. I said, “No”, and as soon as I turned my back to help Littlest, he crossed the stream anyway.  It was one of those situations where you must pick and choose your battles.  I chose to let it (and him) go.IMG_3277Enjoying his independence and the view from the other side!IMG_3282The Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum, was like a carpet in the forest.IMG_3293These Wild Boys loved all of the stream crossings at the preserve. There were so many opportunities to hop, skip and jump!IMG_3297My big dude walked off again while I was helping Littlest cross the stream. I found him upstream quietly sitting on a rock.IMG_3300I asked him what he was doing and he told me, “I am just enjoying a quiet moment”.  My oldest continues to amaze and silence me every day. He asks me the questions that I have never even considered and has much more patience than I have ever had. I love watching him think and puzzle over things.  He picks things apart and then slowly and carefully puts them back together in a way that makes sense to him. He is tenacious in his quest for knowledge and will never accept the easy response of, “because that is the way it is”.  He constantly requires me to reflect on what I think I “know” and to not just accept things as truth without understanding them from top to bottom. IMG_3304I am trying to give both of my children space and time to explore on their own. While guided instruction is important, I believe children need to play and self direct their playtime. I sat back on my rock and enjoyed some quiet time myself while watching my Wild Boys play and explore on their own time and terms.IMG_3326Nature’s balance beam.IMG_3333Searching for waterfalls.IMG_3334The only time they are allowed to throw rocks!IMG_3313

“Hello? Anyone in there?”

My oldest asked if a woodpecker made that hole in the tree and so I asked him how would a woodpecker make a hole in the tree….

IMG_3340This tree had what looked like a wire wrapped around it and over time, the tree grew over the wire. I have seen trees “swallow” fences before, but I have never seen a tree grow around a wire in this fashion.IMG_3347

White Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis, looking beautiful and inviting!IMG_3353Post-hike car picnic! The women that work at our favorite sandwich shop know these Wild Boys well and when they see them in their Sourland Conservancy shirts, they always asks them “Are you going to help Mommy save the trees today?” And the Wild Boys shout, “YES!”.

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Stream Monitor Training 2019 and STREAM School!

When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class called “Limnology” because a big group of friends were taking it. I didn’t even know what the class was going to be about, but I figured “why not?”. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite classes of both undergraduate and graduate school and I had more fun in that class than any class that I have taken since. Limnology is the study of freshwater systems – lakes, rivers, streams. I loved the hydrology, the physics, chemistry and biology. It was fascinating, and I looked forward to the 5-hour labs on Friday. What I learned in that class stuck with me for well over 10 years because it was fun and fascinating.

Water quality is near and dear to my heart. Having clean, safe water is a right that everyone should have and the only way that we can ensure that our water is clean and safe is if we monitor it and take steps to protect it. The Sourland Conservancy received a grant from The Watershed Institute to develop a stream monitoring program and stream school to train volunteers to collect quality data about stream health in the Sourlands. Volunteers will be trained to assess riparian habitat, stream width/depth and water speed, and collect and identify aquatic macroinvertebrates. Riparian habitat is the area of land on either side of the water, which is important because a good riparian zone will protect the banks from erosion and will also shade the water to keep the temperatures cooler in the summer. Stream width and depth and speed are important because the width and depth can indicate how sediment is distributed within the stream bed and this information along with speed can also tell us how much energy/water is moving through the stream. Aquatic macroinvertebrates (Macros) are important indicator species because some particular species are associated with higher water quality than others.

The Sourland Conservancy in partnership with The Watershed Institute and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are hosting a Stream School in September. If you are interested in learning more water quality issues, stream health, or just as excited about limnology as I am, please sign up for our Stream School and help us to Save the Sourlands and keep our water clean and safe for generations to come!

Now, on to the fun part! The Sourland Conservancy hosted three stream monitor training sessions lead by New Jersey Americorp Watershed Ambassadors!

