Category Archives: Uncategorized

St. Michaels Preserve – Anniversary of Sourland Niche!

St. Michaels Preserve is located in Hopewell, NJ with entrances on Hopewell Princeton Rd and Aunt Molly Rd.

Link to tail map.

IMG_2986My first blog hike was posted one year ago on March 17, 2018.

This year has flown by so quickly!  When I noticed the Red Maples’, Acer rubrum, buds swelling and turning red, I remembered seeing them a year ago when I began writing about my hikes in Sourlands.

Throughout this past year, I have enjoyed 40 hikes at 22 of the 24 Sourland Preserves.  When I reflect on my experiences in the woods, I realize that as I surrendered to the beauty of the forest, it provided me an opportunity to think deeply about whatever was on my mind. I encountered many new plants and I learned more about myself.

This year, I would love to share in this blog other people’s experiences and photos from their hikes around the Sourlands and also to highlight some of the incredible projects that the Sourland Conservancy is working on.

There are many interesting projects going on here including: Amphibian Crossing Guards, Roots to Rivers Riparian Restoration, Baldpate Restoration, Sourland Stewardship Leaders, the Sourland STREAM Program, and The Foraging Forest!

IMG_2972Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, is the first flower I have seen this year! Hairy Bittercress is an invasive belonging to the Brassicaceae (Mustard) family. There are many edibles that are Brassicas including kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and collard greens!

IMG_3006Spring beauty, Claytonia virginiaca, about to bloom. On my way out of the woods, I found a little one snuggled near a few downed logs which protected it from wind but still allowed full sun. This created a microclimate which encouraged this little spring beauty to start putting on its flower buds. Over the next few weeks, the forest will be waking up! I have already heard Spring Peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, sing their Sweet Spring Song!

Rockhopper Trail – Looking for signs of spring during a very mushy snow hike!

Rockhopper Trail is located on Brunswick Ave in West Amwell.
Link to trail map.

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March is a wonderful time of year because of the anticipation of spring! It is cold and wet and yet the plants are starting to wake up and slowly letting the world know it will soon be spring. I always loved going on scavenger hunts as a child, and now looking for signs of spring is my scavenger hunt. I had planned to spend my morning looking under leaf litter for cotyledons and opening buds but the weather had other plans. We had a heavy wet snow, so I decided to bring the whole family and just enjoy the beauty of a snow laden forest. I did, of course, keep my eyes peeled for opening buds, but there is so much wonder and joy of being the first to walk on the snow that it was just a wonderful morning exploring the forest. Walking, riding and skipping…Into the Woods we go!

IMG_2207Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, bud just beginning to open! It will be some time before there are any flowers, but the process of a new spring has begun!IMG_2210It was cold enough to snow but not quite cold enough to freeze so the ground was a mushy, slushy mess and perfect for splashingIMG_2211Good thing the Wild Boys came prepared in their wellies…Unfortunately, my husband and I only had on our hiking boots which kept us mostly dry, but we had to be more cautious about where we stepped.IMG_2216We all explore at our own pace and in our own way.IMG_2219Littlest carefully assessing his steps because the ground was very slippery!IMG_2223I know I have said it many times, but I love the Sourland Conservancy high-visibility orange hats! My big dude took off running through the woods, but I could always see where he was because of his hat.IMG_2237Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora  buds are becoming red and are beginning to open.IMG_2253American Beech, Fagus grandiflora. These sharp, pointed  cigar-like buds are a great way to distinguish this tree in the winter!IMG_2276Our boots made loud suctioning sounds as our feet sunk down and lifted the wet snow and mud.IMG_2281I love how this branch covered in lichen resembles a dog chew-bone.IMG_2282A quintessential Sourland boulder looking picturesque in the newly fallen snow.IMG_2319Slosh slosh slosh!IMG_2323Deer tracks! We tracked this deer for almost half of a mile along the trail. It kept going on the trail even after we turned around to go back to the car.IMG_2330A fairy’s eye view of the world!IMG_2337Who wouldn’t be smiling if they had a personal ride through a winter snow laden forest?IMG_2343Christmas Tree Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, poking out through the snow.IMG_2345Another gorgeous boulder standing out proudly in the snow.Before you know it, this forest will be flush with green again, obscuring the view of these peaceful centennials.IMG_2346Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, buds swelling and getting ready to open. Spicebush is among some of the first shrubs to flower in the early spring!IMG_2357There were lots of rock hoppers on this trail!IMG_2364When I saw this tree hollow, I thought of the book “My Side of the Mountain” and the little boy, Sam, who lived in the hollow of a tree. I loved the story as a child and had always wanted to try to make acorn pancakes… Maybe this will be the year that I try it!IMG_2383Winged Euonymous, Euonymous alatas, an invasive that is unmistakable due to its winged stems. The other common name for this plant is “Burning Bush”, because the leaves turn a vibrant red in the fall.IMG_2384More fun on Sourland boulders!IMG_2389A winding path through the woods.IMG_2393We spotted a bird’s nest in a Multiflora Rose bush. The multiflora rose protects this nest from predators by concealing the nest and fending off predators with its thorns.IMG_2398A sneaky Lichen looking like a trail blaze! Luckily, we knew we were on the blue trail. Nice try!IMG_2406Seta poking up through the snow. Seta are the stalks that support the spore capsule of a moss.IMG_2412Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginica standing out in the snow. These lovelies were just about big enough to support flowers. I bet that in another week or two they will be flowering!

