Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Cleaning in the Raingarden

 One of the easiest and most rewarding spring tasks is preparing a raingarden for a new season of growth. This raingarden was installed by Curtis Helm and me at Princeton borough's Senior Resource Center on Harrison Street. Water from the roofs is channeled into the garden, where it accumulates to several inches in the hollowed out area and then slowly seeps into the ground. Mosquitoes are not an issue because the water does not stand long enough for them to breed. A list of the plants, all adapted to wet soils, can be found in another post.

All that was needed was a pair of pruning shears, gloves, and a plastic grocery bag that was conveniently found amongst all the paper and plastic trash caught by the raingarden over the winter.  

 Though the spring cleaning of a raingarden is easy and rewarding, I nonetheless postponed it until the last minute. One more week and the new growth would have become tangled in last year's dead stalks.

First step was to cut the brown stems of joepyeweed, green bulrush and other native perennials.
 It's important to check the downspouts that conduct water to the garden,
one of which had lost its underlying stones and needed a little tightening of the joints.
Pulling the occasional weed like false strawberry (Duchesnia indica, also called Indian strawberry, because it is native to India),
and gill-over-the-ground ( Glechoma hederacea, also called creeping charlie, or ground ivy) is a piece of cake if the soil is still soft after recent rains. 
Garlic mustard is a common weed that will spread by seed if not pulled out before it flowers. I've heard it makes good pesto, but have never tried it out.
 All that was left was to pick up the trash and toss the stalks back in the woods. No need to burden the borough crews with yardwaste that can easily decompose unnoticed back near a fenceline.

Less than an hour and it was done. Now to figure out how to make a raingarden grow cake.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Clouds Going Opposite Directions

The habit is to jump in the car, especially on a rainy evening, but the rain was letting up, we had just acquired a giant umbrella, the dog needed a walk, and my daughter only had to go five short blocks to get to the middle school choir concert.

A bonus along the way was noticing that the clouds were moving in opposite directions, with low clouds, like dark gray wisps of steam, hurrying west, and higher clouds creeping east. Several websites say the phenomenon is a predictor of bad weather soon to arrive, possibly hail. The weather prediction is for rain and thunder.

Friday, April 08, 2011

NJDEP's Commissioner To Speak May 1, Nature Walk To Follow

Here's publicity for an annual event on May 1 at Mountain Lakes Preserve. A very brief meeting will be followed by a talk, refreshments, and a nature walk. All are welcome. RSVPs much appreciated:

Bob Martin, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, will be the featured speaker at the Friends of Princeton Open Space 2011 Annual Meeting, Sunday, May 1 at 3:00 at Mountain Lakes House.  He will speak on “Green Acres: Preserving New Jersey’s Open Space for Future Generations.

Mountain Lakes House is located at 57 Mountain Ave., Princeton.  Refreshments will be served.  Following the meeting, Steve Hiltner, Natural Resources Manager for Friends of Princeton Open Space, will lead a walk in Mountain Lakes Preserve and adjacent Tusculum.
Anyone wishing to attend is urged to RSVP by April 27 -- phone 609-921-2772. 

Named to head the NJDEP by Governor Christie in January 2010, Bob Martin is an accomplished business and industry leader with recognized expertise in energy and utilities.  He previously served for more than 25 years with Accenture LLP, the world’s largest business and technology consulting firm, retiring as a partner in 2008.  He and his family have lived in Hopewell Township for more than 15 years. 

In a recent announcement marking the 50th anniversary of New Jersey’s Green Acres program, Commissioner Martin noted that in 1961, “The idea of using public money to purchase open space and setting it aside for public conservation and recreation in perpetuity was groundbreaking.”   Since then, together with public and nonprofit partners, the Green Acres Program has directly protected 650,000 acres of open space and provided hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities in communities around the state.  And voters in the nation’s most densely populated state have authorized $3.1 billion in Green Acres funding, approving all 13 bond referendums put before them.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Planting Native Seeds at Princeton High School

This spring, a new collaboration sprung up, as PHS horticulture teacher Paula Jakowlew offered Friends of Princeton Open Space some space in the high school's rooftop greenhouse to grow native wildflowers.