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Watershed Ambassador, Daniel Correa, going over all the different types of measurements they would be taking today.

IMG_1257We measured water depth across different portions of the stream.

IMG_1263Stream monitors are supposed to work in pairs, so one person collects the measurement while the other person writes it down.

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To calculate the speed of the stream, Daniel had volunteers measure a distance of 10 meters. Then they timed how long it took a rubber ducky to travel the 10 meters.

IMG_1274Ready, set, go!

IMG_1277Go ducky go!

IMG_1264Big helpers taking a turn with the measuring tape.

IMG_1221Littlest finding the perfect rock to throw.

IMG_1250My big dude could not wait to get into the stream and look for Macros.

IMG_1226My big dude found a Mayfly! Mayflies are in the order Ephemeroptera. The root of the word means “for a day” in Greek, which hints at the short life span of Mayflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Here a volunteer is scrubbing stones to dislodge macroinvertebrates that cling on to hard surfaces, such as Caddisflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Volunteers working together to sort macros!

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Photo by Daniel Correa

A volunteer taking a subsample from the bucket to identify and sort.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Our lovely volunteers did a wonderful job during our training session. It was a cold and damp April afternoon, but they were focused, enthusiastic and dedicated to learning about stream health.

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Photo by Joel Coyne 

Our dedicated volunteers came out for the second training on a drizzly and chilly early May morning.

 

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Volunteers working together to empty their D-nets into the sample bucket.

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Watershed Ambassador, Kristen Obermeier, teaching stream side identification of macro invetebrates.

IMG_1944Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax Hutter, showing volunteers how to sample along streams with overhanging vegetation.

IMG_2054I love how unique each of these Sourland streams are!

IMG_1970Volunteers were eager to check out their D-nets and see what macros they found!

IMG_1978 2Whenever someone found something new everyone would crowd around to get a good look.

IMG_1959 2Inspecting his find!

IMG_1957Volunteers sampled along the riffles, from the top of this section all the way to the bottom.

IMG_1977Reaching into the D-nets to look around felt like reaching into a goody bag (at least for us nerdy folks!).

IMG_2002Volunteers chatted and sampled and had a lot of fun working (playing!) in the stream.

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A little Salamander, but I have no clue what type it was. I had thought it was a newt because we caught it in our D-nets, and then found out that newts are a type of salamander. If anyone knows what this little one is, please let me know!

IMG_1980It looks like this Crayfish is holding back a sneeze!

IMG_1967A Hellgrammite, in the order Megaloptera!!! This has been on my life of macro invertebrates to see since I took Limnology when I was an undergraduate. I am talking 11 years in the making! I saw it in my D-net, but was cautiously optimistic because I didn’t want to be too excited and then upon closer inspection find out that I was mistaken. However, I let out a huge WAHOO when I got it on my hand. Isn’t she magnificent?!?! Hellgrammites turn into Dobsonflies, which I have not seen either. Now that I have the larval stage checked off, I know need to see an adult!

IMG_1952 2A dragonfly, in the order Odonata. I feel like this is one of the easier species to identify in their larval stage because it looks pretty similar to the adult stage, except it doesn’t have wings.

IMG_2019We all worked together to identify, sort and count our macro invertebrates together.IMG_2006 2We found three crayfish! I always get excited to find one (in the water, not on the trail like last time!).

IMG_2014A Mayfly!

IMG_2016A Water Penny, in the order Coleoptera (beetle). Finding Water Pennies is a good indicator that your water is clean!

img_2017.jpegA Damselfly, in the order Odonata. Their paddle-like tails are actually gills!

img_2026.jpegA stonefly, in the order Plecoptera! Stoneflies have gills right where their appendages meet their body, so it looks sort of like they have hairy armpits… or hairy legpits?

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A tiny Stonefly! I don’t know why it is white, maybe it had recently hatched, but I think it is just the cutest little baby bug I have ever seen!

Cedar Ridge – Two days of flowers and fun (and probably the loudest public shriek I have made!).

I love going on hikes with nature enthusiasts. It is fun to walk, talk, and point out all the plants and animals while learning more about our environment. On June 1st, the Sourland Conservancy  hosted a hike with naturalist Betty Horn, a highly respected botanist.  I was very excited to listen to her insights and stories about the plants around us.

Betty was a wonderful hike leader who didn’t just teach us about plants, but also talked about the evolutionary mechanisms which explain some of the traits plants have.  She spoke of the medicinal or historical uses of some of the plants we encountered.

My family came out for this hike. But since my Wild Boys know that the outdoors is for playing, running, shouting and asking loud questions, it was difficult to manage their enthusiasm and still participate in the group. After awhile, my husband and I surrendered and let our Wild Boys just be wild and we went on our own way. I decided to return to Cedar Ridge very soon in order to hike with one of my friends.

A friend and I came to Cedar Ridge a week later and walked the same trail. She taught me bird identification and I taught her about plants. We went early, so the air was wet and just a tad cool but warmed up to become the most lovely spring morning.

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A group of nature enthusiasts ready to botanize!

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Betty asked everyone to pick some of the White Clover, Trifolium repens. She explained that the white flower head was comprised of many florets and that there is a pollination strategy that the plant exhibits by only opening one row of florets at a time. This strategy encourages pollinators to visit the flower more often and increases the likelihood that the flower will be pollinated.

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Littlest making sure he doesn’t miss out on the botany excitement!

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Betty explained to the group that it’s best to the hold the magnifying glass up to your eye and then move the flower to the proper distance to examine. My big dude is figuring out which distance is clearest for him.

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My Wild Boys are used to waiting around while I investigate plants and attempt to identify and photograph them. I love how my boys always find something to do and play on while they wait.

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Betty teaches the rhyme, “Sedges have edges. Rushes are round. Grasses have knees that bend to the ground.”

Sedges and grasses are the absolute bane of my botany existence. I still have flashbacks of graduate school, in my advisor’s lab with a dissecting microscope and a copy of Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of vascular plants of the Northeastern United States. I spent hours trying to identify the 20 different species of Carex that I collected for my graduate thesis. **Shudders** If I never have to identify another Carex species for the rest of my life, I will be a happy woman.

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On the hunt for more flowers!

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Betty holding up a species of Brassica in fruit as she speaks about the seed dispersal mechanism of the plant. Brassicas are part of the mustard family.

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Often in movies, the edge of the forest looks scary. A place that is dangerous and has ROUSes that can gobble you up.

When I see my son at the edge of the forest, I don’t see danger. I see a kingdom with palace walls that stretch to the sky. Cathedral ceilings let in the most perfect amount of sunlight which spotlights the understory plants below. It is a place of wonder, beauty, secrets and adventure. It is magnificent and I love watching my children run into the woods, always ready for new discoveries and adventure.

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Betty pointed out a Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis.

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Leaflets of three, let me be! Poison Ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans.

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Betty teaches the hike participants about Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). She explained that it’s called “smartweed” because it is spicy and “smarts” if you eat it. I had always thought it was called Smartweed because it outsmarts me at every turn and each time I think I that I have rid my garden and yard of it, I find new ones.

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I love to see how everyone is so relaxed and happy to be out in nature learning about plants!

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Littlest was looking for birds and simultaneously using my husband’s sideburns as reins.

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It is amazing to watch my oldest grow and mature. He was so patient and such a good listener during the hike. He was digesting the information from Betty and then asking me follow up questions. I love watching him process information, turning it over, examining it from different angles and questioning it.

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When we came upon an old wall in the forest, Ian Burrow, a Sourland Conservancy volunteer and archaeologist, told the group about the history of Cedar Ridge and the significance of the wall. He wrote a wonderful report on the hidden cultural landscape of Cedar Ridge. It is so jam-packed with information and you can read it here!

