Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Buy Gifts That Give Back!

Courtesy of the Back to Nature Fund.
Looking for a last minute gift idea that also does some good for the environment and your community? Look no further!

Help feed our feathered friends this winter and support Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA)—with Living Ornaments from Back to Nature.

Visit Back to Nature Home and Garden at 3055 Valley Road in Basking Ridge, purchase some handmade seed ornaments, and request that GSWA receive credit for your purchase.

There are four styles to choose from—snowflake, holiday tree, star, and candy caneand each one was created by a Back to Nature staff member.

100% of each $5 ornament purchase will benefit Great Swamp Watershed Association.

Stop by soon to buy several to deck your trees!

Click here to download a flyer for this promotion.


Need another reason to shop at Back to Nature in Basking Ridge?

Here's a good one!

Members of the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) receive 10% off all purchases made in the store, online, or through BTN's Landscape & Construction Services.


Every time you buy from BTN using the promo code below, GSWA receives a donation equal to 5.5% of the price of your purchase.

All you need to do to take advantage of the discount and the donation is mention the promo code GREATSWAMP10 when you are checking out or making payment. It's that easy!

So remember to visit Back To Nature Home and Garden at 3055 Valley Road in Basking Ridge today! You also can visit the online store at or call BTN at (908) 350-7506.

Let's get Back to Nature...
With our selection of locally sourced plants and organic materials, you'll find everything needed for gardening success. Our store hosts an array of artisanal gifts including pottery, woodwork, organic soaps and local honey.

This program is sponsored by CRI.

Back To Nature Fund: Back to Nature Home and Garden and Conservations Resources

Did You Know? Living With Wildlife: The Coyote

Coyote pounce. Credit
by Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

YES, there are coyotes (Canis latrans) living in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge!  Members of the Refuge staff have seen and heard them a number of times.  And, you know if they live in the Refuge, you can be sure that they live throughout the rest of the Great Swamp Watershed region too.

At first glance, the coyote resembles a small German shepherd dog, yet its color can vary from animal to animal.  Shades include black, brown, gray, yellow, rust, and tan.  They have shorter, bushier tales than their dog cousins that they carry low—almost dragging on the ground.  Coyotes also have longer, narrower muzzles than dogs.

Most of us have a very negative image of this spectacular animal.  In popular culture, coyotes are portrayed as villains, dastardly outlaws, thieves, and all-around scoundrels.  Just think about the impression you have of Wile E. Coyote—you know, the creature that remains in constant pursuit of the Road Runner in Warner Brothers “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies” cartoon.  The long rap sheet of offenses we humans have pinned on the coyote could not be farther from the truth of their real lives.

Meet the Real Coyote

Canis latrans. Credit:
Coyotes remain one of the world’s most successful mammals.  They have been shot at, poisoned, trapped, and otherwise besieged over generations.  Still, their cunning and intelligence have allowed them to thrive.  Coyote behavior often defies generalization, so here are a few intriguing things to carefully consider about these “adaptable predators.”

Although they are descended from wolves, coyotes demonstrate some unwolflike behavior.  They do not form highly structured packs, but prefer to live in loose confederations that vary with habitat conditions and food supply.  They also are less territorial.  And, while members of both species mate for life, coyote couples may choose to live together or live separately depending upon prevailing conditions.  This tendency toward social flexibility has earned the coyote a reputation for individuality that is uncommon in the animal kingdom.

The coyote’s flexibility also extends to its eating habits.  These opportunistic predators are true omnivores, and are as content hunting rodents, lizards, or rabbits, as they are scavenging carrion, insects, or berries.  As a result, they are just as capable of making a living in urban and suburban settings as they are in rural or wilderness areas.  This habit for ranging far and wide in search of food is often what brings coyotes into contact with humans.

Some wildlife experts estimate that the coyote has quadrupled its range throughout North America in recent decades.  And, many now speak of the animal’s “urbanization”, as more and more individuals are found hanging about office parks, housing sub-divisions, and shopping malls.  In fact, a pair of coyotes was spotted in New York City’s Central Park in 1985.  That is saying a lot when you consider the lengths to which people have gone to limit or eradicate an animal many consider a nuisance and threat to human health.

So what is the secret to the coyote’s success? Maybe it is the fact that you are more likely to hear a coyote than you are to see one.  These are animals that are shy by nature, and prefer to avoid confrontations with people.  Maybe it is the fact that coyotes reproduce more rapidly and in great numbers when under threat.  Where hunting is prevalent, coyotes are known to mate more often and have larger litters of anywhere between six and twelve pups on average.  Maybe it is the fact that coyotes are always on the move.  They can easily wander 25 miles in 24 hours.  Maybe it is the fact that the coyote’s natural predators—wolves and mountain lions—have been declining toward extinction. Or, perhaps we need to consider all of these factors together before we can attempt to construct a more accurate picture of the coyote we know today.

While many of us continue to regard coyotes as a threat to our lives and livelihoods, it is important to remember that we are the ones responsible for forcing more and more contact between our species.  Human sprawl destroys more and more coyote habitat every day.  And, our habits--particularly our methods of waste disposal--make us an easy and dependable source of food in once-wild areas where food has become scarce. 

So, if we want less contact between ourselves and coyotes, what do we do? Do we continue the failed tradition of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on eradication programs?  Or, do we follow the coyote’s example and use our own wariness and flexibility to master the art of peaceful coexistence?

If you are in favor of at least experimenting with the idea of adapting to the presence of coyotes, here are some tips and tricks you can use for maintaining a peaceful coexistence.

Some Ways To Coyote-Proof Your Environment

While coyotes are shy, they also are constantly on the lookout for food.  Here are some ways to further avoid contact:
  • Coyotes are attracted to food scraps in garbage.  Dispose of trash in a metal can.  Make sure the lid fits tightly.  Secure the lid with a bungee cord or chain.
  • Coyotes infrequently prey on domestic animals, such as cats and small dogs.  However, they may be attracted to areas where there are free-roaming pets.  To prevent potential conflicts, keep small pets indoors, especially in the hours between dusk and dawn.  Also, if you must feed your pet outdoors, pick up food and water bowls (as well as leftovers and spilled food) as soon as your pet has finished eating.
  • Do not put out feed or water for coyotes or other animals that are prey for coyotes (such as rabbits, deer, squirrels or chipmunks).  It’s really just asking for trouble.
  • Construct and position bird feeders so that coyotes and their prey (squirrels and rodents) cannot get to the feed.
  • Walk your dog on a leash and accompany your pet outside, especially at night.
  • If you must keep coyotes out of fenced land, make sure your solid wood fence is at least six feet high.
  • If you must keep coyotes out of unfenced land, reduce the number of brush piles, areas of low-growing vegetation, or other possible shelter sites.
  • Because coyotes like to eat fruit, keep fruit trees fenced, or pick up fruit that falls to the ground.
What Should I Do If I See A Coyote?

What should you do if you encounter a coyote and you want it to leave? Here are some tips:
  • Don’t run from the animal, but be as big, mean, and loud as you possibly can be.
  • Shout or yell at the animal.
  • Make other loud noises by clapping your hands, blowing a whistle, knocking two boards together or by using a car horn, air horn, or other noise-making device.
  • Wave your arms.
  • If necessary, throw rocks and sticks at the animal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Taste Some Wine, Taste Some Water, Bring A Friend!

You're invited to GSWA's first Water ‘n’ Wine party!

Here’s the deal.

On Wednesday, December 4, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Great Swamp Watershed Association will present Water ‘n’ Wine, where we'll put your taste buds to the ultimate test. The party is free, but you must bring a friend!

For every friend you bring, an anonymous donor will contribute $25 to GSWA!

If your friend becomes a member on December 4, the same donor will contribute another $25!

More About the Event

Party-goers are invited to taste test a variety of waters, including local, bottled, and city varieties. All those who partake will cast a vote for their favorite and find out which water is voted "Best-tasting."

In addition to water tasting, attendees will enjoy an informal wine tasting and delicious hors d’oeuvres. GSWA’s Director of Education and Outreach, Hazel England, also will entertain guests with a fun game! Prizes will be awarded!

All the festivities will take place at GSWA's headquarters located at 568 Tempe Wick Road in Morristown, New Jersey. Map it!

Please register by emailing or by calling 973-538-3500 x22.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Meet GSWA in Madison on November 21

GSWA Meet & Greet

On November 21, come to Madison, NJ, and meet members of the staff and the Board of Trustees from the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA).

We will be holding an Meet & Greet event at Investors Bank, located at 16 Waverly Place in Madison, between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. No registration is required.

Come have some refreshments and hear about all of the environmental work we have been doing on your behalf. We'll also let you know about some exciting new opportunities to become involved in our organization.

Are you an Investors customer? Thinking about becoming one? Well, November 21 is also an excellent opportunity to find out more about how this bank is supporting us, and how you can make that support grow.

Protect New Jersey's Great Swamp, While You Protect Your Savings

We will be announcing our a new partnership with Investors Bank and its Care2Share Affinity Program.

Care2Share allows you to link your personal deposit account at Investors to GSWA. On a regular basis, Investors will look at the number of accounts linked to us, calculate the average balance in those accounts, and make a donation to us equal to a percentage of that average balance. It doesn't cost you a cent, and one of your favorite charities benefits!

Come to the November 21 Meet & Greet to get all of the details in person, or give GSWA a call at (973) 538-3500 for more information. You'll also find some supporting materials available through our website at (PDF).

Hope you can join us!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Did You Know: What Brings Fall Colors to Our Trees?

by Ann Campbell, Jim Northrop, & Steve Reynolds

Fall colors on display at Bayne Park in Harding Township, NJ.
Like most other plants, trees rely on a biological process called photosynthesis to manufacture the nutrients they need to survive. Photosynthesis works by using light from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into the food compounds—sugars and other carbohydrates—necessary for growth and renewal. Since most of a tree’s photosynthesis takes place in the leaves, it is little wonder that those beautiful, ornately-veined structures have evolved to expose as much surface area as possible to incoming sunlight.

But what is it within each leaf that interacts with sunlight? And what is it we see in autumn when leaves turn from green to red or gold, purple or orange? The answer is pigment.

Trees leaves contain several pigments. All of them are important to the function of photosynthesis, but each one plays a slightly different role. Most of us already know about chlorophyll. It’s the green stuff found in plant cell bodies known as chloroplasts. Chlorophyll does all the heavy lifting of photosynthesis, and it’s the reason why leaves appear green to us for much of the year.

Yellow and brown shades from
carotenoid pigment dominate in these
fall maple leaves.
Less familiar may be the yellow, orange, and brown carotenoid pigments that leaves possess. Like chlorophyll, carotenoids are found inside the chloroplasts, and they absorb sunlight. But instead of using that light energy to produce food, they usually just pass it along to other part of the leaf. Carotenoids are very good at preventing damage from solar radiation. So, in a sense, they behave a lot like sunscreen for chlorophyll, which is a somewhat unstable compound and easily damaged by exposure to too much light.

Red, purple, and blue pigments known as anthrocyanins also feature in the composition of leaf tissue, although they accumulate outside of the chloroplasts in the sap. These compounds excel at absorbing high-energy light waves, especially those found in the blue-green and ultraviolet portions of the spectrum. This means that anthrocyanins are even better than the carotenoids at being “leaf sunscreen." It also means that they are found in greatest quantity when days are sunny and long.

All three pigments—chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthrocyanins—are present inside of a leaf at any given time. Most trees would be hard pressed to survive, let alone mature and grow, if they entirely lacked any one of them. Still, this seems contrary to the human experience of autumn when the passing of one season into another is marked by a change in foliage color.

The truth is that autumn’s fireworks display—as well as the other, subtler color shifts one sees in leaves—has everything to do with how much of each pigments is present at any one moment. For instance, in early spring when new leaves are unfurling, concentrations of chlorophyll are still ramping up, while the carotenoids are already hard at work hard protecting tender new tissue from the sun. The result is a leaf that is lighter green, even yellowish, in hue.

As spring gives way summer, lush greens prevail in the forest. This is when trees are working overtime to produce and replace chlorophyll at an almost-alarming rate. They are so committed to overproducing the green stuff that all of the other colors gifted by carotenoids and anthrocyanins completely disappear. This is an important point to note. Those deep emerald hues of high summer not only reflect a tree’s need to synthesize food for growth and maturation, they also indicate a steady build-up and conservation of energy aimed at shepherding the rest of the tree through the harsh temperatures and low-light conditions of the impending winter. After all, there will be no leaves to create food in just a few short months.

Colors from anthrocyanin pigments predominate in these
leaves found along the Passaic River.
As autumn dances in, it is the duration of daylight—rather than falling temperatures—that prompts a tree to change its outfit. Even so, rainfall and thermal variations affect the variety of colors it will choose to show. Because carotenoids are always present, you can count on yellows, golds, and browns in fall forest foliage just about every year. But those gorgeous red and purple anthrocyanins will only erupt when sugar levels in leaf sap are quite high. For that to happen, most of the growing season will need to have supplied lots of sunny days and plenty of moisture.

A lot of environmental variables and a lot of chemistry go into producing the annual parade of color everyone has come to expect from our forests. That said, all bets are off if Mother Nature pitches a curve ball like an early frost or a few strong autumn storms. Heavy rains or unseasonable snow will knock senescent leaves from their branches. Freezing temperatures will stop the production of vibrant anthrocyanins dead in its tracks. Droughts too can stress trees, which, in turn, may prompt the shedding of leaves before any color develops at all.

What is the lesson then? Autumn passes quickly and it may not be so glorious next year. Enjoy the fall you have right now, and enjoy it while you can!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cleanup Begins on the Lower Passaic: Summary and Opinion

Workers use a specialized environmental dredging bucket to
remove contaminated sediment from the RM 10.9 portion
of the Passaic River. Sediment is transported to a facility in
Kearny, NJ, for processing before it is moved by rail to a
landfill in Oklahoma. Courtesy of Lower Passaic River
Study Area Cooperating Parties Group.

