Friday, April 17, 2015

Hike New Jersey

The weather is at a good place for a day hike. We can certainly argue about the "best" hikes in New Jersey, but not only has trail maps, photos, videos, and info for many great hikes in the state, and also a NJ Hiking Trailhead Locator Map.

Here are some to get you started - check out the full list
  1. Apshawa Preserve – Passaic County  Butler reservoir, waterfalls, a dam, ruins… and even a brief glimpse of the NYC skyline.
  2. Atsion to Quaker Bridge Wharton State Forest  Some of the prettiest sections of the Pine Barrens along the scenic Mullica River.
  3. Buttermilk Falls, Crater Lake, Hemlock Pond Delaware Water Gap   Start at NJ’s highest waterfall, then hike the Appalachian Trail to Crater Lake and Hemlock Pond.
  4. Cheesequake State Park Green Trail   Pleasant hike over rolling hills and through beautiful marshlands using numerous boardwalks.
  5. Four Birds Trail Wildcat Ridge    A rugged trail through a very pretty area, with views from a hawk watch.
  6. Jenny Jump S.F. Ghost Lake   This hike offer views of the surrounding mountains and valleys before arriving at Ghost Lake.
  7. Sunfish Pond – Worthington State Forest / Delaware Water Gap  Hike through some of the prettiest forest in New Jersey to a glacial lake 1,000 feet above the surrounding area.
  8. Tripod Rock, Whale Rock, Bear Rock Pyramid Mountain; Morris County   This pretty route includes interesting glacial erratics and two overlooks.
  9. Wells Mills County Park White trail (called Penns Hill Trail or Macri Trail)   A great intro to the terrain of the Pine Barrens and Atlantic white cedar swamps.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shad and the Delaware River

The Delaware River still has plenty of life, according to the results of the 2014 annual Seine Survey.

The list leader is the American shad, but the biologists netted 45,178 fish in 284 hauls over five months. Also present are Blueback herring, White perch, Eastern silvery minnow, Atlantic menhaden, Bay anchovy, Banded killifish, Spottail shiner, Striped bass and Atlantic silverside.

Rivers are often endangered too and the Delaware River 75 years ago was considered "grossly polluted." Improvement began after the passage of the Federal Clean Water Act in 1972 and in the next two decades results could be seen in catches of once non-existent striped bass catches in the river "were at a much higher level than previous years. This showed that the striped bass population was rebounding, and water quality was beginning to improve."

Every year American shad migrate up the Delaware River to spawn. The numbers and timing of the "shad run" vary year to year depending on water temperature and conditions. Having accurate, up-to-date information on the run can greatly impact on angling success and enjoyment. Fortunately, there are resources anglers can use to get this information.

In 2013, American shad fisheries (both commercial and recreational), in both marine and fresh waters, with the exception of the Delaware Bay, Delaware River and its tributaries, were closed (no possession, take or harvest). The recreational possession limit in the Delaware Bay, River and its tributaries was 3 fish with no minimum size and an open season all year. Commercial net regulations for American shad remained the same.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission management plan was made for American shad and river herring due to concerns about the significant coastwide decline of American shad stocks.

The American Shad (Alosa sapidissima AKA white shad) is the largest of the river herring family.  American shad average around 3 lbs., with fish up to 5 lbs. common. Silver-sided with greenish-blue back; deep bodied from the side, narrow and symmetrical top to bottom head-on; row of dark spots on the sides, running back from the gill cover; the upper and lower jaws are equal length when the mouth is closed.

Lambertville, New Jersey holds a Shad Festival each spring. For 2015, the 34th annual Shad Festival will be April 25 & 26 . It includes arts and crafts, food, including shad prepared a variety of ways - from smoked to shad and shrimp fritters. Of course, visitors also learn about this migratory fish.

Today, only one commercial fishery remains on the non-tidal portion of the Delaware. A pollution block at Philadelphia slowly led to the closure of the fisheries, because it stopped the shad from moving up the Delaware.

One reason the festival was started was to celebrate the return of the shad to the Delaware. Native Americans taught the settlers how to catch the shad in pens, which later evolved to seining. Shad was an important food source to Native Americans and settlers, and an important industry for many decades on the Delaware River.