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Ian described how the type of rock and the shape of the wall is typical of the Sourland Mountain region. The rocks are wedge- shaped and they angle inward with flat rocks stacked on top.

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Jack of the pulpit…or is it Jill of the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. This plant exhibits sexual dimorphism, which means that the plant can change genders each season depending on nutrient availability. It takes more energy to be female and produce offspring, so if there is not enough nutrient availability, the plant will grow as a male with only one leaf and will not produce fruit. If the previous year was good, the plant will become female and produce two leaves and fruit. Nature really is amazing!

At this point, the Wild Boys needed to be wild, so we turned around and headed back. I came back a week later with my friend and bandmate to go on an early morning hike. We are both working moms and find it hard to fit in time for ourselves. So this before-work hike was just what we both needed. She has been really interested in birding, so as we walked she would take out her binoculars and identify different birds and then pass her binoculars on to me and tell me key characteristics of the birds. It is such a special connection that nature can bring to people. We can share knowledge, create new experiences and find a little bit of peace.

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Hawkweed, Hieracium spp.. I found some of the common names of this plant quite amusing such as “Mouse-Ears”, “King Devil” and “Yellow Devil”. Usually common names run along the same vein, but not this plant!

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Red Clover, Trifolium pratense. In this picture, you can see the first two rows of florets are open but the rest are still tightly shut near the center of the flower head.

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Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). I love the magenta color of the flowers, especially against the surrounding greenery.

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Bellflower, Lobelia spp.. I have been kicking myself repeatedly for not bringing my ID book or at least taking a sample of this Bellflower.  I recognized that this was a different species than what I had encountered before, but I assumed I had gotten a good enough look at it that I would be able to figure out the species. Well, I was wrong in my assumptions. There are quite a few species of Lobelia in New Jersey and many of them have very subtle differences. There is also a lot of phenotypic variation (a phenotype is the physical expression of the plants genes and it is affected by the plant’s environment) which upon brief examination might mislead you. So, in the future, I will remind myself to carry my flower guide, slow down, take more pictures (or maybe a small sample if I can’t get a good picture) and not make so many assumptions. Slowing down and not making so many assumptions is probably just a good life goal for me, anyways.

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Meadow Broccoli! Just kidding! I’m not really sure what this is, I think some sort of Sedge (Carex) but I didn’t take a sample back with me to key out with my plant guide book.  It will just have to remain a “Mystery meadow Broccoli” until someone lets me know its actual name.

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Evening Primrose/Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. When I saw this flower, I knew immediately that it was an Oenothera species.  However, I had never seen this species before. I am more familiar with the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, but the stems of the common species is “sturdier” and the leaves are broader and I also do not recall the flower petals having such dark yellow lines.

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Forget-me-nots, Myosotis spp.. I am not sure what species this is, but I know there are a few native species and a few non-native species in New Jersey.

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White Beard Tongue, Penstemon digitalis. I really love these white flowers. They are so beautiful and showy and on my list of native flowers to plant at my house.

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Here it is, the reason for two grown woman to shriek at the top of their lungs and jump back three feet… The huge, the terrifying, the fierce… Crawfish, Orconectes spp.!!!

We were moseying along on the path, chatting about life and suddenly my friend stops in her tracks and says “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!” I looked down and said “Oh, that’s a Crawfish. Maybe a bird dropped it”.

At the time the poor thing was laying flat and we both assumed it was dead.  But of course, when you find a dead thing on a path you must pick up a stick to poke it with. Well, when I picked up a stick and was about to poke, the crazy crustacean lifted up its mighty pincers ready for battle. I dropped my stick, my friend and I both screamed and jumped back while holding each other. Frankly, I am surprised about how startled I was and how loud I screamed. Truly, you would have thought Big Foot had come out from behind a tree from the way we acted.

I can’t help but laugh at myself when I look at this picture. I also couldn’t stop giggling while writing this section. What an absolutely wonderful time I had during both of my hikes! And to have it end with being scared silly by a crawfish!

 

Laport Preserve – a Muddy May Morning walk.

Laport Preserve is located on Mountain Rd in Ringoes.

Link to trail map.

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I LOVE Spring. I am not a creature of the cold… I like hot weather and I don’t mind the humidity, either. I have been anxiously waiting for the this weather and these flowers. This morning, I could barely contain my excitement as I arrived at Laport Preserve.  I barreled out of my car and was quickly off and running into the woods. The birds were singing, the streams were trickling and the muddy “squelch” monster tried to steal my boots. It was wonderful to be able to spend time exploring the preserve on this Muddy May Morning.

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Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis. I love this fern because it reminds me of warm summers and the welcoming shade of the forest.

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Jewelweed/Touch me not, Impatiens capensis. The flowers on this plant are exquisite but one of my favorite things is how water beads up and sits so perfectly, like a little gem on the leaf.

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A jelly fungus, Exidia recisa, glowing in the morning sun.

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I love how this Jewelweed is growing up through the moss. It reminds me of illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book.

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Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. The new foliage resembles oak leaves, but as the plant matures, the leaves lose their lobes and sinuses and their margins become smooth.

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I know this shrub well. It is Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium! Yet, I had never noticed its beautiful blossoms before today. The gorgeous flowers of Blackhaw Viburnum are now recorded in my mind’s Plant Catalogue.

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Look at this magnificent plant! How could I have never noticed the large, beautiful flowers? Who wouldn’t want such a beauty in their yard?

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Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, in bloom. This native shrub is often thought of as an ornamental, but they are a gorgeous part of this forest landscape.

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A turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, circling overhead.

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The Teliospores of the Apple Cedar Rust, Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae Schwein, gall.

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Northern Bayberry, Myrica (Morella) pensylvanica, in bloom. You can dry the leaves of this plant and use it as a an herb in your cooking.

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I am not a Lepidopterologist… I can barely pronounce the word! But I do believe this butterfly is a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta. Upon researching, I discovered that they like to eat fermenting fruit. All I can saw to the Red Admiral is…”Same!”

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I believe that this plant is Common Bugle, Ajuga reptans. It is an escaped ornamental species that has become invasive.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum! I was not expecting to see Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the meadow because it is a plant which requires shade. Previously, I have always found this plant in the forest or on the forest’s edge.

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Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum! I was on the look out for this flower and I found it! I was again surprised to find wild geranium in the meadow because it typically grows in shade or part shade in the woods or on the forest’s edge, similar to Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

 

Roots for River – Riparian Restoration in the Sourlands.

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The Sourland Conservancy, Mercer County Park Commission and AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassador Program partnered on a riparian restoration project that was funded by a grant from The Watershed Institute and The New Jersey Nature Conservancy. The restoration project took place along Moores Creek, near Howell Living History Farm, in the Sourland Mountain region.

A riparian zone is the area between a river and the land. This area typically floods when there have been heavy rains or snowmelt, and the path of a river can change as well as the riparian zone. Riparian zones or buffers, are important for many reasons. A riparian buffer that has established trees and other woody plants will have extensive root systems that will hold soil during flooding events and reduce erosion. Erosion can have devastating impacts on both aquatic and terrestrial species, because when stream banks erode, there is a loss of habitat for terrestrial organisms, and stream’s flow is impacted.

Reduced vegetation in the riparian zone can affect water temperatures. Shade provided by trees keeps water temperature cooler during the summer months, which is important because many aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish need cool water to thrive. Another critical factor brought on by water temperature is that warm water does not hold as much oxygen as cold water. If the macroinvertebrates and fish are not doing well, there is a reduction food sources for other organisms further up the food chain such as raccoons, foxes and birds of prey, such as the Bald Eagle.

