Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Fever in Valley Forge

Opening day of trout season on Valley Creek
Today (Saturday, March 30) was probably the nicest day so far this year, with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s. Because rain is forecast for tomorrow, Easter Sunday, Kali and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and repeat the circuit hike we enjoyed earlier this year (see February 4th post) which involved ascending (and descending) Mt. Misery and Mt. Joy in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  Lots of other folks had spring fever, too, because the park was crowded and parking spots at a premium.

A view back down the Mt. Misery Trail we had just climbed
There were no signs of spring in the woods, and the forest looked much like it did when we hiked here a few weeks ago, so I didn't take any new pictures in  he woodlands.  But midway along the hike, we reaches the bank of Valley Creek, a cold-water trout stream--a rarity in our area.  Fishers were using the nice weather to cast for brown trout on the opening day of trout season.  Valley Creek is catch-and-release only because the water is contaminated with PCBs.

All of the green on the hillside above the fisherman is...
...Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), an extremely aggressive riparian invasive, just beginning to bloom
Playing on a log over the creek

A local sportmen's club has planted riparian buffers on the banks of Valley Creek in the the park.  The plantings have to be fenced to keep the park's superabundant deer away from the newly planted trees and shrubs.

The dogs didn't seem to mind, but the female half of this fording duo was squealing about the "cold water"
Valley Forge topography - that's wooded Mt. Joy, our next goal, in the background
An infected red maple tree
On the crest of Mt. Joy, we came across this solitary red maple (Acer rubra) infected with a fungus that causes these burls, carbuncles and swollen growths.  The tree was still very much alive and its leaves were ready to burst open any day now.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Damned Squirrels!

On my way back from my adjunct teaching gig last Thursday afternoon, I came to a stop sign and suddenly smelled the really strong odor of gasoline.  Oh, please, let he driver who had just passed through the intersection have overfilled his tank.  But, of, course, such was not the case; the almost perceptibly falling needle on the fuel gauge confirmed that I was leaking gas.

I stopped for a quick errand, looked under the car, and saw the gasoline fairly spewing onto the pavement.  Fortunately, when I turned off the car, the stream stopped and I could complete my errand.  But the streaming renewed as soon as I restarted the car.

Fearing that even if I got back home I wouldn't be able to get the car started again, I pulled into my mechanic's garage and reported the problem.  I left the car, and my mechanic drove me home.

My suspicions were confirmed the next morning when my mechanic called to tell me that a squirrel had chewed through the fuel line--again!  This has to be at least the second time in this car, and at least once in Kali's car.  The damage this time: $165.

Almost every time I come out of my house, squirrels scatter from the undercarriage of the car.  I can understand their seeking shelter, but what would possess them to nibble on a fuel line, for goodness sake?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Misbegotten Trek to the Musconetcong

Musconetcong River
Because the weather was forecast to be nice (temperatures near 60 degrees F with mostly sunny skies) and because we had an "extra" hour of daylight thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I talked Kali into taking a hike last Sunday afternoon, March 10.  An employee of mine had said that she and her husband had enjoyed a hike at the Mosconetcong Gorge section of the Mosconetcong River Reservation in northwest New Jersey, so I suggested to Kali that we give it a try despite the need to drive 1-1/2 hours to reach the trailhead.

