Category Archives: Sourlands

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

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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.

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”.