The NJDEP posts Shad Fishing Reports for 2015 at

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bringing the Assunpink Creek Back Into the Daylight in Trenton

Assunpink Creek flowing through Trenton near Mill Hill Park
Work is expected to begin on a $4 million restoration this spring that is being financed 75 percent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 25 percent by the DEP through a federal Clean Water Act grant.

What the project hopes to accomplish is to restore the Assunpink Creek in downtown Trenton. You say you've never seen it? That's because decades ago this tributary of the Delaware River was channeled into an underground culvert. It disappears from view between South Broad and South Warren streets.

The idea years ago was certainly to allow for greater development where the creek flowed, but the culvert prevented fish from migrating into the Delaware. The downtown also lost the natural beauty of the stream.

Maybe it was a sign from nature when the nine years ago part of the culvert roof collapsed. The immediate effect was not good - a safety hazard that was fenced off and became an overgrown lot.

But this project to restore the creek looks like it will now happen.

On the New Jersey Future website at, you can see maps and historic photos.

The term for this restoration is "daylighting," as in bringing back the water to the light of day from its capture underground.

The Assunpink Creek is 25 miles long, and drains approximately 91 square miles in central New Jersey. The main tributaries that feed Assunpink Creek are Shabakunk Creek and Miry Run. The headwaters begin in Millstone Township, in Monmouth County, and flow into the Delaware River in Trenton.

The creek gathers intensity as it meanders west from Millstone Township in Monmouth County, through the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and Mercer County Park, across the old, flat clays and silts of the Raritan and Magothy formations into Trenton.

The Lower Assunpink Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project study area is located on a 3- mile section of the Assunpink Creek between the Delaware River and the Trenton city limits. Several former industrial sites, abandoned bridges, and a 500-foot section of the creek between Broad and Warren Streets, contained within a buried box culvert were identified as candidates for ecological restoration.

The buried box culvert, known locally as the Broad Street culvert, was evaluated during the feasibility study and approved for removal and restoration of a natural creek channel. The Broad Street culvert removal project is located in the heart of the downtown Trenton business and historic district on a recovering urban stream that also serves to connect several greenway and urban park facilities.

illustration via

The project site is also the location of the the Battle of Assunpink Creek (AKA the Second Battle of Trenton) during the American Revolution. On Jan. 2, 1777, the Continental Army and supporting militias held a defensive line along the creek's south shore. Under George Washington's command, the Americans repelled charges by British and Hessian soldiers across a stone bridge spanning the creek, as well as an attempt to ford the creek near its mouth.

By morning, Washington had reached Princeton and after a brief battle, the British there were decisively defeated and most of the garrison was captured. With their third defeat in ten days, Cornwallis' superior, General William Howe ordered the army to withdraw from southern New Jersey and most of the way back to New York. The British left forward positions at New Brunswick and Washington moved his army to Morristown for winter quarters.

The daylighting of the stream this year will mean the removal of the culvert structure, allowing the stream to be exposed to natural sunlight, and the resulting open channel design will improve anadromous fish migration. Low-light conditions can disorient migrating fish, hindering their ability to spawn upstream.

The project will also benefit businesses adjacent to the site, provide recreational options for visitors and local residents, and provide historical and educational opportunities for the community.

The name Assunpink comes from the Lenape word for "stony, watery place," describing the gravelly springs of New Jersey's 65 million-year-old ancient coastline. This ironstone "cuesta," or ridgeline divides the inner and outer coastal plains.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cherry Blossom Festival Bigger in New Jersey

This weekend will be the peak blossom time for Washington D.C. and the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan more than a hundred years ago. But you don't need to go south to see a spectacular display because Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C.

A few weeks after the D.C. display, residents and visitors can see the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States herein NJ. Branch Brook Park (which runs through Belleville and Newark) has more than 2,700 Japanese cherry blossom trees that burst into full bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

The park's calendar shows that activities around the Cherry Blossom Festival begin this weekend, although generally full bloom is later than our southern friends. I took a look at the blossom webcam this morning and the trees still look bare. (Check the webcam for an update)

Essex County Parks festival information
Branch Brook Park website
Branch Brook Park Alliance

Branch Brook Park is the first county park in the United States opened to the public and it was was designed by the famed landscape architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City.

Named for a branch brook that flowed through the valley into the Passaic River, the stream that remains, and much of the surrounding landscape, still retain a natural appearance. More than 4300 cherry trees that blossom during April are greater both in variety and number than the famed Washington, D.C. display. In 1927, Caroline Bamburger Fuld donated the first 2000 cherry blossom trees to the Essex County Parks system in memory of her late husband.


