Winter 2014

Our driveway in winter
Our driveway in winter

Happy New Year!

Let’s start the first sentence of this issue with a huge THANK YOU to all of you who took the time to come down and patrol the Refuge during six day shotgun season. The weather was interesting to say the least, but anymore, that goes without saying. It rained pretty hard in the days leading up to opening day, so trails were flooded and the Dike crossing was a mess. My veterans all knew to wear their rubber boots, but we had some loaners on the porch just in case.

Poor Mary Ann discovered that the handrail lashings across the Dike had gone slack and almost went ass over teacups when the rails gave way. Thankfully, she avoided the pain of a “Paula Baptism.” I booked out there and tightened or replaced the ropes holding the cedar branches to their posts before someone did get wet.

A dangerous snow-covered Dike path
A dangerous snow-covered Dike path

Things really got dicey on day two, when the temperatures plummeted, and iced formed on the concrete and wooden boardwalks. Then the snow came down. Freya showed up first thing in the morning with her scraper and worked her magic as she walked, cleaning snow off the boardwalks.

I (as most of you should know by now) LOVE the snow. I had fun while I worked, making tiny snow people with snow companion dogs, following animal tracks and reveling in the fact that no one could trespass without giving themselves away. That reminds me of the local news article I once read about a bandit who broke into someone’s house after a snow storm. It was a very short criminal career!

My snow creatures
My snow creatures

Although statistics indicate that the number of licensed hunters is decreasing nationwide, as well as in New Jersey, it doesn’t seem to apply in these here parts. The Refuge is surrounded mostly by farms (which are hunted privately by their owners) and forested land owned by the municipality (open to hunters). We see a lot of orange next door during six day. Thankfully, most of these people have learned to respect the boundary between us and them. However, it is important to remain vigilant and show that we are out there keeping everyone honest. So here is to my Patrollers who stepped up to wear the orange for Unexpected.

Mother nature is showing us she means business this winter. Temperatures in January and so far in February were mostly freezing or below — one morning the bank thermometer read -2 degrees! We haven’t had a good cold winter in New Jersey for quite some time. I tend to measure the severity of winter by how much firewood I burn. So far this year, I have burned as much or more than all of last winter. The stove has been going 24-7 except for the periodic pause to unload the ashes and make room for more wood. As difficult as it can be to battle the cold, I think it is healthy for this geographic region to experience prolonged freezing during winter.

Our native species have evolved to withstand freezing winters with antifreeze-like elements. The destructive progress of invasive bugs that have moved in from the south, like the emerald ash borer and the southern pine beetle, as well as foreign insects like the gypsy moth, may be checked by this prolonged cold snap. The Refuge, as well as surrounding township forests, has taken a terrible blow from a southern pine beetle infestation, with huge swathes of dead pitch pine trees. The dead trees pose a dangerous threat in high winds, ready to snap off and fall with a powerful gust, and they wreak havoc on the trails when they land. Hopefully, the beetles’ momentum will be slowed by this cold weather.

The pond is frozen solid now with no evidence of beaver activity whatsoever. They kept their ice holes open as long as they could, but they are now sealed up so thick with ice that we can walk over them. We have been casting corn out upon the frozen water for the ducks. They come and push through the snow with their breasts to find the hidden kernels.

Winter otter

During patrol week, I followed the tracks of two large otters from Main Pond to the irrigation reservoir at Station 19. Then, last week at dawn, as the cold winter sun began filtering through the trees and shining on the white snow-covered ice, I saw a small dark figure hopping along the vegetated bank. The size of a cat, it jumped and bucked along the edge of the ice, diving in and out of the snowy brush. It was a juvenile otter! It was very unusual (and very dangerous) for this little guy to be out and about without parental supervision. He worked his way around the pond edge to the sitting area in front of the cabin. He came up and inspected the patio and chairs and then went back out onto the ice and disappeared. Hopefully, he got to where ever he was going.