Cedar Ridge Preserve – Spiders and Butterflies!

Cedar Ridge preserve is located on Van Dyke Road in Hopewell.

Link to trail map.

IMG_5223August has begun to whisper, “Summer is coming to an end.” I detect a slight early morning chill and I am a little wistful, realizing that it will soon be too cold for short sleeves. The moon rises earlier and sets later and the days are cooler and shorter. August is bittersweet as summer reaches its peak and I must soon say “good-bye” to my favorite season of the year.

This morning, the air is cool and damp and the meadow is glowing with hundreds of spider webs. I intended to take photographs of butterflies, but I was soon entranced by all the different spider webs, the sheer numbers of them! Everywhere I looked, there were webs…some vertical, others horizontal and a few were funnel shaped. The owners were staked out on a couple of the webs, but others seemed suspiciously empty. I enjoyed observing their hunting strategies and wished I could have seen what happened when they caught their prey.

IMG_5136I really like this trampoline web! I didn’t see the owner, but I like to imagine the tiny spider bouncing up and down doing back flips!IMG_5211Who is hiding in there?IMG_5213There you are! A grass spider in the family, Agelenidae.DSC_0591These spiders do not have sticky webs. Instead they run very fast to catch their prey.IMG_5146A loose knitted spider web. I love the big loops, heavy with dew.DSC_0585A tight and symmetrical web. I wonder why the center is transparent but the outer circles are not? Perhaps to confuse their prey into flying towards the midpoint of the web?DSC_0594A Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus! It was my oldest who informed me that the Monarchs are the “Kings of the Butterflies”. I then realized that the significance of the name, “Monarch” had eluded me! Children can be wonderful teachers.DSC_0600At first, I was frustrated because I could not get a picture of the monarchs flittering about.  But I really like this picture of the two Monarchs flying together with the background in focus. It adds to the whimsical beauty of this August morning.

Have you ever seen a swarm of Monarchs? It is incredible! When I worked at Liberty State Park, I once came upon a swarm of well over 100 Monarchs resting inside of the old train terminal. When they startled, they took off in a massive cloud spinning and twirling around each other, out of the building and into the blue sky. It was a moment of awe and wonder and I desperately hope to see it at least once again in my lifetime!DSC_0609This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, kept teasing me. Every time I tried to get close for a picture, it would flit away.DSC_0664I persisted and finally got the picture I wanted! My oldest loves to tell me that butterflies have a proboscis.  I don’t think that he has actually seen a proboscis and he is unsure about where the proboscis goes when the butterfly is not eating. Now I can show him! Here is a short video about the Butterfly proboscis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZZaaVV2nyM DSC_0644I believe that this Butterfly is a common Wood-Nymph, Cercyonis pegala. I was elated when I realize that wood nymphs are not just imaginary creatures in stories!IMG_5177Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. Whenever I see Elderberries, I always giggle as I recall “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the French knight who said “I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of Elderberries!”

If you are not familiar with this wonderful comedic film, please take a moment to watch the skit.IMG_5174These fruit were not ripe yet, but I still wanted to get a closer look…and to take a whiff in order to know what Elderberries really smell like 😉IMG_5187A side-view of Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis. Look at the vents and the tail on this flower! It is absolutely gorgeous!IMG_5193Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, dainty and quite beautiful this morning.IMG_5165Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, both whimsical and tropical in their appearance. I was mesmerized by their charm.IMG_5217Heall-All, Prunella vulgaris, magnificent in this morning light!IMG_5242Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota. A common name for this plant is “Wild Carrot”. Queen Anne’s Lace is a native edible. But BEWARE! There is a common plant that also grows in this area called “Poison Hemlock”, Conium maculatum, and is often mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace because it resembles it so closely.

Poison Hemlock is one of the most toxic plants growing in the wild in our country and it should be avoided.  Every part of the Poison Hemlock plant is poisonous and the toxins can be absorbed through the skin.IMG_5183Here is a picture of Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum. It is often found growing in close proximity to Queen Anne’s Lace.

This article shows side by side pictures of both plants and will help you detect the differences.IMG_5251A second breakfast of Blackberries, Rubus allegheniensis, graciously provided by the forest.DSC_0612I spy with my little eye a very noisy little bird…DSC_0630A Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. A college friend of mine who is a bird enthusiast helped me identify this little bird.  Slowly and through practice (and asking friends who dabble in ornithology), I am starting to expand my knowledge of native bird species and identification. IMG_5254

A dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Ticks are in the class Arachnida, meaning that they are in the same class as spiders. Unlike male deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, male dog ticks do feed on their host.

In my experience, I more often. find dog ticks on myself if I have been in grassy/meadow areas and deer ticks when I have been in the woods

Another species of tick now present in New Jersey is the Long Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum. All three of these species can transmit diseases to humans and their pets so it is important to make sure that you check yourself and your loved ones every time you have been outside.

Checking for ticks is part of our bedtime routine. Each night before bed, we do a tick check. There are times when I don’t want to sit for a tick check, but in all honesty, it takes less than 2 minutes to check a child and about 4 minutes to check an adult.

Some of these ticks in their nymph stage can be very tiny (about the size of the tip of a ball-point pen), so it is important to get a good look and investigate every unfamiliar “freckle”.

 

Dry Creek Run – On the hunt for frogs!

Dry Creek Run is located on Brunswick Pike in Lambertville.

Link to trail map!

IMG_5007I love the smell of the forest after a rain, the commingling of fresh and musky. I was on the trail before 8 am, and the forest was bursting with bird songs and the rustling sounds of unseen animals. A morning hike is a wonderful way to start the day. It always refreshes me and renews my connection with the Earth.

