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Guest Post – CLUES ON THE TRAIL: JOURNEYS INTO SOURLAND MOUNTAIN’S HISTORIC LANDSCAPES by Ian Burrow

Part 1.

By Ian Burrow (burrowintohistory@gmail.com) 

eroding Dam

Fig 1.  Eroding Mill Dam 

If you have taken a hike on any one of the preserved areas on Sourland Mountain, chances are that you have noticed a tumbled stone wall, an earthen bank by a stream, A huge tree standing out among its smaller neighbors, a rusting piece of farm machinery, rocks with holes drilled into them, the rotting trunks of cedar trees, the bed of an abandoned road, or perhaps even the foundations of a long-forgotten building. For me, each of these features tells a piece of the story of the Mountain, and how people have interacted with it over hundreds and even thousands of years.  

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Figure 2. Old road trace and wall

I would like to share with you what I am learning about this history, and to help and encourage you to discover it for yourself.

People go the Sourland woods for many excellent reasons.  Some watch and record wild birds, others search for the native plants, lichens and fungi unique to this place.  On cold rainy nights in early spring, hardy souls help amphibians cross the roads to vernal pools.  Some folks are on a mission to seek out and destroy invasive plants.  Many others are there for the peace and beauty of the trails, to enjoy the open air, to be strengthened and replenished by nature, and perhaps to seek out the mysterious rocky outcrops and giant boulders that litter the landscape.

I’m an archaeologist.  That means I’m interested in studying and understanding the physical evidence that people from the past have left behind.  This evidence can take many forms.  Most people immediately think of Indian arrowheads and other old and unusual artifacts when archaeology is mentioned (some people also think of dinosaurs, but those beasties are for the paleontologists).  Artifacts are an important part of the archaeological record, of course, but for Sourland Mountain we are talking mostly about a rather different kind of archaeology.

It goes by various names. In the UK, where I come from, it’s called “Landscape Archaeology”.  That term has a slightly different meaning here in the United States, where it has come to be chiefly associated with the study of the formal landscapes and gardens of the powerful.  So I tend to call what I do “Cultural Landscape History”.  Let me explain what I mean.

It is easy to imagine that when we are out in the woods, or in wild or wilderness areas, that we are in unspoiled nature.  We can readily think that we are seeing places where human hands (and feet) have not changed the environment.  There are still places like this in the World, but not as many as you might think. Very few of them are in Eastern North America, hardly any are in New Jersey, and none at all are on Sourland Mountain.  Almost everything that you see in the Sourland Landscape is in some way the result of what people have been doing here in the past.  So this is what is meant by a “cultural landscape”: land that has been altered from its original, pristine appearance by the activities of human beings.  Some of the alterations can be very obvious, others more subtle.  Cultural landscape historians try to peel back the layers of this history to see how things have changed through time.

So, let’s look at some of the features in the Sourland Landscape that will give up some of their secrets if we ask them the right questions. We’ll start with

Trees

They are hard to miss on the Mountain! One thing that you will notice is that in many places the trees are all much the same height and size, with the tree trunks rising straight up for many feet before the branches open out.  The tree trunks are often slender: 18 inches in diameter or less. 

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 Fig 3. Young deciduous forest 

If we could talk to these trees they would say something like this: “We all started growing at the same time a few decades ago.  The trees that were here before us were all cut down and cleared away at one go, leaving open ground for us to colonize together.”

How Old?

That’s all very interesting, we may say, but exactly when did you all start growing? In order to learn this from the trees themselves we need to do two things.  

The first is to learn how to identify tree species from their bark, leaves, and overall appearance.  There are many Sourland-lovers who are much more knowledgeable about this than me, so it’s a good idea to have them on hand as teachers.  There are also lots of good reference books you can take out with you.  One of my favorites is Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech. I like this because I tend to be out in the woods in fall, winter and early spring, when the leaves are unhelpfully lying on the ground instead of being attached to their trees.

Once you have identified your tree species, you then do a little measuring, using the measuring tape that you have remembered to bring with you.  Otherwise you will have to go back to the car to get it. 

This is what you do:

  1. Measure the circumference (distance around) of the tree at a height of 4’ 6” above the ground.
  2. Using your geometry and math skills, work out the diameter of the tree.  Remember pi? Pi is your friend.  Divide the circumference of the tree (in inches) by the magical value of Pi, which is 3.14.  Make a note of the result.
  3. Now you consult a Tree Growth Factor Chart like this one:

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Fig 4. Tree-Growth Factor chart

Find your tree species on the chart and make a note of the “growth factor” number

  1. Multiply the diameter of the tree by its growth factor.  The result is the approximate age of the tree in years.  Magic!  Impress your friends and family!

You may rightly ask where these “growth factors” come from.  The International Society of Arboriculture is where.  They know what they are doing as far as trees are concerned, so we may rely on them.

Wolf Trees

Every so often you will see a tree quite different from the slender ones we have just been talking about:

Figure 5

 Fig 5. Wolf Tree

This tree is not only big, with a thick trunk, it also has many branches spreading out widely in all directions, starting quite close to the ground.  It may not be much taller than the trees that surround it, but it is much more massive.  Landscape historians call this a Wolf Tree.  

Let’s ask it a couple of questions: “Hello, wolf tree, why are you so different from most of the other trees around here, and why do they call you ‘wolf’?”

“These other trees are much younger than me.  Measure my trunk and you’ll see.  For a long time I was the only tree around here.  I was surrounded by pastures and meadows where cows were grazing.  The cows sheltered from the summer heat under my spreading branches, and could also browse the leaves from the lowest branches.  Farmers cleared the other trees to make the pastures and meadows, but left me as a “lone wolf” to give shade to their livestock.  After a while the cows went away, and these other trees grew up around me on the abandoned fields.”

So these lovely trees take us back to the time, a hundred years ago and more, when much of Sourland Mountain was open grassy fields.

