Showing posts with label DR Canal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DR Canal. Show all posts

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Keeping the Towpath Nature Loop Keeping On

After the improbably hot days of February, the slow fading of March snows back into the ground in lingering cold are reminiscent of childhood winters in Wisconsin. Following the snowbound months came a long, slow thaw, a gradual yielding of winter's icy grip that quickened my step and made me reach for my golf bag, to get in early practice on Yerkes Observatory grounds. Often, the ball's trajectory sent it into a lingering snowdrift. I would extrapolate from the entry hole where the ball might be hiding its white in white.

From the joy of that slow thawing may have grown a pleasure in incrementalism, which has informed much of the habitat restoration work I do in town. The nature loop that branches off the towpath along the DR Canal near Harrison St. has been getting some incremental upkeep lately. Alerted by the DR Canal State Park ranger that they would soon do the annual mowing of the field the trail winds through, I went out and marked the elderberry bushes with bright pink tape. The idea is that the mowing crew will steer clear of the marks, allowing the elderberries to bloom and have berries. As the photo shows, though, the invasive porcelainberry and Japanese honeysuckle vines are using some of the elderberries to climb up and grab the sunlight.

How, then, to let elderberries be elderberries, rather than mere superstructure for an overly rampant nonnative vine? The rampancy of the vine, as with many introduced species, comes from the lack of a countervailing force of consumption to curb their growth. In other words, nothing eats them. Incrementalism means first insuring the elderberries don't get mowed to the ground, then contemplating the next step to take. It might seem a bother to clamber through thorny brambles to mark elderberry bushes only to have them mobbed by vines, but growing up close to the land can make that steady spring thaw of optimism run deep in your blood.

The nature trail loop is a nice wide trail, between the canal and Lake Carnegie, maintained by the NJ state park staff.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

DR Canal Nature Loop in Winter

The DR Canal State Park crew hasn't yet done its annual mowing of our little nature trail, next to the towpath just upstream of the Harrison Street bridge. That means we can do a little virtual February nature walk. (Summer tour at this link.) Some background info: The land here, bounded by the Washington Rd and Harrison Street bridges, the canal and Carnegie Lake, is owned by Princeton University but maintained by the DR Canal State Park. Back around 2006, having seen native wildflowers getting mowed down, I convinced them to shift from weekly to annual mowings of the areas away from the towpath. The annual mowings keep the meadows from growing up with trees. They then created this nature loop through the open woodland with sunny patches of wildflowers and views of Carnegie Lake.

It starts with a nice sign and box for pamphlets that I need to refill.

On your right is a stand of switch grass--one of the grasses of midwestern and plain state prairies that also grows in the east. Switch grass is one of the native grasses that grows erect enough to fit in as an ornamental in people's gardens. It got its two seconds of fame in a president's 2006 State of the Union address, as a potential source of ethanol.

Left of the path are the remains of an evening primrose's seedheads, held high.

A short way down the trail is a cluster of red oak leaves. Follow the branch back to the trunk of the tree,

and you can see that the beavers have been busy.

A little farther is a bench looking north across Lake Carnegie.

A closer look at what's growing there along the shore shows the remains of last summers native hibiscus blooms (Hibiscus moscheutos). Kayakers heading upstream on the Millstone River from Carnegie Lake in midsummer will encounter this showy wildflower lining the banks in some sections, its feet in the water.

The bench, by the way, was donated in memory of Anuita Margolis Blanc. An internet source says she founded the Nassau Cooperative Nursery School, was president of the Princeton Assn. for Human Rights, president of the Princeton Study Center, and founder and partner of Princeton Crossroads Realty.

Here and there you'll see the seedheads of ironweed, a tall reddish native floodplain wildflower that blooms in later summer.

Also on the left are some clones of Indian hemp, related to milkweed.

Pin oak has narrower, more deeply lobed leaves than red oak. There are lots of different oaks along the pathway, including a bur oak, which is more of a midwestern species--evidence that at one point the university planted this area to ornament the entry into campus from Route 1.

Broomsedge, actually a bluestem grass, grows along the right edge of the trail. A field of broomsedge can be a beautiful sight in winter, except to farmers who view its presence as evidence of poor soil.

You'll see lots of this--Japanese honeysuckle. Though it's one of the first invasive species I learned about, it cannot compete with the smothering power of porcelainberry, which is now dominating farther down the trail in sunnier areas.

Where the trail turns left and heads towards the towpath before bending back around, there are expanding groupings of Joe-Pye-Weed--one of the native summer wildflowers that has responded well to the annual mowing management.

Look on the ground around there and you're likely to see a "gum ball"--the many-capsuled fruit of the sweetgum tree.

Look up and you'll see many of the gum balls still on the tree.

Goldenrods are thriving. The floodplain species of goldenrod tend to spread underground via rhizomes and tend to dominate over time.

Some trees are "self pruning", but pin oaks tend to hold their lower branches, which bend down in a characteristic way.

Beech trees are related to oaks, and show the similar habit of holding onto their leaves far into winter.

Beyond this bench is a tree that's lost some of its lower bark.

More evidence of beavers.

Here's one of the shrubs left over from the 1960s era plantings by the university--a row of fragrant honeysuckle that sometimes gets on lists of invasive species, though I've never seen it spread. It has small but very fragrant white flowers in late winter. Lonicera fragrantissima is the latin name.

The remains of a pokeweed bloom.

That gets you about halfway down the path. It circles back over to the towpath. The Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park has programming during the year.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Loon Visits Carnegie Lake

Thanks to Melinda Varian for sending her husband Lee's photos of a loon that's been visiting Carnegie Lake. "We were standing on the footbridge that goes across where the (Millstone) river goes under the canal into the lake. A man we talked with said that he has been seeing it in the lake for about a week."

Another local birder, Laurie Larson, who keeps tabs on bird populations, said she could recall "one or two records over 30 years. It certainly is not “common,” although it is a Common Loon! I’m glad it’s finding Princeton hospitable."

One has to be quick to photograph a loon. A more common shot catches the tail feathers as it dives in search of a meal.

For fun facts about loons, check out this Cornel site, which explains that loons have solid bones rather than hollow, in order to be heavy enough to hunt effectively underwater. As a result, "Loons are like airplanes in that they need a runway for takeoff. In the case of loons, they need from 30 yards up to a quarter-mile (depending on the wind) for flapping their wings and running across the top of the water in order to gain enough speed for lift-off."

Because of this need for a long aquatic runway, loons can get stranded in small ponds, or on wet pavement that they mistakenly land on, thinking it to be water. Our visiting loon chose its lake well, as Laurie explains: "Fortunately if the weather freezes up, there’s plenty of water for the long wind-up and take-off that loons need, and this one can head for Cape May."

Update: It's a bit disjointed in this video to see all the scenes packed together, but loons play a starring role with Kathryn Hepburn and Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond.