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Fishing in the Sourlands – The Wild Boys go fishing with their friend, Akash.

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One of my favorite things to do as a child (and now) is to go fishing!

When I was a child, my father and I would sometimes escape to the woods to fish for  trout or to the banks of a pond to catch sunnies.  Our angling adventures  provided a place for quiet conversation, silent contemplation and daydreams. Truth be told, we never actually caught much. But it was in those peaceful times by the water with my Dad that my love of the outdoors developed and grew stronger.

Remembering those special moments from my childhood, I decided to introduce my oldest to fishing when he was about 18 months old. He was too young to understand exactly what we were trying to accomplish. But over time, his interest in fishing began to blossom. This year, my littlest is using a fishing rod (with a practice weight because he is too young for a hook) and he enjoys casting and reeling. Fishing is a practice in patience for all of us. The children learn that it takes time for the fish to find the bait and take it (or not take it!). And I am learning that things do not always go according to plan and to just surrender and go with the flow.

Fishing is a wonderful way to take it slow for an hour or two, whether you are alone or sharing the good company of others.

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Searching for worms to use as bait!

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Our friend, Akash, teaches my oldest how to observe the bobber in order to determine if the fish is nibbling or if it actually took a bite.

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Fish on!!!

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He reeled that fish in like a champ!

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My oldest and Akash were very excited about the fish!

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Akash explains fish anatomy to my oldest. He shows him the eyes, gills, scales and protective spines on the fish’s dorsal fins.

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Even Littlest wanted a chance to touch the fish.

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My Wild Boys had a blast fishing with Akash. In the hour that we were fishing, my oldest caught 9 fish! He can’t wait to go fishing again. Littlest and I wandered around the farm, searching for rocks and sticks to throw in the pond. Littlest managed to scare a whole herd of goats with his squeals of excitement.

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Here are some fun fishing photos over the years with my Wild Boys.

 

Opening day for Trout fishing in 2016 and 2019. The first time that my oldest went fishing, he  didn’t have a youth sized rod. My rod was way too big for him and he struggled to hold onto it. The following year, I bought him his very own rod.

 

Littlest’s first time fishing! Trout fishing Opening Day 2019!

Blog Take-over: Connecting Children with Nature with Nicole Langdo of Painted Oak Nature School

“Connecting Children with Nature”
by Nicole Langdo
Saturday, April 13, 2019

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When the Sourland Conservancy asked me to talk about the importance of getting children outside one Thursday night in April, and then organize a group of children to see, hear, and touch the forest the following Saturday morning, I, of course, jumped at the chance! With nearly seven years leading children on outdoor learning adventures at Painted Oak Nature School under my belt, and over a dozen years of experience in other traditional school environments, I felt qualified and ready for the task at hand.

If you have been following education over the last two decades, you have noticed an evolution – children as young as five years old being expected to sit at desks for hours at a time to accomplish required paper and pencil tasks, blocks of time previously devoted to unstructured outdoor play have dwindled, and near constant assessment of student, and thereby teacher, performance through frequent testing has become the norm. Students report feeling stressed out, anxious, and unable to cope with the pressures of “life.” Feelings of despair and depression have led to suicide being the 2nd leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds1 (2016.) With only 36% of American children getting the recommended physical activity a day2 due to increased school rigor and increased screen-time, it is no coincidence that obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years, ADHD is on the rise, as are incidents of bullying and social aggression.

So what can we do?! The answer is really quite simple – encourage unstructured outdoor play and a reconnection to nature. According to the biophilia hypothesis3, humans are hard-wired to connect with other living things. It is part of our DNA to want to be outside! Read anything by Richard Louv and the point for why getting outside is so important and the benefits of such will be made.

It is with all of this powerful information from Thursday night’s talk, that we eagerly set out last Saturday morning with over a dozen children, ages 2 – 10 years old, to hike Thompson Preserve in Hopewell, NJ. After an evening full of Spring rain the night before, this was no easy feat! The “Squelch Monster” was hungry and waiting to “eat a few boots” along the way.

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But the children would not be deterred. Promises of open-ended play and a tarp full of some simple materials to inspire exploration and creativity (magnifying glasses and chalk) provided all the motivation they needed to keep going.

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Having successfully maneuvered the grips of the Squelch Monster, we arrived at the newly fenced in area4 along the edge of the meadow. The children quickly located the blue tarp, selected materials, and were off! The fence provided parents a greater sense of comfort that allowed the children to run off together as a newly formed tribe to find more puddles, insects to identify, vines for swinging, and fallen trees for climbing and balancing.

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This also allowed parents to make social connections, swap stories, and resources, which after all, was the purpose of today’s hike – to empower parents with a few simple tools that will make getting their children outside feel possible, and to connect with others who may be interested in the same thing.

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Today marked the beginning of a Hopewell Valley Family Nature Club.5 Family Nature Clubs (FNC) are intended to bring families together in nature. I hear so many parents share with me their own feelings of  anxiety about getting out in nature – where to go, what to do once we are there, will there be bears or snakes, or coyotes, isn’t it risky, what do I do with myself, my child will be bored after five minutes, then what? The idea, then, of a FNC is to set a time and place to meet other interested families in nature to hike and explore together. This creates a greater sense of security with safety in numbers, allows parents to socialize and meet other like-minded parents, and to share combined nature-knowledge. Another huge benefit is knowing that when a group of children get together, very little else is needed – the play takes over and parental structure can take a backseat.

By the end of our time together, which amounted to just a few short hours, little red bugs had been identified, skunk cabbage sniffed, wild edibles tasted, worms named, and new friendships forged.

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We felt empowered to hike back out to once again face the “hungry hands” of the muddy Squelch Monster; this time together.

SEE YOU OUTSIDE!

1cdc.gov
2American Academy of Pediatrics
3Developed by researcher Edward O. Wilson
4A reforestation project being completed by the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space
5More information can be found at Children and Nature.org

 

Baldpate Mountain – a morning of bagels and blooms.

Baldpate Mountain Ted Stiles preserve is located on Fiddlers Creek Rd in Titusville NJ.

Link to trail map.

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Once upon a chilly April morning, a gang of ecologists gathered together in a search for Spring Ephemerals. Truth be told, I was looking for an excuse to botanize with a few of my favorite ecologists…so I lured them out before work with the promise of bagels and blooms. I have a fondness for down-time, when you can relax and do things simply for the pleasure of doing them rather than to complete a chore. Deadlines and meetings were closing in around me just a little too much, so I planned a short hike in order to get outside and play for an hour or two.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

A group of plant nerds sharing their enthusiasm for all things botanical!IMG_0109Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, looks picture perfect this morning!IMG_0112Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, about to open! It is fun to watch them begin to bloom. The flowers start out magenta pink and then turn blue. Sometimes you can get lucky and observe them grouped in a transitioning array of magentas and blues. Simply beautiful!IMG_0115A forest of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, in bloom creates a beautiful yellow haze in the woods.

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

A close-up on Spicebush blooms.

IMG_0159A picture of a picture….

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

My favorite spring ephemeral, Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensisIMG_0121Here is a close up of Bloodroot flower petals. IMG_2247I love how a phone call does not distract from the excitement of discovering a bloom! IMG_0139While most of us were looking for Blooms, Jeff looked for Birds. Because “Birds” fit with my “B” theme, I will allow it 😉IMG_0145A Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, emerging from its sleep beneath the leaves. IMG_0171A pink Bloodroot! This is the first time that I have observed a pink bloodroot plant and on this hike, I was able to see quite a few.  I am curious to know why some are pink and some are white… perhaps a sub-species or a gene variant? The white and pink ones were growing in close proximity, so I don’t know if micro-site conditions affect the flower color. These flowers are fabulous!IMG_0202Hepatica, Anemone nobilis!!!! I have observed the leaves in the Summer and Fall but this is the first time that I have seen the beautiful Spring Glory of Hepatica in bloom.IMG_0225Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, with flower petals about to open! I love the delicate leaves and flower stalks on this plant. They shimmy so perfectly in the most gentle of breezes.IMG_0195I love that this Bloodroot looks like a sunny-side up egg! I really could just photograph this flower all day every day and I would never be satisfied!IMG_0184Christmas tree fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, fiddleheads. There is so much sweetness in the Spring that between the flowers, baby animals and fiddleheads, I can barely contain my glee!IMG_0234Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica! This is an S2 ranked plant, which means it is imperiled because of rarity or because other factors demonstrably make it very vulnerable to extinction or extirpation (extirpation means that an organism is locally extinct). Virginia Pennywort is a sweet little plant that can be easily passed by. But when those flowers open, it is so absolutely charming.IMG_0228Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, as beautiful and perfect as can be!

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Photo by Laurie Cleveland

The face we all make when trying to snap that perfect flower shot!

 

Saving Saplings – A Sourland Steward Workshop.

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Saving Saplings – A Sourland Steward Workshop: volunteers learned about the complexity of the ecosystem around us and how we, as Land Stewards, can effect positive change for the organisms around us – pollinators, birds, amphibians and other animals – including humans!

The Sourland Conservancy’s Naturalist Advisor, Jared Rosenbaum, has been training volunteers to identify plants and learn practical skills of habitat restoration in order to effect positive change on our ecosystem. On March 30th, Jared led a group of Sourland Stewardship Leaders and volunteers on a hike to a restoration area on Baldpate Mountain where the Sourland Conservancy and Mercer County Park Commission have been working to restore the native plant community. Two important aspects of the habitat restoration are removal of invasive plant species that are out-competing native plants and protecting native plants from deer herbivory.

Our group spent the first portion of our morning hike learning how to identify plants during a very tricky time of year – early spring! During the winter, buds are dormant and look fairly consistent between individuals of the same species. However, in the early spring these buds start to swell and open to reveal flowers and leaves and can look very different than their former selves – sort of like our awkward teenage phase… So when working out what a plant may or may not be, you may need to use many senses to help you figure out how to identify the plant. Sight, touch, smell and yes, taste! Be forewarned, you do not want to go sticking any plant in your mouth unless you are sure it is not toxic!

After our plant identification refresher, we learned how to build individual deer fencing around native trees and shrubs to allow them to grow past the browse line of deer. I learned that spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is an important nesting plant for neo-tropical birds. Unfortunately, deer herbivory can cause the shrub to not have the same growth habit (it would end up growing sparsely and in weird angles) and thus would not provide suitable nesting habitat. Another plant, blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, is an important food source to fuel migration in the fall. Without protection from deer browse, blakhaw will not grow large enough to produce flowers and fruits.

IMG_3546This group of volunteers was ready to work hard to Save the Sourlands!

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Jared introduced the restoration project and explained what has been done so far in this area.

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Jared going over basic plant anatomy and then giving key characteristics of spicebush, Lindera benzoin. It can be tricky to identify spicebush in the winter. Even without the leaves, you can still smell the plant by scratching away some bark with your fingernail and then taking a whiff.

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Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, flower bud that is just about to burst!

IMG_3572Jared described how to identify the different hickory (Carya spp.) species.

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Here is a young hickory sapling, Carya spp.. This is one of the target species we were working to protect.

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Sourland Conservancy Board member and Stewardship Committee Chair, Chris Berry, described how to identify blackhaw viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium.

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Jared pointed out key characteristics of bitternut hickory, Carya cordiformis.

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Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is easy to distinguish from the other native hickories because of its sulphur-yellow buds.

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These large “Monkey face” leaf scars belong to black walnut, Juglans nigra. Walnuts and hickories belong to the same family, Juglandaceae.