Riparian buffers can also reduce pollution from entering the river and stream by reducing the risk of eutrophication and dead zones in water bodies.  Eutrophication is when there are excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, and this increase in nutrients will cause an algal bloom – because nitrogen and phosphorus are limiting nutrients for algae. The algal bloom can block sunlight from reaching aquatic plants that are below the water surface as well as creating thick mats that make it difficult for organisms to swim through. Once the algae begin to die and sink to the bottom, detritivores (animals that feeds on dead organic material, usually plant detritus) begin consuming the algae and in order to metabolize the algae, they use oxygen that is in the water. The increase in detritivore metabolism removes almost all of the oxygen from the water, which creates an anoxic environment for fish and other aquatic organisms, killing them. This has a cascading effect on the rest of the ecosystem, because so many animals depend on aquatic organisms for food and they need clean water to drink.

The almost 9 acre parcel where the Roots for Rivers project took place is owned by Mercer County. There is visible erosion along the stream banks, so this planting is critical to restore stream health there and downstream. This planting will as act as a filtering buffer between runoff from the active agriculture and livestock present upslope in the watershed and the impervious surface of the road on the other side of Moores creek. There is also a tributary that runs along the western edge of the property, which would also benefit from this restoration project.

Over a two week period, 10 staff members from Sourland Conservancy, New Jersey DEP, New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors, Mercer County Parks Commission and Howell Living History Farm and over 250 individuals, families, corporations and groups including Bank of America, Educational Testing Service, MCCCC YouthCorps volunteers came together to plant 1,800 trees!

Together, the group planted 51 different species of native shrubs and trees. The plants varied in the habitat preference from “wettest” to “wet” to “dry”. The plants that preferred the “wettest” habitat were planted closer to Moores Creek, and the ones that preferred a more dry habitat were planted furthest away from the creek. The Sourland Conservancy purchased plants from Pinelands Nursey, Fernbrook Nursery and the New Jersey Forest Service. Some of the species we planted were American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), River Birch (Betula nigra), Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and High Bush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).

I am so proud of the work we did together. My Wild Boys came out with me on the last day of planting and their enthusiasm for planting was amazing. My oldest tells everyone that his mom’s job is to “save trees” and I cannot lie, it makes me tear up with pride. I look forward to the day when I can take my grown Wild Boys and maybe even my grandchildren to sit and picnic under the trees we planted. IMG_0960

Our truck full of native trees and shrubs from Pineland Nursery arrives!

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When the truck first opened, it didn’t seem like an overwhelming number of plants…

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Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee and Chair of Stewardship, Chris, helping us unload the saplings.

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NJ DEP Staff member, Debbie, Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax and Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, working hard together to unload the truck.

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Fairfax worked hard to organize the plants by species.

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Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, is most definitely a tree hugger!

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Everyone worked hard to get the plants unloaded and then organized by habitat preference; dry, wet, wettest!

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Pinelands Nursery packed that truck like a clown car! We couldn’t believe how much room these plants took up once we got them all laid out in our “corral”.

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Shovels, planting bars and gloves ready for action!

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We started distributing plants to their designated locations so volunteers could start planting.

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Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards, Jillian and Alex, explain proper planting technique to a fabulous group of volunteers from Bank of America.

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Jillian and Alex demonstrating how to use a planting bar.

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And they are off!

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I love how enthusiastic everyone was.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Volunteers making headway on the planting.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Volunteers working together to place protective sleeves over the saplings to protect them from deer herbivory.

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Debbie and Fairfax, tree-hugger extraordinaires!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Teamwork makes all the work go faster!

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Pete hooked up Tom and Jeb and took volunteers on a wagon ride to look over their work!

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Sourland Conservancy Staff (Carolyn, Caroline, and Laurie), Watershed Ambassador for WMA 11 (Fairfax), Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards (Alex and Jillian), NJ DEP (Debbie). We are all so proud of the hard working volunteers that got their hands dirty with us!

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Would this even be Sourland Niche without a pause to go look at flowers??? A beautiful big clump of spring beauties, Claytonia virginica.