Eastern Red Cedars

Juniperus virginiana,  to give it its scientific name, is a coniferous (evergreen) tree that eventually grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet, often in groups or stands.  On Sourland Mountain you will see them in four main settings:

  1. As fairly small trees scattered across grassy pasture fields.  We see them here because they are often the very first tree species to colonize pastureland, once cows have ceased to graze it, or it is no longer mowed for hay.  Eastern red cedars love these old pastures.

Figure 6

Fig 6. Easter Red Cedars

  1. As a dense, dark, almost gloomy, woodland.  This is what happens after 20-30 years of the growth of these trees.  They have successfully colonized the old pasture and are, for now, the dominant species.
  2. As sickly-looking trees surrounded and overshadowed by bigger deciduous trees.  The reign of the cedars is coming to an end as other trees overtop them and cut off their sunlight.  Eventually the cedars die.
  3. As rich red-brown crumbly tree-trunks lying on the woodland floor.  After they die the cedars gradually fall and decay as the other trees continue to grow.

 

Next time: stone walls!

Guest Post by Laurie Cleveland – Self Quarantine in the Sourlands

Self Quarantine in the Sourlands 

Last weekend, I celebrated successfully passing through another complete set of seasons, and I marked the day with my family in a new way – quarantine!

Though thankfully none of us are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, we’re squirreling ourselves away to slow the spread. I’ve set some goals in an attempt to stay mentally and physically healthy while working and living in an old farmhouse with five other people: eat well, stick to a schedule, exercise, play games, learn a new skill, and get outside as much as possible. 

I have set forth a personal quest to hike every one of the twenty-eight Sourland region preserves. So far, I’ve logged seven, accompanied by one or more of my new colleagues (formerly known as my family): Cedar Ridge, Rock Hopper, Woosamonsa Ridge, Omick, Hunterdon County Sourland Mountain Preserve, Rocky Brook and Pryde’s Point. 

I say hike, but I really mean walking with a backpack just big enough for snacks and a water bottle. There’s a first aid kit and a bandana in there, too, because I am a Girl Scout. 

Everyone in our group experiences the trail in a different way: a physical challenge, a meditative journey, an orienteering opportunity, an imaginary adventure, a biology lesson, a photographic expedition, and we all enjoy a picnic. Many days I set out with a specific plan – looking for a certain flower in bloom, checking vernal pool activity, working out some frustration… or working off a little birthday cake. Often I am diverted, but always leave the forest feeling relaxed and accomplished.

I find that sunny mornings and late afternoons are usually best for taking pictures, but rainy days offer a special appeal for fair-skinned photographers who seek more dramatic lighting. On this day, the passing showers suited my mood. 

Faerie partyWhen approaching a faerie house, a polite guest must overlook signs of evening revelry such as discarded dishes and confetti. Does one of the wee folk share my birthday?

Anemone

This sweet rue anemone popped up at the edge of the trail. It was so small I almost missed it!

Cutleaf toothwort

This delicate cutleaf toothwort was the first I’d found in blossom this year. 

Beech Leaf

The mystery of beech. I’ve heard a few theories about why young beech trees are marcenscent. I’m not sure why last year’s papery leaves hang on through the winter, but I do enjoy wondering. 

Water Skippers

I was surprised and delighted to find playful water skippers creating ripples in the reflection.

Spicebush

Who needs forsythia when spicebush offers four-season interest, cheery yellow blossoms, swallowtail butterflies, fall color, berries for birds – and delicious spices for me?

LizardFrogTurtle

My passing admiration of moss has developed into a passion since my favorite librarian suggested “Gathering Moss.” I’m not sure what type of moss is growing on this tree stump (or why it hasn’t grown on the little knob) but I do know you can’t unsee the lizard/frog/turtle in the picture once you’ve seen it.

Furry looking moss

This luxurious moss shares a home with a leathery lichen. I don’t think either one has a common name, so I will create my own – and share an old story about lichen, “Alice Algae and Freddy Fungus took a “lichen” to each other, but now their marriage is on the rocks.” We now know that bacteria play a role in this relationship, but that’s a story for another day.

Nightmare Mycelium

Speaking of fungus, here’s the stuff of nightmares (or fairy tales). Don’t linger too long in the forest, children, or the mycelium’s spindly white fingers may claim you, too.

Fungus

I wonder who might be lurking under this dark umbrella, but I choose not to look.

Mayapple young

Speaking of umbrellas, this tiny mayapple could make an attractive addition to a sprightly spring wardrobe – if you don’t mind accepting a gift from a passing box turtle…

Battered Blood Root

At last, the object of today’s quest: Bloodroot. These showy flowers can be difficult to find as they close on cloudy days and lose their petals within a day or two of pollination. Although I found several intact, I found this weathered one more beautiful.

Laurie

The author finds that a sturdy walking stick and waterproof boots are essential for squelching through mud or crossing streams on these rainy spring days – especially as her right foot took a refreshing dip shortly after this photo was taken. She would like to thank her son, Will, for choosing not to take the action shot.

 

Additional Notes:

I have heard people say that they’ve found the preserves crowded, but that has not been my experience. I have passed by a few busy parking lots on weekend days to find quieter preserves. I have met a few families on the trail, but we all respected each other’s personal space.

I would like to remind all hikers to stay on the trail and keep dogs on the leash. It’s important to help ensure the safety of hikers, their dogs – and the wild birds and animals who can be unintentionally injured or burn essential calories as a result of an encounter. Sourland preserves provide a source of respite and renewal for hikers – and critical habitat for many rare and endangered plants and animals who play an important role in our ecosystem and are not always visible to humans. 

And finally, leave no trace, take only memories and leave only footprints.

 

Sourland Ecosystem Preserve – The blooms are coming!

Sourland Ecosystem Preserve is located on Mountain Road in Hopewell.

Link to hiking map.