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These dark brown buds belong to Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Two of the natives we looked at today, blackhaw viburnum and green ash have opposite branching patterns. This characteristic is not common among woody trees and shrubs in the Northeast, which can help you narrow down what species you are trying to identify.

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Two volunteers got started pre-cutting deer fencing while others went out to start marking native trees and shrubs to protect.

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We were aiming to protect the shrubs for the first 4 feet of their growth when they are most vulnerable to deer herbivory.

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Our volunteers were awesome and so focused during our workshop! It was wonderful seeing a group of people coming together working towards one goal – to save saplings and help protect the future of the forest.

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We used a small rebar post to sturdy the cages and prevent them from being blown by wind or knocked over by hungry deer.

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Our awesome group of volunteers worked together to assemble more than 40 cages! I am excited to watch this site over the next few years and see these saplings grow. During this workshop, Jared reminded us that we are active participants in this ecosystem, and instead of “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints”, we can help restore ecosystem function by promoting healthy forests through active land stewardship.

 

Supplies for Saving Saplings:

4’ x 100’ welded wire fence:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Everbilt-4-ft-x-100-ft-Steel-Welded-Wire-308312EB/205960859

Zip ties:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Cambridge-14-in-Heavy-Duty-Cable-Ties-Black-100-Pack-CT12804/303059760

Fence Posts:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/YARDGARD-2-in-x-2-in-x-4-ft-Galvanized-Steel-Electric-Fence-Post-901183A/202025622

 

Nayfield Preserve – Welcoming spring!

Nayfield Preserve is located on Lambertville Hopewell Rd in Hopewell.

Link to trail map.IMG_3257I was recently contacted by a researcher interested in studying Viburnum species and their pollinators and I jumped at the chance to show him around Nayfield. This preserve can be tricky to find, but once you arrive, it is such a wonderful place to walk. The big open field, the drier upland area, the wet lowland area, vernal pools and evergreen forest…I mean, what is there not to love? When I hike with others, I always learn something new.  Today was no exception!

For a while now, I have  puzzled over a certain shrub which, in some ways, resembles a Cherry tree (Prunus). Cherry trees have alternate branching patterns but this shrub had branches that were opposite each other. Although I know that there are only a handful of trees which have branches directly opposite each other, nothing in my mental plant catalog could help me identify what I was seeing.

Today, I learned that what I was seeing was none other than a very large Blackhaw Viburnums (Viburnum prunifolium )! I know this shrub well, but I mistakenly thought they didn’t grow larger than 10 feet tall. Today, I learned that Blackhaw can grow to almost 40 feet tall! How boring would life be if we already knew it all?IMG_3247Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, leafing out. This invasive bramble is the first woody plant that I have seen with leaves this year.IMG_3253Blackhaw Viburnum flower buds about to open! Doesn’t it look like a little broccoli head hiding within the bud scales? IMG_3263Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, another invasive plant which always seems to be springing ahead of the pack! Garlic mustard is considered an edible. I have heard that people sometimes use it as a substitute for garlic when making pesto. I have a bunch of it in my yard, so I think I might need to try this recipe later this spring!IMG_3269Fox scat with what looks like a little femur, tibia and fibula in it. Perhaps remnants of rodent dinner.IMG_3278This tree caught my eye as I entered the field. The silvery buds were glowing in the morning sun!  My guess is that it is some sort of Pussy Willow, Salix spp.IMG_3274The buds were so soft under my fingers that it felt as if I was petting a rabbit! If anyone has a guess as to what species this is, please let me know!IMG_3283Another “New-To-Me” species! This is called Seedbox, Ludwigia alternifolia! How fabulous are these seed capsules? When Seedbox is in bloom it has beautiful yellow flowers and that would be a gorgeous native plant to add to any garden!IMG_3307I think everyone needs another view of these seed capsules! I can’t help but smile when I see them 🙂

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 basidiospore 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!