In July, after many years of study and debate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began oversight of a $20 million dredge-and-cap project along the Lower Passaic River in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. The work will remove approximately 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a short stretch of river adjacent to Riverside County Park. On August 7, GSWA Executive Director Sally Rubin attended a press conference intended to mark the start of dredging and introduce the project timeline to media representatives and the general public.

A long legacy of industrial pollution has rendered the Lower Passaic unswimmable, unfishable, and unlivable by most standards. In fact, in 1984, the overwhelming presence of hazardous substances in and below the water led the EPA to list 17 miles of the
river—from Dundee Dam near Garfield to Newark Bay—as part of the Diamond Alkali Superfund site.

The site takes its name from the now-defunct Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company (aka Diamond Alkali). As a major manufacturer of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange in the 1950s and 1960s, the corporation’s old Lister Avenue plant is now understood to be the predominant source of PCBs, dioxin, mercury, and other toxins afflicting the Lower Passaic.

For decades, cleanup of the contaminated river bottom has been mired down by innumerable feasibility and impact studies conducted by federal and state government agencies; as well as an unremitting, seven-year lawsuit. Filed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the suit sought damages against 70 corporations deemed responsible for causing the pollution. Most of those corporations, including the oft-mentioned Occidental Chemical Corporation, are successors to the original Diamond Shamrock concern which was broken up, sold, and resold over the course of many years.

With the majority of impact studies concluded or wrapping up and the NJDEP lawsuit settled for $130 million in the state’s favor this past June, remediation is finally starting.

The project now underway at River Mile 10.9—RM 10.9 in common parlance—was not designed to address all 17 miles of the designated Superfund site. In truth, the intervention only covers a 5.6-acre area of severe contamination located offshore west of Riverside County Park. Nevertheless, Judith Enck, regional administrator for EPA Region 2, interprets activity at RM 10.9 as a positive sign of progress to come.

In a prepared statement released at the August 7 press conference Enck stated, “This cleanup removes some of the worst contamination in the Passaic River while the EPA continues to develop long-term cleanup plans for a 17-mile stretch of the Lower Passaic River...” An report from the same event portrayed the Administrator’s hopeful outlook: “When you clean up urban waterways, people flock to the river,” Enck said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for recreation and economic growth.”

The Lower Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Parties Group (CPG) recently released a statement announcing a timeline for work at RM 10.9. Equipment barges were to move into the vicinity of Riverside Park by the end of July, and dredging was to be completed by the end of September. However, a number of drawbridge failures along the downstream river corridor delayed the initial staging. Assuming the project recovers lost time, site capping—which involves the placement of an engineered stone barrier over the area of sediment removal—will begin in October and will conclude by December 31.

A diagram depicting the arrangement of silt curtains around
the RM 10.9 site. The curtains will work to prevent loose
contaminated sediment from flowing downstream and
further polluting other area of the river. Courtesy of Lower
Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Parties Group.
Work will be conducted entirely on the water, and is not expected to adversely affect park access, or the health and safety of nearby homes and businesses. However, a number of measures have been implemented in order to ensure the continuing safety and security of workers and residents. Those measures include the presence of an onsite security officer, a roving team of noise monitors, air-quality monitoring stations, and the installation of a floating silt curtain system in waters surrounding the site. The silt curtain, which extends several hundred yards downstream, is designed to prevent disturbed sediments from washing into other areas.

New Jersey will cover the $20 million price tag associated with RM 10.9 by dipping into the $130 million fund secured by NJDEP’s lawsuit. Although all of that settlement money has been earmarked for cleanup of the Lower Passaic, the Christie Administration—in a bid to balance the state budget—is pushing to reallocate at least $40 million of it into the state’s General Fund.

Speaking at the August 7 press conference, NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin explained that the substantial reallocation would be used to pay back the state for earlier environmental investigations and intervention planning his agency conducted on the Lower Passaic. According to The Observer Online, Martin clarified his position stating that, “Before EPA got involved, the state did a lot of research to understand the magnitude of the problem with the river…”

NJDEP’s argument in favor of retroactive remuneration to the General Fund does not sit well with many. Congressman Bill Pascrell from New Jersey’s 9th District is one of those opposed to the idea. In a letter to Governor Christie dated August 6, 2013, he wrote, “….it is essential that all funding recovered from the responsible parties be put toward the remediation and environmental restoration of the Passaic River, and not diverted to alternate programs.”

Congressman Pascrell’s view echoes those of others throughout New Jersey who see the governor’s move as a scheme to pad the state’s budget at the expense of Passaic River communities. From this perspective, a clear distinction is made between the fuzzy logic of collecting a reimbursement for past exploratory exercises, and the inevitable need to pay the bills coming due for current, effective, shovel-in-the-ground remediation projects. For those who have waited much of their lives to see even a single concrete step taken toward river restoration, there is nothing to contest. Funds from NJDEP’s settlement must be used to alleviate the present threat and real pain of Passaic River pollution, and not redistributed under the pretense of refunding the government for work that has already been bought and paid for.

The poet and author Maya Angelou famously wrote that, "When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor’s gift." The communities of the Great Swamp Watershed have put tremendous effort into ensuring that the water passing through their custody on its way to Newark Bay remains clean and accessible to all. It is a given that those efforts have not been entirely successful, neither have they been wholly altruistic. Nevertheless, the principle of Angelou’s statement stands. The Passaic River begins with fishable, swimmable, and livable water. There is no valid principle or reasoning available to deny or delay the same for those living beyond its headwaters.

As protectors and advocates for waters that eventually find their way into the Lower Passaic, the Great Swamp Watershed Association lauds the progress made with the initiation of the dredge-and-cap program at RM 10.9. We also encourage all parties involved to look forward, instead of dwelling on past travails. Maintain your established momentum and commit all available resources and earmarks to the continuation of viable, effectual environmental remediation and restoration. Action is the best and only way to stretch the gift of cleaner water from the Great Swamp all the way to Newark Bay. And the sooner it is done, the sooner all of us in New Jersey may profit from a swimmable, fishable, and livable Passaic River.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Did You Know? The Friendly Turtles

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

It was a mild, but sunny, July day and I decided to spend some time outside, enjoying nature. I had not visited the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge recently, so that was my destination. I enjoy using some of the wooden boardwalks that go deep into this unspoiled slice of nature. It was a weekday, so no one else was nearby.

Around a bend in the boardwalk, I saw a partly submerged tree stump with what appeared to be a turtle sunning himself. I went closer and realized there were two turtles, and they were only a few feet from the boardwalk.  On closer inspection, I saw that they were eastern painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), and both of them were asleep, basking in the pleasant rays of the sun.

In general, turtles seem to love soaking up sunlight. It is said that this helps to warm them up, since they are cold blooded. Basking also gets rid of parasites, such as leeches, which don't like the sun.
Suddenly, I heard a voice. Startled, I realized that the nearest turtle had opened his eyes and was speaking to me.

"I bet you wish you had a swim club as nice as ours," the near turtle said. I had to agree, but I realized there is more to life than sun bathing, so I had some questions.