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Though this winter was not very cold, it just seemed to drag on and on. I have been impatient while waiting for the seasons to change. The breaking of buds signaling that winter has yielded to spring is a comforting sign of normalcy. My family has been quarantined together and we have been getting cabin fever so we headed out for a hike at the Sourland Ecosystem Preserve. We all needed to run, shout in excitement, kneel on the ground to get a better look and get our hands very dirty. The forest offers so much hope and reassurance and we wanted to soak it all in. The buzzing forest brought me the relief that I was hoping for. Buds were opening, spring ephemerals were unfurling, and frogspawn was developing in the vernal pools.

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Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, fruits leftover from last fall. These fruits can sometimes be confused with European Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, but one of the best ways to tell the difference between these two shrubs is that the seed inside Blackhaw is flat and the seed inside Privet looks like an olive pit.

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The forest is celebrating and the Red maple, Acer rubrum, is dropping its flowers like confetti across the forest floor.

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A new life has started with this Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn that survived the winter and germinated!

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Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, flower buds just about ready to open. I absolutely love the chartreuse flowers of Spicebush.

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Searching for bugs! He reminds me of a chimp taking his stick and fishing in the log for insects.

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This appears to be a European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, rather than our native American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. American Beech usually has a single trunk and grows straight up while European Beech has a shorter trunk with many branches reaching out to create an open canopy.

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Important conversations are best had in the canopy.

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Littlest and I enjoyed ourselves while we pretended to toast marshmallows over the fire.

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Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, as beautiful and graceful as it can be.

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Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, buds bursting open!

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American Hazlenut, Corylus americana! In late winter, this shrub really stands out. The large catkins are the male flowering parts of the hazelnut. The female flowers are magenta and so small that you can barely see it. If you look at the three closet catkins, look up slightly and to the left and follow the branch to the end of the twig and you will see the female flowers.

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I spy with my little eye a bird’s nest!

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Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, is my oldest’s favorite fern. Whenever we go hiking he is on a mission to find it.

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A flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, flower bud about to open. Dogwoods are such underrated shrubs. I love seeing the beautiful pink shine through the dormant forest. Soon, the forest will awaken and I will no longer be able to see the dogwoods behind the shields of Maple, Sweetgum and Oak leaves.

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Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, beautiful and vibrant in the muddy stream bank.

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As we ended our hike, our family felt refreshed and renewed. I love that the forest can give us both the adventure and the reassurance that we need.

Baldpate Mountain – A family hike in February

Baldpate Mountain is located in Hopewell NJ.

Link to the trail map

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There are 10 miles of hiking trails on Baldpate and while I have walked many of the trails, I have never completed the entire Blue Trail. Usually, when we bring the kids, we choose the Red Loop Trail. If I am out with my friends, we will hike the Ridge Trail.

My Littlest just turned 3 years old this week and his desire to show off his speed, climbing, and balance is in over-drive.  We decided to hike a trail with a lot of rocks to hop and climb on so that he could burn off some of his Wild Boy energy.

My oldest was confused asked me, “Why are we parking at this parking lot?” He had been all over Baldpate Mountain with me in the baby carrier as an infant, later as a toddler and now as a “really old” 5-year old.  He was quite distressed and insisted that we were “NOT at Baldpate Mountain”. He loves the vista from the meadow near Strawberry Mansion, which is also one of my favorite places in the Sourlands. After I explained that we would still see the view but we had to climb big rocks to get there, both Wild Boys were ready to go!

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Even at my age, I love stepping stones as much as my kids.

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I appreciate the whole body effort of my Littlest. He will hop across all those stones just like his big brother.

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Horizontal logs are an absolute must when perfecting those balancing skills.

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Littlest and I had hiked part of the Blue Trail when he was a few months old and we had stopped at this very same log to look at all of the nutshells. I love how you will see some of the same familiar sights even if you haven’t been on that trail for 1.5 years.

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We all get in on the rock hopping fun!

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Peak-a-boo!

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A Sourland boulder must always be appreciated and climbed.

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Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, is a popular roosting place for many bat species in the Eastern United States. The Indiana Bat, Myotis sodalis, in particular, likes to hide within the loose bark of this tree.

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One of the reasons I love winter hikes is that you can discover the hidden views. During the summer when all of the leaves are out, this view will be completely different.

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I believe that this is some sort of non-native Buttercup, possibly Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis.

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Common Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, making an appearance.

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I love all of the big trees on this side of the mountain.

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Taking a little break.

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Multiflora Rose, Rosa Multiflora, is already sending out new leaves – in February! It has been alarming how mild this winter has been and I am so afraid of how this affects our ecosystem as a whole. There is such a thin balance between bloom times, insect emergence, migrations, and breeding season that when one thing starts too early, the whole balance is thrown off.

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A hardscrabble up these rocks!

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Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, leafing out early. Unfortunately, this invasive is almost always one of the first plants I see to leaf out in the spring.  But let’s be honest, it is still winter! Garlic Mustard is edible and can be substituted for garlic in pesto. Yum!

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Running to the world’s edge – also known as the “septic mound”… We usually travel to the higher meadow but when the Wild Boys saw this wide-open view, they took off.

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Rolling down the mountain.

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Snacks after a hike well done!

Berry Picking in the Sourlands and Wineberry Preserves!

It is Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) time! In this house, we love berries of all sorts and if there is a chance to pick them, we love them even more! Wineberries are the non-native invasive that just about everyone turns a blind eye to. Their ruby, semi-tart fruits are prolific and even the most fervent of invasive species eradicators will just idle on by these canes, pretending not to notice. I will not tell a lie. I, too, willfully disregarded these non-natives in my backyard. Whenever I see a new cane pop up, I just let it be and I rip out some Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), instead. It is easy to commit purposeful oversights when we will be rewarded with delicious berries.

When wineberries reach their full ripeness, they turn a deep ruby, almost purple color. I am not known for patience and I usually start eating them when they become “STOP Sign” red. I have eaten them at full ripeness, and they are a bit sweeter. However, that would require 2 more weeks more of ripening time and I just can’t wait that long! My husband and I decided it would be fun to take the boys berry-picking after work, so we picked them up from school, stopped for a slice of pizza and then headed out into the Sourlands!

