Sourland Mountain Hunterdon County Preserve – a staff hike through the snow.

The Sourland Mountain Hunterdon County Preserve is located on Rileyville Rd.

Link to trail map.

The Sourland Conservancy staff started a new tradition at the end of 2020 by initiating all staff hikes once a month. Our office closed back in March 2020, and even though we talked almost daily, by the end of the year we were all zoomed out. We all needed some time to reconnect as a team as well as enjoy the beautiful mountain that we work so hard to protect. I love our hikes, sharing our experiences in the Sourlands and brainstorming ideas for new projects and problem solving.

Sourland boulders buried deep in the snow! There was almost two feet of snow when we went out for our hike.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, seed capsules and buds. Witch hazel disperses its seed by means of ballochory, which is a forceful expulsion out of the seed capsule. I have never been so lucky to witness it happen, but I always check the capsules to see if I might get lucky. The buds of Witch hazel are not really obvious, but to me they look sort of like a fuzzy butterknife.

We saw lots and lots of tracks in the snow. This was one of the more common tracks we saw. My guess is that it is a mouse because it looks like someone hopped with their long tail dragging behind them.

Green briar, Smilax spp., berries! I am not sure which species this is, I need the leaves to tell the two most common species (Smilax glauca and Smilax routundifolia) apart.

Where there is a will there is a way! This tree had been damaged, but it sent up two “waterspout” branches that made it all the way to the canopy.

I loved seeing the streams meander through the snow.

Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin, buds getting ready to burst with chartreuse flowers. I always recommend people plant Spice bush if they want yellow spring flowers like Forsythia. Forsythia is not native, but Spice bush is and is a host plant to many pollinator species and a great nesting shrub for birds.

Beech, Fagus grandifolia, seed capsule! It was nearly impossible to photograph with the snow behind it.

The inside of a Beech nut seed capsule.

The seeds of the mighty Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. It always amazes me how these small seeds can grow into such enormous trees.

We were on our way out and these little galls caught our eyes. I used this picture in the “Inaturalist” app and the ID suggestion was Oak Rough Bulletgall Wasp, Disholcapsis quercusmamma. I know there are quite a few ecologists and naturalist that turn their noses up at Inaturalist, but I like it. Yes, I have had it suggest wrong plant species, but, most often it at least gets me in the ballpark (plant family or genus) and then I can use a good field guide to confirm the plant’s identity. Prior to Inaturalist, I think I would have seen this gall and thought it looked interesting, but wouldn’t have the faintest idea on how to start to identify it. I think apps like Inaturalist really help bring people of all backgrounds into the folds of being an outdoor enthusiast. If you don’t know your land, you won’t feel passionate about protecting it. Walking through the woods, getting to know the plants and animals and the unique character of this region, is what makes me feel passionate about protecting it for generations to come.

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