Urban oasis

I went on a *special excursion* today with NJ Audubon to the NJ Meadowlands. I don’t know how far the reputation of this area travels outside of NJ, but it’s not a pretty place. All those awful things people like to say about NJ are because of the Meadowlands. If you’ve ever flown into NJ via the Newark Airport and traveled on the Turnpike you know what I’m talking about. A mess of chemical plants and trucking companies, factories and warehouses, and garbage dumps. Lots and lots of garbage dumps. All of this in the middle of a marsh and meadows.
Times being what they are, all but a very few of the landfills have been capped and closed and environmental groups are working to mitigate the damage done through years of environmental abuse. Despite its history as a wasteland, the Meadowlands is a thriving ecosystem that supports many wildlife species, some of whom are endangered or threatened. There are some 8,000 acres of wetland that remain and which constitute one of the largest tracts of open space in the NYC metropolitan area.
The point of our trip today was to get a special peak at the area and learn more about the research NJ Audubon is doing in the area, including an avian abundance and contaminants study. Our plan was to explore some of the nature trails through the marsh and wetlands, and then to take a cruise on the Hackensack River in a pontoon boat. Unfortunately it was pouring rain most of the day and the trail walk was abbreviated and the boat trip cancelled. But we had a nice free lunch. Here we’re walking in Harrier Meadow which had been the disposal site for rock from the construction of US Route 280 in the 60’s. Next to the meadow is a landfill, once the repository of municipal waste, that will one day be capped and turned into a golf course.
Feeling wholly unsatisfied after driving two hours and braving the wilds of North Jersey, I set out on my own in the rain to see what I could see. The impoundments around DeKorte Park had lots of waterfowl and newly arrived Forster’s Terns, and gazillions of newly hatched midges. I’m terrible with grebes, but I think this might be an Eared Grebe in fancy breeding plumage.
Tree swallows were everywhere, but I particularly liked this cheeky one! One of the scientists at the environmental center told us that she puts out between four and five hundred nesting boxes for tree swallows each spring. They were feasting on midges and busy setting up housekeeping today. We also saw some barn swallows and chimney swifts. Strangely, they have trouble attracting purple martins.
Finally, a very suspicious black-crowned night heron that had been feeding along the edge of one of the impoundments with a few egrets until I came along. The egrets high-tailed it across the marsh, but this guy hung around looking at me from his perch on an old tire. I spotted a few peeps and some yellowlegs also.

Aside from the birds, there should be lots to see here later in the season – fiddler’s crabs and diamondback terrapins and butterflies and dragonflies. Part of the park is actually built on a garbage island; a landfill site that has been capped and revegetated. There is the faint odor of garbage on the breeze and the roar of the NJ Turnpike in the background, but the wildlife seems to like it anyway. Oh and I got a raincheck on the boat ride, so look for sunnier pics sometime in the future.

Just a reminder that tomorrow is Good Planets Day at Vicki’s. Be sure to stop by and cheer her on for her hard work.

Tell me I’m beautiful

Is there a point in life when we no longer need to hear that we’re beautiful?

Would you rather someone comment on how smart you are? Or how accomplished you are? Or how kind, maybe?

Does it matter who it is that’s making the compliment?

I spend a lot of time listening and not saying much. I pay attention sometimes to the ways that my students or my friends interact with one another. Some girls expend an awful lot of energy making themselves beautiful and then wait around for their female friends to notice. Grown women do the same. What’s the point?

Why the constant need for reassurance?

“Female beauty is an important minor sacrament… I am not at all sure that neglect of it does not constitute a sin of some kind.” -Robertson Davies

4/25/07 Mid-week bunny-butt fix

You might recognize this pic of Cricket’s butt, as I’ve posted it before, but it’s a favorite and well… I don’t have any others right now. I gave my final exam tonight and I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief that the semester is very nearly over. I took Friday off from work to go on a special birding trip, but I’m afraid it may be canceled because of the rainy weather for the next few days and instead of birding I’ll end up spending the day grading exams. That would be a waste of a day off! The spring peepers are very happy with the rain and were calling loudly from the pond across the street from the college parking lot as I left school tonight.

Spring is good

“Every year back spring comes, with nasty little birds, yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.” – Dorothy Parker

That quote makes me laugh, but I’m sure there are those who would agree, scary as that is. Spring seems to be trying to make up for its late start in the span of a few days; the weather has been more summer-like than spring-like and the birds and insects are out in force and the flowering trees are putting on a lovely show. The robins are singing their sunset chorus now as I type. I can look forward to a mockingbird serenade when I head to bed around midnight. The chickadees have filled their nestbox in the Magnolia with moss and other soft plant fibers in anticipation of eggs. Today, my Serviceberry bloomed. Spring is good.

Pond clean-up

We accomplished most of the pond cleanup yesterday. In the interest of honesty I’ll show you pics of just how ugly it was, but I’d really rather not. Bad, bad, bad. It’s our fault for not ever getting a cover over it in the fall to keep the leaves out and there was really no way to avoid emptying it. I never even got to push my lilies and other pond plants down to the deep end, so they’re mush from having been frozen. We pumped the water out of the pond and onto our newly planted trees, so all that fish fertilizer will be put to good use.