IMG_4576My Big Dude picked the first berry of the hike.IMG_4578
Kerplink!IMG_4579My husband showed Littlest which berries were ripe for picking.IMG_4583I love the pincer grasp that young children use when picking berries. Their careful and slow reach and those little fingers pinching is adorable. IMG_4586“Hurry up! There are more berries up here!” my Big Dude shouted. He was our scout and he pointed out all of the big and best patches.IMG_4595Berry baskets for the win! Two handed picking at its best.IMG_4598Berry picking was traded in for some rock climbing.IMG_4622We took a well-deserved break at the top of the mountain and enjoyed watching the sun as it began to set over the Delaware river.IMG_4631This was about two-thirds of our harvest. We picked a bunch more on our way down to our car. IMG_4664I combined our family-picked berries with about 4 more cups of berries which I had picked from the bushes outside of my office. I cooked them all down with 1.5 cups of water.IMG_4667 3I bought a jelly strainer and strained out all of the juices that I could.IMG_4673Cooking the preserves, adding sugar and pectin and sterilizing all of my equipment! I have never canned anything before (or made preserves for that matter!) so I boiled everything a lot longer than I needed to because I wanted to make sure I killed all the bacteria and fungi.

My boys worked hard making labels for our preserves. IMG_4675My Big Dude knew the most important part of “Wineberry Preserves”.

IMG_4676All done!38E7D907-7364-4F3E-846D-0FC451FF61CF 2

My preserves came out a little runny, but they tasted great! We are going to make picking wineberries and turning them into preserves a family tradition. It was so nice to go out as a family and even though the canning part was a little tedious, I love the fact that we did it together.

Rock Mill Preserve – a Friday morning with the Wild Boys!

Rock Mill Preserve is located on Grandview Rd in Montgomery Township.

Link to hiking map.

My Oldest likes to tell people that his mom’s job is to save trees. He is so proud of that and truth be told, it makes me tear up a little when he talks about it. While the majority of my work is administrative, budgeting and e-mails (so many e-mails!) I take a lot of pride in the work that I do for Sourland Conservancy because our mission is to protect Sourland Mountain. I really enjoy the educational portion of my job, sharing my knowledge of plants and ecology and listening to stories from volunteers about their experiences here and why they love this place. It is exciting to see their faces light up when they talk about their favorite berry patch, the first time they saw an indigo bunting or how they find peace in the forest. This mountain is so precious and I love that my children get to come out and explore it with me.

IMG_3209Our shirts and pants are tucked in and we are ready for an adventure!IMG_3213 It looks like one tree fell over and then another tree fell on top of the first. Trees knocked over by wind are often referred to as “wind thrown” and these thrown trees can have many different effects on the ecosystem.  Fallen trees change the ecological community because the organisms that depend on an upright tree generally cannot survive on a horizontal one. Also, when a tree falls it causes a physical disturbances on the ground where it fell and in the hole that the roots used to occupy. Uprooted trees destabilize the soil making it easier for the next tree to fall. When a tree falls it also creates a gap in the canopy, allowing a lot more light to reach the forest floor. Often when you see large canopy gaps you will also see a flush of invasive species like Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum. IMG_3218“These are ferns!” My little botanist in training 🙂IMG_3224Littlest working on his fire starting skills.IMG_3230A Jill-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.IMG_3231Jack-in-the-pulpit/Jill-in-the-pulpit seeds. They will turn a bright red when they are ripe.IMG_3232I love the curves of this Sweet Cherry, Prunus serotina. At the top of the photo you can see the Sweet Cherry growing into the bark of what appears to be a Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica. The Sweet Cherry probably had damage on that branch and as the branch healed, the new wood started to grow around the bark of the Black Gum. This is an example of a natural graft. Grafting is a horticultural technique often used to combine two different species of plant. For example, many of the grape vines grown in Europe use a rock stock from the American Concord grape which is resistant to Phylloxera, which is an insect pest that was introduced to Europe and killed a large percentage grape vines across the continent. A piece of the vine from the desired grape variety (lets go with Chardonnay) will be sliced on an angle producing a “scion”. This will be aligned with an identical but mirrored cut on a Phylloxera-resistant root stock (Concord) and then the two pieces will be wrapped to hold them in place. The vines will heal around each other making the two plants into one. This method is used in many different plant species, but particularly for fruiting trees.IMG_3234The Wild Boys playing nature’s version of hop scotch.IMG_3237Kings of the mud mound!IMG_3243Jump!IMG_3246We used roots and rocks to navigate through the mud.IMG_3251My Big dude found a slug and wanted to make sure I took a picture.IMG_3262“Rock Island”.IMG_3266Surveying the stream and looking for the best place to throw rocks.IMG_3270He asked if he could cross the stream. I said, “No”, and as soon as I turned my back to help Littlest, he crossed the stream anyway.  It was one of those situations where you must pick and choose your battles.  I chose to let it (and him) go.IMG_3277Enjoying his independence and the view from the other side!IMG_3282The Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum, was like a carpet in the forest.IMG_3293These Wild Boys loved all of the stream crossings at the preserve. There were so many opportunities to hop, skip and jump!IMG_3297My big dude walked off again while I was helping Littlest cross the stream. I found him upstream quietly sitting on a rock.IMG_3300I asked him what he was doing and he told me, “I am just enjoying a quiet moment”.  My oldest continues to amaze and silence me every day. He asks me the questions that I have never even considered and has much more patience than I have ever had. I love watching him think and puzzle over things.  He picks things apart and then slowly and carefully puts them back together in a way that makes sense to him. He is tenacious in his quest for knowledge and will never accept the easy response of, “because that is the way it is”.  He constantly requires me to reflect on what I think I “know” and to not just accept things as truth without understanding them from top to bottom. IMG_3304I am trying to give both of my children space and time to explore on their own. While guided instruction is important, I believe children need to play and self direct their playtime. I sat back on my rock and enjoyed some quiet time myself while watching my Wild Boys play and explore on their own time and terms.IMG_3326Nature’s balance beam.IMG_3333Searching for waterfalls.IMG_3334The only time they are allowed to throw rocks!IMG_3313

“Hello? Anyone in there?”

