Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Westerly Road Church Youth Group Helps Out at Mountain Lakes

Thanks to Robert Olszewski and all in the Westerly Road Church youth group who took on a gnarly patch of invasive shrubs at Mountain Lakes Preserve this past Saturday. At first uncertain about their prospects in the face of the dense, tangled growth of honeysuckles, privets and multiflora rose, they soon discovered strength in numbers, assisted by some pointers on lopper technique, as they cleared a large area and turned the cut shrubs into brush piles for habitat.

The activity was part of a fundraiser for Haiti that combines community work with fasting for 30 hours, the better to understand world hunger.

Behind them in the photo is quite a gnarly trunk of wild grape--a native that was left uncut. A few native shrubs--spicebush and blackhaw viburnum--were also discovered and left to grow.

Restoring Wedding Habitat at Mountain Lakes House

 In addition to providing offices for Friends of Princeton Open Space and a poetry organization,
Mountain Lakes House, at the end of the long driveway at 57 Mountain Ave in Princeton, is a popular spot for weddings, parties and retreats. Some of the income generated goes to keeping the township-owned house shipshape; the rest supports open space preservation.

This spring, along with all the restoration work on the dams, the house is getting a new, permanent awning for its patio. In the photo, volunteers Eric, Tony, and Clark are dismantling the old metal frame.

The Quiet Dazzle of Maple Flowers

Maples, being mostly wind-pollinated, are pretty subtle about blooming. They need not construct extravagant colors to attract the wind. This is a sugar maple's flowers.
Red maples are already finishing up, their flowers likely to be first noticed by passersby as a scattering of red on the sidewalk in a week or two.

Daffodils and Optimism

Nothing rains on a parade like snow on a daffodil. I remember a long drive through Ohio after an ice storm had bent every frontyard's cheery yellow faces to the ground, as if sending a frosty message to the world's annual allotment of optimism: "Better luck next year."
It's risky for a flower to show its face in March, but this year, the daffodils rebounded.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Princeton Bible Church Brings Their Green Project To Mountain Lakes

Many thanks to all the members of the Princeton Bible Church Green Project who came to Mountain Lakes yesterday to help with removal of invasive shrubs.

Andrew Thornton (right) helped show everyone which shrubs were exotic and needed to be cut.

Four hours of steady effort with loppers and pruning saws cleared a large swath of exotic understory beginning at the Mountain Lakes House parking lot

and continuing down the slope to the lakes.

 Our youngest helper, after carrying some sticks to the brushpiles volunteers made for habitat, took a great interest in all the clipping going on.

This spring, inspired by the ongoing restoration of the dams and lakes by Princeton Township, and all the updating inside and outside of Mountain Lakes House, we're focusing on restoring habitat on the slopes surrounding the lakes.

Exotic shrubs cut: honeysuckle shrub and vine, privet, Asian photinia, and the occasional Linden viburnum and barberry.

Native shrubs and small trees left to grow: Blackhaw viburnum, sassafras, flowering dogwood, silky dogwood, false indigo.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

H2O's Backyard Residency

Today, before spring takes over, a reach back into winter to offer up a pictorial paean to the most creative molecule on earth, H2O, which here uses the minipond in the backyard to craft its endless permutations of beauty.
One day the pond looks like this, with a curious granular form of snow fallen on dark ice.
The next brings melting and reconfiguring into new hues and patterns.
The variety in the patterns owes in part to the underlying clay, which by absorbing the water very slowly causes the ice to drop gracefully in terraces.
Air gets trapped underneath, changing its shape minute
to minute.

In the paved world out the front door, snow, sleet and ice are a burden to be grappled with, but around back, where there's no pavement to be kept clean, no place that needs to be gone to, water in all its forms acts as artist in residence, conducting workshops on wizardry in the backyard pond.

Hazelnut and Alder in "Full" Bloom

Two members of the birch family are blooming very quietly around town. The native hazelnuts (Corylus americana), of which there are a grand total of three that I've found in Princeton, have male catkins
and a female flower that can be described as unassuming.
Pettoranello Pond sets off the catkins of alder nicely.

