Monthly Archives: February 2019

Sourland Mountain Preserve – A birthday hike for my Littlest.

Sourland Mountain Preserve is located on East Mountain Road in Hillsborough.

Link to the Hiking trail map and description.

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My Littlest turned two years old today. I never could understand why my mom would want to tell me my birth story every year on my birthday. But once I became a mother, I understood the significance of the day to her. It was not just because her child became earth side, it was the transformation of one being into two.

On the eve of each of my Wild Boy’s birthdays, I always reminisce on the incredible process of pregnancy and birth and the moment that he left my body and let out his cry to the world announcing that he had arrived and that everything would be different from that moment on.

So today, in order to commemorate Littlest’s birthday, we chose to go to the Somerset County Sourland Mountain Preserve in order to explore the many big boulders and bridges. The Wild Boys love to climb. Whenever I ask them if they want to go on a hike with me, my oldest always asks “Will there be big rocks?” Since it was a very special day for my Littlest, we decided we should go to a preserve that had lots of big rocks for climbing!

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This sign appears quite ominous with the font and deer skulls!

IMG_1327All bundled up and ready to head out on a birthday hike adventure!IMG_1331My Wild Boys always jump from one rock to the next and are just as excited with the large boulders as they are with the smaller ones. All of them…and I truly  mean ALL OF THEM…need to be thoroughly explored.IMG_1367The Hershey Kiss buds of Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Some trees can be a little tricky to identify in winter when you only have the buds to help. But Green Ash makes itself easily identifiable. It is important to examine a specimen fully from top to bottom when trying to identify it. Sometimes, sunlight availability or an injury can cause one part of a plant to look a little different than the rest. For me, the best way to identify Green Ash is by those big chocolate brown buds. I can’t think of any tree that has buds that look quite like that!

Green ash has an opposite leaf pattern compared to the majority of North Eastern tree species which usually have an alternating leaf pattern. When the tree is young, it may be difficult to ascertain that the leaves are opposite. But as I inspected this sapling, I could see from the older growth that the leaf/bud scars were positioned directly opposite each other. IMG_1373We hung out and explored this boulder for a long time. There was a thin layer of soil that had formed on top of the boulder which was just enough to allow this Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, to take root. Where there is a will, there is a way to survive!

There are always hints to help you identify trees in winter. This tall, straight giant shares a tell-tale sign at the base of its trunk. The forest floor around this tree is littered with the samaras from the Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. Samaras are a type of fruit that are winged and wind dispersed.IMG_1573A hint of spring from the forest canopy! New growth and opening buds from this branch of Tulip Poplar that fell from the forest sky.IMG_1428Tree resin dripping slowly from a tree. It is pretty neat to think that insects and dinosaur tails can become trapped in resin and, over time, become fossilized into amber.IMG_1444Taking a break to watch the clouds float by.IMG_1447I love how this tree is growing around the boulder. We all have to bend and grow around obstacles. It is not only our strength but our flexibility which enables us to thrive!IMG_1455The Wild Boys had such a great time climbing over all the boulders and downed trees.IMG_1458My big dude was so excited to discover this large boulder!IMG_1471Everyone wanted to climb the big boulder!IMG_1496Super pout! This boulder was a little too steep for the birthday boy to climb!IMG_1507Littlest decided to explore around instead.IMG_1514Littlest and I hung out and played with leaves at the base of the boulder while the big boys played on the top.IMG_1542Every great adventure must come to an end, and now was the time to start heading back home.IMG_1554There is nothing that I love more than spending time with my Wild Boys. IMG_1563An obstacle can be large or small depending on one’s own perspective and circumstance.IMG_1596Big Dude found this broken tree and was trying so hard to lie on top of it. But he kept losing his balance and swinging underneath the branch, which made me think of an animal being roasted on a spit. I know, I shouldn’t have laughed (but I did!).IMG_1587As we made our way down the mountain, I told my husband that I had a spare change of clothes for both boys in the backpack. He replied, “I don’t think we will have to change them, they are pretty clean.”

Within two minutes of that exchange, Littlest took a big tumble and slide resulting in mud all over his front and back. Whenever I go out with these Wild Boys, I always pack a change of clothes and shoes because you never know what the adventure will hold. For his birthday, Littlest just needed to reconnect with Mother Earth!

Happy Birthday, Littlest! My wish for you is that you will never stop exploring and having adventures and that you know we love you!

The Watershed Institute – A winter hike adventure with the Wild Boys

The Watershed Institute is located on Titus Mill Rd in Pennington.

IMG_0944It had been too long since the Wild Boys had gone on a hike with me, so when the temperature warmed up to a balmy 26 degrees F, I decided today was the day! The weather forecast had predicted rain, but since the skies were blue, I thought that the Watershed Institute would be a great choice. If the rain held off, we would be able to hike and if the skies opened up, we could play inside! Luckily for us, the onset of the rain was delayed long enough for us to accomplish both!