My oldest asked if a woodpecker made that hole in the tree and so I asked him how would a woodpecker make a hole in the tree….

IMG_3340This tree had what looked like a wire wrapped around it and over time, the tree grew over the wire. I have seen trees “swallow” fences before, but I have never seen a tree grow around a wire in this fashion.IMG_3347

White Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis, looking beautiful and inviting!IMG_3353Post-hike car picnic! The women that work at our favorite sandwich shop know these Wild Boys well and when they see them in their Sourland Conservancy shirts, they always asks them “Are you going to help Mommy save the trees today?” And the Wild Boys shout, “YES!”.

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Stream Monitor Training 2019 and STREAM School!

When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class called “Limnology” because a big group of friends were taking it. I didn’t even know what the class was going to be about, but I figured “why not?”. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite classes of both undergraduate and graduate school and I had more fun in that class than any class that I have taken since. Limnology is the study of freshwater systems – lakes, rivers, streams. I loved the hydrology, the physics, chemistry and biology. It was fascinating, and I looked forward to the 5-hour labs on Friday. What I learned in that class stuck with me for well over 10 years because it was fun and fascinating.

Water quality is near and dear to my heart. Having clean, safe water is a right that everyone should have and the only way that we can ensure that our water is clean and safe is if we monitor it and take steps to protect it. The Sourland Conservancy received a grant from The Watershed Institute to develop a stream monitoring program and stream school to train volunteers to collect quality data about stream health in the Sourlands. Volunteers will be trained to assess riparian habitat, stream width/depth and water speed, and collect and identify aquatic macroinvertebrates. Riparian habitat is the area of land on either side of the water, which is important because a good riparian zone will protect the banks from erosion and will also shade the water to keep the temperatures cooler in the summer. Stream width and depth and speed are important because the width and depth can indicate how sediment is distributed within the stream bed and this information along with speed can also tell us how much energy/water is moving through the stream. Aquatic macroinvertebrates (Macros) are important indicator species because some particular species are associated with higher water quality than others.

The Sourland Conservancy in partnership with The Watershed Institute and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are hosting a Stream School in September. If you are interested in learning more water quality issues, stream health, or just as excited about limnology as I am, please sign up for our Stream School and help us to Save the Sourlands and keep our water clean and safe for generations to come!

Now, on to the fun part! The Sourland Conservancy hosted three stream monitor training sessions lead by New Jersey Americorp Watershed Ambassadors!

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Watershed Ambassador, Daniel Correa, going over all the different types of measurements they would be taking today.

IMG_1257We measured water depth across different portions of the stream.

IMG_1263Stream monitors are supposed to work in pairs, so one person collects the measurement while the other person writes it down.

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To calculate the speed of the stream, Daniel had volunteers measure a distance of 10 meters. Then they timed how long it took a rubber ducky to travel the 10 meters.

IMG_1274Ready, set, go!

IMG_1277Go ducky go!

IMG_1264Big helpers taking a turn with the measuring tape.

IMG_1221Littlest finding the perfect rock to throw.

IMG_1250My big dude could not wait to get into the stream and look for Macros.

IMG_1226My big dude found a Mayfly! Mayflies are in the order Ephemeroptera. The root of the word means “for a day” in Greek, which hints at the short life span of Mayflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Here a volunteer is scrubbing stones to dislodge macroinvertebrates that cling on to hard surfaces, such as Caddisflies.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Volunteers working together to sort macros!

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Photo by Daniel Correa

A volunteer taking a subsample from the bucket to identify and sort.

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Photo by Daniel Correa

Our lovely volunteers did a wonderful job during our training session. It was a cold and damp April afternoon, but they were focused, enthusiastic and dedicated to learning about stream health.

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Photo by Joel Coyne 

Our dedicated volunteers came out for the second training on a drizzly and chilly early May morning.

 

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Volunteers working together to empty their D-nets into the sample bucket.

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Photo by Joel Coyne

Watershed Ambassador, Kristen Obermeier, teaching stream side identification of macro invetebrates.

IMG_1944Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax Hutter, showing volunteers how to sample along streams with overhanging vegetation.

IMG_2054I love how unique each of these Sourland streams are!

IMG_1970Volunteers were eager to check out their D-nets and see what macros they found!

IMG_1978 2Whenever someone found something new everyone would crowd around to get a good look.

IMG_1959 2Inspecting his find!

IMG_1957Volunteers sampled along the riffles, from the top of this section all the way to the bottom.

IMG_1977Reaching into the D-nets to look around felt like reaching into a goody bag (at least for us nerdy folks!).

IMG_2002Volunteers chatted and sampled and had a lot of fun working (playing!) in the stream.

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A little Salamander, but I have no clue what type it was. I had thought it was a newt because we caught it in our D-nets, and then found out that newts are a type of salamander. If anyone knows what this little one is, please let me know!

IMG_1980It looks like this Crayfish is holding back a sneeze!

IMG_1967A Hellgrammite, in the order Megaloptera!!! This has been on my life of macro invertebrates to see since I took Limnology when I was an undergraduate. I am talking 11 years in the making! I saw it in my D-net, but was cautiously optimistic because I didn’t want to be too excited and then upon closer inspection find out that I was mistaken. However, I let out a huge WAHOO when I got it on my hand. Isn’t she magnificent?!?! Hellgrammites turn into Dobsonflies, which I have not seen either. Now that I have the larval stage checked off, I know need to see an adult!

IMG_1952 2A dragonfly, in the order Odonata. I feel like this is one of the easier species to identify in their larval stage because it looks pretty similar to the adult stage, except it doesn’t have wings.

IMG_2019We all worked together to identify, sort and count our macro invertebrates together.IMG_2006 2We found three crayfish! I always get excited to find one (in the water, not on the trail like last time!).

IMG_2014A Mayfly!

