Wednesday, December 20, 2006
They are curious structures. Down their middle is what has been called a "Sidewalk to Nowhere" that deadends at a concrete mausoleum-like structure. Stormwater enters one end of the basin, runs down the sidewalk, and drains out at a controlled rate through the concrete tower. During heavy rains, some water will be held back in the basin, reducing flash flooding.
Though the basins have their use, I don't think "turf pit" is too unflattering a name. They aren't pretty, require frequent mowing, and offer no habitat or recreational value.
Here's another, more gentrified basin, brand new, nestled between the two new wings of Princeton High School. It receives not only runoff from the roof, but also gets steady infusions from the school basement's sump pump.
Dreams do not often feed on such prosaic fare as sump pumps and detention basins. But I look at these basins and see something akin to an open-hulled Ark--precious wet, sunny, legally protected real estate where some of the prettiest and toughest of New Jersey's native wildflowers could flourish.
Two such transformations may actually happen this coming spring, judging by the strong support thus far from Princeton Township and Princeton High School administrators, board members and teachers. Funding and expertise has been offered by Partners for Fish and Wildlife, an agency in the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
Working for Friends of Princeton Open Space, my role in this is as catalyst with phone calls and emails, suggesting there's an opportunity and bringing the people together who can make it happen. Then, if all goes well, there will be some attention to pay to all the plants put in, to nurture them while they get established, to prevent aggressive weeds from moving in, and to add more native species as time goes on.
Pictures of a few of the wetland species to be planted--Hibiscus, cutleaf coneflower, etc.--can be found in earlier postings on this weblog. Prairie grasses will be planted on the upland edges of the basin. Below is a photo of Indian grass, a constituent of tallgrass prairies in the midwest that is also common on the outskirts of Princeton.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Midday on November 15, our dog Leo barked at the backyard from his perch next to the bay window. I always find his sharp bark irritating, but I soon thanked him for drawing my eye to the window just in time to see a great blue heron flying up and out of our backyard. I had been waiting for this moment since digging the miniponds a year ago. Great Blue Herons are glamorous symbols of wetlands, but they haven't let it go to their heads. They are not above showing up in someone's less than sprawling backyard and taking a peek and a poke at a Puddle With An Attitude. The miniponds have been attracting lots of birds, but the heron's visits over two days mean that our backyard habitat is now Heron-Certified.
I'd like to think it was impressed with all the native wetland plants I had added, but truth be told, a great blue heron would visit a bathtub in a sea of turfgrass if it thought there might be a fish to be had. As it happened, we were wondering what to do with the goldfish that had grown sizeable over the summer and given birth to another generation. Would they make it through the winter, or should we go to the trouble of keeping them in an aquarium until spring? The heron provided an elegant, flattering and educational solution, though I doubt the fish were happy.
Below are some photos--not the best, since they were taken through a window, but seeing is believing. In the second photo, the heron is perched on the neighbor's roof, probably digesting its lunch before heading off to the next fishing hole.
Friday, December 15, 2006
These walks, short as they are, seem to make the dog's day. For him, it must be like checking email or reading the newspaper. Sniffing about, he gets updates on who's been in the 'hood, and may well pick up on subtleties of mood, health--who knows what all a nose can read about the world.
If not for kids and a dog, I might know little of this town. Certainly I wouldn't have seen the spectacular migration of geese the other day, flying high over the park as Leo kept his nose to the ground. There was a first wave, with maybe seven "V"s constantly shifting, merging, breaking off to form new configurations. Then another wave even bigger, and another. Five waves in all, with "V"s as populous as 100 birds, and waves of 3-5 hundred each. Counting distracted from my transfixion on the beauty of the patterns that abundance can make. Their calls were not the raucous complaint of geese flying into a local pond, but were sparse and melodious as they drifted down from great height.
Whether they were truly migratory geese or the variety that stick around all winter only a birder could guess at. By the time I got home, they would be halfway across the county, their morning's ambitions far greater than mine, for some reason taking them northwest on a late autumn day.
This has to stop. A large percentage of my annual donations is surely being turned into postage and paper in their dogged attempts to get me to send more. I finally sat down today with a computer and a phone and started calling, renewing online if I was put on hold. I was hoping they could automatically deduct annual dues from my credit card each year, but the best they could do was promise to limit renewal notices to one. We'll see if they live up to the promise, and whether one notice is enough to trigger my renewal. For now, the pile has been transferred to the recycling bin, and one small corner of the bear den is more peaceful and ordered.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
A fleet of miniature earth movers has been running roughshod over the sandy uplands of Marquand Park for years now, but the rest of the park appears to be safe from development. If you have young kids, you may, like me, have spent your time watching them sharpen their sense of balance on the rocky ring rather than venturing down the trails leading into the rest of the park.
It can be a surprise then, after the kids have miraculously reached school age, to find yourself with free time, a camera and an autumn afternoon to see what lay just beyond the playground.
There is, for instance, a grove of giant tulip poplars, oaks and beech that dwarf most others in
Princeton. It's not easy to capture a tree's size in a photo, but here is a tulip poplar.
Native trees of this stature speak to the grandeur that the first colonists must have encountered. The more recently regrown forests that occupy most of Princeton's open space have a long way to go before they reach this stature.
Marquand Park also has its share of exotic trees, most of which are not of the invasive variety. Below is an otherworldly threadleaf Japanese maple, its brilliant colors backlit by an afternoon sun.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The October 28 nature walk, like those before it, was preceded by a spectacular dumping of rain that lasted long enough to insure no attendance, then stopped minutes before the scheduled start. I showed up to lead the nature walk anyway, though I was sure the weather had discouraged any and all. The big draw was the ephemeral creeks, one of which, flowing briskly alongside Valley Road, swelling into ponds where the leafpiles formed dams, nearly stalled out my car. The rain stopped right around 9am, and the surprisingly balmy mistyness had an exhilarating effect, as did the findings of an hour and a half exploring the woods of Community Park North.
The parking lot serves as the headwaters of a fine ephemeral creeklet that during and after a good rain heads off through the woods, past exotic Asian Photinia (photo) and native spicebush, then down through a grove of swamp white oaks.
The various trails that used to lead into this area, which also hosts some nice, squishy sedge meadow openings and a view back across Pettoranello Gardens, are mostly defunct. I progressed through the tangle of exotic shrubs only with the help of a trusty pair of hand clippers.
Some of the trees announce their identities, and give clues as to where the trails used to be.
Very sturdy picnic tables that look like partially sunken battleships, and some totem-pole-shaped climbing structures surrounded by invasive thorn bushes, add a lost culture kind of feel.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Wielding loppers, volunteers removed multiflora rose, Chinese privet, purple loosestrife, Japanese honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet. Many native species are competing with the exotics for sunlight, including the above-mentioned shrubs, elderberry, evening primrose, rose mallow Hibiscus, ironweed and the rarely seen blue flag iris. The trimming back of the aggressive exotic species will allow the natives the advantage they need to prosper.
This wild brand of gardening is hard to approach in a perfectionist way. Given its grand scale, neatness is hard to achieve, and weeds are never fully conquered. Rather, one acts strategically, removing the most aggressive weeds, and in so doing shifts the balance of energy towards the desired species. Over time, the natives grow stronger, shade out the weeds, and a dynamic and ornamental border, full of nectar and seeds, makes a visit to the towpath more gratifying for both people and wildlife.
Thanks to Kathleen Biggins and Margaret Sieck, co-chairs of the Conservation Committee, for their initiative, and the help and company of the garden club volunteers as we restored some ecological balance along the canal.
The section of the D&R Canal State Park getting all this attention is located between Washington and Harrison Streets.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Join in on a fall foliage walk through Mountain Lakes Preserve, following the new trail route that links Mountain Lakes to the Great Road, via a newly completed boardwalk. With leaves of native trees falling, it's easier to see a "second forest" of species from distant continents. Exotic species tend to keep their leaves later into the fall, so appear as a green layer in the understory. The boardwalk, built by Princeton Township with the help of a grant from the J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Charitable Trust, passes by the prairies and wetlands of Coventry Farm.
The walk will be at 9am, Saturday, October 28. Meet at the parking lot for Community Park North and Pettoranello Gardens, just off Route 206 on Mountain Avenue in Princeton Township.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I'll be leading a nature walk along the D&R Canal towpath on Saturday, October 7, at 9am, sponsored by Friends of Princeton Open Space.
The canal corridor serves as refuge for considerable native diversity, and the D&R Canal State Park has begun managing some areas to maximize native wildflower displays. Great blue herons, giant oaks, an occasional bald eagle and 50 species of wildflowers are all to be found along the canal. Steve will help with plant ID and tell of volunteer projects underway to restore habitat and beautify the towpath.
Meet on the canal towpath at Washington Street in Princeton. Parking is available on the West Windsor side of the canal. For more information, email me via this blog.
The walk is free and open to the public.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
1st Photo: Testing for depth
2nd Photo: Plastic liner and field stones added
3rd Photo: A rain brings water—the pond is now home to water boatmen, water striders, goldfish and wild rice.
Friday, September 22, 2006