A peaceful winter hike with a splash of an ending!IMG_2442The Rockhopper preserve shares a parking lot with Dry Creek Run preserve. When we returned to our car, I removed Littlest’s jacket so he could get in his carseat but when he saw the Dry Creek Run trail, he took off down it. He knows that when there is a trail head, it is time to explore!

Guest Post – Sourland Mountain Preserve: A winter hike on a day off.

This post was written by Keana, one of our Spring 2019 interns. She is interested in ecology and photography, so I felt a blog hike would be the perfect first assignment. Enjoy!

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With a day off from school and a partly cloudy weather forecast, I decided to seize the opportunity to go hiking. After weeks of devoting all my “free-time” to studying for midterms in stuffy cafes and overcrowded libraries, it felt liberating to finally step outside and breathe the crisp, bone-chilling air of the winter season.pic2

Before beginning my little adventure in the Sourland Mountain preserve, I was greeted by the skull of a deer. I figure it probably belonged to one of the many white-tailed deer of the region, whose overpopulation still continues to threaten the Sourlands.

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A black sooty mold infesting a branch. This mold eats the “honeydew” left behind by the Beech Wolly Aphid.

There was an abundance of colorful mushrooms growing on many trees and fallen trunks. Though it looks cool to me, I know the mushrooms are definitely not a good sign for the trees.pic6

I spy with my little eye five vultures.

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Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, is an invasive shrub found in the Sourlands. It’s bright red fruit contrasts starkly against the dull brown backdrop of the branches. Apparently the berries are edible and have a bitter taste, but I was not in the mood for trying (especially with all the dog and deer feces that were laying around).

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I was expecting the pond to be completely frozen, but surprisingly only the center of the lake was covered in ice. The transparency of the ice gave me a sneak peek into what lay beneath—not much except for a lot of leaves and scattered branches. Unfortunately, I did not catch a glimpse of any fish.

pic9The picturesque elevated walkway that winds through the rocky Sourlands. I remember coming here as a kid and challenging my sister to cartwheel contests along the path.

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!

 

Poems from the Sourlands – Stone Circles by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

I have been thinking about the poem “Stone Circles” a lot lately.  Perhaps it is because the forest is sleeping and the boulders are standing out in all their glory, or maybe it is the warmth that they hold in the sunshine when everything else is cold.  When I first came to the Sourlands I had thought that the boulders were here due to glaciation, but in fact I was mistaken.  The terminal moraine (a moraine is a collection of rock debris [boulders] that were pushed along by a glacier) does not cross the Sourland region (read more about where it did cross New Jersey here!).  Instead these diabase boulders were part of the bedrock (formed by slowly cooling magma beneath the Earth’s surface) on the ridge of Sourland Mountain.   Over millions of years as the tectonic plates continued to slide east and west the ground, no longer flat, was forced to fold up into what is now our Sourland Ridge. All of this pressure caused large cracks, called faults, and smaller cracks, called fractures, which to this day form the primary source of groundwater storage for our wells in the Sourlands.  Erosion of the softer layers of sedimentary rock covering the diabase, plus the melting of the the permafrost covering the earth’s surface during the ice age exposed the diabase bedrock. During this thawing some of the bedrock broke and slid down the side of the mountain in large pieces and experience spheroidal weathering, which gave these boulders their rounded appearance. David Harper, a local geologist, leads hikes for the Sourland Conservancy through the Somerset Sourland Mountain Preserve and discusses in great detail the rich geology of this region (buy his book here!).  Keep an eye out on our events page for our 2019 Hike flyer to find out when he will be leading his next hike!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

STONE CIRCLES

 

it’s about the rocks

towering

megalithic, actually

 

clustering

on either side

of this Sourland Mountain trail

 

turning in at the blue blaze

there is change

in the air itself

 

those who purloined these sentinels

seem not to have reached

this deeply into sanctuary

 

leaving sunlight and oven birds

I step into sacred sites

feel our brother Lenape

 

noiselessly entering

focused on the keystone

where the chief presided

 

councils were held here

decisions determined

smoke rising from pipes

 

transitions were planned here

from hunting to gathering

then back once again to the hunt

 

a 21st-century pilgrim

I bow to these predecessors

apologizing for all our

depredations

 

Carolyn Foote Edelmann is the Co-founder of Princeton’s Cool Women Poets and was the first member of the Princeton community accepted into Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program. She studied with Ted Weiss, Galway Kinnel and Stanley Plumly.  Carolyn has photographed and written on nature/travel/history for The Times of Trenton, U.S. 1 Newspaper, The Packet Publications, and Jersey Sierran and New Jersey Countryside magazines.  Her blog, NJWILDBEAUTY, was requested by the Packet Publications, and continues independently. Her chapbook, Gatherings, was launched in 1987, aboard the QEII. Between the Dark and the Daylight. . . won the 1996 i.e. press Prize.  Carolyn’s roles at D&R Greenway Land Trust include publicity, Community Relations, managing Willing Hands; as well as serving as Curator of the Olivia Rainbow Children’s Art Gallery. If she were to have an epitaph, it would read, “I’D RATHER BE BIRDING!”

Thompson Preserve – Sub-zero hiking!

Thompson Preserve is located on Pennington-Hopewell Rd.

Link to trail map and description.

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This was the coldest hike I had ever been on. The air temperature was a whopping 8 degrees above zero, but with windchill, the temperature felt like negative 10 degrees fahrenheit!!! I usually enjoy hiking with friends, but I particularly love company on a day like this when I would have only had myself to complain to about how frigid it was.

When you have companionship in such challenging circumstances, the comrade in your adventure helps you to ignore your cold woes and fully immerse yourself in the adventure at hand. One of the reasons that I enjoy going on hikes with others (beyond just hanging out with favorite friends), is that each person sees the world from their own unique perspective and contributes different expertise and interests. I am the one who always wanders around searching for plants, while others may be interested in identifying insects, birds, reptiles and geology.

My former roommate is a veterinarian and without fail, each time we are out, she spots the animals that I have overlooked. She is very in tune with the animal kingdom and I always learn from her. Today, she provided me with an anatomy lesson on the white-tailed deer, Odocoeilus virginianus.

My friend and I bundled up really well and waddled on down the trail.

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The last time I was at this preserve, I saw a deer carcass in a tree. The carcass we found today in a tree was much smaller than the one I had seen back in September. I don’t really know why the deer remains were up in the tree, but perhaps someone placed them there so that people walking their dogs wouldn’t have to wrestle yummy deer bones from their dog’s clenched teeth. Actually, later on we did notice a dog trotting along triumphantly with a deer elbow in his mouth.

My friend points to the costo-vertebral junction, which is the place where the ribs meet the spinal cord.

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This pocket is called the acetabulum, where the head of the femur meets with the pelvis forming the hip joint.

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We found the head of femur about 200 yards away. It appears that the rest of the femur has been chewed up.

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Even though the Thompson Preserve is now just a sea of browns and grays, I can see the colors of summer in my mind’s eye.

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Frozen jelly fungus, Exidia recisa. I love how the frozen water mimics veins and arteries inside this mushroom!

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American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, fruit. This type of fruit is called a “Plumed Achene”. A plumed fruit is one that has tufts of hair attached to the achene. An achene is the dry outer casing that holds the actual plant seed and is indehiscent (does not open to reveal the seed when it is mature).

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Right before the cold snap, there was a large rainstorm which flooded portions of this preserve. This ice is so clear that it seemed as if we were walking on glass!

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Air bubbles trapped in clear ice! At first, I thought that these may have been sulfur gas bubbles because the soil nearby had a classic rotten egg smell. But it’s more likely that air bubbles were traveling under the surface of the puddle and then as the water froze, so did the oxygen bubbles.

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My friend snapped a photo of me trying to capture a picture of the frozen air bubbles!

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I know I keep saying this, but this truly was one of the most amazing natural phenomenon that I have ever witnessed!

My friend’s finger is underneath this frozen ice shelf/cloud. First there was a frozen puddle with an air pocket, and above it, a floating sheet of ice. I have no theory as to how this formed but would absolutely love to know from you if have any ideas!

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Take another look at this floating ice shelf! On the bottom is the frozen puddle, then there is about 3 inches of air, topped with this floating ice shelf. Could this be any more amazing???

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Whenever I see frozen streams in the winter, I always wonder where the fish are living. As we walked along this stream, I noticed that it was mostly frozen except for one area where the water was deeper and moved quickly. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flicker of a fin… a fish! Although the surface of the stream was frozen, underneath a couple of fish were swimming around!

 

Here is my very unglamorous and shaky video of the fish swimming under the ice!