IMG_2016A Water Penny, in the order Coleoptera (beetle). Finding Water Pennies is a good indicator that your water is clean!

img_2017.jpegA Damselfly, in the order Odonata. Their paddle-like tails are actually gills!

img_2026.jpegA stonefly, in the order Plecoptera! Stoneflies have gills right where their appendages meet their body, so it looks sort of like they have hairy armpits… or hairy legpits?

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A tiny Stonefly! I don’t know why it is white, maybe it had recently hatched, but I think it is just the cutest little baby bug I have ever seen!

Cedar Ridge – Two days of flowers and fun (and probably the loudest public shriek I have made!).

I love going on hikes with nature enthusiasts. It is fun to walk, talk, and point out all the plants and animals while learning more about our environment. On June 1st, the Sourland Conservancy  hosted a hike with naturalist Betty Horn, a highly respected botanist.  I was very excited to listen to her insights and stories about the plants around us.

Betty was a wonderful hike leader who didn’t just teach us about plants, but also talked about the evolutionary mechanisms which explain some of the traits plants have.  She spoke of the medicinal or historical uses of some of the plants we encountered.

My family came out for this hike. But since my Wild Boys know that the outdoors is for playing, running, shouting and asking loud questions, it was difficult to manage their enthusiasm and still participate in the group. After awhile, my husband and I surrendered and let our Wild Boys just be wild and we went on our own way. I decided to return to Cedar Ridge very soon in order to hike with one of my friends.

A friend and I came to Cedar Ridge a week later and walked the same trail. She taught me bird identification and I taught her about plants. We went early, so the air was wet and just a tad cool but warmed up to become the most lovely spring morning.

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A group of nature enthusiasts ready to botanize!

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Betty asked everyone to pick some of the White Clover, Trifolium repens. She explained that the white flower head was comprised of many florets and that there is a pollination strategy that the plant exhibits by only opening one row of florets at a time. This strategy encourages pollinators to visit the flower more often and increases the likelihood that the flower will be pollinated.

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Littlest making sure he doesn’t miss out on the botany excitement!

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Betty explained to the group that it’s best to the hold the magnifying glass up to your eye and then move the flower to the proper distance to examine. My big dude is figuring out which distance is clearest for him.

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My Wild Boys are used to waiting around while I investigate plants and attempt to identify and photograph them. I love how my boys always find something to do and play on while they wait.

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Betty teaches the rhyme, “Sedges have edges. Rushes are round. Grasses have knees that bend to the ground.”

Sedges and grasses are the absolute bane of my botany existence. I still have flashbacks of graduate school, in my advisor’s lab with a dissecting microscope and a copy of Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of vascular plants of the Northeastern United States. I spent hours trying to identify the 20 different species of Carex that I collected for my graduate thesis. **Shudders** If I never have to identify another Carex species for the rest of my life, I will be a happy woman.

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On the hunt for more flowers!

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Betty holding up a species of Brassica in fruit as she speaks about the seed dispersal mechanism of the plant. Brassicas are part of the mustard family.

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Often in movies, the edge of the forest looks scary. A place that is dangerous and has ROUSes that can gobble you up.

When I see my son at the edge of the forest, I don’t see danger. I see a kingdom with palace walls that stretch to the sky. Cathedral ceilings let in the most perfect amount of sunlight which spotlights the understory plants below. It is a place of wonder, beauty, secrets and adventure. It is magnificent and I love watching my children run into the woods, always ready for new discoveries and adventure.

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Betty pointed out a Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis.

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Leaflets of three, let me be! Poison Ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans.

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Betty teaches the hike participants about Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). She explained that it’s called “smartweed” because it is spicy and “smarts” if you eat it. I had always thought it was called Smartweed because it outsmarts me at every turn and each time I think I that I have rid my garden and yard of it, I find new ones.

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I love to see how everyone is so relaxed and happy to be out in nature learning about plants!

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Littlest was looking for birds and simultaneously using my husband’s sideburns as reins.

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It is amazing to watch my oldest grow and mature. He was so patient and such a good listener during the hike. He was digesting the information from Betty and then asking me follow up questions. I love watching him process information, turning it over, examining it from different angles and questioning it.

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When we came upon an old wall in the forest, Ian Burrow, a Sourland Conservancy volunteer and archaeologist, told the group about the history of Cedar Ridge and the significance of the wall. He wrote a wonderful report on the hidden cultural landscape of Cedar Ridge. It is so jam-packed with information and you can read it here!

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Ian described how the type of rock and the shape of the wall is typical of the Sourland Mountain region. The rocks are wedge- shaped and they angle inward with flat rocks stacked on top.

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Jack of the pulpit…or is it Jill of the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. This plant exhibits sexual dimorphism, which means that the plant can change genders each season depending on nutrient availability. It takes more energy to be female and produce offspring, so if there is not enough nutrient availability, the plant will grow as a male with only one leaf and will not produce fruit. If the previous year was good, the plant will become female and produce two leaves and fruit. Nature really is amazing!

At this point, the Wild Boys needed to be wild, so we turned around and headed back. I came back a week later with my friend and bandmate to go on an early morning hike. We are both working moms and find it hard to fit in time for ourselves. So this before-work hike was just what we both needed. She has been really interested in birding, so as we walked she would take out her binoculars and identify different birds and then pass her binoculars on to me and tell me key characteristics of the birds. It is such a special connection that nature can bring to people. We can share knowledge, create new experiences and find a little bit of peace.

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Hawkweed, Hieracium spp.. I found some of the common names of this plant quite amusing such as “Mouse-Ears”, “King Devil” and “Yellow Devil”. Usually common names run along the same vein, but not this plant!

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Red Clover, Trifolium pratense. In this picture, you can see the first two rows of florets are open but the rest are still tightly shut near the center of the flower head.

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Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). I love the magenta color of the flowers, especially against the surrounding greenery.