"What do you do when you get hungry?" I asked. Well, he shared with me a rather extensive answer: "A turtle's diet varies greatly, depending on what is conveniently available. Adult turtles like me typically eat aquatic plants like duckweed, algae, and water lilies. We also eat insects, snails, earth worms, leeches, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, fish, and some kinds of dead animal matter. However, my turtle youngsters tend to be carnivorous----meat-eating. I am no scientist, but I suppose they instinctively seek the protein that meaty meals provide, so their young bodies will grow fast."

At that point, the other turtle began to stir and listen to our conversation. I was curious about where and what they called "home," so I asked them. The second turtle stretched his neck toward the large shell on his back and said, "You're looking at my house----this cumbersome shell. You might say, 'I just never do leave home.'"

I took a closer look. I could see that the upper and lower shells encasing the belly of the turtle were joined together at the sides by bony structures. I also remembered that the inner layer of a turtle's shell is made up of about 60 bones that include portions of the backbone and the ribs. So, I can see what this turtle meant about never being able to crawl out of his shell. Removing the shell would also remove part of his skeleton!

However, the rigid shell means turtles cannot breathe as other reptiles do, by changing the volume of their chest cavities by means of expansion and contraction of the ribs. Instead, they breathe in two other ways. First, they pull air into their mouths, and then they push it into their lungs by moving the floor of the throat back and forth in an oscillating motion. Secondly, when the abdominal muscles covering the posterior opening of the shell contract, the internal volume of the shell increases. This draws air into the lungs, allowing the muscles to function in much the same way as the diaphragm of mammals.

Although turtles probably spend large amounts of their lives under water, all turtles breathe air and must surface at regular intervals to refill their lungs.

Now that my friends had become so chatty, I was concerned about whether they had predators in the Great Swamp. I knew that when a turtle senses danger, it will quickly dive into the water. Also, turtles can hide their heads inside their shells when attacked by predators. But, both were quick to tell me that indeed they do have predators. The first turtle began listing a few: herons, raccoons, larger turtles, crows, large fish, snakes, hawks, bullfrogs, and foxes.

I knew it was a delicate question, but I wondered how challenging it was for turtles to reproduce. My new friends were prepared to talk about it. They said that painted turtles breed in the spring, and that females dig their nests sometime between May and July. First a female will climb a little way onto the shore. Then she will dig a hole that is close enough to the water so that the bottom of the hole will have some water in it. The hole she digs will be about four inches deep. Next, she lays her eggs----large numbers of them----in the hole; each egg being about one inch long. She then fills the hole back up to hide the nest, and the eggs are left to incubate by themselves.

Painted turtles do not raise their young. But, the baby turtles will hatch, dig their way out of the nest, and head for the water at about 10 weeks. "Sadly," the two turtles said, "many predators will eat the baby turtles while they are so vulnerable."

While the two turtles continued to talk, I was able to get a closer look at their mouths. Turtles have rigid beaks, and use their jaws to cut and chew food. Instead of having teeth, the upper and lower jaws of the turtle are covered by horny ridges. They apparently use their tongues to swallow food, but unlike most reptiles, they cannot stick out their tongues to catch food.

Painted turtles will not bite you if you disturb them, but they do have sharp claws. And those claws can scratch severely when a turtle struggles to get away from you. Importantly, these long, sharp claws are not used solely for defense. They are very useful when turtles clamber onto the riverbank and onto floating logs when they feel the urge to bask in the sun.

It was time for me to go, but I had one last question----I asked the two turtles what they do in the winter. They told me that they hibernate. There needs to be some mud at the bottom of the water. They dig into the mud----or dirt or leaves----and bury themselves. This posture protects them from the cold, and then their body functions slow way down until the warmer weather returns.

I thanked my two new friends for our surprising conversation, and I headed further out on the boardwalk. They invited me to chat again, if I were to come this way. I said I would, and then I realized that the Great Swamp is full of painted turtles that are pretty much identical. I would have to stop and talk to each and every one of them before finding these two new friends again!

Water-friendly Golf in Mendham Township

MGTC Superintendent Chris Boyle (left) with GSWA
Executive Director Sally Rubin (center) and
GSWA Director of Water Quality Programs
Laura Kelm (right). Chris gave a tour of MTGC
that highlighted the many environmentally-sensitive
golf course management practices in place there.
Credit: GSWA, Carlos Pomares
In June, Great Swamp Watershed Association staff members were invited to tour the Mendham Golf and Tennis Club (MGTC) to assist in the club’s recertification in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses (ACSP). The ACSP promotes environmentally sound practices for land management and natural resource conservation on golf courses. Chris Boyle, the golf course superintendent, pointed out many of the measures in place at MGTC to protect the local environment and provide wildlife habitat.

Wherever possible, streams are surrounded by natural areas to provide habitat and protect waterways from stormwater runoff. Nest boxes for swallows, blue birds, wood ducks, and a thriving martin population are located throughout the property. Watering needs are determined on a daily basis using the club’s own weather station, and a portable soil moisture meter is used to target watering on dry areas. Soil tests and visual inspections determine the type, amount, and location of fertilizer usage. That fertilizer is applied in one of two ways: through the irrigation system or spot-applied at specific locations.

MGTC already conducts periodic water quality monitoring, but they also remain open to working with GSWA to improve on the location of monitoring site and increase testing frequency. GSWA’s recent State of the Streams report has shown that golf courses can have a negative impact on water quality. We are pleased to see a local golf taking steps to improve the environment and minimize impacts to water quality.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Winners of GSWA's Primrose Farm Photo Contest Announced

Tropical Storm Andrea blew herself out of New Jersey just in the nick of time! Happily, that meteorological coincidence set a sunny stage for the Great Swamp Watershed Association's much-anticipated Essence of Primrose Photo Contest on June 8, 2013.

More than 20 individual photographers, along with a host of parents, partners, and other impropmtu artistic assistants, descended on Primrose Farm to join in the day-long event aimed at capturing that one picture capable of saying 1,000 words about the newest piece of preserved open space in New Jersey's Harding Township.

Although competition was fierce in all three photographer age groups—13-and-under, 14-to-22, and 22-and-over—a panel of expert judges handpicked three submissions to take home top honors.

Each of the three winning photos is a true work of art.

Among those 22 and over, Michelle Hacker of Belcamp, Maryland, took the judges' collective breath away with her gorgeous, sepia-toned landscape, titled "Vintage Meadow," taken under the sheltering limbs of Primrose Farm's most distinctive oak tree.

"Vintage Meadow," by Michelle Hacker, Belcamp, MD. Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
"Vintage Meadow," by Michelle Hacker, Belcamp, MD.
Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
Among the 14-to-22-year-old contestants, Peri Levine of Bedminster, NJ, demonstrated a true facility and passion for wildlife photography with her snap of a perching dragonfly.

"Untitled," by Peri Levine, Bedminster, NJ. Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
"Untitled," by Peri Levine, Bedminster, NJ.
Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
Among the 13-and-under crowd, Ashleigh Scully of Morristown, NJ, took first place with her photo, "Dawn at Primrose Farm."

"Dawn at Primrose Farm," by Ashleigh Scully, Morristown, NJ. Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
"Dawn at Primrose Farm," by Ashleigh Scully, Morristown, NJ.
Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
All three photo contest winners received a gift certificate for $25 from Each winner will also receive a full-size, framed print of their winning submission courtesy of our contest sponsors at Madison PhotoPlus (Madison, NJ) and The Image Maker Studio (Mendham, NJ).

Before the framed prints are turned over to our winners, they will hang for one month in a place of distinction at the Somerset County Environmental Education Center (EEC) located at 190 Lord Stirling Road in Basking Ridge, NJ. Stop by and have a look!

Although she was ever-so-slightly edged out of a victory in the 14-to-22-year-old age group, contestant Laurel Monks of Chatham Borough, NJ, received a very special honorable mention. She will not receive a gift certificate or a framed print, but her magnificently composed photo, "Twisting Through Time," will become the mascot for the Great Swamp Watershed Association's 2013 Gala Celebration. This year's gala will take place on Thursday, October 3, at the Westin Governor Morris in Morristown.

"Twisting Through Time," by Laurel Monks, Chatham Borough, NJ. Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
"Twisting Through Time," by Laurel Monks, Chatham, NJ.
Copyright ©2013 Great Swamp Watershed Association.
All of the submissions made to the Essence of Primrose Photo Contest are available for review on the Great Swamp Watershed Association's official Flickr page located at This site also includes photos of Primrose Farm landscapes and widlife taken by GSWA volunteers and staff members. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Volunteers Honored for Contributions to Environmental Nonprofit

Great Swamp Watershed Association presents awards for outstanding service in 2012-13.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) honored three area residents for their outstanding service as volunteers over the past year.  The announcements were made during the environmental organization’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Picnic on Tuesday, June 25.

Millington resident Bill Marshall was recognized for his contributions to GSWA’s water quality programs.  For the past two years, he has worked with the organization’s Stream Team to assist with the collection of scientific data from the five major streams of New Jersey’s Great Swamp.

Marshall has been instrumental in conducting scientific visual assessments of waterways, collecting water samples for chemical analysis, and, more recently, helping GSWA launch a monitoring program for waterborne bacteria.

Meyersville resident Ritchie Fullerton and Stirling resident Richard Desch were both recognized for their contributions to GSWA’s outreach and education programming.  Both honorees began their involvement in the organization through events sponsored jointly with Northern New Jersey Cachers (, a group dedicated to promoting the outdoor sport of geocaching statewide.

Fullerton and Desch provided critical support over the past year for two major efforts aimed at increasing awareness of the natural world in and around New Jersey’s Great Swamp.  GSWA’s Halloween-themed Spooky Swamp Walk—held on the 26 and 27 of October, 2012—introduced participants to the organization’s 53-acre, Conservation Management Area—a publicly accessible natural area and demonstration site for environmental restoration projects.  GSWA’s Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt, held on May 11, 2013, introduced a host of geocachers and many others to the sights and sounds of the larger 55-square-mile Great Swamp Watershed region by sending them out to explore outdoor destinations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham Township, NJ.

In appreciation of their contributions, GSWA presented all three honorees with appropriate swamp-related gifts.  Marshall received a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States which includes information about plants and wildlife commonly found in the Great Swamp. Fullerton and Desch each received a northern highbush blueberry shrub to plant at home.  The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is native to the eastern U.S. and commonly found in the Great Swamp region.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association sincerely thanks all of its 2012-13 volunteers for the excellent work they have done to protect the waters and the land of the Great Swamp Watershed we all love and share.  If you are interested in joining one GSWA’s environmental volunteer programs, please visit the organization online at, or call 973-538-3500 for more information.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Accolades for Bernards High School Students Working Toward Cleaner Water

Advanced Placement projects benefit Great Swamp Watershed Association, win award from The Nature Conservancy

Bernards High School students in Karen DeTrolio’s AP Environmental Studies class made a big splash with their year-end projects this June.  Working in teams of 3 or 4, they examined their own relationships with water and turned their discoveries into practical information everyone can use to avoid pollution and conserve natural resources.

The 20 projects, which included everything from a review of the impact of common household chemicals on water supplies, to an explanation of the links between clean water and healthy wildlife, were developed in partnership with the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA).

Dedicated to protecting the waters and the land of New Jersey’s 55-square-mile Great Swamp Watershed region, GSWA will incorporate the students’ work into the organization’s upcoming Watershed Friendly Homes program.  GSWA Director of Education and Outreach Hazel England worked with DeTrolio to design the classroom collaboration and provided guidance and support to students as their research progressed.

“GSWA was excited to initiate this project and collaborate with students from a school within the watershed,” said England.  “Their work will form a cornerstone for future outreach to residents in Bernardsville and the nine other towns of the Great Swamp Watershed as GSWA launches its new Watershed Friendly Homes program aimed at changing water use behavior in the region.”

Students were asked to present their final projects over the course of two days to an audience made up of their peers and several visiting environmental experts from GSWA and other local community groups.  Visiting experts were asked to assess each group’s presentation, and choose their favorites.

Awards for excellence went to four groups of students.  Seniors Lauren Thomann, Abby Parker, and Erin O’Brien chose to survey their peers and the surrounding Bernardsville community to learn more about local water use and what might keep people from engaging in more conservation-oriented behavior.

Senior Morgan Blain, senior Christian Torres, and junior Jon Carter explored the true cost of bottled water production and what it would take to convince consumers to replace boutique water brands with ordinary, clean tap water.

Seniors Bina Patel, Kathryn Levin, and Edi Lima ventured under the sink to discover more about the environmental effects of those household cleaning products we all use and wash down the drain when we are done with them.

Seniors Addie Clayton, Erin Doran, and Sophie Reddi documented the construction of a rain barrel they and their friends built from scratch.  Their double-barrel rainwater collection system, which cost $200 to construct, is already at work diverting rain from the roof of Bernards High School into a courtyard garden where it nourishes a multitude of watershed friendly native plants.

A fifth group, which included seniors Matt Whitlock, Katie Hildebrandt, and Till Rosscamp, went above and beyond their teacher’s requirements and submitted their project to The Nature Conservancy for consideration in the environmental organization’s Show Us Your H2O competition for school groups and civic organizations from New Jersey’s Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, and Somerset Counties.  Structuring their research to meet stringent contest parameters, the trio created a presentation that carefully tracked the source of drinking water for the Borough of Bernardsville, and systematically analyzed the environmental risks facing that water supply.

Their hard work was repaid in full when they took top honors for their submission.  As a reward, Matt, Katie, and Till will be acknowledged for their integral role in the placement of a new rain garden that The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey will construct free of charge on the grounds of Bernards High.

“I am so pleased with the success of the project for both the GSWA and for my students,” said Bernards High teacher Karen DeTrolio.  “It provided my classes with a meaningful project-based learning experience, and the GSWA with the building blocks for their Watershed Friendly Homes program.  As a teacher, it was incredibly rewarding to watch my students apply what they learned throughout the year to a real-life situation.”

Congratulations to all of the participating Bernards H.S. students for a job well done.  Their work will appear online early this fall as part of GSWA’s Watershed Friendly Homes program.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Did You Know? The Cicadas Are Here!

by Jim Northrop

Most insects follow an annual cycle of birth, life and then death.  Seasonal changes in temperature often cue these insect life stages. However, a very noticeable exception to that rule is presently occurring.
Cicadas have emerged en masse, after 17 years in the ground. They are clambering into trees and singing a distinctive chorus that can be heard for miles because of their numerous voices. While there are many kinds of cicadas, these 17-year cicadas are a specific genus of cicada, called Periodical Cicadas (genus: Magicicada).
What makes this event so remarkable is that it results from 17 years of preparation. The now emerging army of Periodical Cicadas was born in 1996. Their mothers laid their eggs in the branches of trees. There they developed for a few weeks before hatching and heading for the ground. These larvae then squirmed into the dirt and spent the next 17 years sucking fluid from tree and plant roots.
Millions of cicada nymphs have now climbed from the ground in which they have spent nearly two decades. They will have morphed from wingless to winged creatures, and taken to the trees for their famously noisy courtship. The empty husks of the nymph-stage bugs are seemingly everywhere. Now, the newly emerged animals single-mindedly seek to mate and produce the next generation. And shortly after mating and after the eggs are laid, the adults will die. Surprisingly, cicadas barely eat a thing during their time above ground.
Their time in the sun is short, but their 17-year life span makes them the longest-lived insects known.
Cicadas will not emerge in everyone's back yard.  If there are no deciduous trees—trees that lose their leaves each fall, like maples, oaks and fruit trees—probably no cicadas will be seen. Pesticides, construction, extreme weather conditions, and tree removal are also factors reducing the incidence of cicadas. The overall emergence time for cicadas in a particular location typically is 4 to 6 weeks from the time the first nymph crawls from the ground, until the last adult dies.
Cicadas use a defensive strategy we could call "predator saturation." They reproduce by the millions in order to "fill up" the predators. The idea is that all the squirrels, birds, possums, snakes, lizards, raccoons and other predatory animals will become so full of cicadas that they tire of eating them. Then, just enough cicadas will escape and get to mate and reproduce.
Periodic Cicadas don't bother to escape when confronted, and that is because they do not have to escape. Since they emerge in such HUGE numbers, some members of their species are bound to survive no matter what. They can devote their limited energy and time above ground to calling and mating, rather than running away from each and every possible predator. This strategy may explain how an insect that neither bites nor stings, has managed to thrive.
Are cicadas locusts? No, true locusts belong in the same family of insects as grasshoppers. The confusion stems from the fact that both locusts and cicadas emerge in periodic swarms. But, locusts are far more destructive, destroying all plant life in their path. Cicadas do fly around trees and kill a few weakling branches here and there. They DO NOT kill flowers and would not damage shrubs and trees, unless the latter are young and immature. Cicadas do not damage tree leaves by chewing them as other insects do. Unlike grasshoppers and caterpillars, cicadas do not eat garden vegetables. They lack mouth parts that would enable them to chew.
Probably it is not a good idea to combat cicadas with pesticides. New cicadas will continually fly onto your trees from neighboring yards, making pesticides futile. Also, your pets could become poisoned from ingesting too many treated cicadas. Importantly, you will want to avoid the unintended collateral damage of killing honey bees and butterflies by using pesticides to disable cicadas. 
While cicadas in your back yard are a bit of a nuisance, remember that you are not going to see Periodic Cicadas again until the year 2030.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mother Nature, Morristown, and the Revolutionary War Soldier

Great Swamp Watershed Association and Morristown NHP partner to tell the story of George Washington’s Jockey Hollow Encampment of 1779-80.

The headwaters of Primrose Brook, one
of the 5 major streams of the Great
Swamp Watershed, rises inside the
Jockey Hollow Unit of Morristown
National Historical Parl.
Most Americans remember the plight of ill-equipped Revolutionary War soldiers at Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Encampment during the harsh winter of 1777-1778. As young children, we learn the story of patriots who starved, froze, and, marched without shoes; and those imagined scenes stick with us for the rest of our lives.
Fewer realize that an even worse season of snow and bone-chilling wind awaited those same troops only two year later.  In 1779-80, while General George Washington pondered the British stronghold in New York City, he needed a place to camp the bulk of his Continental Army.  He chose Jockey Hollow for his encampment—an area of land situated between Mendham and Morristown in New Jersey—and it was there that his men began digging in for what would become the coldest winter on record.
Despite the prospect of bad weather, the landscape in and around Jockey Hollow offered several advantages.  The surrounding hills were militarily defensible.  Proximity to the British and land routes in out of New York offered a perfect base for observation and spy missions.  And an abundance of natural resources—clean water, wood cover, and fuel—meant a better chance for soldiers to survive winter’s oncoming wrath.
While more than 1.2 million Americans visit the national park at Valley Forge each year, only 300,000 or so visit Morristown National Historical Park annually.  It was at Jockey Hollow that Washington’s troops honed their ability to endure, and it was this trait of the soldiery that became one of the keystone strategies that ultimately won the nation’s independence.  How unfortunate is it that more of us—especially those of us living nearby—are so unfamiliar with this story of persistence, dedication, and patriotism?
The Great Swamp Watershed Association and Morristown National Historical Park will work together this June to spread the word about these heroes from our past. And part of the retelling of that story will focus on how a Revolutionary-era soldier’s relationship with the outdoors helped him and his comrades survive to march and fight.
On Sunday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to noon, join representatives from both partner groups for Jockey Hollow Explorers: Water and the Revolutionary War.  Start the morning with a stroll through the history and the natural history of the Jockey Hollow encampment.  You will learn more about how soldiers used natural resources—especially water—at the site and what condition those resources are in today.
Following the hike, meet a National Park Service interpreter for some hands-on activities.  Water, in the 18th century, served not only in cooking and washing but also as a source of power, as a highway, a moat and even a dump.  Learn about the role of water in daily life in the 18th century as well as the role of oceans and rivers in the American Revolution. Join the Park ranger in a role-playing game in which the adults represent England and the kids become the Patriots using waterways to defend their homeland.
This is a free event is open to all who wish to attend.  Online registration in advance of attendance is strongly encouraged.  Register by visiting the Great Swamp Watershed Association at  To register via telephone, please call and leave a message at 973-538-3500 x22.
The Jockey Hollow Unit of Morristown National Historical Park is located at approximately 600 Tempe Wick Road in Morristown, NJ.
For more information about Morristown National Historical Park, please visit  For more information about the Great Swamp Watershed Association, please visit

Friday, May 24, 2013

Photo Contest Focuses In On Preservation Success Story in Great Swamp

Great Swamp Watershed Association will host first public event at 113-acre Primrose Farm on June 8.

Great Swamp Watershed Association board members and
staff hike Harding's newly preserved Primrose Farm
property, January 2013.
Morris County boasts a brand new destination for those who love the outdoors.

Primrose Farm, a 113-acre tract of wetlands, fields, and forest in Harding Township, was once slated to become a 13-lot residential subdivision.  After years of advocacy work by a coalition of non-profit and community partners, and the application of more than $9 million in municipal, county, and state funding, the property was successfully preserved as open space in December 2012. Now, under the auspices of its current owners at Harding Land Trust, the site will remain wild—providing vital habitat for endangered species like the Indiana bat, and a large area of porous land capable of recharging local groundwater supplies and the nearby Passaic River.

Primrose Farm is also open to the public for hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor recreational activities.

The first organized public use of the site will take place on June 8, 2013, when the Great Swamp Watershed Association holds The Essence of Primrose, a special photo contest aimed at capturing the quintessential spirit of the newly preserved property.

Photographers of all ages and skill levels are invited to visit Primrose Farm any time between 10:00 a.m. June 8, and 10:00 a.m. June 9 in search of one photograph that they think best represents “the essence” of this diverse and beautiful landscape.  Naturalists and professional photographers will be on hand between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on June 8 to help contestants tour the property and provide photography tips.

Following the photography period, contestants will have 7 days to sort and process their work before submitting a single photo for contest consideration. The deadline for submission is 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 16, 2013.

A jury consisting of professional photographers, naturalists, and others selected by the Great Swamp Watershed Association will judge each work and announce winners in three different age group categories on June 25, 2013.

Winning photographers will receive a special prize from Winning photographs will be professionally printed by Madison PhotoPlus (Madison, NJ), framed by The Image Maker (Mendham, NJ), and publicly exhibited for one month at Somerset County Park Commission’s Environmental Education Center in Basking Ridge.

In anticipation of June’s photo
contest, the Great Swamp
Watershed Association and
its volunteers built this public
access trail at Primrose Farm
in Harding on May 17. This
is the first official trail to appear
at the site since its preservation
in December 2012. Photo by
Great Swamp Watershed
Association, 2013.
“I am proud to say that, back in 2008, we were the first community stakeholder to recognize the intrinsic natural value of Primrose Farm,” said Sally Rubin, executive director of the Great Swamp Watershed Association. “We were excited when Harding Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and other partners answered our call to preserve this special place; we were eager to contribute to its purchase and protection; and, now, we are thrilled to be the first to introduce it to the public through this special photo contest.”

The Great Swamp Watershed Association contributed $200,000 to the purchase of Primrose Farm through New Jersey’s Green Acres program, and recently engaged a group of volunteers to build the first access trail onto the property (see photo). The organization will continue to assist the Harding Land Trust with future maintenance projects.

Groups contributing to the initial Primrose Farm preservation effort included the Great Swamp Watershed Association, the Harding Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land, the Harding Open Space Trust, the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund, and the Morris County Municipal Utilities Association.

For more information about the photo contest (including a complete schedule of events, rules, and photo submission guidelines) please visit online or call 973-538-3500 x22. To be eligible to compete, all photographers must check in with the Great Swamp Watershed Association at Primrose Farm—located at approximately 15 Brook Drive, South, Harding, NJ—between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 8.

Pre-registration is strongly encouraged. Visit for a registration form. Registration is free; however, voluntary donations to the Great Swamp Watershed Association are gratefully accepted.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Local Organizations, Businesses Unite To Produce The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt

Far-ranging geography game promotes awareness of nature, culture, history in northern New Jersey.

Morristown, NJ—On May 11, starting at 9:00 a.m., 18 area organizations and businesses will work together to present The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt—a free, outdoor event created by the Great Swamp Watershed Association, and designed to promote greater public awareness of some of the most significant natural, cultural, and historical locations found in northern New Jersey.

Part game and part celebration, The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt takes participants on a 40-mile adventure through the state’s Great Swamp Watershed region. This is the place where the mighty Passaic River rises, where George Washington’s troops survived the coldest winter of the Revolutionary War, where the U.S. government created the first federally-designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi, and where many seriously injured wild birds have found sanctuary and healing.

Scavengers spend a fun-filled day hunting down special tokens from more than 15 sites of interest throughout the watershed.  Featured locations include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the National Park Service’s Morristown National Historical Park, Morris County Park Commission’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, Somerset County Park Commission’s Environmental Education Center at Lord Stirling Park, New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, The Raptor Trust, Harding Land Trust’s Primrose Farms, the Great Swamp Watershed Association’s Conservation Management Area, the Friends of the Great Swamp’s Helen C. Fenske Visitor Center, Millington Gorge, Meyersville Café, and the Rolling Knolls Superfund site.

“What a great event,” said Jenny Gaus-Myers, superintendent of environmental education at the Morris County Park Commission.  “We love being part of the scavenger hunt and introducing lots of new visitors to our center and the wonders of the Great Swamp Watershed.”

Cathy Schrein, manager of Somerset County Park Commission’s Environmental Science Department, echoed Gaus-Myers’s sentiment, adding: “Events like The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt and the Somerset County Environmental Education Center’s Swamp Search are such fun ways for the public to learn more about their immediate environment and to enjoy the outdoors.”

Geocaching enthusiasts will experience twice the fun at The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt by logging special caches that have been carefully hidden at each location by members of Northern New Jersey Cachers (—one of the nation’s most respected geocaching organizations.

“NNJC has partnered with GSWA for a number of years, from boardwalk construction and kiosk building, to presenting a spooky Halloween hike,” said John Neale, president of NNJC.  “Like geocaching, The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt is another great example of getting folks together to enjoy the outdoors and learn about their local parks.”

At 4:00 p.m., scavengers will gather at Loantaka Brook Reservation’s Kitchell Pond Pavilion (Morris Township) where they will be treated to a free picnic barbeque and will be able to exchange the tokens they collect for an opportunity to win one of several top-notch prizes.

This year’s prizes include premium outdoor gear and gift certificates to notable area restaurants donated by event sponsors at Investors Bank of Madison, Morris Tap and Grill in Randolph, Meyersville Café in Long Hill Township, and Shanghai Jazz Restaurant and Bar in Madison.  Additional prizes and giveaways will be supplied by Blue Ridge Mountain Sports in Madison, Smarties Candy Company of Union Township, and other event partners.

“We want people to know that there is so much out there to see and learn in the Great Swamp,” said Liz Adinaro, head of marketing and media for Morris Tap and Grill.  “We believe in supporting our community, as the community gives back to us by visiting our restaurant.”

Food for the Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt Picnic will be donated by event sponsors at Whole Foods Market Rose City Madison, and Costco East Hanover.  Grills and buffet tables will be staffed by the Great Swamp Watershed Association and Northern New Jersey Cachers.

Scavenger hunters who choose to join the afternoon picnic are welcome to contribute a covered side dish to share with the rest of the group.  Drinks, hot dogs, hamburgers, and an additional healthy main dish will be offered free of charge while supplies last.

Visit or call 973-538-3500 x22 for more complete information about The Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt, including start time and location, a basic description of rules, and picnic details.  Online registration is free and recommended.  Donations in support of the event are sincerely appreciated and may be made at time of registration or during the event at Kitchell Pond Pavilion.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Did You Know? ...An Owl Adventure

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

It was a stormy night in September, a few hours after sunset, and I was feeling hungry. I would need to search for my dinner, so I set forth. This was farm country in northern New Jersey. I did not expect to find my dinner any time soon, but I noticed some lights, and movement to the right, and I went in that direction. Suddenly, I was stopped and fell to the ground ---- I had carelessly struck a glass picture window on the side of a farm house.

Oh, I forgot to tell you.  I am an owl ---- humans call me a great horned owl, and I guess I am bigger than other owls in New Jersey.  I stand about 22 inches tall and have a wingspan of about 55 inches (that's about 4 1/2 feet). I am a bird of prey, so when I look for my dinner, I catch, kill and eat other small animals in order to survive. An owl killing and eating another animal is no different from a robin eating a worm or a gull eating a fish.

Hunting at night, I use my extraordinary vision and excellent hearing to locate my prey. My wide wings, lightweight body and unusually soft, fluffy feathers allow me to fly silently. My eating habits might put you off, but when I seize a rodent or other small mammal, I kill it with my powerful feet. If the prey is small enough, I swallow it whole. Otherwise, I tear it apart with my hooked beak.

I am told that my amazing digestive system assimilates the nutritious portions of the prey. Then the undigested parts (hair, claws, teeth, etc.) are regurgitated in the form of pellets and scattered on the ground.

One blessing I have is that all owls are protected by state and Federal regulations. It is illegal to kill or capture an owl. It is also illegal to possess an owl, living or dead, without the proper permits from both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of New Jersey.

I can say with confidence that owls pose no threat to humans. Adult owls will, of course, defend their territory and their young against any intruders, human or otherwise. However, humans do not always return the favor. Humans continue to pose a number of threats to owls:  we sometimes collide with their automobiles and their windows, or we consume the environmental contaminants they leave around.  They also destroy the critical habitat, the fields and forests, where we live and hunt.

But, let me take you back to that September night when I collided with the large glass window.  I fell to the ground because, it turned out, one of my wings was broken.  I felt so vulnerable, lying there helpless on the ground.  It was a very long and scary night for me.  But, at sunrise I heard footsteps. The farmer was outside and about to do his chores, when he noticed me and came over for a closer look.

The farmer, being experienced with animals, saw immediately that my wing was broken ---- perhaps it was the bone fragments poking through the skin of my wing. He knew what to do, and went to the barn to bring back a blanket.  He placed the blanket over me carefully, scooped me up and set me in a large cardboard box, which he placed in the cab of his pick-up truck.  Then he told his wife he was headed to The Raptor Trust in Millington, at the edge of the Great Swamp, to find some help for me.

Fortunately, The Raptor Trust staff were able to accommodate. They began their care by getting an X-ray of my broken wing.  Sure enough, there were breaks in two places, so they pinned the bone fragments back into place. I was encouraged by their kind manner ---- perhaps I would fly again, after all.  The staff also recognized the damage to the soft tissue of my wing (muscles, blood vessels, etc.). Circulation to the wing could well have been compromised, preventing it from healing. Only time would tell. I would need to be patient.

By mid-November the bones were starting to knit together.  It was time to remove the pins that had been put in to hold the bone fragments together.  The staff at The Raptor Trust seemed happy with my progress, but the injured wing was tight, unable to extend fully.  I knew I wouldn't be able to fly like that.

Progress was slow, but by February I was flying short distances. Then they decided to move me to a bigger flight cage to see what I could do. Even though I had flown a bit, it still took time to regain the strength and stamina I had lost while recuperating.  They put me in the largest flight cage at The Raptor Trust, and by mid-April I was flying like an eagle. I was ready to go home.

Before release, I was fitted with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band. The metal band will remain on my leg for the rest of my life. If humans ever encounter me again, it can easily be determined where and when I was banded. I overheard that banding birds is important because it allows for the study of bird movements, survival and life span.

The folks at The Raptor Trust didn't just open the cage and shoo me away. It was decided to transport me back to the farm where I had gotten into trouble because, after all, that is my home. After the drive, they removed me from my transport crate and released me into the air. It was great to take a few powerful flaps and soar over familiar territory. I think I even saw a farewell wave from my Raptor Trust friends as I soared away ----- home again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day from the Great Swamp Watershed Association!
Earth Day 2013 is here! According to the Earth Day Network, more than a billion people in 192 countries are participating in related events around the globe.

Since this year's official observance falls on a Monday, most folks are probably spending the day at work. But, remember that April is often called "Earth Month" and this week is often called "Earth Week." Perhaps you marked Earth Day early at an event this past weekend or earlier in April.  Perhaps you're observing it in the days to come. When you get right down to it, any day is a good day for an Earth Day celebration!

Help GSWA keep this year's Earth Day spirit alive and kicking throughout May too! There are few ways you can help.


Why not become a GSWA volunteer?

There are two important volunteer opportunities coming up soon. On Sunday, May 5, Laura Kelm, our director of water quality programs, is looking for volunteers to help with our annual stream restoration project. This event, which is our version of a traditional Earth Day cleanup, will take place at Kitchell Pond in the heart of Morris County's Loantaka Brook Reservation. We will be building a new vegetated buffer around the pond that will work to curb the negative effects of  stormwater runnoff and erosion. Much of the work will center around planting native shrubs and plants that slow down stormwater flow and help absorb water into the ground. For more information about this event, visit

Sunday, May 19 is your opportunity to become a member of GSWA's Stream Team at our biannual stream assessment training for volunteers. Held twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring), GSWA's visual assessment training teaches volunteers how to observe and record important scientific data about our local stream reaches, including information like stream depth, stream width, and the presence or absence of streambank erosion. Trained Stream Team members are in short supply, so please help us out by coming to this event. For more information about this hands-on, indoor-outdoor workshop, visit


Take some time to educate yourself on an important environmental topic: climate change.

The Face of Climate Change is the theme that Earth Day Network—an international nonprofit that has been working to mobilize and diversify the environmental movement for many years—has given to Earth Day 2013. In celebration of that theme, GSWA has created a special event that will focus on climate change issues and how they will specifically affects those of us living here in northern New Jersey.

On Monday, May 13, GSWA, the Somerset County Park Commission, and the Passaic River Institute will convene a special panel discussion called "The Challenges of Climate Change and Building Resilient Communities." This event, which takes place at 7PM at the Somerset County Environmental Education Center in Basking Ridge, will feature a panel of climate change experts from Montclair State University. Topics for discussion will include everything from the documented rise in average temperatures in New Jersey, to the important, but often overlooked, role of human relationships in preparing for and recovering from severe climatic events. For more information about this public panel discussion, visit


Become a GSWA member right now!

Make Earth Day your everyday by making a financial commitment to the only group solely dedicated to protecting the waters and land of the Great Swamp Watershed.

There are plenty of benefits for members: a biannual print newsletter that keeps you up-to-date on watershed happenings, a monthly eNewsletter that notifies you of important breaking environmental news, free participation in GSWA events and invitations to special get-togethers, and much more.

We need your help all year long! Click here to become a member right now.