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A spectacular Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum.

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Hold on to your Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria!

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Ahhhh!!!  Could they be any more perfect?!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Jillian demonstrating how to place the protective sleeves on saplings to Trenton Youth Corp volunteers.

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

I love all the teamwork!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Riparian buffers are important so important between roads and rivers. These volunteers are planting on the side of Moore’s creek that is closet to the road.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee, Roger, and Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline, working together to Save the Sourlands!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Teamwork is the best work!

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The Wild Boys came out for the last day of planting to lend a helping hand with getting the last 100 trees in the ground.

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Even Littlest was determined to get those saplings in the ground!

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My Oldest was actually very good at using the planting bar and getting these tubelings into the ground. He continues to amaze me with his abilities and determination.

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Littlest decided he should clear the paths from all large sticks and branches.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest loves working with Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline. Once he saw her, he decided that she would be his working partner for the rest of the day. Here he is handing her the covers for the planting sleeves. These covers protect birds from getting trapped inside.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest handing over twist ties to keep the sleeves securely fastened to the rod inside.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Packing soil around the base of the sleeves prevents voles from getting inside and eating the saplings.

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My big dude carrying a two-gallon contain tree! This container is almost one-third of his weight. I don’t think I could carry one-third of my weight so easily. He is so strong!

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Lunch time for the Wild Boys!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

My coworker, Laurie, snapped this photo of the Wild Boys and I sitting down for lunch. I would love to try to recapture this photo in 15 years when these little saplings are providing shade for our picnic.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest wanted to help push the wheel barrow!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest gave up on pushing the wheelbarrow and instead let me push it while we talked about all the different types of trees we planted.

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Did you really think that these two Wild Boys could hang out by a river all day and not get a chance to stop and play? Their favorite stones to throw were the red shale because they loved to watch it shatter as it hit other rocks.

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Before!

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After!

 

Fishing in the Sourlands – The Wild Boys go fishing with their friend, Akash.

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One of my favorite things to do as a child (and now) is to go fishing!

When I was a child, my father and I would sometimes escape to the woods to fish for  trout or to the banks of a pond to catch sunnies.  Our angling adventures  provided a place for quiet conversation, silent contemplation and daydreams. Truth be told, we never actually caught much. But it was in those peaceful times by the water with my Dad that my love of the outdoors developed and grew stronger.

Remembering those special moments from my childhood, I decided to introduce my oldest to fishing when he was about 18 months old. He was too young to understand exactly what we were trying to accomplish. But over time, his interest in fishing began to blossom. This year, my littlest is using a fishing rod (with a practice weight because he is too young for a hook) and he enjoys casting and reeling. Fishing is a practice in patience for all of us. The children learn that it takes time for the fish to find the bait and take it (or not take it!). And I am learning that things do not always go according to plan and to just surrender and go with the flow.

Fishing is a wonderful way to take it slow for an hour or two, whether you are alone or sharing the good company of others.

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Searching for worms to use as bait!

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Our friend, Akash, teaches my oldest how to observe the bobber in order to determine if the fish is nibbling or if it actually took a bite.

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Fish on!!!

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He reeled that fish in like a champ!

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My oldest and Akash were very excited about the fish!

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Akash explains fish anatomy to my oldest. He shows him the eyes, gills, scales and protective spines on the fish’s dorsal fins.

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Even Littlest wanted a chance to touch the fish.

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My Wild Boys had a blast fishing with Akash. In the hour that we were fishing, my oldest caught 9 fish! He can’t wait to go fishing again. Littlest and I wandered around the farm, searching for rocks and sticks to throw in the pond. Littlest managed to scare a whole herd of goats with his squeals of excitement.

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Here are some fun fishing photos over the years with my Wild Boys.

 

Opening day for Trout fishing in 2016 and 2019. The first time that my oldest went fishing, he  didn’t have a youth sized rod. My rod was way too big for him and he struggled to hold onto it. The following year, I bought him his very own rod.

 

Littlest’s first time fishing! Trout fishing Opening Day 2019!

Blog Take-over: Connecting Children with Nature with Nicole Langdo of Painted Oak Nature School

“Connecting Children with Nature”
by Nicole Langdo
Saturday, April 13, 2019

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When the Sourland Conservancy asked me to talk about the importance of getting children outside one Thursday night in April, and then organize a group of children to see, hear, and touch the forest the following Saturday morning, I, of course, jumped at the chance! With nearly seven years leading children on outdoor learning adventures at Painted Oak Nature School under my belt, and over a dozen years of experience in other traditional school environments, I felt qualified and ready for the task at hand.

If you have been following education over the last two decades, you have noticed an evolution – children as young as five years old being expected to sit at desks for hours at a time to accomplish required paper and pencil tasks, blocks of time previously devoted to unstructured outdoor play have dwindled, and near constant assessment of student, and thereby teacher, performance through frequent testing has become the norm. Students report feeling stressed out, anxious, and unable to cope with the pressures of “life.” Feelings of despair and depression have led to suicide being the 2nd leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds1 (2016.) With only 36% of American children getting the recommended physical activity a day2 due to increased school rigor and increased screen-time, it is no coincidence that obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years, ADHD is on the rise, as are incidents of bullying and social aggression.

So what can we do?! The answer is really quite simple – encourage unstructured outdoor play and a reconnection to nature. According to the biophilia hypothesis3, humans are hard-wired to connect with other living things. It is part of our DNA to want to be outside! Read anything by Richard Louv and the point for why getting outside is so important and the benefits of such will be made.

It is with all of this powerful information from Thursday night’s talk, that we eagerly set out last Saturday morning with over a dozen children, ages 2 – 10 years old, to hike Thompson Preserve in Hopewell, NJ. After an evening full of Spring rain the night before, this was no easy feat! The “Squelch Monster” was hungry and waiting to “eat a few boots” along the way.

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But the children would not be deterred. Promises of open-ended play and a tarp full of some simple materials to inspire exploration and creativity (magnifying glasses and chalk) provided all the motivation they needed to keep going.

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Having successfully maneuvered the grips of the Squelch Monster, we arrived at the newly fenced in area4 along the edge of the meadow. The children quickly located the blue tarp, selected materials, and were off! The fence provided parents a greater sense of comfort that allowed the children to run off together as a newly formed tribe to find more puddles, insects to identify, vines for swinging, and fallen trees for climbing and balancing.

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This also allowed parents to make social connections, swap stories, and resources, which after all, was the purpose of today’s hike – to empower parents with a few simple tools that will make getting their children outside feel possible, and to connect with others who may be interested in the same thing.

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Today marked the beginning of a Hopewell Valley Family Nature Club.5 Family Nature Clubs (FNC) are intended to bring families together in nature. I hear so many parents share with me their own feelings of  anxiety about getting out in nature – where to go, what to do once we are there, will there be bears or snakes, or coyotes, isn’t it risky, what do I do with myself, my child will be bored after five minutes, then what? The idea, then, of a FNC is to set a time and place to meet other interested families in nature to hike and explore together. This creates a greater sense of security with safety in numbers, allows parents to socialize and meet other like-minded parents, and to share combined nature-knowledge. Another huge benefit is knowing that when a group of children get together, very little else is needed – the play takes over and parental structure can take a backseat.

By the end of our time together, which amounted to just a few short hours, little red bugs had been identified, skunk cabbage sniffed, wild edibles tasted, worms named, and new friendships forged.

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We felt empowered to hike back out to once again face the “hungry hands” of the muddy Squelch Monster; this time together.

SEE YOU OUTSIDE!

1cdc.gov
2American Academy of Pediatrics
3Developed by researcher Edward O. Wilson
4A reforestation project being completed by the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space
5More information can be found at Children and Nature.org