By Car
You may use the intersection of “Clifton Avenue and Seventh Avenue” for Internet mapping or GPS.

From New Jersey: Take Route 280 East to First Street/Exit 13. Turn left onto First Street. Turn right onto Orange Street. Turn left onto Clifton Avenue. Park will be on the left.

From New York: George Washington Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey Turnpike South. Take Exit 15W for Route 280 West. Take Exit 14. Turn right onto Clifton Avenue. Follow above directions.

View Larger Map or get Driving Directions via Google Maps

By Train/Subway
Take NJ Transit or PATH Trains to Newark Penn Station. Board the Newark Light Rail toward either Branch Brook Park or Grove Street. For the Southern and Middle Divisions, exit at Park Avenue. Exit at Bloomfield Avenue to reach the Northern and Middle Divisions; the Northern Division is also accessible from the Davenport Avenue stop. The Branch Brook Park stop provides access to the Extension.

By Bus

A variety of bus routes provides services to Branch Brook Park. These include NJ Transit's bus lines #11. #27, #28, #29, #41, #72, #74, #90, #92, #93, #99 and #108. For schedule information, visit

Thursday, April 9, 2015

130,000 Seedlings Being Distributed to Replace Trees Lost in Superstorm Sandy

The New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign, a partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection’s State Forestry Services and the non-profit Arbor Day Foundation, is distributing some 130,000 free tree seedlings to residents through 178 locations across the state, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today. 
This is the second year of the effort, launched to help communities that were hit by tree losses resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Municipalities that registered last month for the seedlings will receive up to 1,500 trees each for distribution to residents. Any resident of the state is eligible to receive up to five free tree seedlings at any of the distribution locations. Proof of residency is not required.
imageState Forestry Services will deliver the trees to 13 regional distribution centers for pick-up by those municipalities, which will then distribute them to residents through May 9. 
“While we have made tremendous progress as a state in recovering from Superstorm Sandy, the storm destroyed a staggering number of trees across New Jersey – and not just in those communities hardest hit by the storm,” said Commissioner Bob Martin. “This campaign will allow residents to replace trees where they are needed most, right in their neighborhoods and backyards.” 
State Forestry Service’s New Jersey Forest Nursery is providing seedlings from more than 38 different tree species for the campaign after a hugely successful seedlings distribution effort last year. The species include a wide range of trees, from oaks to dogwoods and maples.
The seedlings, which are about knee-high when distributed, should be planted promptly to ensure survival. In choosing where to plant the seedlings, residents should consider the size of the tree when fully grown and be mindful of overhead utility lines and proximity to structures.
From now until May 9, each participating community will distribute seedlings on a designated date.  
Seedling distribution locations will be listed on the State Forestry Services Facebook and at
The New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign is a joint effort between the New Jersey State Forestry Services' Community Forestry Program and State Forest Nursery, New Jersey Soil Conservation 
Districts, Sustainable Jersey, Arbor Day Foundation, Brothers International, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Wyndham Vacation Resorts, and FedEx. 
The State Forestry Services’ Forest Tree Nursery opened in 1982 in Jackson, where foresters grow 500,000 trees annually. The nursery sells the majority of trees in packets of 100 to private landowners, including non-profits and New Jersey landowners who use the trees to reforest their land. Packet prices start at $30. 
The nursery also offers the Third Grade Tree Team program where each third grader in the state is eligible to receive a free tree seedling when requested by the student’s school. For Arbor Day celebrations, the nursery offers 98 tube seedlings for $25. For more information on these programs, visit:  or call (732) 928-0029. 
The National Arbor Day Foundation has been helping communities cope with the aftermath of natural disasters through its Tree Recovery Campaigns since 2011. For more on the Arbor Day Foundation,

Monday, April 6, 2015

Winter Bird Feeding: Good or Bad for Birds?

With a bit of spring weather visiting us this past week, some people might be starting some backyard cleanup. Did you have bird feeders out this past winter?  I saw in my online reading  "Winter Bird Feeding: Good or Bad for Birds?" asks an article posted on Cool Green Science.

With more than 40 percent of U.S. households feeding their backyard birds, it's a good question.