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Bellflower, Lobelia spp.. I have been kicking myself repeatedly for not bringing my ID book or at least taking a sample of this Bellflower.  I recognized that this was a different species than what I had encountered before, but I assumed I had gotten a good enough look at it that I would be able to figure out the species. Well, I was wrong in my assumptions. There are quite a few species of Lobelia in New Jersey and many of them have very subtle differences. There is also a lot of phenotypic variation (a phenotype is the physical expression of the plants genes and it is affected by the plant’s environment) which upon brief examination might mislead you. So, in the future, I will remind myself to carry my flower guide, slow down, take more pictures (or maybe a small sample if I can’t get a good picture) and not make so many assumptions. Slowing down and not making so many assumptions is probably just a good life goal for me, anyways.

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Meadow Broccoli! Just kidding! I’m not really sure what this is, I think some sort of Sedge (Carex) but I didn’t take a sample back with me to key out with my plant guide book.  It will just have to remain a “Mystery meadow Broccoli” until someone lets me know its actual name.

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Evening Primrose/Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. When I saw this flower, I knew immediately that it was an Oenothera species.  However, I had never seen this species before. I am more familiar with the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, but the stems of the common species is “sturdier” and the leaves are broader and I also do not recall the flower petals having such dark yellow lines.

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Forget-me-nots, Myosotis spp.. I am not sure what species this is, but I know there are a few native species and a few non-native species in New Jersey.

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White Beard Tongue, Penstemon digitalis. I really love these white flowers. They are so beautiful and showy and on my list of native flowers to plant at my house.

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Here it is, the reason for two grown woman to shriek at the top of their lungs and jump back three feet… The huge, the terrifying, the fierce… Crawfish, Orconectes spp.!!!

We were moseying along on the path, chatting about life and suddenly my friend stops in her tracks and says “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!” I looked down and said “Oh, that’s a Crawfish. Maybe a bird dropped it”.

At the time the poor thing was laying flat and we both assumed it was dead.  But of course, when you find a dead thing on a path you must pick up a stick to poke it with. Well, when I picked up a stick and was about to poke, the crazy crustacean lifted up its mighty pincers ready for battle. I dropped my stick, my friend and I both screamed and jumped back while holding each other. Frankly, I am surprised about how startled I was and how loud I screamed. Truly, you would have thought Big Foot had come out from behind a tree from the way we acted.

I can’t help but laugh at myself when I look at this picture. I also couldn’t stop giggling while writing this section. What an absolutely wonderful time I had during both of my hikes! And to have it end with being scared silly by a crawfish!

 

Laport Preserve – a Muddy May Morning walk.

Laport Preserve is located on Mountain Rd in Ringoes.

Link to trail map.

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I LOVE Spring. I am not a creature of the cold… I like hot weather and I don’t mind the humidity, either. I have been anxiously waiting for the this weather and these flowers. This morning, I could barely contain my excitement as I arrived at Laport Preserve.  I barreled out of my car and was quickly off and running into the woods. The birds were singing, the streams were trickling and the muddy “squelch” monster tried to steal my boots. It was wonderful to be able to spend time exploring the preserve on this Muddy May Morning.

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Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis. I love this fern because it reminds me of warm summers and the welcoming shade of the forest.

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Jewelweed/Touch me not, Impatiens capensis. The flowers on this plant are exquisite but one of my favorite things is how water beads up and sits so perfectly, like a little gem on the leaf.

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A jelly fungus, Exidia recisa, glowing in the morning sun.

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I love how this Jewelweed is growing up through the moss. It reminds me of illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book.

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Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. The new foliage resembles oak leaves, but as the plant matures, the leaves lose their lobes and sinuses and their margins become smooth.

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I know this shrub well. It is Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium! Yet, I had never noticed its beautiful blossoms before today. The gorgeous flowers of Blackhaw Viburnum are now recorded in my mind’s Plant Catalogue.

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Look at this magnificent plant! How could I have never noticed the large, beautiful flowers? Who wouldn’t want such a beauty in their yard?

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Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, in bloom. This native shrub is often thought of as an ornamental, but they are a gorgeous part of this forest landscape.

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A turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, circling overhead.

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The Teliospores of the Apple Cedar Rust, Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae Schwein, gall.

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Northern Bayberry, Myrica (Morella) pensylvanica, in bloom. You can dry the leaves of this plant and use it as a an herb in your cooking.

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I am not a Lepidopterologist… I can barely pronounce the word! But I do believe this butterfly is a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta. Upon researching, I discovered that they like to eat fermenting fruit. All I can saw to the Red Admiral is…”Same!”

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I believe that this plant is Common Bugle, Ajuga reptans. It is an escaped ornamental species that has become invasive.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum! I was not expecting to see Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the meadow because it is a plant which requires shade. Previously, I have always found this plant in the forest or on the forest’s edge.

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Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum! I was on the look out for this flower and I found it! I was again surprised to find wild geranium in the meadow because it typically grows in shade or part shade in the woods or on the forest’s edge, similar to Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

 

Roots for River – Riparian Restoration in the Sourlands.

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The Sourland Conservancy, Mercer County Park Commission and AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassador Program partnered on a riparian restoration project that was funded by a grant from The Watershed Institute and The New Jersey Nature Conservancy. The restoration project took place along Moores Creek, near Howell Living History Farm, in the Sourland Mountain region.

A riparian zone is the area between a river and the land. This area typically floods when there have been heavy rains or snowmelt, and the path of a river can change as well as the riparian zone. Riparian zones or buffers, are important for many reasons. A riparian buffer that has established trees and other woody plants will have extensive root systems that will hold soil during flooding events and reduce erosion. Erosion can have devastating impacts on both aquatic and terrestrial species, because when stream banks erode, there is a loss of habitat for terrestrial organisms, and stream’s flow is impacted.

Reduced vegetation in the riparian zone can affect water temperatures. Shade provided by trees keeps water temperature cooler during the summer months, which is important because many aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish need cool water to thrive. Another critical factor brought on by water temperature is that warm water does not hold as much oxygen as cold water. If the macroinvertebrates and fish are not doing well, there is a reduction food sources for other organisms further up the food chain such as raccoons, foxes and birds of prey, such as the Bald Eagle.

Riparian buffers can also reduce pollution from entering the river and stream by reducing the risk of eutrophication and dead zones in water bodies.  Eutrophication is when there are excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, and this increase in nutrients will cause an algal bloom – because nitrogen and phosphorus are limiting nutrients for algae. The algal bloom can block sunlight from reaching aquatic plants that are below the water surface as well as creating thick mats that make it difficult for organisms to swim through. Once the algae begin to die and sink to the bottom, detritivores (animals that feeds on dead organic material, usually plant detritus) begin consuming the algae and in order to metabolize the algae, they use oxygen that is in the water. The increase in detritivore metabolism removes almost all of the oxygen from the water, which creates an anoxic environment for fish and other aquatic organisms, killing them. This has a cascading effect on the rest of the ecosystem, because so many animals depend on aquatic organisms for food and they need clean water to drink.

The almost 9 acre parcel where the Roots for Rivers project took place is owned by Mercer County. There is visible erosion along the stream banks, so this planting is critical to restore stream health there and downstream. This planting will as act as a filtering buffer between runoff from the active agriculture and livestock present upslope in the watershed and the impervious surface of the road on the other side of Moores creek. There is also a tributary that runs along the western edge of the property, which would also benefit from this restoration project.

Over a two week period, 10 staff members from Sourland Conservancy, New Jersey DEP, New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors, Mercer County Parks Commission and Howell Living History Farm and over 250 individuals, families, corporations and groups including Bank of America, Educational Testing Service, MCCCC YouthCorps volunteers came together to plant 1,800 trees!

Together, the group planted 51 different species of native shrubs and trees. The plants varied in the habitat preference from “wettest” to “wet” to “dry”. The plants that preferred the “wettest” habitat were planted closer to Moores Creek, and the ones that preferred a more dry habitat were planted furthest away from the creek. The Sourland Conservancy purchased plants from Pinelands Nursey, Fernbrook Nursery and the New Jersey Forest Service. Some of the species we planted were American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), River Birch (Betula nigra), Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and High Bush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum).

I am so proud of the work we did together. My Wild Boys came out with me on the last day of planting and their enthusiasm for planting was amazing. My oldest tells everyone that his mom’s job is to “save trees” and I cannot lie, it makes me tear up with pride. I look forward to the day when I can take my grown Wild Boys and maybe even my grandchildren to sit and picnic under the trees we planted. IMG_0960

Our truck full of native trees and shrubs from Pineland Nursery arrives!

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When the truck first opened, it didn’t seem like an overwhelming number of plants…

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Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee and Chair of Stewardship, Chris, helping us unload the saplings.

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NJ DEP Staff member, Debbie, Watershed Ambassador, Fairfax and Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, working hard together to unload the truck.

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Fairfax worked hard to organize the plants by species.

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Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee President, Dante, is most definitely a tree hugger!

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Everyone worked hard to get the plants unloaded and then organized by habitat preference; dry, wet, wettest!

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Pinelands Nursery packed that truck like a clown car! We couldn’t believe how much room these plants took up once we got them all laid out in our “corral”.

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Shovels, planting bars and gloves ready for action!

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We started distributing plants to their designated locations so volunteers could start planting.

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Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards, Jillian and Alex, explain proper planting technique to a fabulous group of volunteers from Bank of America.

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Jillian and Alex demonstrating how to use a planting bar.

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And they are off!

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I love how enthusiastic everyone was.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Volunteers making headway on the planting.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Volunteers working together to place protective sleeves over the saplings to protect them from deer herbivory.

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Debbie and Fairfax, tree-hugger extraordinaires!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Teamwork makes all the work go faster!

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Pete hooked up Tom and Jeb and took volunteers on a wagon ride to look over their work!

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Sourland Conservancy Staff (Carolyn, Caroline, and Laurie), Watershed Ambassador for WMA 11 (Fairfax), Mercer County Parks Commission Land Stewards (Alex and Jillian), NJ DEP (Debbie). We are all so proud of the hard working volunteers that got their hands dirty with us!

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Would this even be Sourland Niche without a pause to go look at flowers??? A beautiful big clump of spring beauties, Claytonia virginica.

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A spectacular Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum.

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Hold on to your Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria!

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Ahhhh!!!  Could they be any more perfect?!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Jillian demonstrating how to place the protective sleeves on saplings to Trenton Youth Corp volunteers.

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

I love all the teamwork!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Riparian buffers are important so important between roads and rivers. These volunteers are planting on the side of Moore’s creek that is closet to the road.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Sourland Conservancy’s Board of Trustee, Roger, and Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline, working together to Save the Sourlands!

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Photo by Caroline Katmann

Teamwork is the best work!

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The Wild Boys came out for the last day of planting to lend a helping hand with getting the last 100 trees in the ground.

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Even Littlest was determined to get those saplings in the ground!

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My Oldest was actually very good at using the planting bar and getting these tubelings into the ground. He continues to amaze me with his abilities and determination.

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Littlest decided he should clear the paths from all large sticks and branches.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest loves working with Sourland Conservancy’s Executive Director, Caroline. Once he saw her, he decided that she would be his working partner for the rest of the day. Here he is handing her the covers for the planting sleeves. These covers protect birds from getting trapped inside.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest handing over twist ties to keep the sleeves securely fastened to the rod inside.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Packing soil around the base of the sleeves prevents voles from getting inside and eating the saplings.

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My big dude carrying a two-gallon contain tree! This container is almost one-third of his weight. I don’t think I could carry one-third of my weight so easily. He is so strong!

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Lunch time for the Wild Boys!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

My coworker, Laurie, snapped this photo of the Wild Boys and I sitting down for lunch. I would love to try to recapture this photo in 15 years when these little saplings are providing shade for our picnic.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest wanted to help push the wheel barrow!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

Littlest gave up on pushing the wheelbarrow and instead let me push it while we talked about all the different types of trees we planted.

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Did you really think that these two Wild Boys could hang out by a river all day and not get a chance to stop and play? Their favorite stones to throw were the red shale because they loved to watch it shatter as it hit other rocks.

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Before!

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After!