I really love taking the Wild Boys for hikes at The Watershed.  The newly constructed elevated path offers a unique view of the meadow. During the summer, there are many insects and I can get a good view to see “Who” is pollinating “What”. Today, my boys were so bundled up in layers that they didn’t complain about the below freezing temperatures. I only wished they would have kept their gloves on!

IMG_0950A quick stop at the map in order to help us decide which trail to take!

IMG_0954Both boys usually have an aversion to headgear, but they were more than happy to sport their Sourland Conservancy hats. I love these orange hats. When my big dude takes off running, I can spot his hat even when he is pretty far ahead of me.

IMG_0966Off they go!

IMG_0972An Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, infected by Cedar-Apple Rust Gall, caused by the fungus, Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae. This was the first time I had seen a Cedar-Apple Rust Gall. This rust fungus requires two hosts in order to survive, both the Eastern Red Cedar and the Apple Tree…hence the name!

In the first stage, the fungus forms large, brown galls on Eastern red cedars. The gall will stay on the tree for 1.5 to 2 years. In the spring rains, the gall will erupt with gnarly orange gelatinous telial horns which contain spores. The telial spores germinate and form a basidospore which infects the second host, the Apple Tree.

The amount of rain in the spring determines the extent of infection on the Apple tree. When an apple tree is infected he upper side of the Apple leaves will develop yellow spots and as the infection progresses, an orange jelly-like substance will begin to ooze from the yellow spots on the underside of the leaf. A severe infection will cause the apple leaves to die and shed prematurely, impacting the photosynthetic capability of the tree. I love this video from Purdue University describing the life cycle of Cedar-apple rust and I especially love the dramatic music!

IMG_0992I am not going to lie… I was a little nervous when I let my Littlest wander over this bridge without holding my hand. Toddlers are often top heavy (those big beautiful noggins are so cute!) and he sometimes tumbles when he leans forward to investigate. I decided to have faith in him and let him explore like the “big boy” he is trying to be. He did great!

As a parent, I sometimes underestimate my children’s abilities because I am so concerned that they might get hurt or cold or wet!  My Littlest was born prematurely, spent some time in the NICU and has been receiving physical therapy since he was 4 months old. He is now almost two years old and has made amazing progress.

Children need structure but they also need free play, to explore, grow and develop confidence in their own abilities. Many of my child’s biggest developmental leaps have not happened during therapy sessions but when I wasn’t instructing him. He recently pushed his boundaries by climbing from the couch to the window sill and shimmed across it in order to get a better view of the bird feeder, much to my chagrin. He was very proud of himself.

The forest provides my Littlest with the opportunity to work on his balance on un-even ground; gross motor development by climbing, jumping, running; fine motor skills through gathering and moving stones, sticks and grouping them into piles; and communication skills when we talk about the different things we see. It is a wonderful environment for children with “typical” development as well as those that are on a different developmental path.

IMG_1005My big dude testing his balance skills on every downed log that he could find!

IMG_1013Mycelium: the mass of branching, thread-like, white “strings” called hyphae. The hyphae are the vegetative growth of fungus while a mushroom is the fruiting body.

IMG_1017This large grub was almost the length of my thumb!  I am not sure what species it is, but it may be a beetle in its larval stage.

IMG_1022There is a proverb, “Speak softly but carry a big stick”. My Wild Boys adhere to the adage that children should “Shout loudly and carry big sticks to bang against everything”.

IMG_1026They both loved stomping and cracking the ice.

IMG_1037I am not sure how this Red Maple leaf, Acer rubrum, melted into the ice. Perhaps the leaf fell from the tree and slowly sank into the freezing water?  The depression that the maple leaf created in the ice is almost half an inch deep!

IMG_1046I believe that these are a type of Puffball, Lycoperdon spp.. This is the first time that I have seen so many clustered together. I enjoyed this video about puffing puffballs and I wish that I had carried a paintbrush in my pocket so that I could puff the puffballs, too!

IMG_1048After our winter hike adventure, we visited the Watershed Institute Center to see the fish, snakes, turtles and insects.

IMG_1051We practiced our identification skills of macro invertebrates! If you are interested in macro invertebrates and stream water quality, make sure to be on the look-out for the Sourland Conservancy’s stream monitoring training program coming up this spring!

IMG_1054Practice makes perfect!

IMG_1060A Dawn Redwood cone, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This is one of my favorite latin names. I don’t know why I enjoy saying it so much, but I really do.

IMG_1058Frog riders!

Just a fun short video of the Wild Boys playing on the ice. Watch it until the end for a good giggle.

Spoiler Alert: He was fine!