I've been having some personnel problems at work and last week I had mentioned them to Kali (though I should know better after 25 years in my job).  So, for nearly the entire drive to the Reservation, Kali took the opportunity to berate me and tell me to "grow a spine" in dealing with my employees   She is, in fact, completely correct.  But, in some ways, Kali is like a "junkyard dog"--once she sinks her teeth into something (i.e., my inadequacies as a manager), she just won't let go.  So, on and on it went until we arrived at the Reservation.
At the trailhead
The Musconetcong (I haven't been able to determine the meaning of the name, though I'm sure it's of Native American origin) is actually a fairly modest steam--really a big creek rather than a river.  It begins in the remnants of a tarn scooped out by the continental glaciers, though the outlet has been dammed and the resulting lake is much, much larger than the original tarn.  The stream courses through relatively lightly populated agricultural land and towns for about 30 miles before it discharges into the Delaware River.  Of course, this is New Jersey we're talking about, the most densely settled state in the United States, so "relatively lightly populated" has to be considered in context.  Nevertheless, this is an area called the Highlands, and the wrinkled topography rises to about 800 feet in places; in fact, the landscape is characterized by a series of long ridges called "mountains" but, again, it's all relative.  The section of the Musconetcong we walked flowed between two of the ridges, forming a shallow gorge.
At the beginning of the trail--a promising start
The 2-mile(each way) trail is perched halfway up the north-facing slope of the southerly of the two ridges (Musconetcong Mountain), winding through dry mid-slope woodlands.  The stream corridor itself and the flat ridgetop above the trail are privately owned and not included in the Reservation, so the trail is constrained to the middle the slope.

Perched on a rock shortly into the hike.  I asked a fellow who was taking pictures of his female companion to take our picture, too; a better photographer would have asked Kali to move out of the shadow.
Scout Run
Two streams, Scout Run and Pine Run, begin at springs higher up the slope and run downhill in a series of little falls and cascades to the Musconetcong.  Scout Run was dammed and diverted in the 1800 to provide water for a paper mill located at the mouth of the stream along the river.  Though some stone ruins remain along the stream, the woods have reclaimed most of the valley.
Aqua blaze: Ridge Trail; Yellow blaze: Highlands Trail on a chestnut oak (Quercus montana), probably the most common tree in the Reservation
View northwest over one of the many room-size boulders along the trail
Despite an inviting start to the hike, the trail quickly deteriorated.  It became extremely rocky, stony and uneven, which made for very difficult footing.  Our speed instantly slowed to less than one mile per hour.
This is a trail?
Kali's mood deteriorated as quickly as the trail surface.  She didn't have to say a word, but I knew she was disgusted by the outing.  She was having a harder time than I, and as I watched her attempt to navigate the path, she reminded me of a tightrope walker--arms constantly out to her sides, flailing and teetering, trying to maintain balance.

More rocks
 Kali's slow pace allowed me plenty of time to take pictures.
Shelf fungi blanketing a fallen log
Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) were abundant throughout
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) had been hard at work
A mossy stone (or maybe someone left my cake out in the rain?)
How'd that get there?
In a few places, the woodlands opened to provide a view to the north.  I took this very long telephoto image of the Delaware Water Gap, about 15 miles to the north.  The Delaware Water Gap is an impressive erosion channel that the Delaware River has cut through the Kittatinny Ridge (known as Blue Mountain on the Pennsylvania [western, or left side of this image], and Kittatinny Mountain in New Jersey [eastern, or right side of this image]).  Kittatinny Ridge is the easternmost of the true Appalachian Mountain ridges, and the Appalachian Trail runs along its top.  (The AT descends to river level in the water gap, and crosses the river on the I-80 bridge within the gap.)

Long view to the Delaware Water Gap
Despite the occasional views to the north, the scenery along the trail was actually pretty dull--brown, late-winter woods downhill, uphill, and straight ahead.

The return portion of the hike actually included a steep descent (on the aptly named Switchback Trail) to river level.  While the river corridor, as I mentioned, is not within the Reservation, I trespassed to the stream bank where the river had been impounded.  Kali, disgusted and tired, decided to remain back on the trail to wait for me.
Spillway on the dam
The Musconetcong was dammed in many locations.  Some of the impoundments were millponds (used to provide a reliable source of water for water-powered mills), but others were used to keep water levels steady in the Morris Canal that ran alongside the river.  Within the gorge, this dam was a source of water for the canal. 

The impoundments have become virtually useless since they have silted up, but they provide wildlife habitat.  I'm surprised that I didn't see any Canada geese (Branta canadensis) cruising the surface of this pond.

When I was done taking pictures along the river, I retreated to the spot where I had left Kali, only to find no one waiting.  I had been gone about 20 minutes, so I figured that Kali had decided to hike slowly back toward the trailhead rather than just sit and wait for me.  But Kali wouldn't have known what direction to turn at the next trail intersection.  So, I walked about a quarter-mile along the trail to the next intersection Kali!  Grrr!  I called out loudly for her, got no response, and decided that I had to retrace my steps back to the location where I had left her.  When I got back to the original spot, calling all the way, I finally heard a faint reply--Kali had climbed partly back up the Switchback Trail (out of eyesight) to find a flat rock on which to sit to wait for me, and she had fallen asleep.  Grrr!  After a "frosty" and hurried lunch, we set off to complete the hike - all uphill (and grumbling) from this point, of course.
Stepping stones across a wet section of the trail.  There's a skunk cabbage spathe (Symplocarpus foetidus) just emerging from the soil to the right of the rock in the foreground

Friday, March 8, 2013

Field Trip...with Goats

I brought my undergraduate Landscape Restoration class to "my" preserve yesterday for a field trip to review ecological restoration strategies in our woodlands and native grasslands.  We walked the trails to observe how our land managers cope with invasive plants and lack of tree regeneration attributable to abundant white-tailed deer.
Stewardship Assistant Chris briefing the students about techniques for establishing native warm-season grasses
The highlight of the trip was a visit with our four she-goats that we have used for a year to clear invasive plants from the woodland understory.  The goats have been largely confined to their pen for most of the winter (a neighbor had agreed to upgrade his barn so that the goats could spend the winter in larger, warmer, more comfortable quarters, but his handyman was slow to get to work, and the barn upgrade still isn't done after three months of renovations).  Because there's not much greenery in the woods for the goats to eat, they haven't been earning their keep, and we've been feeding them hay and sweet meal (or "goat cocaine," as our goatherd calls it) (i.e., goat chow with molasses) to tide them over.

The stewardship staff has begun preparing an area for the goats to clear once spring arrives.  The staff members have to use a string-trimmer fitted with a cutting blade to clear a perimeter so that they can install the goat's electrified field fence.  Once they are back in the field in a few weeks, the goats will be happy.
Meanwhile, the goats crave and enjoy human attention, and the students were happy to oblige.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shades of Blue

When I took these images yesterday afternoon, I had originally intended to entitle this post "Tawny," but in looking over the images, and others, below, I decided to call it "Shades of Blue" instead.

Kali and I haven't walked in "my" preserve for several weeks because it's been so muddy.  But yesterday Kali didn't have to go to work, the skies were cloudless, and the paths had dried enough so that Kali wouldn't complain about muddy shoes, so we hit the trails for a late afternoon walk.
We've hardly had any snow this winter, so most of the native grasses are still standing tall and beautiful.
Most of the early spring birds have arrived now - especially flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few American Woodcocks.  Just last Sunday, a pair of American Kestrels hovered over the fields in search of rodents hiding in the high grass.  Though we may be in for a snowstorm tomorrow, spring's approach is unmistakable.

Last weekend (Saturday, February 23), Kali and I drove 2-1/2 hours to Baltimore for the American Craft Council Show at the Baltimore Convention Center.  This is the largest fine art craft show in the country (650 craft artisans), and it was spectacular (as always).  Since Kali and I are in our de-accession stage of life, we only bought one decorative piece for the wall, a piece of jewelry for Kali, and a holiday gift for Kali's boss.  We look at the show as if we were going to a craft museum, since all of the work is of the highest quality.
In the "blue" motif - a detail from "Aspens," an etched and illuminated glass wall sculpture
And, finally, just last Saturday evening, we attended a performance by Parson Dance, one of our favorite contemporary dance companies.  The image below is from the first piece that the company performed, "In the Round" (2012), and it was breathtaking.  Even when the dances weren't as spectacular as "Round," the dancers were so perfect that they elevated the works to high art. Bravisimo!