Goat Hill – An Autumn walk with friends and the Spotted Lanternfly.

Goat Hill Overlook is located on Coon Path in Lambertville.

Link to trail map.

IMG_9907It is getting colder faster than I had expected. Perhaps it’s the rush of autumn where it seems that every living creature is frantically trying to prepare for the winter. This time of year always makes me a little anxious because there is always so much to do – and the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting colder. There have been some nights recently that have dipped below freezing, and it is so startlingly cold when I open the door to go feed my chickens that I have to turn around and put on a few extra layers before attempting the walk outside. There had still been some leaves left on the trees the night before this week’s blog  hike, but temperature at my home was in the low 20’s from the arctic blast that came through, and all the trees seemed to have dropped their remaining leaves overnight in protest. I met up with two of my college roommates to go on a mid-morning hike before heading down to New Hope for lunch. It is always so enjoyable to go hiking with others, because we each bring our own experiences and knowledge to the hike, and I just love chit-chatting and exchanging knowledge.IMG_9881I find this time of year really special, because many things that were hidden with the cover of the tree canopy are exposed. Bird and squirrel nests are suddenly visible, fruits and nuts and, of course, the bright blue sky with the dancing branches criss-crossing the sky. I have been to this trail many times, but somehow missed this large Sumac, Rhus spp., right near the parking lot. I think this is probably Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, but without getting a closer look at the stems I can’t be sure.   IMG_9886A woolly bear caterpillar Pyrrharctia isabella. This is the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth. Honestly, this is one of the few times that I think the larval stage is actually cuter than the adult stage. There is a lot of folklore around the colors on the woolly bear. It was said that if the black segments were larger than the brown segments it would be a harsh winter, and if the orange segment was larger it would be a mild winter. You can read more about it here. I think the orange and black segments look about equal length, so I feel safe that our winter would not be too harsh this year!IMG_9888These ghostly white berries look ominous, as they should! They are the fruit of poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. Every part of poison ivy, from the roots, fluids, bark, and leaves to the berries contain the same oil irritant that causes a nasty rash on most people. Poison ivy belongs to the Anacardiaceae family, which includes many edible plants such as cashews, pistachios, and mangoes. Sumacs are also in the Anacardiaceae family and some of them are also edible. It is really important to remember not to eat any plants or fungi you find on your hikes unless you are 100% confident in your identification. There are many healing and nourishing plants in the woods, but there are also some that are very toxic.IMG_9893I had never ventured off the main trail at Goat Hill before. All of the maps I had seen only showed the main trail. Even though I saw blaze markers, I never bothered to explore the different trails, because the main overlook was so lovely. Well, my friends convinced me to veer off and I am glad they did. There are so many overlooks on this trail and after some digging, I found another trail mapped (linked at the top of the page) that shows where the other blazes lead to. I am definitely going to set some time aside to explore these other trails!

While my friends were still gazing over Washington’s Rock, I saw a beautiful sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, and I wanted to take a picture capturing the colors and textures of the bark. I was really immersed in trying to get the right light and so completely focused on what I was doing, that I didn’t even hear my friends come up behind me. “What are you trying to take a picture of: the  spotted lanternfly?” I stood up and said “What??? Where??” One of my friends laughed and said, “Right in front of you!” I looked down and, right at waist height, was a spotted lanternfly, a mere 12 inches below where I was looking. I was so shocked that I could be standing within inches of something and yet completely miss it. Well, once that spotted lanternfly was seen, it wasn’t long for this world!

One of my friends who was on the hike with me is Laura Kenny. She works for Penn State Extension and I am going to turn the rest of the blog post over to her.



Thanks, Carolyn! 

My name is Laura Kenny, and I am an educator with Penn State Extension. Penn State Extension is a modern educational organization dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses, and communities. Partnering with and funded by federal, state, and county governments, we have a long tradition of bringing unbiased support and education to the citizens of Pennsylvania. We make a difference locally through focused engagement, and more widely to customers connecting in the digital landscape. 

As an educator with Penn State Extension, I have been learning about the invasion of the spotted lanternfly (SLF) since I began my job in 2016. This planthopper was accidentally introduced to southeastern Pennsylvania from Asia in 2014, and a quarantine zone was established to slow its spread. Businesses and organizations that transport material into or out of the quarantine zone were required by the PA Department of Agriculture to take a permit course about the SLF to learn how to avoid transporting it into new areas. The PA quarantine zone currently includes 14 counties.

Despite this good work, the SLF spread to New Jersey. In 2018 it was found in Mercer, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties. Since then, populations have established in 8 counties along the western border of the state, which are now under an official quarantine. See https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/prog/spottedlanternfly.html for a map and more details. As of September 2019, it has also been spotted in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut. 

So, what do you need to know about the spotted lanternfly?

  • They do not directly hurt humans or animals- no bite or sting. It is currently unknown if they are toxic to ingest.
  • They are destructive pests that feed on plant sap using a piercing mouthpart.
  • Their favorite host plant is the invasive tree-of-heaven, but they will feed on more than 70 other plants and trees.
  • They can cause losses in agricultural crops by weakening plants, and their sugary droppings promote the growth of mold on valuable crops. The tree fruit, grape, vineyard, and ornamental industries are particularly concerned about this pest. 

IMG_9897The adults look like tan moths with spots on the wings and a bright red wing underneath (see picture above). In the late summer and fall, you will see adults and egg masses. Earlier in the spring and summer, they look completely different as nymphs. See this site for pictures of the nymphs: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-what-to-look-for.  Egg masses containing 30-50 eggs each look like a smudge of brown clay (see pictures below) and are very easy to miss! We found several egg masses on this tree and destroyed them by scraping at them with sticks. It’s better to use a plastic card to scrape them into a sealable bag for disposal or add some rubbing alcohol to the bag to kill them.  However, we had no bags on us, so we tried to squish the masses the best we could!IMG_9899Can you spot the egg masses in this picture?IMG_9899It is amazing how well they blend into the background!IMG_9900This freshly laid egg mass is still moist, but they can appear lighter in color as they dry.IMG_9901What should you do if you see a SLF or egg mass?

Confirm identification. The nymph stages in particular can be confused with other insects. If you’re sure it’s a SLF…

Destroy it! First, kill the SLF or scrape the egg mass. You can send the specimen to the NJ Department of Agriculture’s lab for verification, you can take a picture and send it to SLF-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov and slanternfly@njaes.rutgers.edu, or if you can’t take a sample or picture, call 1-833-223-2840 (BADBUG0) to report the sighting.

If you live within the quarantine zone, you should check your vehicle for SLF life stages or egg masses any time you drive out of the zone.  You also should not transport yard waste, brush, firewood, etc. Here is a handy checklist of items that are likely to transport SLF and which should be inspected thoroughly before moving: https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/NJResidenceSLFChecklist.pdf

For more information on SLF, check out these resources:

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/spotted-lanternfly/

https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/prog/spottedlanternfly.html

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly

https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/Pages/default.aspx

Dinosaurs in the Sourlands – A very wild walk through the woods

IMG_8493

Roar!!!

The warm summer days were over much sooner than I had expected.  The air got colder, the days shorter and I just want to stomp my foot down and roar, “SLOW DOWN!”

My Wild Boys love dinosaurs, and autumn is the time when I make dinosaur sweatshirts and tails for them to dress up.  It had barely become October when my oldest started asking for a new dinosaur sweatshirt.

In between rainstorms, the weather has been beautiful and the autumn colors are in their full glory. The Wild Boys and I decided that it was time for an adventure, so we headed out to the Sourland Mountain Hunterdon County Preserve for a hike.IMG_8502Dinosaurs love to climb boulders!IMG_8510They are off!IMG_8513Sometimes, little dinosaurs need a bit of reassurance. I love holding hands with my brave dinosaurs as they exploreIMG_8521Littlest found an American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, nut.IMG_8530Summiting the highest point he can find!IMG_8534My big dinosaur reminds me of an iguana basking in the sun!IMG_8535Sourland boulders.IMG_8544Two dinosaurs planning some mischief!IMG_8556I love how this tree is growing directly on this rock. Where there is a will there is a way!IMG_8564White Rattlesnake Root, Prenanthes alba. IMG_8573American Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, seed capsule.IMG_8577American Witch Hazel flower buds. They will be blooming any day now!IMG_8584If there is a boulder, this dinosaur will have to climb it!IMG_8587The sulfur yellow buds of Bitternut Hickory, Carya cordiformis.IMG_8605Littlest Dinosaur points the way to go home!IMG_8610“What are you putting in your pockets little dinosaur?”IMG_8611Bitternut, Carya cordiformis, nuts!IMG_8612White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata (Aster divaricatus), looking so lovely in the October morning light.IMG_8634Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, in fruit. Indian Pipe is a parasitic plant and receives its nutrients from a host rather than photosynthesis. The plant is white because it does not contain chlorophyll and as it ages and produces fruit, it turns brown.

Indian Pipe is a really interesting parasitic plant because it does not parasitize upon another plant, like Mistletoe and Dodder. Indian Pipe is parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with their host plant, providing them increased water and nutrient uptake. The host plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates formed during the process of photosynthesis. Many tree, shrubs and grass species form these relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, and some of these relationships are so specific that only certain species of fungi will colonize the root systems of certain plants, while others are more generalists and will colonize multiple plant species.IMG_8641Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn!IMG_8645Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, nuts!IMG_8652The bounty from our adventure!IMG_8664My big dinosaur wanted to give back the food he had gathered to the woodland creatures, so he carefully sorted each of the nuts and left them out on the rock to be found.

Rocky Brook Trail – A quick hike on a surprisingly chilly early September morning.

Rocky Brook Trail is located on Rt. 518 in East Amwell.

Link to hiking trail map.

IMG_7326Sometimes, it just gets away from me. On one of the first days of September, I hiked the Rocky Brook Trail. So many responsibilities and events came up and time flew by. With the busyness of life, I just did not have a chance to sit down and write.

Unlike some of my other more tedious tasks that can be easily forgotten, writing about my hikes is a calming and reflective time for me. When I think about Rocky Brook Trail and as I look at my pictures, I am transported back to that chilly and quiet morning.

My morning hikes in Spring and Summer were loud and boisterous, filled with the sounds of millions of organisms attending to their daily business. But in this chilly morning air, all is quiet. Many of the insects have mated, laid eggs and perished. Some of the birds have begun their migration to their winter homes, while others remain under a metaphorical blanket this morning until the temperature rises a bit more. Then they will emerge from their night’s lodging place and commence their day.

I have been asked a few times recently if I take notes when I hike. The answer is “sort of”. I don’t write anything down, but I use my pictures to bring me back to the sights and sensations of the particular location.

As I walk through a preserve, I try to be mindful. I focus on what I am experiencing…what the air smells like, what I hear, what the ground looks like and feels like under my boots, what I see in front of me, below, above and on my periphery.

My intention is to be fully present. There are times that I forget to take pictures, especially when I become entranced by a beautiful animal or when I am lost in a meditation while gazing at the water as it meanders around rocks and tree roots. There is so much beauty. I often lose track of time as I watch the leaves fall slowly and gracefully from the tree canopy.

IMG_7328A Spined Micrathena, Micrathena gracilis. The Punk Rock spider of the Sourlands 😉IMG_7331I have never seen the Stony Brook this shallow! I have been to this trail a few times since May and was not able to cross the stream because the water was very high.  IMG_7334Desiccated lithophytes. A lithophyte is a plant that grows on bare rocks. These plants were once under the water.  But with the lack of rain, they were exposed and subsequently, dried up.IMG_7345Crustose lichens up close. IMG_7351Death in the Sourlands. This is a decaying body of some sort of moth or butterfly. I attempted to identify it but soon gave up. There are so many amazing butterflies and moths in New Jersey but I don’t know enough about them to tell the difference without their wing markings.

Check out this link to see the moths and butterflies of New Jersey. I think I would faint if I saw a Scarlet Winged Lichen moth!IMG_7359Water striders breaking the surface tension of the water.IMG_7363White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata.  IMG_7369The contrast between the rocks and the forest canopy was mesmerizing.IMG_7373What gorgeous and welcoming steps into the forest!IMG_7376Peace.IMG_7385Bottle brush grass, Elymus hystrix. This grass is just about the only grass that I can identify with confidence!IMG_7389I cannot get enough of these beautiful spider webs in the morning sunshine!IMG_7393American Hogpeanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata. I am getting more and more curious about what these Hogpeanuts taste like!IMG_7399Great blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, looking stunning this morning.IMG_7403Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is an invasive. But I am not going to lie. I love these gorgeous flowers.

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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