The female flowers on the alder (top of photo) are slightly more showy than those on the hazelnut.
Unrelated to the above but also showing some life are the blackhaw Viburnums at Mountain Lakes. Flower bud cracking open above, leaf bud still closed below.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Princeton's Frog Choir In Full Swing

Rogers Refuge, down along the StonyBrook in Princeton, is rockin' to the sounds of the frog choir this time of year. The low-tech microphone for this brief video doesn't do justice to the recording artists, which when heard live sound bright and cheerily raucous. Spring peepers are in the sonic foreground, with wood frogs as a gobblely undercurrent.
To browse among photos and recordings of various frog species, try this website. Though the road to Rogers Refuge was washed out by recent floods, it's been fixed up and can be negotiated if you don't mind bouncing through some potholes, which contribute to the outback charm of this hidden habitat.

Another place to hear spring peepers is at Mountain Lakes, just down the gravel road past Mountain Lakes House.

Letter About the Veblen House in Princeton Packet

Tying in to the Pi Day celebrations in Princeton this past weekend, I sent a letter to the Princeton Packet about a close associate of Einstein and his still-standing home and cottage in Herrontown Woods:

"As Princeton celebrates Einstein's birthday with various permutations of pi(e), both edible and mathematical, it's worth remembering a close associate of Einstein's, Oswald Veblen, who can be found standing alongside Einstein on the cover of the new book, the Institute for Advanced Study. As a mathematician who joined the Princeton University's faculty in 1905, Veblen was a visionary who had much to do with bringing the Institute, and Einstein, to Princeton. He largely designed the original Fine Hall, where Einstein first had an office. A "woodchopping" professor who loved the woods, Veblen and his wife Elizabeth later donated nearly 100 acres of farmstead and forest for preservation in eastern Princeton--what is now known as Herrontown Woods.
Though Einstein's Princeton home is a private residence, the Veblen house and cottage at the edge of Herrontown Woods are publicly owned and have long awaited a public purpose. Einstein and other great intellectuals were frequent visitors there. Given the condition of the buildings, this year will likely determine their fate. A case can be made, given the extraordinary contributions the Veblens made to the Princeton community, that we owe to them and to ourselves a better fate than to see their historic farmstead torn down. 
The farmstead has several things going for it, including its central location along an extraordinary corridor of greenspace extending from the Princeton Ridge at Bunn Drive down to River Road. Just as the Veblen legacy brings together a love of intellect, nature and physical work, the farmstead itself stands at the border between preserved woodland and the tradition of microfarming once common in eastern Princeton. Surely we can wed these enduring themes to more recent movements of sustainability, biodiversity and local food, and put the farmstead to creative reuse.
More information about the Veblens and ideas for the long-slumbering house and cottage can be found at

Witch Hazel in Bloom

If you've happened by the Shapiro Walk on the Princeton University campus, or passed by the intersection of Franklin and Snowden over the past couple weeks, you may have noticed the incongruous sight of shrubs in full bloom. These are witch hazel, and most likely a cross between the Japanese and the
Chinese species (Hamamelis japonica × H. mollis). Those along Shapiro Walk are orange.
The native witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is quiet this time of year, but you can see where the clusters of small flowers were last fall. It grows in local nature preserves like Mountain Lakes and Woodfield Reservation, typically as an understory tree overlooking slopes overlooking streams.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rogers Refuge Gets a New Bird Blind

One of Princeton's best kept open secrets is Rogers Refuge, a marsh hidden down the hill from the Institute Woods. Located between the Stony Brook and the deep woods of the Institute, the refuge is a mecca for migratory birds. A gravel road splits it into a lower and upper marsh. Two observation towers look out over the upper marsh, consisting of several acres of cattails and wild rice.