As nasty as it looks, most of the water we pumped out was actually pretty clear. The fish are in a holding tank for a week or so while we refill the pond and let the water settle. You can see how clear the water was in the pic below.
We rescued this lone surviving frog from the skimmer box. There was another in there that was well past stinky! I feel badly for the frogs and don’t understand how they manage to die over the winter, considering all the leaves and mulm they have to burrow under. I wonder if it would be possible to catch them in the fall and bring them inside? I wouldn’t want to make a pet out of a wild frog, but I hate finding them dead in the spring.

Here’s a view of the sparkly clean pebble beach as we started to refill the pond late yesterday afternoon. The birds love this part of our pond, because most of this area is only an inch or two deep. It’s a nightmare to keep clean, but worth seeing the birds come in for a bath. The fish also love to play in this part and root around in the pebbles. Down at the far end of the pond the water is a little over 3 feet deep and it holds about 1,000 gallons. So the pond is filled today and the frog is back in one of his hiding spots. I’ll wait till the weekend to put the fish back once the filter has been running for a while. The only time I add any chemicals to the pond is in the spring when we have to clean it out like this and then I use just a dechlorinator. The next step is to get some pond plants and some annuals to dress up the edge. It’ll be pretty before long!

Goofing off at the beach

I took a short break this afternoon from pond-cleaning duty to visit Sandy Hook and the migration watch site. It was a beautiful day and the Hook was packed with people desperate for time outdoors. There were cyclers and bikers, rollerbladers and windsurfers, tourists and birders. Lots of birders. A Hooded Warbler was found yesterday and I thought I might get a peak at it, but no luck. There were a nice number of hawks moving today, I thought. Plenty of airplanes to look at when nothing else is going by.

Lots of people hang out at the hawk watch to keep the counter company and to see what’s happening by. I saw a few broadwings, a red shoulder or two, and lots of turkey vultures. They tend to fly out a certain distance over the bay and then stall while deciding what to do, as they’re hesitant to cross the open water ahead of them. Most circle back and fly north via the bayshore. The dune vegetation is still very brown, but soon the beach plums will be blooming – can’t wait to see them all frothy white and humming with bees!

We planted trees!

Today was catch-up day in the garden; with the weather being so poor lately, we’re about a month behind schedule with outdoor chores. It was beautiful today and we got a lot done – we cut back the ornamental grasses and the butterfly bushes and raked up the whole yard. Then we went shopping for plant material – my favorite part of the day!
I’d been wringing my hands over what to plant in this spot for well over a year. There was a spirea bush that needed to be replaced as it had grown woody and wasn’t blooming well anymore. I had a list of at least ten possibilites, but the nursery didn’t have any of my well-selected choices, but then I saw this tree and fell in love. It’s a Golden Larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) – not a native, but it will be like having a little piece of the Adirondacks here at home. It’s not a real Larch, but is supposed to be suited to heat and humidity; we’ll see. Larches are unique because they’re the only deciduous conifers – yes – they drop their leaves in fall, but not until they turn a lovely golden color. I love the lacy look of the foliage. I planted a few cotoneasters beneath it.

I finally found a place for the Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) I’ve been wanting. There was a Sandy Cherry in this spot, but it was very damaged in the February ice storm so we yanked it out. Viburnums are my most favorite shrubs, and this will fit in nicely with the other varities we have planted in the border along our property line. It will get pretty white flowers followed by yellow fruits that turn red like cranberries. They are beautiful when covered with snow and are edible. I even have a recipe for jelly, if the birds leave any behind.

I also got a Sourgum/Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) that Wayne from Niches recommended to me a while back. We put it in a low spot in the back lawn where hopefully it will find enough moisture to flourish. Sourgums are known for their brilliant autumn color, plus they get purple fruits that the birds like (check out the list on Wikipedia). They’re one of our most beautiful native trees, I think. It doesn’t look like much now, but in a few years it will be big enough that a bird can land in it without toppling it over! In the background you can see our neighbor’s red barn and one of the many American Hollies we have along the property line. They are the only evergreens we have here. I know we need to plant some others, but they are very few that I really like, besides hollies.

Buddy spent the day supervising and enjoying the sunshine. Tomorrow we have to tackle the pond clean-up.


I found these tree swallows at lunchtime today. They were very involved in discussing the merits of this particular nest box, as compared to any of the others nearby, and didn’t mind that I got close to take a few pics.

I found a really nice park within a five minute drive from my office; I’m not sure just how I never knew of it before, but I’m excited to discover someplace so nice to spend my lunch hour once in a while! There’s a pond and wooded ravine and a twenty acre butterfly meadow, which is where I found the tree swallows, and bluebirds, and flickers, and chipping sparrows. Heard a field sparrow singing there today and saw my first dragonfly of the season, too. Only butterfly today was a cabbage white, but the meadow is still just winter stubble. It looks promising though!