The greenhouse, built as part of the high school's expansion some years back, has been keeping tropical plants happy over the winter, along with one as yet uncaptured treefrog that hitchhiked in on one of the plants.
I brought in seed collected from remnant patches in the Princeton wild--species like cutleaf coneflower, bottlebrush grass, Helenium, rose mallow Hibiscus.
We cleaned the seed, then set about planting flats. Here, trail builder, weed warrior and all around community volunteer Andrew Thornton demonstrates how to plant with pizazz. 
The result was a benchful of promise. Thanks to Paula, her son Shiloh, and the school for this collaboration!

Watering cans stand at the ready, their mouths agape at all the progress we made. (photo by Anna H.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Some Upcoming Environmental Events

April 4 at 7pm Two Events
A showing of Bag It! at the Arts Council-- an entertaining and very informative documentary about the environmental consequences of the single use plastics that pervade our lives and often end up in open spaces, oceans, and animals' stomachs. Sustainable Princeton has begun an initiative to reduce plastic bag use in Princeton. A review I wrote of the film is here.
Pilot Food Waste Curbside Collection Program, Township building

      A public meeting to learn more about the township's pilot program. Though more common out west, this will be New Jersey's first curbside collection of food waste. For those who can't find room in their backyards for a compost bin, this program is a way to reduce trash going to the landfill.

Our Future, Our Challenge 2011: High School Student Eco-Conference, April 16, 2011
at Princeton Day School, featuring a great list of speakers, lunch and a fair that Friends of Princeton Open Space will participate in. This conference is being organized by Liz Cutler, who is doing great work to promote sustainability at Princeton Day School and in town.
Pre-registration required:

DR Greenway Native Plant Sale, April 29th and 30th
        The plants are all, or nearly all, grown from local genotypes. More info here.

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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Taming Bamboo and Forcing Forsythia

While visiting Merida on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, we stayed at a hotel with rooms so tastefully decorated that one could turn in any direction and see a composed scene.

One object that put to good and decorative use what in Princeton is often an overly aggressive plant was this wrapping of dried bamboo cuttings into a vaselike pattern.

The same effect can be rendered with cuttings of forsythia, which have the added benefit this time of year of opening their flower blossoms after a week indoors.

Slow To Learn About Turtles

It was a Tuesday night, and the Keeper of the Playmobile Village had another entry to write in her 5th grade science journal. She retrieved a long-ignored old turtle shell from the back porch, and though the shell did not look to be a particularly promising door to discovery, we were taken by surprise. Who knew, for instance, that the scales (called scutes) that form a pattern on the turtle's back are actually skin that covers some 60 bones comprising the shell? Certainly not we who had until now been largely unmindful of turtle lore. Or that the dark color of turtle shells helps them absorb the sun's heat when basking on a log. Or that the way the seams between the scutes extend pretty much straight across the back of this turtle (photo) from side to side make this an eastern painted turtle that has long since lost its colors. Its surviving offspring are likely hibernating in some nice mud at the bottom of a lake or stream right now, dreaming of basking in the sun through summer days, and living to the ripe old age of 55, as painted turtles have been known to do.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nature Walk This Sunday, Feb. 27, 1pm

Another cabin fever relief walk, to see if there are any signs of spring stirring at Pettoranello Gardens, Community Park North woods, Tusculum meadows, and Witherspoon Woods. Will likely include a visit to Devil's Cave if trail conditions allow. We'll try to steer clear of mud, but dress accordingly just in case. Meet at the Community Park North parking lot, on Mountain Ave. next to 206, at 1pm. Walk sponsored by Friends of Princeton Open Space.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blueberry Bees

More buzz on bees. Got into a conversation the other day with a botanist who shifted careers to study native bees, partly out of fascination and partly because so little is known about them. We got to talking about blueberry bees, which use rapid wing beats to shake pollen loose from the flower. Here's a description I found via an internet search:

"The southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa) is so named because it is native to the southeastern US and forages primarily on blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) plants. It resembles a small bumble bee (Bombus spp.) and is abundant in blueberry orchards throughout its range. Blueberry plants are most effectively pollinated by sonication and the southeastern blueberry bee is very efficient at this. The bee grabs onto a flower and moves its flight muscles rapidly to release the pollen. The bee's face is then covered in pollen, which is inadvertently deposited at the next flower on which the bee forages." (nbii)

The frequency of the wing beats determines whether the pollen is shaken loose. Since honey bees don't use sonication to shake pollen loose, they have a harder time pollinating blueberry flowers.

Something to look for when the blueberry flowers come out this spring. He also said that native bees can be safely petted, which I had heard before, in reference to bumble bees. Since I've never tried it, please don't take this as a recommendation, but it is interesting to consider that fascination and respect may be more useful responses to bees than a blanket fear. Here's a post, found via an internet search, that includes a video of bumble bee petting, described as a relaxing activity.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Backyard B&B For Wildlife

This is a bittersweet story sent to me by my good friend Brownlee. She had long had groundhogs living under her patio deck, but recently noticed some new and different tracks in the snow.
Turned out a pair of foxes had decided the underside of the deck would make a fine "bed and breakfast."

Looked like a fine arrangement for all, except the groundhogs, but Brownlee started noticing signs of mange on one of the foxes. A call to Princeton's animal control officer led to trapping the fox and taking it to the Mercer County Wildlife Center, where it unfortunately could not be saved. The other fox will be trapped this week, and hopefully is healthy enough to respond to treatment. According to Brownlee, the mange-causing mites die off after a month without a host, allowing the treated fox to be returned to the same location. As one could guess, the loss of fur due to mange can be especially hard on wild animals in the winter.

Some informative websites on mange, which includes various species of mites that afflict a wide range of animals, can be found here and here. Thanks to Brownlee for the photos.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Herrontown Woods Walk

We had a great walk in Herrontown Woods a week ago. The abundant snow brightened the scene, and there were lots of bright questions, including why the common names for trees are as they are. Why are oaks called red or white or black? And why is there a dog in dogwood? In the midst of a towering forest, sometimes the simplest questions can leave a walk leader stumped. Even my assertion that the trunk of a musclewood tree looks muscular was received with considerable skepticism by a charming young girl named Meadow, who wanted most of all to head off-trail and climb some of the boulders beckoning as we headed up into the Princeton ridge. Not a bad idea, that, but we ended up staying on trail and more or less on topic, discussing the ways to know a tree by its bark, or craning our necks to see last year's blossoms on the soaring tulip poplars. (Note: For some interesting cultural history of dogwood, and speculations on the origins of its name, click here.)

One curious sighting was a young tree, perhaps 15 feet tall, whose bark had been stripped clean off from the top all the way down to about our level, where shreds of bark still hung on. The exposed wood was smooth and shiny, as if carefully burnished by someone on stilts. Various theories were put forth: lightning, perhaps, or the rubbings of a wayward giraffe. I doubted it was lightning.

On the way back, we stopped by the Veblen farmstead, where the boarded up home of the famous mathematician still sleeps, dreaming mysterious dreams and waiting for someone to solve the riddle of its future.

Some Buzz On Native Bees

Rutgers entomologist Rachael Winfree gave an information-packed talk on native bees at DR Greenway this past Thursday. Here is some of the information I packed for the trip home, with apologies for any bruising of the truth that might have occurred in-transit. Rachael has a very useful downloadable brochure on the subject of native bees and the sort of plants and nesting habitat they need (link below).
  • Bees are some of the most beautiful animals on earth.
  • They're descended from wasps. Wasps feed animals--other insects, I suppose--to their young, while bees are vegetarian, raising their young on pollen. Bees are also better pollinators, being more hairy.
  • There are about 400 species of native bees in NJ (I was guessing around 100), out of about 4000 native species in the U.S.
  • The natives are grouped into the Mellitidae, Andrenidae, Halictidae, Colletidae, and Megachilidae. Honey bees, which are not native to America, are in the Apidae.
  • The peak diversity of most kinds of animals and plants can be found in the tropics, but peak diversity of bees is in xeric (dry) temperate zones, such as Arizona. They are most diverse in unwooded areas.
  • A "univoltine" bee produces only one generation per year, while multivoltine bees have multiple generations.
  • Bees, depending on species, can overwinter in any stage, from egg to adult.
  • Most adults live only a few weeks.
  • Some bees come out in early spring and then go dormant through summer, fall and winter. Those may be the ones that are specialized to feed off of spring ephemerals (woodland wildflowers that sprout early to take advantage of the sunlight before the trees leaf out).
  • Pollen supplies protein, nectar provides sugar.
  • Female bees are better pollinators than males, which are smaller and less hairy.
  • Just as there are parasitic birds like cowbirds that leave their eggs in other bird species nests for raising, there are also parasitic bees that use the same strategy.
  • The blueberry bee specializes in pollinating blueberry flowers. (Turns out they are one of the single generation per year bees. An interesting description of their pollination technique can be found here.)
  • A heterogeneous landscape, such as can be found in towns and suburbs, helps provide a progression of flowers throughout the growing season (whereas our dense woods may only provide flowers in the spring, if the spring wildflowers are intact.)
  • That honeybees are proving susceptible to various maladies is not surprising, given that they are part of a monoculture approach to farming. Honeybees are trucked all over the States to pollinate crops, be they almonds in California or cranberries in the northeast. Huge expanses of one crop create locally a boom and bust cycle, in which flowers are abundant for only a brief period each year, making it impossible for a resident bee population to survive. Trucking in honeybees is the only way to insure pollination. 
  • Community Collapse Disorder, in which the adult honeybees disappear from a hive, leaving only the young, first appeared in 2006. The cause remains unknown, though it may be a combination of stresses caused by the varroa mites that first reached this continent in 1990, pesticides such as imidacloprid, miticides, a virus or bacterium, and poor nutrition. 
  • It's not clear if honeybees have affected native bee populations in the U.S, though some evidence suggests their competition can reduce native bee numbers.
  • There is no monitoring of native bee populations in the U.S, so it's hard to tell if there are any trends in native bee populations.
  • There are some endangered bee species in NJ, but it wasn't clear if there's anything that can be done locally, such as grow particular plants, to help them recover.
  • She suggested a couple websites. To plant bee-friendly habitats, check out her brochure called Native Bee Benefits. For bee identification, DiscoverLife is a popular website. BugGuide is another helpful site for getting identifications.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Free Talks On Bees and Butterflies

This is part reminder, part update. The talk this Wednesday is about the many species of native bees hereabouts.

Rachael Winfree, "The Business of Bees"
Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 pm
Rick Mikula, "Butterflies: Their Beauty and Perils"
Thursday, March 10, 2011, 6:30pm
Note: This is the new date for the program that was "snowed out" in January
These programs 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

Telling North and South in a Snowbound Forest

There's a prairie wildflower called Compass Plant that orients its leaves north and south, which could prove handy sometimes in a featureless sea of grass. A couple weeks ago at Community Park North, the snow on the trees was performing a similar service. Look northwards and the tree trunks are bare.
Look to the south (at the north sides of the trees) and the tree trunks are coated with snow that the sun couldn't get to.
The snow also makes it easier to see the dense miniature forest of ash tree seedlings, just a few feet high, poised to seize the daylight when the evergreens begin to falter. This is not your normal New Jersey piedmont forest.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nature Walk this Saturday, Herrontown Woods, 1pm

I'll be leading a nature walk to explore Herrontown Woods on the east side of Princeton this Saturday at 1pm. The walk is open to the public, and sponsored by Friends of Princeton Open Space. To reach the parking lot for the park, drive out Snowden Lane. Just before reaching Herrontown Road, turn left down the road across from the Smoyer Park entrance and drive to the end.

The woods are filled with light this time of year, and the trees are easy to identify by the grain of the bark and the patterns of the twigs. Donated to Mercer County long ago by the famous mathematician, Oswald Veblen, and his wife Elizabeth, Herrontown Woods includes the Veblen's house, cottage and barn, where Einstein was a frequent visitor. The buildings have been boarded up for eleven years, and will likely be torn down if action is not taken soon to save them. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

White Pine

 One way to identify white pines around town is by all the branches they lose in heavy snows.
Identity can be confirmed by pulling several clusters of needles off the stem and counting how many are in each cluster (fascicle). White pines have needles grouped in clusters of five--the same number as there are letters in "white".

One can also determine the age of a white pine by counting the whorls of branches on the stem. One whorl is produced each year.