A volunteer group called the Friends of Rogers Refuge (FORR) works with the township and the water company, which owns the property, to care for the marsh and make it accessible. Thanks to a grant from Washington Crossing Audubon Society, FORR just installed a new birdblind (photo from several weeks ago) that looks out across the lower marsh.

You can access it by taking West Drive off of Alexander, just on the Princeton side of the canal, until you reach a fork in the road. Ignore the discouraging "private property" sign and veer left onto the dirt road. Numerous potholes tell you you're headed in the right direction. Though it's private property, the public is welcome. Near the end of the road, before you reach the dome-shaped water company buildings, is a small parking area and a very short path that leads to one of the bird observation towers.

On a recent visit, three pileated woodpeckers flew by. Not sure if they had anything to do with what appears in these photos to be a thorough shredding of tree bark to get at the burrowing insects.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Two Open Space Workdays This Weekend

Here are a couple ways to get out and enjoy the great weather this weekend while helping Princeton's open space:

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 12 from 10-12, I will be leading a workday at Mountain Lakes Preserve. Activities will include invasive shrub removal in the woods bordering Mountain Lakes House, and maybe some cleanup and prep of the little greenhouse for growing native wildflowers. Learn basics of shrub identification. Workgloves, loppers and pruning saws are useful, if you have them. Meet at the Mountain Lakes House gravel parking lot, on the left near the end of the long driveway at 57 Mountain Ave. Kids are welcome.

At 9am on Sunday, March 13, (take note of daylight savings time!) the hale and hearty FOPOS trail crew will meet at the Greenway Meadows parking lot to work on the Stony Brook trail. According to crew leader, Ted Thomas, participants should "plan on bringing anything you feel comfortable with that might be appropriate for trail work: picks, shovels, loppers, carpentry tools, work gloves, water, etc."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two Talks Tonight

As mentioned prior, a butterfly talk at DR Greenway tonight, with the actual talk beginning at 7pm. Meanwhile, a talk on raingardens that I just found out about will begin at 7:30 at the library tonight. The raingarden talk is by Curtis Helm, a former Princeton resident whom I helped to install the raingarden on Harrison Street (click here to see previous posts about the raingarden). Both talks should be great. I'm going to try my best to be at two places at once. Info from respective websites below:

Family-Friendly Butterfly Talk
Thursday, March 10, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Award-winning author and butterfly expert Rick Mikula will teach us how
butterflies interact with the plants in the meadows and grasslands that sustain
them. Rick will provide guidance about how everyone can play a vital role
in ensuring that these habitats meet the nutrition, shelter, and connectivity
needs to support a butterfly population that will continue to give us beautiful
delights for all the senses.

The program will be held at DR Greenway's Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton. All programs are open to the public, and registration is helpful by calling 609.924.4646

7:30 p.m. Princeton Public Library
Talk: Rain Gardens
The rainwater that runs off of roofs, roads, driveways and sidewalks carries pesticides, fertilizers, oil and sediments into the nearest storm drain. The next stop is the nearest stream or river, and this contributes to pollution, flooding and erosion. A rain garden captures and filters the rainwater before it can runoff to the nearest storm drain. This reduces flooding and pollution, and provides a  wildlife habitat. Curtis Helm, Project Coordinator, Urban Forestry and Ecosystem Management of Philadelphia's Department of Parks and Recreation presentation, will talk about basic principles and methods for constructing a rain garden of your own. Community Room


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Flock of Robins

A bit of record keeping: A flock of about 15 robins visited my backyard on Feb. 27, accompanied by one hairy woodpecker. It was appealing to speculate that the woodpecker had some agreed-upon function for the flock, such as lookout, but this may be asking too much of birds' organizational skills. One online source describes mixed flocks as being composed of a "nuclear species", in this case the robins, and "attendants," (the woodpecker). Attendants tend to join a flock only while the flock is passing through the attendant's territory.

One website, called American Robin, Journey North, says that the whereabouts of robins in the winter has less to do with temperature or migratory habits than where food can be found.