Monthly Archives: June 2018

Zion Crossing – A brand new park!

Zion Crossing is located on Hollow Rd in Montgomery.  Here is a drop pin of the location since there are no signs!


Ahhh… Fishing…  I love it.  I used to go all the time as a child and young adult with my father, but after I graduated from undergraduate I never could coordinate our time and would wind up going once a year at most.  Then I had a child, and then started to cut out time in my schedule to fish again.  These fishing times were few and far in between, but there is something so meditative and exciting about fishing that it is addictive.  Lately I have been leaving my rod and tackle box in the car so that if I get even a few minutes of peace on my way to/from I can throw in my line.  That is exactly what I did this morning!  I pulled into the parking lot and saw this sign and decided I could spare 15 minutes to throw my line in and see who was hanging out!


Almost as soon as my line hit the water I got a bite!


A Chub, Semotilus atromaculatus!  I really don’t know much about fishing, and when I first caught this I thought perhaps it was a young trout, but was informed by a more experienced fisher, Akash, that it was a creek chub.  Here is a link to NJ Fish and Wildlife’s handout about creek chubs. 

Akash told me that in general, streams in the Sourlands are unable to support wild trout due to the water in our streams becoming too warm in the summer.  Warm water can cause two types of issues.  The first is that all organisms, animals/plants/fungi/bacteria/viruses have a temperature gradient that they can survive in.  Some organisms can have a wider temperature gradient that they can tolerate, while others have a very narrow gradient of only a few degrees either way.  So if the stream warms to a temperature that is above the tolerable zone for trout, it can stop them from being able to reproduce or kill them outright.  Another issue with warm water is that warm water does not hold as as much dissolved oxygen as cold water. Cold water is more oxygen soluble, meaning that more oxygen is able to be absorbed into the water and the water has a higher oxygen saturation level.  Here is an article that explains this in more detail.


A very large English Ivy, Hedera helix, cut.  A common method of killing vines is to cut the vine near the base of the tree it is growing on.  Often it is impossible to remove a vine from a tree once the vine has become established, but by killing the vine it will no longer put out leaves that will compete with the trees leaves for light and also cannot grow any larger and weigh the tree down more than it already is.


A lovely little picnic area.  I could imagine taking my children here for a picnic lunch and then to play in the stream.  I did not measure the depth of the stream, but it looked like it could be a nice place for them to splash around in!


As you approach the water, there is a little trail on your left.  This was recently created by volunteers from the Sourland Conservancy and Montgomery Friends of Open Space during the recent clean up.  The volunteers removed invasive species and worked to clear this trail.


The bird in the upper right portion of this photo I think is a Louisiana Waterthrush, Parkesia motacilla.  I could definitly be wrong because I know just about diddly about birds…  There is also a Northern Waterthrush, Parkesia noveboracensis, that looks very similar, but to be perfectly honest, I really don’t know.  If YOU know, please let ME know!  In any case, read about both birds at the Cornell Ornithology Lab here.


A still little pool filled with all types of squirming larvae.  I don’t know what they were, but there were a couple different types of critters in there.


A witches hat!  Well, sort of!  This is a gall on a Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, caused by the Witch Hazel Cone Gall Aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis).  The gall protects a mother aphid while she feeds and reproduces.  More information on the Witch Hazel Cone Gall Aphid.



The path of least resistance.  This stream has a fairly wide bed, but most of the water is funneling down along the right side of this section.  Rivers and streams are not stationary (duh!!!!), and the path of flow changes over time.  Many times flooding events will change how the water carves through the land.  On the right side of the stream here, you can see the water flowing along the bank, which is fairly steep and then a water fall caused by an exposed American Sycamore root.  More than likely, the water flowed along the left side, which is now mostly dry exposed rock.  During a flooding event, the right side was eroded, creating a deep channel, which after the flooding event was still the path of least resistance so the water continued to flow along this new path.


Exposed American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) roots.  You can be sure that these roots were covered by soil for quite some before being exposed.  I absolutely love American Sycamores, you will see their beautiful mottled bark lining rivers and streams in this area.  I don’t know why they feel so iconic to me, but these trees just make me smile.  There is a very similar tree, London Plane Tree, Platanus x acerifolia, that can be easily confused with American Sycamore.  London Plane trees are actually a cross between an American Sycamore and an Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis).  Some of the differences between American Sycamore and London Plane Trees are that the underbark of American Syacmore is white and London Plane is yellow/green.  The other mayor difference is that the fruit, a ball-like cluster of seeds, hang singly in American Sycamore and hang in Twos and Threes on London Plane Trees.  So why am I going on and on about these two trees?  Well, along the rivers and streams in this area you will see American Sycamores, and then you will walk down the streets of Philadelphia and say to yourself, “Hey!  American Sycamore!” and you would be mistaken…  London Plane Trees are used extensively as street trees, and they do a wonderful job tolerating the abuse that goes along with bring one!


Volunteers were clearing a path to create a trail and sawed through this tree.  I don’t know if it was already down or if they took it down, but it looks like it has the start of perhaps heart rot.  I truly love some of the names of plant diseases, this makes me think of a weathered, bitter person with their heart rotting out…  But in reality, it is a fungal disease that causes the heart wood of the trunk and branches to rot.  Often times you will not see any evidence on the outside of the tree other than mushrooms growing along the stems, trunk or around the base of the tree.  I think in general it is good practice to regularly walk your property and check the trees around your property (especially if they are in close proximity to a living structure or someplace you spend a lot of time) and look for mushrooms or leaf die back!  Many trees will let you know they are dying when they lose 1/3 of their leaf canopy (the leaves might not have emerged) or there are mushrooms growing out of the tree or near the base.


A daydream worthy stream cushioned by Sedges (Carex spp.).

St. Michaels Farm Preserve – What is blooming now?

St. Michaels Farm Preserve is located in Hopewell township, with entrances on Rt. 569 and Aunt Molly Road.

Link to NJ trail map and description


Fridays…  Well Fridays are usually the most relaxing work day for me, but sometimes I have to bring the Wild Boys with me.  This is usually fine because I just run into the office real quick and then I’m off into the woods, but not today!  I had a bunch of work to do in the office as well as run errands and these wild boys were having none of this “Sit quietly and color while Mommy works” business.  So, I grabbed the stroller and took them over to St. Michael’s Farm Preserve to burn off some energy (and to save the office from looking like a tornado hit it).  The last time I came here, I had traveled off on little side trails, but I was delighted to find a wide crushed gravel path perfect for walking with a stroller (or having a toddler ride along on his bike!).  I had to enlist the help of some of the Sourland Stewards for the identification of some of these flowers.  I have never been great with forbs, especially ones that grow in meadows.


Northern Catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, is a native tree species probably most notable for its long bean like fruits.  When I took dendrology in college, I often would forget what families a particular plant was in, but Catalpa belonged to the Bignoniaceae family which was very easy to remember because the leaves of this tree are very large.  Embarrassingly enough, I had never noticed the flowers before, but seeing them today I can’t believe I never took notice! When I did see those flowers I immediately wondered if Catalpa was a nitrogen fixer, even though it is not in the family (Fabaceae) that is typically associated with nitrogen fixers.  Well, apparently Catalpa IS a nitrogen fixer, a low fixer, but a fixer none the less!


Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, an invasive with lovely smelling flowers and yummy nectar.  As a child I always loved bitting of the base of the flower and sucking the sweet nectar from the flower.  As an adult I have stopped such pleasurable habit, that I think I am going to take up again.  I mean, after all, if I remove the flowers then no fruit can form!


Yellow Trefoil, Medicago lupulina, a dainty little invasive flower.  I love these flower heads!


Chicory, Cichorium intybus,  highly invasive and yet so lovely.  I am always so bummed when I learn that plants I adore are non-native.  Chicory root is sometimes used as an additive or even as an alternative to coffee.


Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, a native most famously known because it is the host plant for the wondrous Monarch Butterfly.  Another interesting fact about Milkweed is that it contains cardiac glycosides, which is harmless to Monarch caterpillars but it renders the caterpillars toxic to birds and other predators.


White Campion, Silene latifolia, an invasive native to Europe.


My big dude got tired of me constantly stopping to investigate plants and take photos, so he decided that he and littlest would keep walking.


Oriental Bittersweet, Celatrus orbiculatus, in fruit.


Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, is considered to be a high quality forage for cows and horses!


I had originally thought this was Morning Glory, Ipomoea spp., but was later informed that this is Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis.  Morning Glory and Field Bindweed are in the same family, Convolvulaceae.  However, both are invasive in the United States.  I am constantly battling Morning Glory in my vegetable garden.  The prior owner of our home had a flower garden that we mostly converted into a vegetable garden, but some of her plants try to sneak by and re-establish themselves.


Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a native flower that has a two year life cycle.  In the first year there is just a rosette of leaves and the second year Yarrow will flower.


European Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, in flower.


Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, contain isoflavones which have been used to treat menopausal symptoms in women as well have been associated with a decrease in bone loss in women that are otherwise healthy.


White Clover, Trifolium repens, are great forage foods for animals.  Many moth caterpillars also enjoy to munch on clovers.


Black raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, fruits!  I learned today that black raspberries are not true berries!  Read more about it here!     Black raspberries are classified as drupletes that create an aggregate fruit.


The canes (or stems) of Black raspberry have a “glaucous bloom” on them.  This is just a fancy term for a white/grey/blue-ish waxy coating that can be rubbed off.  As the canes mature, they turn brown and lose this characteristic.


Comparing the top-side and underside of black raspberry leaves.  The leaves of black raspberry are a compound with three leaflets per leaf.  The top-side of the leaves are dark green while the undersides are whitish/silver.


A post-walk lunch at the Train Station.  This is probably my 3-year old’s favorite part of coming to work with me.

Rockhopper Trail – Hopping Rocks with the wild boys and friends!

Rockhopper trail is located on Rt 518 in West Amwell.  The Parking lot for this preserve is the same one as Dry Creek, but you need to cross Rt. 518 to get to the trail head.

Link to trail map and more information


I love this little sign!  I found it absolutely charming and my Little Dude loved looking for the blue squares!  I was joined by two of my friends (and bandmates!) and two pups.


If my boss had not told me I was going to walk along side this property on my way to the Rock Hopper Trail, I would never have found this trail!  It definitely feels a little trespass-y, but this is the way to get onto the trail.


My dude and I love these little bridges!  There were so much fun to cross over the mud patches.


Mile-a-minute, Persicaria perfoliata (formerly known as Polygonum perfoliatum), is a highly invasive weed that can grow up to six inches a day!  A weevil, Rhinocominus latipes, was approved for bio-control of Mile-a-minute in 2004 and since has been released in New Jersey and Delaware.  From what I have seen, the damage on these leaves look like the damage caused by R. latipes.


Violet Wood sorrel, Oxalis violacea.  I had no idea what this was when we were out hiking, and enrolled the help of my co-worker to help me ID back in the office.  Until now I only knew of the common yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta.  I loved eating the lemony leaves of wood sorrel as a child.  I wonder if these leaves would have tasted the same?


Sori clusters on a fern!  Click here to read more about the fern reproductive lifecycle.  The sori clusters hold the spores that ferns use in reproduction.  Fascinating ferns!


Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) on the left and White Oak (Quercus alba) on the right.  Both of these species have bark that peels, but Shagbark Hickory has bark that pieces vertically in strips and White Oak peels horizontally, almost like a door opening.


I loved all the rocks on this trail.  They made wonderful resting spots for water breaks!


Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) in flower.  This little creeping native has beautiful red berries in the fall.  This is a great alternative to planting non-native periwinkle as a creeping ground cover on your property!


Roots wrapped around a boulder.  This rock was most likely covered in soil when this tree started to grow and then a flood (or multiple floods) washed away the soil, exposing the roots.  You can’t see it in this picture, but this tree and boulder are right on the edge of a small stream.  Trees can start to grow in small pockets of dirt and debris on top of rocks, but you most likely would not have such extensive root growth around the rock.  If this scenario was not growing right by the stream, I think I wouldn’t feel as confident about what was happening here, but some of the best ways of figuring out an interesting situation is to step back, and look at it from all angles.


Littlest is not quite ready for rock hopping, but he is enjoying crawling over the rocks!


Hopping rocks on the Rockhopper trail!


Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) is one of those monster trees of the forest.  This tree can be massive and the branches are so high in the canopy that it is hard to see the leaves.  The leaves of this tree are scabrous – meaning that they feel rough to the touch.


Wild Yam, Dioscorea villosa, is a native New Jersey vine.  I have not found many peer-reviewed articles about the medical use of Wild Yam root, I have read that it is used in traditional medicine for women’s reproductive system health issues.


I cherish these moments of my wild boys running through the woods.  It is a wonderful thing to let child play and explore the world around them.

Eames Preserve – A misty morning walk

Eames preserve is located on Harbourton-Woodsville Rd in Pennington, NJ.

Link to trail map and preserve description


This photo reminds me more of when I was in a Panamanian rain forest than in New Jersey.

I love being outside, doesn’t really matter if its raining or sunny, but on a cool spring morning when its lightly raining….  I don’t think it can get much better than this!  The lack of human noise combined with the cacophony of morning bird songs is just divine.  The understory in Eames is so lush and dense that even though I couldn’t see many of the little streams, I could hear the water pouring over the rocks.  It was so meditative that I often caught myself just standing in one spot and listening to the rushing water.  When I go out for these hikes, I try to see as much as I can, but sometimes the scenery and the sounds overtake me and I just stand in one place taking it all in.


This mist was just beautiful!  I couldn’t capture it with my camera, but it softened all the colors of the forest.


Evidence of Tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera).  Tulip poplars are in the Magnolia family, and have really pretty yellow flowers, unfortunately for us, these forest giants flower so high up in the canopy that it is very rare to actually see the intact flowers.   Many times when I walk through the woods and see a gigantic tree with an almost cartoonish straight trunk and branches only near the canopy, I can safely assume that what I am looking at is a Tulip poplar.  Their size and straight growth habit lends them to be great lumber trees.


Leaf galls on Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra).  Galls are created when damage or salivary secretions from a pest/disease organism stimulates plant growth hormones to activate.  When these growth hormones are activated, it causes an increase in plant tissues to be grown in the area stimulated.  These abnormal growths are refered to as galls.  There are many organisms that can cause galls, such as mites, aphids, adelgids, mites, midges, plant lice, wasps and fungi.  Galls can come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  There are some that look almost like a fruit or pinecone, while others look like something straight out of a horror film!


Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) seed pods wrapped in a spiders web, almost like Christmas lights on a tree.


Plants flattened by rushing water.  When I worked in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, we were always very cautious about working around a “wash” during the rainy season.  A wash is a dry creek bed and often can become quickly flooded by a wall of fast moving water that seemingly comes out of nowhere.  These washes can fill even when it is not currently raining at your location, but at some point up stream.  I am not sure what the term is for areas like this in the North East.  At Eames, there are multiple “washes” all along  the hiking trail.  You can tell where these washes occurred because of plants being pushed over like they are here, or highly eroded paths like in the picture below.


On the right is the footpath and on the left is the wash.  There are a few key indicators that are tells that this wash is created by fast moving water.  1. The stream bed is narrow, relatively straight (not meandering) and deep.  2.  There are a lot of bare roots exposed, indicating that soil was very recently removed from the stream banks.  Slow moving water allows sediments to settle and generally does not create these clean roots.   3. Large piles of debris.  I did not take a picture of it, but further along there was a big pile of branches, leaves and plant material that had been swept along this temporary stream.  Where this pile collected, you could see that the understory had gotten a lot more dense with shrubs and created a wall of roots and stems that this stream could not pass through, so the water dispersed over a larger area, slowing down the stream and reducing the erosion.  This is the a great example of how trees and shrubs can help reduce soil erosion, which improves not only soil quality, but also water quality and overall ecosystem health.   The most nutrient dense portion of the soil, is in the upper part of the soil layer, the “top soil”.  This is also the layer that hosts most of the soil detritivores, that break down leaf litter and other dead plant material, making it bioavailable to other plants.  This is also the first layer that is swept away during soil erosion.  When soil erosion occurs, it causes soil particulates to enter the steam.  This is causes increased turbidity in the water, which can block sunlight for aquatic plants and can also reduced the dissolved oxygen in water which affects both macro and micro invertebrates.


Foam!  Why is there foam here but no where else along the stream?  Here is my theory (its a good one!).  Organic materials, such as this large root will release compounds in water called surfactants.  A surfactant reduces the surface tension of water, which will in turn allow more air to mix with water, creating air bubbles that aggregate together to create foam!  Under this foam is a little pool, making this a perfect place for foam to build up and the excess water flow under and continue downstream.


Just a perfect little water drop sitting on some Jewel weed, Impatiens capensis!


Raindrops making the invisible, visible!  A spiderweb viewed from the side.


This is the spiderweb viewed straight on!  How many times have we all walked face first into a web and then ran around flailing our arms and shouting and sputtering while grabbing at those invisible strings attached to our faces???  What a wonderful thing nature is!


The former president of the NJ Mycologist society let me know that that these are actually Purple tooth, Trichaptum biforme (I had thought these were some sort of Turkey Tail mushrooms, Trametes versicolor).  These mushrooms are considered to be saphrophtyes, which live on dead and decaying organic matter.


Choose your path carefully! Just kidding, its a loop!  I do love these trail markers though, it feels a little ominous!


Beautiful…  *sigh*