The feeling I have when I enter the woods is similar to the excitement my children have when I tell them they can have a boo-bop (My Littlest can’t say “ice pops”).

My kids anticipate the crinkling sound of the boo-bops wrapper, the sweet taste of sugar, and the icy-cold pop cooling the hot summer heat.

In the forest, I love the sound of the birds, the pungent scent of wet earth, the cacophony of woodland animals alternating with stillness… the most perfect summer treat.

IMG_5008The magenta flowers of Smartweed, Persicaria spp., stood out beautifully against the green backdrop.IMG_5011Even though the idea of trying to identify Sedges to species level gives me agita, I always love to see them in flower.IMG_5012Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, studded with water droplets that look like crystals.IMG_5016Peek-a-boo! No berries are safe from me!IMG_5018 These wiggly squiggly lines are from a leaf minor, Liriomyza eupatoriella, who uses White Snake root, Eupatorium rugosum, as its host for its larva.IMG_5023Sassafrass, Sassafras albidum, looking picture perfect this morning.IMG_5025I think this is American Jumpseed, Persicaria virginianaIMG_5027This white tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, looked pretty annoyed that I startled them out of the bed.IMG_5036Stickseed, Hacklia virginiana. I love that the fruits look like little ornaments hanging off the branches. I don’t love how they stick to just about everything!IMG_5043When I first saw this I thought it was a fruit until I picked it up and realized it was hollow. This is a gall, which is an abnormal growth on a plant that is triggered by a pest or a disease.IMG_5045A sea of Hogpeanuts, Amphicarpaea bracteata. Have you ever seen someone and totally blanked on their name even though you knew them? Well, that happened to me when I saw the Hogpeanuts.  I knew I knew the name but I just stared at it blankly and couldn’t retrieve it from my mental rolodex.IMG_5048White Avens, Geum canadense. The young leaves of this plant sort of look like strawberry leaves.IMG_5049When I saw this bench tucked in the woods, I imagined a person sitting there, deeply in thought while writing beautiful poetry.IMG_5058This Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, came up through the boardwalk. It is a common plant but I always feel happy when I see the brilliant orange flowers.IMG_5068I am pretty sure this is Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris. There aren’t any flowers on it, but based upon the leaves and the flowering stalk I am pretty sure that is what it is. I really love the purple flowers of this little plant!IMG_5073Black-and-gold Flat Millipede Apheloria virginiensis. Apparently these little critters produce a cyanide substance that can cause skin irritation so please look but do not touch!IMG_5079The trail was littered with fruit! Pignut hickory (Carya glabra), Bitternut (Carya cordiformis), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Pin Oak (Quercus pallustris), Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

While walking along the trail, I heard a chorus of frogs. I knew that if there were that many frogs, there needed to be a body of water. I was watching the clock because I had to get back to the office by 9am for a meeting but I HAD TO FIND THE FROGS! I did make it back to the office on time, but I had to run all the way back to my car.

IMG_5052Isn’t this little pond gorgeous?! Hearing the frogs and finding this pond was the highlight of my morning.IMG_5057What a perfect place to come and just be with nature. It was so loud and so quiet at the same time.

Berry Picking in the Sourlands and Wineberry Preserves!

It is Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) time! In this house, we love berries of all sorts and if there is a chance to pick them, we love them even more! Wineberries are the non-native invasive that just about everyone turns a blind eye to. Their ruby, semi-tart fruits are prolific and even the most fervent of invasive species eradicators will just idle on by these canes, pretending not to notice. I will not tell a lie. I, too, willfully disregarded these non-natives in my backyard. Whenever I see a new cane pop up, I just let it be and I rip out some Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), instead. It is easy to commit purposeful oversights when we will be rewarded with delicious berries.

When wineberries reach their full ripeness, they turn a deep ruby, almost purple color. I am not known for patience and I usually start eating them when they become “STOP Sign” red. I have eaten them at full ripeness, and they are a bit sweeter. However, that would require 2 more weeks more of ripening time and I just can’t wait that long! My husband and I decided it would be fun to take the boys berry-picking after work, so we picked them up from school, stopped for a slice of pizza and then headed out into the Sourlands!

IMG_4576My Big Dude picked the first berry of the hike.IMG_4578
Kerplink!IMG_4579My husband showed Littlest which berries were ripe for picking.IMG_4583I love the pincer grasp that young children use when picking berries. Their careful and slow reach and those little fingers pinching is adorable. IMG_4586“Hurry up! There are more berries up here!” my Big Dude shouted. He was our scout and he pointed out all of the big and best patches.IMG_4595Berry baskets for the win! Two handed picking at its best.IMG_4598Berry picking was traded in for some rock climbing.IMG_4622We took a well-deserved break at the top of the mountain and enjoyed watching the sun as it began to set over the Delaware river.IMG_4631This was about two-thirds of our harvest. We picked a bunch more on our way down to our car. IMG_4664I combined our family-picked berries with about 4 more cups of berries which I had picked from the bushes outside of my office. I cooked them all down with 1.5 cups of water.IMG_4667 3I bought a jelly strainer and strained out all of the juices that I could.IMG_4673Cooking the preserves, adding sugar and pectin and sterilizing all of my equipment! I have never canned anything before (or made preserves for that matter!) so I boiled everything a lot longer than I needed to because I wanted to make sure I killed all the bacteria and fungi.

My boys worked hard making labels for our preserves. IMG_4675My Big Dude knew the most important part of “Wineberry Preserves”.

IMG_4676All done!38E7D907-7364-4F3E-846D-0FC451FF61CF 2

My preserves came out a little runny, but they tasted great! We are going to make picking wineberries and turning them into preserves a family tradition. It was so nice to go out as a family and even though the canning part was a little tedious, I love the fact that we did it together.

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.