The overwinter survival of birds is enhanced by bird feeding and some studies have shown that birds making it through the winter in better physical condition see those benefits carry over into the nesting season.

All of that seems logical, but other studies have shown unintended consequences of bird feeding.
A study in the United Kingdom to examine the impact of bird feeding on nesting success found that birds fed during winter subsequently laid a smaller number of eggs that had lower hatching success and ultimately fledged fewer young than birds that weren’t fed at all. The offspring that did fledge weighed less and had a lower survival rate than the young of unfed birds.
Great tit. Photo: Flickr user Final Gather under a Creative Commons license.
Great tit.    Photo via Flickr/Final Gather - Creative Commons license.

Further study is needed and if you want to be a Citizen Scientist, you can help by participating in initiatives like Project FeederWatch that ask people with bird feeders to share their observations. Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Winter bird feeding is one of the most popular ways for people to interact with nature, and most do it to help birds get through these tough months. But what does this really mean for conservation? Does feeding help or hurt birds?
More than 40 percent of U.S. households feed their backyard birds, and in the United Kingdom, the rate is as high as 75 percent.
Despite the widespread popularity of bird feeding, scientists are still building a basic understanding of its impacts.
As we might guess, a number of studies show generally positive impacts of bird feeding. For example, the overwinter survival of birds is enhanced by bird feeding.
This is especially true during the coldest times, when some hungry birds might otherwise lose the battle with the elements1.
A study conducted during winter in Wisconsin showed that black-capped chickadees with access to bird seed had a much higher overwinter survival rate (69 percent) as compared to those without access to human-provided seed (37 percent survival).
Black-capped chickadee. Photo: © Chris Helzer/TNC
Black-capped chickadee. Photo: © Chris Helzer/TNC
Furthermore, some studies have shown that birds making it through the winter in better physical condition see those benefits carry over into the nesting season.
Bird feeding produces significantly earlier egg laying dates, larger clutches of eggs, higher chick weights and higher overall breeding success across a wide range of bird species2,6.
The greatest impact of feeding is seen when birds are most challenged, such as after particularly harsh winters, or when birds are young and inexperienced, or when they are living in low-quality habitats2. Feeding can promote the survival and reproduction of the not-quite-fittest.
But in contrast to these straightforward results – showing that bird feeding makes for better-off birds – a few studies indicate that, at least in some situations, there may be unintended consequences of bird feeding.
A European relative of the black-capped chickadee, the blue tit, was studied in the United Kingdom to examine the impact of bird feeding on nesting success.
One research group3,4 found that birds fed during winter subsequently laid a smaller number of eggs that had lower hatching success and ultimately fledged fewer young than birds that weren’t fed at all. The offspring that did fledge weighed less and had a lower survival rate than the young of unfed birds.
An additional U.K. study of the blue tit and another chickadee-like species, the great tit, had similar findings.
Both species, when they had access to bird food, laid fewer eggs, had lower hatching success, and ultimately had fewer chicks fledged.  
Great tit. Photo: Flickr user Final Gather under a Creative Commons license.
Great tit. Photo: Flickr user Final Gather under a Creative Commons license.
Note, however, that these are just two studies demonstrating a negative effect of bird feeding – among a majority that show positive effects.
Nonetheless, the striking findings of lower reproductive success in supplementally fed birds need some explanation. Unfortunately, it was beyond the scope of these U.K. studies to definitively explain how bird feeding resulted in lower reproductive success, but the authors offer several possible hypotheses.
One possibility the authors suggest is that the bird feeding provided an irresistible diet that was unbalanced – too high in fat to produce high-quality eggs. More protein, micronutrients, and antioxidants than are provided by bird seed may be needed to produce high-quality eggs.
Another possibility is that bird feeding allowed individuals with a lower reproductive capacity which ordinarily would not survive the winter the chance to nest.
A final possibility is that the feeders were placed in poor quality nesting habitat – leading the birds to choose these suboptimal sites as nesting areas in the spring.
More research needs to be done across a wider geographic area and on more species to understand not only the impacts of bird feeding on reproductive success, but also on other factors such as disease transmission, species range expansion, and population trajectories.
Citizen scientists can help by participating in initiatives like Project FeederWatch that ask people with bird feeders to share their observations. What you see in your own backyard can contribute to the efforts to answer these questions.
- See more at: